Once again, the Rebels representatives in the Wallabies squad have given an excellent account of themselves in the 23 – 18 win over the All Blacks in Brisbane on Saturday night.
On a moist evening at Brisbane’s Suncorp stadium, sporting a new Indigenous jersey, on a night where Qantas paid tribute to former Wallabies, the current squad channeled the spirit of the great teams of the past to find a way to grind out a win despite struggling at times to be their best.
The real excitement just before the 7th minute when Will Genia hurried a rusty looking Sopoaga who obligingly passed a flat ball into the path of Reece Hodge, who trotted over for a lazy 70m try. The under the posts try was a mirror of Izzy’s try in Dunedin and it’s just as well it was under the posts given that Foley was to have a similar night with the boot. In the end, Foley’s missed kicks cost the Wallabies 7 points, as much as a converted try, which would have made a very big difference to the complexion of the game. “It is in the nature of kicking that some should miss and some will go over”, wrote John Eales, or something to that effect, and so it was that Reece Hodge clutch kicked like ‘Nobody”, including a massive 54m effort in the 77th minute which Matt Burke insisted was a poor call.
Will Genia was Gregan-esque at 9, chatty, zippy, sometimes a bit slow, but usually alright and just a few times more than necessary at the bottom of a ruck. Luckily for him, the position-fluid Captain Hooper, still undecided on whether to be a forward or a back, but always unreservedly a flanker, was capable of filling in. At one point in the 2nd half, Genia was found short of protection at the ruck and was duly tackled, the resulting hurried pass and no look catch from Foley went to ground. Foley protested to substitute teacher Wayne Barnes, and was summarily reminded of his duty to protect his 9. Barnes obviously confusing Foley for regular fly-half Michael Hooper.
Korobeite was again effective and powerful on the wing, especially given he often gets stuck outside Izzy, who is not one to pass all that often. Passing not being Izzy’s forte, it’s important that Marika is there to clean out, which he is becoming infinitely adept at, and on the one occasion Izzy offloaded after expertly drawing two tacklers, Korobeite’s stability and core strength is almost always too much for the first tackler, which helped him over for a try. He now has 4 tries in 4 outings for the Wallabies, no mean feat in a season when Izzy has snared 12. One thing often overlooked is Korobeite’s ability to burn up the sideline. He is millimetre perfect, blindingly fast and goes straight and hard. I for one look forward to the 2018 season of Super Rugby where he should receive improved service. Amanaki Mafi is no slouch, but the sight of Korobeite cruising up to him on the inside or outside like the road runner overtaking an ACME truck is one of the great sights of the provincial game.
And finally we have Sean McMahon. He’s had a smashing rugby championship. He has crashed and bashed his way to numerous line and tackle busts, been solid in defense and has not once looked like running out of steam. Saturday night had post game commentary wishing, almost begging him to stay in Oz to play on with the Wallabies, but with breakaway positions reserved almost exclusively for the Waratah’s brethren, it’s difficult to see where he fits in when Pocock returns. For my mind I would go for a Hoo-Cock combo at 6 & 7 and keep McMahon at 8, with Dempsey and Timani sharing the bench spot. Needless to say McMahon’s performances have been reminiscent of the great, the legendary Totai Kefu, our greatest ever 8. His bullocking run in the 68th minute was outstanding, breaking 4 tackles. Legs as powerful as a lock, upper body strength similar to a prop and the speed of the backs, McMahon also has the temperament and manner needed to be quality leader of the Wallabies in future.
What of the rest of the game? Jack Dempsey was outstanding at 6, Beale was mostly quiet yet still influential. Hooper is growing into the captains role much more maturely than his first crack at the top, but an injection of referee charming skills wouldn’t go astray. The front row had a good night, given that Barnes decided early that we were that was listening to him best.
NZ will rue the many many missed tackles and being out played at the breakdown. Kieran Reid was inspirational as ever and SBW had a slightly better game in as much as he managed to offload in a good tackle and setup the final AB’s try. The polish of the Beaden Barrett game was sorely missed, however it may well have not made a difference on Saturday night. While the AB’s have looked vulnerable at times this year, one can hardly call this a decline, but when they are not tackling high and getting away with standing offside and cleaning out players off the ruck, it’s easier for opposition teams to find the belief that NZ can be beaten.
One last word, on Stephen Moore. Long time captain, the starting hooker for much of the last decade, veteran and journeyman, cliche, metaphor, yada yada. It was a great send off for him, at home, in front of friends and family. Much of the grittiness and never say die attitude displayed by the Wallabies on Saturday night was emblematic of the courage and commitment Moore has brought to the squad throughout his career. At his peak an excellent scrummager and deft lineout thrower, his speed and power has waned slightly in recent years with the newer generation of backs/loose-forwards types who run first and learn to throw later, but his impact and influence on the Wallabies, his quality leadership will be sorely missed at International level. In Jordan Uelese perhaps we see some of the qualities of the younger Moore, something that will need to be nurtured on the Spring tour.
So next the fringe players get a run against the Barbarians and then it’s off to Japan and Europe for the Spring tour.
If you chip, you gotta chase!