The Growden Report
Wallabies need to improve game intelligence
Greg Growden
November 10, 2014
Wales 28-33 Australia (Australia only)

A change of coach, but nothing much else has changed at Fort Fumble.

Australian Rugby Union HQ, otherwise known as Rugby's version of the Kremlin, continues on its bumbling way by attempting to destroy the grassroots of the game through cutting all funding to leading premiership clubs. That is despite wasting thousands and thousands of dollars employing at enormous expense more spin-doctors, who are as big a failure as the union's hierarchy in trying to improve its tarnished image. The deception at the ARU continues.

On the field, the Wallabies may be winning but there were enough diabolical moments in the 33-28 win against Wales in Cardiff to indicate that Australia are a long way from being a genuine Rugby World Cup threat.

Forget the theatrics around Michael Cheika's first Test as Wallabies coach, and that they had just achieved their 10th straight win over the Welsh. The Australian scrum is still a mess - with the embarrassment of penalty tries being awarded against them now turning into a regular occurrence; opposition teams now know with confidence when a scrum is set on the Wallabies line that they are a good chance of finishing with at least five points if they can just push long enough.

Bernard Foley kicks a drop goal to put Australia ahead in the closing stages, despite the attentions of Mike Phillips, Wales v Australia, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, November 8, 2014
Bernard Foley was coolness personified kicking at the posts, but ... © Getty Images

As disconcerting is the fact that the Wallabies lack clear thinkers under pressure, and for some ridiculous reason prefer to be kamikazes in the final minutes of Test matches.

With 40 seconds to go in the Cardiff Test match, the Wallabies had the Test won. They were ahead by five points, so they were under no danger of losing through an opposition penalty goal. All they had to do in the final few seconds was hold onto the ball, play a few charge-up phases via their forwards, and then when time was up, kick the pill out over the sideline. Simples!

But no. The Wallabies decided to be boofheads. Wales kicked off and the ball was regathered by replacement lock James Horwill, who with fellow forwards set up the next phase. Replacement half-back Will Genia had the right idea, passing to replacement prop Tetera Faulkner, who took the ball up. Perfect so far. Only 30 seconds to go now.

But it all went a bit silly with the next phase when Genia passed to Bernard Foley, who was perched deep in the Australian quarter. The five-eighth decided to boot the ball down field. Why?

Cheika plays down psychological advantage

He kicked it straight down the throat of Welsh winger Liam Williams. Why? Why? Why? Williams had about 40 metres to build up pace, and Wales were allowed one last attack, one last chance in open space to win the game. And Wales went close to achieving the equalising score In the ensuing two minutes of helter-skelter football, helped by penalties from referee Craig Joubert, before fumbling the ball as they charged towards the Wallabies line.

Nearby, Foley was sighted punching his fists in the air. Understandably so, because the relieved fly-half, who earlier in the game was caught out several times throwing forward passes, would have known he had just escaped the noose. Team-mates would have been chasing him around the Millennium Stadium had the Wallabies lost due to his dumb decision, trying to wring his neck.

It was so unnecessary. It was also something you don't see the real deals of rugby do. The All Blacks? Never. They are clinical, never comical.

More to come from Wallabies - Cheika

As hilarious were the moments when the Wallabies tried to keep their scrum intact when perched under their own sticks between the 61st and 65th minutes. They were as firm as plasticine. First, Joubert penalised them for collapsing the scrum. That was followed by another penalty, for wheeling the scrum. Eventually Joubert had enough, and awarded Wales a penalty try. Fair enough, too.

Once again, the Wallabies will complain they are unfairly targeted by referees at scrum time, and suffer from 'perceptions'. Rubbish. The Wallabies scrum is not good enough, and more work has to be done in that critical area; it is encouraging to hear Michael Cheika talking of the forwards' need "to learn to love scrums".

Away from the set-piece, the Wallabies' defensive structure was at times baffling and weak. Sean McMahon was exposed badly in the opening minutes, and the new back-rower learned that performing well against the Barbarians and Wales are two completely different matters; at least he is young.

Israel Folau scored two tries and was dangerous every time he touched the ball © Getty Images

Yes, there were numerous good moments. Israel Folau was again a serious threat whenever he touched the ball, and he was easily the Wallabies' best. Tevita Kuridrani has blossomed as a Test outside centre, and Saia Fainga'a had his best performance in the green and gold colours in a long time. Michael Hooper is maturing as a Wallabies captain, in spite of those at the ARU who are still trying to bring him down because of his public defence of Kurtley Beale.

We saw an important moment in the second half, when an over-exuberant Nick Phipps came in to blurt something while Hooper was discussing a scrum decision with Joubert; Hooper, aware of the possibility of the Wallabies being penalised due to his scrum-half's impetuosity, pushed Phipps away. It was a smart move and showed to all that Hooper was boss.

Nonetheless, anyone who believes the Australian rugby revival has begun is seriously having himself or herself on. There is a long way to go, especially in the Wallabies game intelligence department. And Cheika is the first to know that.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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