Test Match Review

Australia vs Ireland

3rd Test

23rd June, 2018

Final Score: Australia 16 – Ireland 20

Referee: Pascal Gaüzère (France)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Television match official: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

 

Ireland remain at No 2 in the world rankings after an interesting and at times tense tour of Australia and a series win by 2 to 1.

It was much closer than many might have forecast, with both teams scoring 55 points across the three Tests, although Ireland banked two wins and Australia just the one. This was an enthralling series, with plenty of entertainment and interest.

Rugby Australia must be exceptionally happy as the crowds returned to watch Test rugby. After the echoingly empty stands of the Super Rugby games, it is clearly evident that support for the game at the top level still exists in Australia, it is simply Super Rugby that has bored everyone to tears. Every Australian rugby fan will be wondering how Rugby Australia and Super Rugby will tackle the future in order to keep those fans coming into the stadiums?

Of course, a rugby Test in the Antipodes would not be a real Test without a dose of refereeing controversy. Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has had his fair share of referee related tantrums and controversies over the years, and Saturday was no exception. Without descending to the level of ineptitude seen in the All Black/France series, the referee in the final Test of the Wallaby/Ireland series was also guilty of some strange decisions. So much so that Cheika invited the referee, Pascal Gauzere, to the post-test press conference after Ireland’s victory in Sydney. Gauzere declined the invitation.

Cheika felt Australia was hard done by some referee decisions, particularly after reserve Australian hooker Tolu Latu was nabbed for not releasing the ball after a carry. Johnny Sexton kicked the penalty for a four point advantage.

Johnny Sexton also had a moment with referee Gauzere, telling him that he had no choice but to talk to Sexton.

Sexton took over as captain when Peter O’Mahoney was injured. It was when he went up to speak to Gauzere as O’Mahony lay injured on the ground after the Folau incident that he was waved away by the referee.

“I’m the captain, so you have to talk to me,” Sexton was heard saying via the referee’s microphone. “I know you hate me, but you have to talk to me.”

We might hear more about this little discussion.

Let’s examine some of the things we have learned in the last three weeks.

Perhaps the most important lesson Australia has to learn is that discipline is paramount in Test Rugby!

In this third Test the Wallabies conceded fewer penalties than they did in Melbourne a week ago, but only just. 12 compared to 15 the previous time out. It does not help to prevent the opposition from scoring tries if you are going to bleed penalties and hand the game to them that way.

Jonathan Sexton simply slotted penalty after penalty as the Aussies gave the Irish 15 points from the boot.

Adam Coleman was the chief offender as he gave away 9 points in his attempts to play the role of the hard man. He needs to understand the boundaries and play to them.

Even in their first Test 18 – 9 victory, it was penalties that kept Ireland in the game and, as we look back on the series, it was discipline and penalties that finally cost Australia the entire series.

An interesting development has been the use of Israel Folau as a restart kick chaser. Folau’s superior aerial skills are well known, and Michael Cheika has evolved the thinking to use any kick-off as a chance to use Folau as the primary kick chaser. He is a big, heavy man, and he leaps high into the air as he chases the ball. A receiver waiting to catch a ball is in some peril if he stands his ground or even attempts to counter-jump for the catch. Folau, at pace, with momentum is likely to jump higher than the stationary receiver, even if the latter is lifted by his support, which immediately suggests that Folau actually has the benefit of the referee’s protection.

The Aussies have turned a kick-off into an offensive weapon with a real chance for possession and a surge into the opposition back spaces.

There is the rider, of course. Folau was given a yellow card for making contact with Ireland captain Peter O’Mahony in just such a jump. O’Mahoney was forced off the field for an HIA and played no further part in the match. Folau has also been cited for an earlier aerial challenge on the same O’Mahoney in the ninth minute of the match. The earlier incident was not detected by the on-field match officials and was not reviewed by the TMO. Citing commissioner Michael O’Leary reviewed footage of the match and decided that while Folau’s sin bin incident did not warrant further action, the second kick-off incident that was not picked up by the match referees was worthy of a hearing.

