Well that didn’t go to plan. However, I find myself unable to be disappointed. When asked for a comment on the Wallabies match on Saturday night, as I sat watching the English players’ (and amazingly coach’s) elation post match, I found the best way to describe the match was, ‘interesting’. This was met with some disbelief, because we lost. We were supposed to win, and we didn’t. It reminds us all that there is no ‘supposed to’ in sport; nobody can predict what will happen. We need only to look at last year’s World Cup, where Japan served South Africa an unpleasant reminder that ‘supposed to’ will not guarantee you a win.
There was certainly no lack of positivity to take out of the match from an Australian perspective. May I remind everyone, that this team have not played together for eight months, since the World Cup last year. England on the other hand, had just come off a win against Wales and a Six Nations victory, and have been injected with the fuel of a new direction and a determination to right the very serious wrong of their World Cup campaign. Let me then turn to the Australian side itself, the starting line up of which contained 3 debutantes. This all led me to expect a little rust on our side and it was there, but not necessarily where I expected it to be.
The debutantes were outstanding, granted there were a couple of nervous moments but I felt Kerevi and particularly Haylett-Petty played outstandingly. There are few things more impressive than Haylett-Petty’s try saving tackle, executed expertly. Good positional play truly is priceless. I thought Kerevi played well, embracing his opportunity. I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of pain for Kurtley Beale, who before his heartbreaking injury, would surely have been guaranteed the number 12 jersey, after an outstanding start to the season for the Waratahs. Unfortunately though, this is the nature of sport.
The gritty reality of rugby was reinforced during the match when Rob Horne was sidelined after failing a concussion test and Rob Simmons was taken off with a back injury. I guess it was to be expected with all of Jones’ promise of a bodyline series and his determination to present an aggressive English side, headed by their captain of somewhat questionable discipline. Sadly David Pocock will also miss the rest of the series with a fractured eye socket. I will be watching keenly to see how Cheika orchestrates the necessary rearrangements.
In looking toward Saturday night, I am once again filled with anticipation. While the result was not ideal, this last match displayed everything I love about rugby. I was on the edge of my seat right to the end, with the Wallabies refusing to surrender and pushing England all the way. Our play was far from perfect, our terrible penalty count handing the match to Owen Farrell’s steady boot. Australia’s mistakes gave England control of the match and ultimately victory. I am sure Cheika will make the boys very aware of that this week.
Our path is clear – tidy things up, work on that set piece and let that back line shine. I am confident looking at this side, because it is the things that can be fixed that need to be addressed. The things you cannot teach, are working just fine. Watching Folau making impossible runs, Foley running beautiful lines and Kuridrani straightening the attack, I was reminded of just how special this back line is. Watching the construction of our four tries, I was filled with hope. We played a beautiful brand of rugby, not relying on missteps from our opposition, but creating points using our own ingenuity, skill and undeniable talent. Force our opposition to do the same and we can win. I believe.