Here are the talking points from a big week in rugby.
Finally, a win!
It has been a long time coming, but the Wallabies broke their streak of losses to the All Blacks in a pulsating encounter on Saturday night. Conditions in Brisbane did not lend themselves to running rugby, but what the match lacked in finesse it more than made up for in sheer physicality and desperation. It needs to be acknowledged that New Zealand were missing a host of key players, and the dead rubber left Australia with much more motivation than their rivals, but take nothing away from the performance the Wallabies put up. The forward pack in particular stood up, and actually dominated their opposite numbers. The backrow was dynamic and powerful, the locks charged over the gainline time and again, and the front rowers held their own at scrum time and contributed around the park. It’s difficult to single players out in what was a complete forwards performance, but the continued rise of Jack and Dempsey and Lukhan Tui was particularly pleasing. They should come back from the Spring Tour looking to dominate at Super Rugby level next year.
In the backline, Reece Hodge was the hero with his intercept try and clutch, long range conversions, and has cemented his place out wide. Israel Folau was dangerous every time he touched the ball, and Marika Koroibete can make that wing position his own if he wants it. Bernard Foley’s kicking continues to be a concern, and perhaps the Spring Tour is the time for Hodge to take on more responsibility in this area. When Foley is on, he is great, but when he is off it can cost you a game. It wasn’t a night made to show off the skills of Kurtley Beale, but his contribution off the field, in terms of the spectacular Indigenous jersey and the build up to the game, cannot be understated. The ARU are now investigating how to make the jersey a more regular fixture on the calendar, such was its popularity, and it seems amazing that this was the first national sporting uniform that had been given this treatment. A great win, with an outstanding acknowledgement of our traditional owners. A significant night for rugby in this country.
Israel on hiatus
News this week that Israel Folau would forego the Spring Tour to rest and recuperate has been met with general acceptance in the rugby community. Much more common across the ditch, the notion of star players sitting out bulk matches is relatively new in Australia, but if anyone has earnt a break it would absolutely be Folau. The question needs to be asked, though, about where these tours rate in terms of importance for the Wallabies. Perhaps if this was a full Grand Slam tour the decision would have been different, as there is no doubt Cheika wouldn’t be leaving his most valuable asset at home for such an historical trip. Football wise, it could be argued that these Tests are more important than the June inbound Tests, and that perhaps resting Folau against Fiji, Scotland and Italy would have made more sense. There is no way, though, that the ARU would forego the gate takings the superstar generates at home, so you can see the logic. Let’s just hope the break pays off when the whips are cracking in 2018. What will be interesting to watch is the line-up that Cheika settles on for the tour. Does he take the opportunity to shift Beale to fullback and recall Karmichael Hunt or Samu Kerevi? Or does Hodge see some game time in 15, with Henry Speight being called back in? Surely the former has more value at this stage, as seeing Beale injecting himself from the back, while solidifying the midfield defence with Hunt’s recall, would be an interesting pointer towards next year. It will be intriguing to watch.
Baa-baas are back
Before we jet off, though, an understrength Wallabies will face the Alan Jones-coached Barbarians on Saturday night. While there may be limited value in the result of this match, it will be an ideal opportunity for Cheika to experiment a little, and give some younger players some exposure to the Wallabies’ environment. On the other side, Quade Cooper is the forgotten man in Australian rugby, and the Baa-Baa’s style of play should provide the perfect platform for him to show off his skills. No performance will be enough to get him back in the squad, though, and he will more than likely need to wait for 2018 to make his case for inclusion again. It will be fun to watch, though, so enjoy your rugby!
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Words: Cameron Stokes
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