Boosted by the return of some much-needed cavalry, the Wallabies will focus on shoring up the “drop zone” in the coming weeks after they were dominated by Argentina in contestable kicks, and with the bomb-loving South Africans next up in the Rugby Championship.
The wounded Wallabies made their way back from Argentina on Monday after a testing two-week tour that featured one win, a record loss and a steady stream of off-field setbacks. Five starting players were ruled out of Tests due to injury or personal reasons, including skipper Michael Hooper.
Before a two-Test swing against the Springboks, in Adelaide on August 27 and Sydney on September 3, the Wallabies will this week name a squad that will include the returns of Angus Bell (foot), Dave Porecki (concussion), Hunter Paisami (concussion), Scott Sio (shoulder), Folau Fainga’a (concussion), Andrew Kellaway (hamstring), Allan Ala’alatoa (personal reasons) and Rob Leota, who wasn’t considered for San Juan due to a skin infection.
Hooper is not expected back for the series, with Rugby Australia boss Andy Marinos saying “you cannot put time limits on these things”.
“We do have a few soldiers coming back, which will hopefully give us a bit of steel but, as I have said, we are not looking to make excuses for what we put on the park [in San Juan],” Rennie told the Herald and The Age.
“What we know is the intensity level goes up, too. You play a team like South Africa, the world champions, and they’ll be hurting after the second Test against New Zealand as well.”
Argentina celebrate their stunning win over the Wallabies.Credit:Getty
The late withdrawal of Fainga’a due to a concussion suffered at training on Thursday prompted questions about why the Wallabies were doing contact training so late in the week. Pressed on the matter, Rennie said the Fainga’a injury came via an accidental head clash.
“The thing around it [Fainga’a’s head knock] is it was a non-contact session and someone has thrown an inside ball, and a bit of a lack of awareness and two guys have clashed heads,” Rennie said.
“We are obviously conscious of our injury toll but with Folau’s one, it was just a body in front, passive part of our attack structure.”
Lukhanyo Am and Richie Mounga compete for a high ball in Johannesburg.Credit:Getty
A major flaw in the Wallabies’ performance in San Juan was handling the Pumas’ kicking game, particularly in contestable kicks. On numerous occasions, the Argentinian wings reclaimed high kicks over Australian catchers and surged forward. There was a lack of clear calling and catching on other occasions.
Pumas coach Michael Cheika said it wasn’t a specific strategy heading into the game but the team responded to seeing Australia struggle under the high ball early and continued the barrage. The Springboks will have noted the Pumas’ success and look to do the same in Adelaide, given contestable kicks are a big part of their game.
“We were very good in the first Test but they were able to get through [in the second],” Rennie said.
“[Emiliano] Boffelli had a field day. He’s very good in the air and they put us under a lot of heat. It is an area of concern and something we will work on.”
England assistant coach Anthony Seibold noted at half-time on Stan Sport’s coverage that the Wallabies weren’t protecting the “drop zone”, which is where defenders shield the ball catcher by running back to where it will land. It is a tricky area, given referees will watch for players changing their line to block a chaser, but Rennie said they would work on helping the catcher before meeting the Boks.
The Wallabies were dejected after losing to Argentina by a record margin on Saturday.Credit:Getty
“We have to make sure he can’t get through so easily, and you can legally do that, with guys coming back to the zone. You have to make him run around and not get an easy contest on the ball. That happened three or four times [in San Juan], they were able to contest or we weren’t able to grab them,” Rennie said.
Asked if Australian catchers gradually lost confidence to come forward and take the kick, Rennie said: “It is not so much a confidence thing. We have to be accurate on how we deliver on that [kick receipt]. It is like dropping a pass. If you make a mistake, you bar up and you get it right. We weren’t good enough in regards to protecting our guy under the ball and got exposed.”
The Wallabies beat the Springboks twice last year at home but the South Africans are in far better form this year. They battled out an epic two-Test series against the All Blacks while Australia were in Argentina. As usual, there will be no hiding from the physical battle against the Springboks, who execute their game plan better than anyone in world rugby.
“We know they’ll be tough. They’re a massive, massive team,” Rennie said.
“They’re very direct and they’re happy to defend and give you a bit of ball. But they’ll suffocate you. They have really good balance to the game. We certainly got out-kicked [in San Juan] and that’s going to be important for us going into [matches against] South Africa.”
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