The Wallabies’ 13-point victory over Italy must not camouflage the glaring facts that Australia are a dumb team who are clearly not fit, are shackled by a substandard Test pack, and are too ill-disciplined to worry the world’s best sides.
Thankfully the Wallabies finished off the Brisbane Test in the final few minutes, but they should never have been in the position where this result was suddenly in doubt. They let Italy in through their own stupidity.
Australia were up 28-13 in the 61st minute, and cruising, until several brain explosions enabled Italy to recover and threaten.
Really can anyone explain what Israel Folau was doing when in his own quarter he decided to quickly pick up the ball that had gone over the sideline and hurl a loony lineout throw to no-one in particular in the middle of the field? What was the point of that? All it did was lead to an Australian knock-on, an Italian scrum-feed just in front of the Wallabies posts, and the platform for the Azzurri to score shortly after. This was followed six minutes later by a weird wayward pass by Rory Arnold, also in the Wallabies quarter, that was plucked by opposing reserve back Tommaso Benvenuti and suddenly Italy were a mere point behind.
Just dopey, unnecessary football.
Silly things happen when a team is not in prime physical condition.
For weeks on end, we at ESPN have been banging on about how the Australian Super Rugby teams — most notably the Waratahs — have distinctly lacked conditioning this season, often falling away at the end of games due to appreciable fitness concerns.
Now the Wallabies have twigged that something is wrong, with even their captain, Stephen Moore, saying the Australian Super Rugby teams have not been training at the required intensity. This had better be corrected by the time of the Rugby Championship or you can bet right now that Australia will finish a distant last — well behind not just New Zealand but also South Africa and Argentina.
What has also been noticeable during the June internationals — which saw the Wallabies suffer the indignity of losing to Scotland — is that the Australian front- and back-row combinations are not right. Even though the Wallabies were by a sizeable amount the heavier pack on Saturday, they were appreciably out scrummaged by Italy. And yet again a Wallabies front-rower headed to the sinbin due to scrummaging frailties.
After the starting Test front-row of Scott Sio, Moore and Allan Alaalatoa had been shown up, replacement prop Toby Smith was absolutely swamped and, after several penalties, embarrassingly sent to the sideline for constantly failing to hold up the scrum. And so the 14th Australian player since the 2015 Rugby World Cup found himself in the sinbin — a glaring number that shows numerous Australian players are either not up to Test football or fail to handle the pressure, resorting to silly actions.
The All Blacks’ win over the British & Irish Lions in Auckland emphasised the crucial nature of back-row play, and how a No. 8 can be such a dominant on-field force: Kieran Read dominated that Test — which is the norm for this quality footballer. In contrast, the Wallabies have failed to field a match-winning No. 8 since Toutai Kefu — and he played his last Test 14 years ago.
On Saturday, the Wallabies No. 8 Lopeti Timani might as well have been invisible; he made absolutely no impact. Openside Michael Hooper is a fighter, but the Australian blindside flanker position is also weak: Ned Hanigan has been only fair to middling, and let’s be honest didn’t really do that much for the Waratahs this season to warrant a Test berth.
Hanigan is certainly no Sean McMahon or Scott Fardy. Both are sorely missed. The All Blacks won’t be worried about confronting Hanigan.
Numerous Australian forwards have been tried over the past few weeks, but just Hooper and Adam Coleman have been consistently prominent. That is too poor a ratio.
The only positive from the June internationals: Saturday arvo footy. It’s great to again witness Test football in daylight hours, and pleasing to see youngsters back in the stands.
All the ARU has to do is provide better fixtures, as well as the resources to make the Wallabies a quality international outfit again, and the crowds will come.