The Wallabies’ game against England was like the worst rugby league | Matt Cleary

Australian fans can be proud of the Wallabies’ effort against England but they are unlikely to stand for another 80 minutes of the same dopey automaton action

In the “2016 Qantas Wallabies Media Guide” – a glossy and functional bit of kit full of statistics, records, player profiles and such – coach Michael Cheika writes that “every match is another opportunity to show our fans and the world what the Wallabies stand for. That’s the attitude we take in every time we have the honour of representing our country on the global stage.”

ARU CEO Bill Pulver enthuses on the historic implications for the three-Test Australia-England rugby series and ensures media that the Wallabies are “hungry for success, and are aware of the tremendous opportunity that 2016 brings for them”.

And while that all may be true – and certainly there’s been a “Lions-esque” feel to this tour – after Saturday night’s belittling at the hands of surging, brutal, belligerent England, Australian fans have learned this: the Wallabies aren’t good in 2016 because they were in 2015. And even though they hammered England 33-13 – in a Test Pulver rates as perhaps the men in gold’s “most famous” win over England (he may not have seen the ’91 World Cup final) – if the Wallabies don’t trot out their best XXIII, they’re back in the panting pack. And that’s just it.

We’ve also learned that England are lots better than we thought. England are hard – hard bodies, hard yards, hard lines. These players don’t “join” breakdowns, they don’t flop on and attach themselves to a little rolling maul. They tear in with pick-handles and malignant intent. They destroy the joint. In the words of former Wallabies coach Dave Brockhoff, they “cause havoc at the breakdown like sharks in a school of mullet”.

The English work is just hard, hard rugby. They care not for aesthetics. Russell Crowe asked people in the film, Gladiator, were they not entertained? England don’t give a stuff. Not in terms of frippery like a silken backline move. What’s the point if it’s a road to nowhere? England do what they must to win. They leave it all out there. They kick long and well. They hit and hit again. They compete, they test the referee.

And they tackle. How they tackle. It’s like the advantage line is a dam wall and the England players are Selleys No More Gaps. And there were no gaps. Not a one.

Yet it didn’t stop Australia trying to bash through. For just about the entire second-half at AAMI Park on Saturday night, the Wallabies piled in. They bashed in across multiple phases. It was brutal rugby, largely without finesse or creativity. Eddie Jones knew Australia would “run everything the Australian way”. And he told his men what was coming and to break heads at the breakdown. England barely even had to think – it was just tackle this, tackle that, tackle whatever great golden beast was running at them. And repeat. And keep on doing it until the Wallabies coughed up the pill or the referee found a penalty in the maelstrom.

The Wallabies’ game was like the worst rugby league – one-out, crash-ball, recycle, repeat. Was there no other way? After the hard rushing defence of the week before, was there no thought to chip kicks, cross-kicks, grubbers, bombs?

When Australia tried to use Israel Folau, ripping off one of their myriad “moves” loosely titled “get the ball to Israel”, there was nowhere for the big man to go. You can’t just give Folau the ball and say “here Israel, you’re good, do something good”. Folau breaks the line because of work inside him. He hits holes and tears it up from there. But he has to be put through. He’s a grand support player; he runs at holes.

And England offered up none. Their defensive-line was a dyke. And in the clutch moments, the Wallabies froze. They didn’t back their skills. They were hammered.

Thinking about it, Australia were always over the odds. Firstly because England are good: six Test wins on the trot; fitter than a thousand trout; a coach who well knows the way of Randwick rugby. Secondly, because Australia are missing Matt Giteau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Will Genia, Drew Mitchell, Matt Toomua, Kurtley Beale, David Pocock and Kane Douglas, and I could be leaving out a couple high-skilled and fit, professional, experienced players who always seem at the peak of their powers.

When Courtney Lawes tore off down field before England scored the killer try at the death, a supporter from a posse of men in golden suits took his golden top hat and slammed it hard onto the ground in disgust.

Cheika could empathise. It was a shocker of a loss. And while fans can be proud of the Wallabies’ effort, if there are another 80 minutes of the same dopey automaton action that was so bereft of ideas how to go around or over or through the wall of man-meat that is England, fans will be proud of them from afar. And watching something else.


Matt Cleary

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
How to cope without David Pocock in the Wallabies' second Test against England? | Matt Cleary
Combatting Eddie Jones’ buoyant England side without the influential Pocock will be a challenge for the Wallabies; the answer may lie in organised chaos

Matt Cleary

13, Jun, 2016 @8:30 PM

Article image
Bullish Wallabies seek more control in effort to hit back hard against England
Two of Australia’s most influential players believe the Wallabies will bounce back strongly from their first Test defeat against England this Saturday and extend the best-of-three series into a deciding third game next week

Robert Kitson in Melbourne

16, Jun, 2016 @2:00 AM

Article image
Australia 40-44 England: third rugby union Test match – as it happened
Minute-by-minute report: England shade Australia in a highscoring and enthralling contest to make it a 3-0 series whitewash

Paul Connolly

25, Jun, 2016 @12:33 PM

Article image
No disgrace for Wallabies but lowered future expectations may be called for | Matt Cleary
Michael Cheika’s side have not been completely awful during the June Test series but whatever they threw at England they just couldn’t land the killer blow

Matt Cleary

26, Jun, 2016 @8:30 PM

Article image
Ben McCalman ruled out as Michael Cheika plans changes for Wallabies
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has indicated he will make a few changes for the final Test against England in Sydney

Mike Hytner

21, Jun, 2016 @1:18 AM

Article image
Ben Te’o in contention for England debut against Australia
The Leinster centre took full part in England training ahead of the first Test against Australia on Saturday

Robert Kitson in Surfers Paradise

07, Jun, 2016 @8:59 PM

Article image
England 23-7 Australia: tourists claim first series win in Australia - as it happened
Live rugby union: All the action from AAMI Park in Melbourne as the Wallabies handed England their first Test series win down under

Paul Connolly

18, Jun, 2016 @12:18 PM

Article image
Eddie Jones: Craig Joubert will referee Australia v England not pundit Kearns
The England coach has again felt the need to have a dig at a former Wallaby, this time for claiming England are cheating in the scrums

Robert Kitson in Melbourne

13, Jun, 2016 @9:00 PM

Article image
Eddie Jones slams Australian pundits’ ‘disrespectful’ treatment of England
England’s head coach, Eddie Jones, has accused several leading Australian rugby pundits of disrespecting his squad and is predicting more dirty tricks before the second Test

Robert Kitson at Suncorp Stadium

12, Jun, 2016 @9:00 PM

Article image
Australia captain Stephen Moore says England deserved series whitewash
The Australia captain, Stephen Moore, says that England deserved their unprecedented series whitewash but the hooker is confident the Wallabies’ self-belief will not be dented despite their worst home series defeat in 45 years

Alan Smith

25, Jun, 2016 @2:30 PM