Wallabies miss opportunity to make mark on Rugby Championship

For the first time in 2022 the Wallabies played the same starting fifteen two weeks in a row as they desperately looked for consistency. Instead, the team that shot out of the blocks in Adelaide, struggled under the Springboks’ relentless kicking game and lost the territory battle to fall 24-8.

Playing the first ever international fixture at the new Allianz Stadium in front of a boisterous sell-out crowd, the Wallabies were keen to rid themselves of their poor record in Sydney — where they’ve failed to win a Test since 2015 — but as the injuries piled up, so too the penalties, the wheels started to fall off.

Pinned inside their own half for much of the match, the Wallabies’ defence was manipulated side-to-side as the Springboks used their kicking game to perfection to push the Wallabies back and eventually find the tryline four times.

Keen to take advantage of the space behind the Wallabies defensive line and get their dangerous debutant Canan Moodie into the game early, Willie le Roux peppered kicks across the back, constantly testing the Wallabies’ back three in the greasy conditions. It would take less than 10 minutes for the Boks to earn their rewards with centre Damian de Allende crossing under the posts after the Wallabies succumbed to multiple phases of relentless pressure.

As the Boks continued to dominate territory and possession, the Wallabies would enter the Boks’ 22 just once inside the first half and come away with three points as they narrowed the gap. But while they looked to find some fluidity in attack, their lack of possession and softness at the collision stunted any momentum and with just minutes remaining in the half a perfectly executed kick to Moodie would see the debutant fly for the line and extend the lead.

The game would quickly go from bad to worse for the Wallabies after the break with Hunter Paisami failing to return to the field with a head knock, while the Boks were quick to manipulate the defence again with Franco Mostert crossing in the corner following tireless scrambling and bombardment of the Wallabies defence.

Making little impact on the match and looking questionable with ball, Noah Lolesio would also exit the match early with a head knock of his own, while huge ball-runner Taniela Tupou didn’t even reach the pitch, going down while warming up in the first half. It was a significant blow for a team that desperately needed some punch up front.

Essentially playing with a 5-2 split on the bench, the Wallabies were forced to assemble a mish-mash backline with Andrew Kellaway slotting into the centres, Reece Hodge moved into fly-half while Jake Gordon found himself on the wing.

“I was frustrated, we just couldn’t get in the game,” Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said post-match. “Early on they turned a bit a ball over against us, a couple sprayed out the side and it gave them momentum. They certainly defended well, we just struggled to get any continuity, and they strangled us well. I thought aerially we were excellent bar one [kick], but getting out of that corner we struggled.

“South Africa were very good; they chocked us down the far end of the field. We lost collisions early, that was frustrating and it gave them momentum. There were a series of penalties which led to a yellow card, so we got put under heat early.

“Even without a lot of ball, we rallied pretty well in the first half, but disappointing to give up a try right on half time, 7-3 going in without much ball or territory, we worked pretty hard for that and we were confident if we could get our game going and get a bit of continuity that we could hurt them. We weren’t good enough to turn any pressure into points.”

Despite the many issues peppering the Wallabies game, it wouldn’t be until around the hour mark that the match truly felt out of reach. After the Springboks were pinged several times within their own half and the Wallabies were playing under advantage, a cleanout from Allan Alaalatoa was ruled dangerous, sending Australia marching back down field and scuttling any hope that a comeback was possible.

Neither team would be immune to the whistle, with referee Ben O’Keefe killing much of the match’s momentum, neither side able to string more than a few phases together before a stoppage was blown. With 27 penalties blown in total, and several TMO stoppages, it was a hard spectacle for fans to watch.

“There was a lot of penalties, a lot of stoppages, and a lot of kicking, so probably not a great spectacle. I think everyone played a part in it,” Rennie said.

While the Springboks kicking game was on song, the Wallabies struggled to implement their own, as they failed to put the Boks back three under any pressure choosing to put the ball into touch instead of finding any clear grass in South Africa’s half.

“We needed to play with a bit more optimism tonight, we were struggling to get our game going, so we needed to play with more tempo and kick smarter,” Rennie said. “We kicked a lot of ball out rather than kicking long or finding grass behind them where there was a bit of space.

“Even at 17-3 with 10 minutes to go we felt if we get down the other end of the field and get some continuity, maybe we could claw this back.

“I thought there was some excellent defence in amongst what we did tonight, but it felt like we didn’t fire a shot. They were very good at strangling us, they’d go multi-phase and then put it up in the corner and choke us down there.”

It was an emphatic response from the Springboks after they’d looked well off the pace in Adelaide last week and questions were starting to be asked of the coaching team, with captain Siya Kolisi — one of the best on the field — leading a fierce pack that dominated across the park.

Meanwhile for the Wallabies, it’s another missed opportunity to make a mark on the Rugby Championship that remains wide open.

Next up is a New Zealand side that earlier Saturday at last lived up to its reputation. While the All Blacks pummeled the Pumas, the Wallabies were brutalised by the Boks.

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