Very few matches to discuss this weekend, so let’s focus on the big one, and indeed the biggest shock in International rugby for some time.
The pedigree of this Samoan side finally showed their true colours, carrying on from their impressive performance against England at Twickenham last November. Whilst this was Australia’s first Test match of the summer/their winter, Samoa have warmed up for this with the Pacific Nations Cup, and it showed. Australia’s side was a concoction of elder out-of-favour players and debutants, along with maybe three or four potential starters. Samoa’s team however was their best, a team that is familiar with one another and has experience in Super Rugby, International level and have played in the Heineken Cup.
Islander sides are perhaps unfairly stereotyped for the physicality, but this was exactly what drove them to victory. Australia could not handle the aggression at the ruck area or in the tackle, and the highlights reel of big hits will be one to re-watch again and again. Samoan rugby players have been heralded in the UK for years, and whilst it seemed to be a bit of a surprise to the Aussie commentating team of Greg Clark, Greg Martin and Phil Kearns at how well certain players performed, for us it was nothing of the sort. Alesana Tuilagi has been terrorising the Premiership for years resulting in iconic status, while Seilala Mapusua’s ferocious defence and determination have become his trademark. With other names like Census Johnston, Filipo Levi, Maurice Fa’asavalu and George Stowers also carrying strong reputations, the world now knows what Samoa have to offer.
Their tries were clinical if not spectacular. A casual flick through the legs from Mapusua into Tuilagi’s path set the Leicester flyer racing away on turnover ball, with only Matt Giteau to stop him. Never a contest. Paul Williams chargedown and George Pisi’s burrowing fourth try after more good work from Tuilagi edged the Samoans away. The third score though was the pick of the bunch; soft hands from Sailosi Tagicakibau, Fa’asavalu and Stowers sending lock Kane Thompson over. Their rugby was brutal. And Australia had no answers.
Australia will be slated in the press, but the post-mortem falls into three categories; an excuse, the slating, and the problem. Bar Digby Ioane, Rocky Elsom, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Nathan Sharpe and Stephen Moore, the rest of the Aussie side fielded on Sunday will not start during the first game of the World Cup. Will Genia, Quade Cooper and co were sorely missed. In the grand scheme of things, losing now is the best time for it to happen ahead of the World Cup. They will need the greater physical presence of David Pocock, James Horwill and maybe Radike Samo or Scott Higginbotham in the back row to compete with New Zealand and South Africa in the Tri-Nations.
As for the slating, this was an incredibly poor performance from players who are meant to be seriously competing for World Cup spots in the Australian set-up. Their lack of composure under pressure, the constant knock-ons and inability to use good possession will be a worry for Robbie Deans. The problem is that regardless of who comes into the first team, this result proved that there is a serious lack of strength in depth when it comes to handling the intense aggression at International level. The Springboks and All Blacks will be licking their lips, and if players Matt Hodgson, Ben McCalman and Pat McCabe do come into the side during the World Cup then the Wallabies may be in trouble.
Here would be my Wallaby side for the next test against South Africa:
1. Benn Robinson, 2. Tatafu Polota-Nau, 3. James Slipper, 4. James Horwill, 5. Nathan Sharpe, 6. Rocky Elsom, 7. David Pocock, 8. Radike Samo, 9. Will Genia (c), 10. Quade Cooper, 11. Digby Ioane, 12. Anthony Faingaa, 13. Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14. James O’Connor, 15. Kurtley Beale.
Try of the Weekend goes to Alesana Tuilagi for his breakaway score. It would be incredible to see him run in many more in the World Cup.
Hero of the weekend is Samoa 10 Tusi Pisi. The unknown package in the Samoan backline, the Suntory fly-half based in Japan was excellent, kicking his goals with style and helping run Samoa’s gameplan and also get them out of trouble when needed.
The weekend’s Villain is Rocky Elsom. The way Australia turned down four shots at goal early showed a lack of respect towards Samoa, who they clearly had mistaken for a Barbarians outfit and forgotten they were competing against in a Test match.
What were your thoughts on the game? Let us know, and here are the highlights.
by Ben Coles