Wallabies remain a work in progress
November 8, 2010
Can Robbie Deans' side go unbeaten this month? © Getty Images
It was a long wait. A long, long wait. A wait that would have tested the patience of even the most virtuous of monks. A wait so painful that it led to mutterings of whether the coach would survive the winter. In fact it was 826 long days since the Wallabies had seen the better of New Zealand and in that time the All Blacks had plundered our spirit and hopes on no less than ten occasions. Simply, Australian rugby was at an all-time low against its greatest rivals.
But all that changed on October 30, 2010 in the most unlikely cauldron of Test rugby - Hong Kong. It wasn't easy mind you. For 81 minutes it appeared the same painful pattern of failure was set to continue. Like so many recent encounters the Wallabies started well racing out to a quick lead to only again be reeled back through both their own errors and a relentless Black tide. The Wallabies were going to fall just short. Again.
But then Lady Luck, for so long a stranger to the Wallabies, cast her gaze towards the men in gold and focused squarely on a 19-year-old with looks more fitting a teen pop idol then international rugby star. James O'Connor somehow weaved, ducked and dived through the Kiwi outside defence to level the scores after the siren, before calmly kicking the conversion from the sideline to take his place in the golden annals of Wallabies history alongside the likes of John Eales and Matt Burke.
Glory aside, this win secures something much more important. It gives the Wallabies their own psychological edge over the All Blacks, an advantage they will now hold over the world's best team well into the World Cup year. The Wallabies have proven to the rugby world the All Blacks are beatable. Has October 30, 2010 become a defining moment for both countries' RWC fortunes?
Although, momentum is only useful if harnessed correctly and will be lessened if the Wallabies do not conquer Europe this month as well. Pleasingly, they backed up their Hong Kong performance with victory against the Welsh on Saturday. While certainly not a polished performance, what was encouraging was they scratched out a win in what has proven in the past to be a tricky venue for any Australian team.
It was also the first time they have secured back to back victories on the road since the European tour of 2008, where they defeated Italy, England and France in three weeks. Robbie Deans will be hoping history can repeat itself as the same three opponents now stand between his team and a clean sweep this time around.
The main weakness to overcome is still the scrum. Like the All Blacks, Wales also exposed our soft underbelly in winning five penalties and scoring a try at scrum time. Not the form the Wallabies will want over the coming weeks, particularly with their scrum-nemesis England lying in wait this weekend.
In fairness, some of the failings can be placed on the late withdrawal of hooker Stephen Moore in the warm-up, depriving them of their first choice front row of Benn Robinson, Moore and Ben Alexander. Deans will also want his team to better retain possession, particularly at the breakdown in the opposition's quarter where they turned it over on four occasions and released the pressure on the hosts.
The key differences between the two teams were creativity and individual brilliance. Kurtley Beale, who only made his Test debut on the same ground a year before, was simply in a class of his own and deserved more than just the one try. His near miss after a solo attack, which included three kicks, would have been the try of the international season if he could have retained the ball as he rolled into the in-goal. While the try went begging his performance did not and Deans has now found his fullback option.
The last piece of the backline jigsaw is in midfield. With Giteau now having handed over goal-kicking responsibilities to O'Connor, the 89-Test veteran faces increased pressure from Berrick Barnes to retain his spot. The game against Leicester on Tuesday evening gives Barnes the opportunity to do what Quade Cooper did last year and play himself into the Test squad the following week. However, in the incumbent's favour is his experience in a team short of big match temperament and a coach not wanting to reshuffle a backline that is beginning to bear fruit, especially, with the auld enemy ripe for the taking this weekend.
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