The Growden Report
Wallabies will just be making up World Cup numbers
Greg Growden
November 24, 2014

The most wearying of Wallabies seasons continues, but there was at last a little bit of brightness in Dublin despite another Test loss. Not a lot, but just enough at least to encourage the most patient of followers to stick it out with a group that has been decimated, dictated to, and dogged by poor direction on and particularly off the field all season.

After the puerile performance against France in Paris last weekend, just running onto the field in a straight line would have been an improvement for the Wallabies seven days later. And improve they did. Even though experiencing another defeat, their effort against Ireland was easily their best of the tour - eclipsing what they did during their victories against the Barbarians and Wales.

Effort in a loss is better than what occurred during their two wins, you ask Sounds weird, I know, but that's just another example of how loopy this Australian season has been.

The Barbarians game was just a glorified money-making meander around the park, and Wales and France exposed how dumb numerous key Wallabies are under pressure, but the Dublin Test effort involved several moments when the old Australian flair returned. Against Ireland, easily the most formidable opponent they have met so far in Europe, there was a sense of spirit, a sense of belief and a sense that at last the Wallabies may have an attack that can actually threaten someone. They can at least boast one of the best tries of the international season, after half-back Nick Phipps finished off the most startling of ensemble manoeuvres in the 31st minute.

Ireland 26-23 Australia (video available in Australia only)

As expected Henry Speight's selection on the wing made an immediate difference. At last, proper penetration on one sideline.

He began the move off by tip-toeing his way along the right sideline, before backhand flicking a pass infield, which was picked up on the bounce by Bernard Foley. Foley offloaded to Ben McCalman, who took the ball into the tackle. From there, Phipps somehow threw a pass over his left shoulder to Speight on the blindside, who again took it up.

From the next phase, Phipps threw wide to Matt Toomua, who drew the Irish midfield defenders before providing a cheeky inside pass to Foley, who, after almost getting his head knocked off by the opposition, timed the pass perfectly to put Phipps through. This was special football with shades of the Barbarians of 1973. and it was rousing that the move involved numerous Wallabies players who were on the night primarily on song.

Phipps had his best game in the Australian colours for some time, apart from throwing one pass that led to an intercept try, Toomua's return at No.12 immediately gave the Wallabies backline some semblance of sanity and conformity, two factors that weren't there when Christian Leali'ifano was part of the starting line-up. Foley looked far more authoritative, and he was rewarded when several times he took on the Irish defence with quick snipes. And McCalman was the only Australian forward to make a real impact; at last the Wallabies had a No.8 who actually did something during a game.

The Wallabies did not deserve to win, and they were lucky to be so close as the television video referee was clearly imitating Mr Magoo when he failed to see a blatant forward pass that led to Foley's try in the 22nd minute. But there were encouraging signs out wide.

Not so heartening was the Wallabies forward performance. The loss of Scott Fardy is clearly obvious as, without him, the Wallabies have been unable to field an up-to-the-grade Test blindside flanker. Luke Jones was almost as ineffective against Ireland as the player he replaced, Sean McMahon.

For that reason, the Wallabies can never get ahead of themselves. They are still a long way off from convincing anyone they will do anything at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Having flair is fine, but it means absolutely nothing if there is a shortage of fire up front.

Making the quarter-final stages will be an achievement - particularly as they currently boast one of the worst Wallabies packs of recent times. Hopefully some Gigantors emerge during the 2015 Super Rugby tournament; otherwise Australia will just be making up the World Cup numbers.

Nick Phipps played in one of his best games in the Wallabies jersey © Getty Images
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