How long has it been since I've written about Rugby? I was in the UK on the weekend and for the first time since forever I was able to watch Australia play live. You know what, I was impressed by what I saw.
Australian Rugby has been in trouble this year. The Super 14 season was pretty much a dud for every team except the Brumbies, the ARU has been completely mismanaged (as have some of the state Unions), and the Wallabies in the warm-up tests have been somewhat shaky. This was all blown away last week. To begin with John O'Neal was reappointed as the CEO of the ARU, then the Wallabies lost in a a nail biter to South Africa.
Normally, I wouldn't be crowing about a loss to South Africa. But, this year South Africa have had all the form. By all accounts, South African teams played superbly during the Super 14 and the form has flowed on to the Springboks. For Australia to be considered contenders at the World Cup this year they had to be more than in the game against South Africa. They had to show that they have the potential to take away the big games. Even though they lost the game, it could have gone either way. In the end, I think Australia ultimately lost because of three bad lineout throws from the replacement hooker. If one these throws hadn't happened the game could have easily gone the other way.
The Australian backs, with the exception of Julien Huxley, all looked dominant in their positions. Huxley had a mediocre game with the boot which, in a game dominated by territorial kicking, hurt Australia somewhat. However, defence was superb.
The performance of the forward pack made me smile more than anything else throughout the game. The Wallaby scrum easily matched the Springbok scrum and the lineouts (until Adam Frier came on) were a great spectacle. A little less obvious than this was the improvement of the Australians at the breakdown. For the first time in years the Australian forward pack looked fast and aggressive. When in possession the forward pack (with Lote Tequiri) continually made it over the advantage line and maintained possession. When George Smith was on the field the South Africans had to fight like nothing else to retain the ball at more rucks than they would have liked to count. More importantly, Australia were able to not only shut-down the Springbok rolling maul, but they were able to use their own as an attacking weapon.
I'm no-longer completely depressed about Australia's chances at this year's world cup!