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Wallabies off the mark and still drifting away


Paul Cully

Australia's Brett Sheehan is injured. Click for more photos

Close call for Wallabies in Florence

Wallabies hold out against Italy fightback. Photo: Reuters

No one has ever claimed it wasn't a cruel game: for most of the match Italy's five-eighth Luciano Orquera had outplayed his opposite, Kurtley Beale, yet it was left to him to hit a 79th-minute penalty to the right of the posts, denying his side a chance to secure a famous draw.

This wasn't so much the Wallabies playing a get-out-of-jail card, but repeatedly landing on Mayfair while their hosts weren't looking.

Australia were adequate for 30 minutes and then abject, failing to score a point against the 10th-ranked team in the world for the final 50, repeatedly squandering possession with a lack of accuracy that has become the season's signature. If Orquera's chip kick had bounced into the arms of Sergio Parisse in the 66th minute, or if inexperienced referee Lourens van der Merwe had decided that the late scrum collapses on Italian ball were penalisable, the unthinkable could have happened. The gap in quality between the sides was so small to be indistinguishable.

Hounded … Edoardo Gori wraps up Adam Ashley-Cooper.

Hounded … Edoardo Gori wraps up Adam Ashley-Cooper. Photo: Getty Images

Beale chose an inopportune time for his employers to have his worst game in the No.10 jersey since his positional switch. There have been instances in previous outings when he looked like a fullback playing out of his comfort zone, but this was almost an entire 80 minutes of awkwardness. Three times he performed a shuffle directly into traffic, either dying with the ball or taking himself out of the game. Opposite him, Orquera probed, offloaded, and directed traffic with greater aplomb. Australia ran the ball for 247 metres while Italy - mocked for years as spoilers and with no heritage of running rugby - managed double this.

In the loss against France, a general lack of passion was identified as the cause of the problems, an inability to bring the mental rage required at this ferocious level. But in Florence, it was something more tangible - poor technique and skills were in evidence. Opponents of the coach have more material to work with.

Two instances in particular caught the eye, and again they cast Australia's set-piece attacking plans in a poor light. After 44 minutes the Wallabies were in coveted real estate, 15 metres from the Italian line and with a scrum to work with. The platform was solid enough, but when Nick Phipps spun it to Beale, he tossed a wide pass to Adam Ashley-Cooper, well behind the advantage line. Taking even further sting out of the attack, Ben Tapuai was already in line when Ashley-Cooper received Beale's pass. Consequently, when Ashley-Cooper dropped it back inside to his centre partner, Tapuai was static, an easy target for the Italian defence. The Reds No.12 promptly turned the ball over.

Two minutes later from a Wallabies' lineout, the subterfuge amounted to Michael Hooper taking up a crash ball into an Italian midfield known for its robustness and losing the ball in contact. There has been talk all year about the disruptive influence of injuries but just seven days before, an All Blacks side made 14 changes - omitting the likes of Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Israel Dagg and Cory Jane from the starting line-up - and ran in five tries against Italy.

Moreover, it is not just the old foes who are providing unflattering comparisons. Ireland have been robbed of Brian O'Driscoll and Rob Kearney but put seven five-pointers past the normally unyielding defence of Argentina in Dublin on Saturday.

Australia's lack of tries this year is an accurate reflection of current inadequacies. This is not a great side to watch, occasionally drawing deserved respect for its sheer bloody-mindedness before disappointing by failing to provide anything more sophisticated than that. It might be enough against Italy, and it might even be enough against the Welsh if they play as inaccurately as they did in the first half against the All Blacks. But it'll never be enough to be the best team in the world. The Wallabies this year are a mile away and drifting.

32 comments so far

  • Well said on all counts (as always). Something MUST change with this team.

    Date and time
    November 26, 2012, 12:45PM
    • Australia may not have played that well but Italy played worse. Specifically, instead of taking the points with penalty kicks, like England last week they went for the try. When they did have a a shot at the end it was too far and too late.

      So many times in the past it has been the other way around with Australia going for the try and losing and opponents slotting them from everywhere to win. We thought that was unfair then, now we have kickers who have missed one I think in the last three games and twice kicked us to victory and you still complain. You just can't please some people.

      Date and time
      November 26, 2012, 12:45PM
      • Why not give Cadeyrn Neville a run? At least on the bench as he can also cover 6. Strong, very mobile and will get them going forward. And Wales won't know what to expect from him. No point having him over there and not using him!

        Date and time
        November 26, 2012, 1:23PM
        • Paul
          I disagree with you drawing an analogy between the AllBlacks and Australia, the players who have taken the place of Richie, Israel and Cory James are all seasoned All Blacks and beating Wales is at least this year (didn't Australia beat them 3 times this year) fairly easy as proved by Samoa and Argentina. Australias current lack of depth is very evident, with players playing out of position and with other players not being picked , notably Mark Harris.However I believe this comes down to the horrific casualty list we have at present. Whilst I do not agree with the other news reporters who seem intent on saving vitriol against the current Wallabies to push their own codes, I do in part agree with you.

          Date and time
          November 26, 2012, 1:36PM
          • Seasonsed All Blacks? McCaws replacement was Sam Cane who has played 3 tests with 1 of those as a starter. Dagg was replaced by Beauden Barrett playing in his 5th test & his first as a starter & out of position at fullback. Jane was replaced by Julian Savea who was playing his 8th test in his debut season. Not sure how you can claim that these 3 are seasoned international players.

            Shane D
            Date and time
            November 27, 2012, 7:41PM
        • maybe the wallabies 2012 trys could be entered into a short film competition, a very short film competition.

          Date and time
          November 26, 2012, 1:57PM
          • No surprises that Beale is a terrific failure playing at 10. He isn't a 5/8th and barely deserving of a Wallabies jersey full stop. He only knows 3 plays - 1. Die wit the ball 2. Go in high and get the ball stripped off him 3. Chip kick. Would love to see Matt Toomua in a Wallabies Jersey, lets hope he has a good year with injuries next year and be available for the Lions Tour, I think he is our only hope.

            Date and time
            November 26, 2012, 2:39PM
            • for all that there IS a silver lining in this: the Wallabies have been forced to bring in many players who would have not have got a run otherwise. Many of them have surprised & played well - Phipps, Cummins, Hooper among others. When & if the top 15 can actually be put on the park again the squad should have more depth as a reesult.

              Date and time
              November 26, 2012, 3:20PM
              • I see Robbie Deans puts the poor performance against Italy down to fatigue. Thank goodness he's had to bring in many new players. If he'd been restricted to the original squad they may have fallen asleep mid-match!

                Date and time
                November 26, 2012, 4:34PM
              • Cummins and Hooper yes, Phipps mmm...

                Date and time
                November 26, 2012, 5:01PM

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