The Growden Report
Hallelujah for Wallabies' attacking intent, execution
June 11, 2014
Australia 50-23 France (video available only in Australia)
Wallabies fans, for the sake of their sanity, have grown accustomed to looking for other ways to find happiness after the first Test of the year.
For the previous three seasons, the opening international saw Australian rugby followers were brutally reminded that their national team was not as good as some of the fans with microphones and laptops had tried to make out.
In 2011 and 2012, when Samoa and Scotland humiliated the Wallabies, it was a moment of national despair, while the British & Irish Lions' opening triumph in Brisbane last year showed that Australia continued to be off the pace. The Lions' win also led to a change of coach.
Ewen McKenzie was pleased with the team's performance%]
At last in 2014, relief came in various forms - not just a first-up win but more importantly that Australian rugby players hadn't lost the knack of instigating constructive attacking forays and finishing off tries. During the Robbie Deans era, the traditions of Australian running rugby stagnated and tries became rare bonuses rather than regular occurrences. Not surprisingly after a long-running drought, you could almost hear the echoes of 'hallelujah' emanating from countless lounge rooms around Australia, and from a sparse Suncorp Stadium, as the Wallabies scored try after try, most of them involving intricate moves, angles and fine finishing. Seven tries and one out of one for the Wallabies … that's more like it.
Ruck'n Maul: Wallabies in a good place%]
France admittedly lacked the sting or the endeavour of an unlucky England team - who should have defeated an off-colour All Blacks in Auckland - but they weren't exactly useless. Even if a shell of their usual self, France did provide some problems - especially in the final stages of the game, when the Wallabies' customary up-front dramas re-emerged.
France were an irritant rather than a threat, which is why it was rousing seeing how the Wallabies did not lose their formation or thrust, even when they suffered several mishaps that could easily have destabilised them. With new players involved in critical positions - such as Bernard Foley at No.10 and Sam Carter at lock - it is not exactly advantageous to lose your captain in the opening minutes. But the Wallabies handled that well, with Michael Hooper comfortably taking over the leadership duties from the injured Stephen Moore, and the players remaining focused.
Matt Toomua had a hand in many of Australia's best attacking thrusts © Getty Images
As pleasing was the fact the Wallabies actually played as a team: there were no real player standouts, with Matt Toomua, who had a crucial role in so many of the Wallabies' tries just ahead of six or seven competent team-mates; everyone did their job as required, constantly supporting each other. The belief in each other was obvious. As this new line-up had only a few training sessions together, this was an admirable effort for a first-time gallop, especially as it involved a new halves combination in Nic White and Foley. White and Foley, even if sometimes astray with his kicking and defence, showed they were up to it.
Scrum5: England and Wallabies gunning for All Blacks%]
Yet that doesn't mean that Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie should not indulge himself in a bit of selection tinkering. Something has to be done about the team's propping department. The two starting props - James Slipper and Sekope Kepu did their bit, but the scrummaging problems re-emerged when tight-head replacement Paddy Ryan came on in the second half. It didn't take long for referee Craig Joubert to target Ryan, penalising him twice at the set piece, for "falling over" and "over-extending". And then the final indignity: right on full time, the Wallabies pack suffered the embarrassment of a penalty try awarded against them. The Australian scrum disintegration - and it looks even worse on replay - was a serious blemish on an otherwise bright and bubbly evening.
When The Rugby Championship opponents New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina analyse the tape of the Wallabies' win, they will focus on those final scrums and start rubbing their hands over. It's worth noting England got so close to the All Blacks due to their excellent set-piece.
The Wallabies, through their enormous lead, got away with it in Brisbane, but they won't at scrum time during the Rugby Championship later in the year.
The Wallabies must cope without Stephen Moore for 12 months © Getty Images
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