Wynne Gray on sport

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Wallabies needed fresh blood

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Victor Matfield was able to spook the Wallabies as retribution for his glaring missed tackle which cost one early try. Photo / Getty Images
Victor Matfield was able to spook the Wallabies as retribution for his glaring missed tackle which cost one early try. Photo / Getty Images

Coaches often talk about test rugby being a 22-man game. The substitute laws and pace of the game have allowed that luxury for more than a decade.

Using that expanded roster has become more prevalent as coaches have learned to trust their bench. The All Blacks have been comfortable using halfbacks Jimmy Cowan, Piri Weepu and the Franks brothers at prop for half a game during the latest Tri-Nations.

When they claimed the trophy in dramatic fashion on the Highveld in Soweto, they used five of their bench, Weepu, Sam Whitelock, Israel Dagg, John Afoa and Victor Vito, for varying cameos - a mix of forwards and backs.

In contrast, the Wallabies used a quartet of forward replacements and none of the backs as they slid yesterday from a 21-7 lead at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria to a 44-31 defeat to the Boks.

Reserve halfback Luke Burgess and five-eighths Berrick Barnes and Anthony Faingaa got zero minutes between them as the Boks rampaged home in the latter stages of this desperate contest.

In the final quarter, halfback Will Genia made some errors which suggested fatigue, while Quade Cooper faded after his suspension layoff and Matt Giteau seemed more subdued. They were not helped by a misfiring lineout or scrum, but fresh players might have better handled the set-piece inadequacies.

As the Boks left their changing room seeking to avenge a four-test losing run in Victor Matfield's 100th international, they walked past a whiteboard bearing strong messages. "We are disciplined, we are clinical, we are hungry," it read.

None of the ideas made an early impact as the Boks shipped three tries in 10 minutes while the television match official saved them from a fourth. P Divvy must have pondered if there was a makutu on his mob.

The Wallabies also conceded equally soft tries as the combined match tally surged towards 40 points in the opening quarter. The pattern settled a little as the game wore on but the impression was of mistakes and ragged defence, rather than the try-saver from Bok halfback Francois Hougaard on Adam Ashley-Cooper.

The visitors' lineout malfunctioned late and crucially close to the Springboks' line as they chased the game. Matfield was able to spook the Wallabies as retribution for his glaring missed tackle which cost one early try.

Both Matfield and John Smit are talking about being part of next year's World Cup campaign in New Zealand. Neither looks as potent as they have been, especially Smit. When Chiliboy Ralapelle replaced him as hooker for the last quarter, the substitute's impact was immediate.

He claimed two turnovers to puncture Wallaby raids and his substitution showed the possible way forward for the Boks if they want to keep the statesmanship and expertise of Smit's leadership.

For now, the South Africans will be feeling much better than after their last four outings, while the Wallabies must clear their heads for this weekend's showdown in Bloemfontein. After that, the Australians have an important appointment in Sydney: a chance to snap their nine-test losing run against the All Blacks.

- NZ Herald

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