By Paul Cully
1. Wallabies cop a Bledisloe hospital pass.
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie was preparing for back-to-back Bledisloe Tests in New Zealand when he spoke to reporters on Sunday, with the squad set to depart on Friday. That would mean the Wallabies would not need to isolate when in New Zealand, but there is a price to pay. The likely scenario revealed by Rennie is a Test at Eden Park on August 7 and the second Test in Wellington seven days later, with the series concluding in Perth on August 21.
Rennie didn’t seem thrilled with the outcome, but you take what you can get in the Covid-19 era. The Wallabies will therefore need to grab a rare win in New Zealand to take the series to a decider in Perth, where ticket sales have already been strong. The large 42-man squad has been selected with three weeks in New Zealand in mind, because the Wallabies won’t be able to fly in any replacements due to border restrictions.
2. Duncan Paia’aua’s selection isn’t as dramatic as it looks.
The former Reds 10/12 has been plying his trade in France, but his surprise inclusion in Sunday’s squad is a nod to the necessity of bringing a large squad to New Zealand rather than a sudden loss of faith in Rennie’s current options.
The same applies to Izack Rodda and Nick Frost, both of whom will probably need injuries to move up the pecking order after Darcy Swain, in particular, made a move during the series against the French.
Longer-term, Rennie would clearly like to get Paia’aua back into Super Rugby, but he will return to France after the Rugby Championship. He’ll offer a degree of versatility that Rennie likes, but Noah Lolesio and James O’Connor are clearly still the preferred playmakers.
3. Covid-19 remains the financial iceberg in front of Australian rugby.
Rugby Australia must have been watching the rising Covid-19 cases in Sydney with a sense of dread. It already took a hit after losing the SCG Test against the French, and the SCG Test against South Africa in September must also be in peril.
This is precisely the worst-case scenario outlined in RA’s 2020 annual report that warned losing home Tests in 2021 would mean “Rugby Australia will, where necessary and as a first step, reprise financial measures utilised in 2020...and/or making further changes to its business model which may involve further cost saving measures”.
The Delta variant means last year’s playbook is irrelevant, and the challenge of staging the Rugby Championship looks even more challenging than last year given the state of play in NSW. Rugby is not out of the woods.
4. Flat Springboks contribute to a poor Test.
The Springboks kicked the ball 40 times and produced two offloads in their 22-17 loss to the British and Irish Lions in Cape Town. These stats don’t matter when you are winning, but the defeat did shine a light on their conservative tactics that depend on a dominant set-piece to prosper.
It was, in fact, a poor spectacle in Cape Town, played on a soggy pitch that cut up — a far cry from the brilliant 2009 series with its afternoon kickoffs and dry tracks. Most of the game was played between the 22m lines, and as soon as the Lions gained parity at scrum time in the second half, the world champions didn’t seem to have anything but a series of up and unders from the boot of No 9 Faf de Klerk.
5. The Nic Berry decision that frustrated South Africans.
The Australia referee had a thankless task in officiating the first Springboks-Lions Test: it was inevitable his performance was going to be picked apart. Berry had a good game. He was clear and direct with his communication as usual and, critically, the better side won.
But his decision not to show a yellow card to Lions replacement flanker Hamish Watson rightly raised some eyebrows. Watson clearly lifted Willie Le Roux by the leg and dumped him on the ground — it looked like a yellow card all day. The Springboks weren’t making any excuses after the game, but that incident looked like one that Berry may have missed.