The discussion about leaping to catch a ball is not over yet! If Australia are going to persist with this tactic, they may find themselves in increasing danger of losing a man to a yellow card.

After this series there can be no doubt that Ireland are serious World Cup challengers. Drawn in Pool A which includes Scotland, Japan, Russia and a play-off winner, Ireland seem assured of progression to the playoff stages. The published schedule means they are likely to avoid New Zealand until a possible final.

In this series Ireland played the game everyone expected of them. They are not the team that takes the ball wide at every opportunity. They play a structured, disciplined game built around set-pieces and taking the ball up close and direct. They play off pinpoint kicking and accurate following. Their defence was outstanding and they worked at pinning the Wallabies back in their half of the field, waiting for the home-side’s discipline to let them down. And the Wallabies obliged.

The Wallabies had their good moments too. Their continuity was good, reaching seven, eight, or nine phases at times. This is a hallmark of the way Michael Cheika wants his teams to play. The problem is that the Wallabies lacked penetration. In previous seasons Cheika has made use of crashball running midfielders the likes of Tavita Kuridrani and Samu Kerevi to attempt to break through defence lines. The rapid development of the rush defence systems has prevented these big-muscle carriers from gaining momentum, shutting them down before they can do any damage, which has meant a rethink of the strategy by Cheika and his brains trust.  The 2018 option has been for playmakers like Foley and Beale to work at creating the space for the Folaus and Kerevis, but the Irish responded by shutting down their space too. While the Wallabies did manage to unlock the Irish defence a couple of times, for the most part their back division simply lacked penetration. There was a lack of creativity and the incisive running in the midfield, and often a lack of support runners out wide.

The Wallabies also kicked the ball a lot. In fact they kicked it twice as often as the Irish. The Wallaby fall-back option seemed to be to kick, and rely on Israel Folau to win the ball back.  Unfortunately, for this strategy to work, the kicks have to be pinpoint accurate, and they simply were nothing of the sort. Both Foley and Beale often simply hoofed the ball as far upfield as possible, and straight into the hands of an Irishman who simply brought the game back into the Wallaby half of the field.

The kicks were easy to catch, with little chasing pressure, and just gave players like Brian Carney, Keith Earls or Jacob Stockdale time to run the ball back hard.

In contrast, Johnny Sexton’s kicking game was right on point. He made sure that he kicked the ball away from the dangerous Folau, causing the fullback to turn and chase rather than gather and counter-attack. Sexton also made sure that his kicks were short enough for his kick-chasers to contest. His was a masterclass of game management, compared to the Beale/Foley partnership that was average at best.

Much like South Africa with Faf de Klerk, Australia have a match-winning scrum half in Will Genia. Much like South Africa’s depth problem, there is not much depth beyond Genia. Nick Phipps is a journeyman scrumhalf and nothing more. He did not have the same influence that Genia had until he was injured.

For the Record:

Ireland clinched a 2-1 series victory against the Wallabies when they beat their hosts 20-16 in a tightly contested affair in Sydney on Saturday.

It was a tough, uncompromising game full of brutal collisions and trading blows.

Both sides scored a try, but the game went Ireland’s way thanks to the boot of Johnny Sexton.

This was an entertaining game to end an entertaining series, and that is what rugby should be all about.

The scorers:

For Australia:
Try: Koroibete
Con: Foley
Pens: Foley 3
Yellow Card: Folau

For Ireland:
Tries: Stander
Pens: Sexton 5
Yellow Card: Stockdale

The Teams:

Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Lukhan Tui, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Ned Hanigan, 21 Pete Samu, 22 Joe Powell, 23 Reece Hodge

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Peter O’Mahony, 6 CJ Stander, 5 James Ryan, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Cian Healy, 18 John Ryan, 19 Tadhg Beirne, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Jordan Larmour