Rugby World Cup 2011
UCT product shines against Oz
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
JJ Gagiano (File)
Cape Town - There’s probably more than a hint of unfairness in suggesting right now that Australia’s World Cup hopes are flickering, considering that they’ve just trounced the United States 67-5
After all, they saw off the Eagles on Friday in a much more convincing manner than Ireland, their upset conquerors last time out in Pool C, who could only manage 22-10 a bit earlier in the tournament, and without a bonus point.
Certainly a case remains for suggesting that no team can emulate the Wallabies - no, perhaps not even the All Blacks - in making try-scoring look such a simple process when they get their three-quarters into full, elegant stride.
But their big win needs to be put in some context: the USA team was almost wholly changed for this one, played horrible second fiddle at the set-piece and lacked the defensive technique, muscle and sometimes even resolve to keep the Wallaby runners at bay.
Still, though, fellow major-league rivals to the Aussies - including the Springboks, their likely quarter-final foes - may well be suspecting that if you can more successfully starve them of possession, certain vulnerabilities remain in their armoury.
One of them is an obvious and unfortunate one: the Wallabies are in the midst of an injury hoodoo with several key names sidelined - Pocock, Pocock, Pocock is the one that somehow bellows out louder than most! - and on Friday added midfielders Pat McCabe and Anthony Fainga’a as possible medium- to long-term casualties.
The Wallabies did find greater collective fluidity in the second half, after a bit of a “too many cooks” syndrome curtailed the first-half performance, but some limitations in the engine room remain - according to the TV statistics the United States actually bossed territory overall, which will be a concern to Robbie Deans and company.
“There are lots of little issues with this team ,” straight-talking commentator and former All Black Murray Mexted noted in mid-match. “It’s by no means the package.”
Are the Wallabies being just a little rattled, too, by the hostility of the reception they’re getting from New Zealand crowds?
Chants of “USA, USA” rang out deafeningly early on, not just from American expats and traveling fans, that’s for sure. And - especially early on - favourite solo target Quade Cooper copped it in a much bigger way than anyone else, boos ringing out as he lined up place-kicks.
Which brings us to another matter: the mercurial flyhalf (who later shifted to fullback as Berrick Barnes came off the necessarily busy bench) was again unconvincing off the tee, missing some strikes that Messrs Steyn, Carter and others tend to pop over in their sleep.
As things get tighter and more evenly-matched later in the tournament, there is mounting agreement that accuracy at goal will be of priceless importance, and the Australians labour under the tricky little situation of having several potential kickers in their ranks, but never being entirely sure when to make the shift, or who exactly to employ, when one of them is looking iffy.
In the Springbok camp, the picture is so much clearer: Morne Steyn takes all the ones that are within his range; namesake Frans has a crack at the 55-60m jobs. No argument, no confusion.
South African guru Braam van Straaten is apparently due to join the Aussie camp again just ahead of the quarters, which may be timely to settle some nerves in that area for them.
From a South African point of view, some of his old Ikey Tigers pals would have been chuffed to see JJ Gagiano, the 26-year-old US (no, that’s certainly not University of Stellenbosch) loose forward, have some strong moments in the losing cause.
The Cape Town-born No 8 scored a blindside try off a backpedalling scrum, exploiting some strange Australian defensive complacency, poached a ball or two from Wallaby clutches and had some other fair surges.
Mexted, again, did not miss Gagiano’s endeavour: “He’s done extremely well in a scrum that’s been hammered.”
Yes, the Wallabies continue to play some uniquely sexy rugby at times, but there are also lingering ladders in the stockings of the Tri-Nations champions, who have slipped back to No 3 on the IRB’s rankings …