Sport Union RWC 2019: What we now know about the Rugby World Cup – and the Wallabies
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RWC 2019: What we now know about the Rugby World Cup – and the Wallabies

The Wallabies showed against Fiji an inability to adapt on the field. Photo: Getty
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It is a matter of suspicions and hopes confirmed after the first great weekend of the 2019 Rugby World Cup – and that’s not good for Australia.

There was plenty of thrilling rugby to gladden the heart and promise more great entertainment ahead.

It’s just unfortunate that the Wallabies didn’t feature in it – other than making up the numbers against Fiji in the first half of that match.

Basically, after a second-rate first half, the Wallabies defeated a tiring Fiji on the back of a couple of rolling mauls.

Yes, you have to do what you have to do to win, but the only thing more boring than a rolling maul is a scrum penalty.

And we’re unlikely to roll as easily, if at all, against Wales and whoever we’ll play in the quarter-finals (most probably France if we defeat Wales next weekend, England if we don’t).

The Wallabies again showed they are capable of particularly unintelligent rugby, unable to adapt on the field to the game in front of them.

Too often it seems the men in gold need someone to tell them what’s going on at half-time. It’s a luxury they can’t afford against Wales or in the knockout stages.

The obvious and invidious comparison is the way New Zealand adapted on the field to South Africa’s opening onslaught.

Despite only getting three points for their efforts, the Springboks dominated the opening quarter, their rush defence pinning down the All Blacks.

So the ABs changed the game with shallow kicks over the line, defusing the rush’s impact.

A couple of flashes of well-supported brilliance gave the ABs 14 points and the second quarter.

Along with New Zealand’s usual masterful referee management, that was enough to win a riveting game when the second half was again divided a quarter each.

Yes, New Zealand was confirmed as tournament favourites, showing all the talent, smarts and depth expected.

The modern All Blacks always look like men who, when they are not training, practising or playing rugby, are playing touch and talking and thinking about rugby and being an All Black.

RWC 2019
NZ’s Beauden Barrett sparked a moment of brilliance that led to a try. Photo: Getty

This was a team prepared to meet its greatest rugby foe, but could also be so composed and savvy to perform a synchronised bow to the crowd afterwards. Nice touch.

Yet the 2019 ABs, the better, smarter team on Saturday night, also confirmed they are not invincible.

South Africa was closer than the score indicated. A couple of things could have gone another way … coulda, shoulda, didn’t.

More importantly, the Boks should be expected to learn from what went wrong. It would be hard to believe they would again have such a woeful kicking game, most obviously the worst box kicking I’ve think I’ve ever seen at the top level.

Those who will meet New Zealand in the quarter- and semi-finals know they will have to bring their very best game and rely on the Kiwis being less than perfect. It happens – it was the case for half the match on Saturday.

The other team involved in all the weekend’s matches, the referees, will hopefully improve and find some consistency across the tournament.

Very different standards and interpretations of the laws were on display, always grist for the rugby mill.

For Australia, we must also reasonably believe the Wallabies will be better for the nervous first game being out of the way, that next weekend they will fully respect the opposition from the start.

The suspicion that Dane Haylett-Petty should be in the starting side was confirmed with Kurtley Beale coming off the bench as required.

Also confirmed was the massive handicap we have carried since Michael Lynagh retired – we don’t have a world-class goalkicker … if Matt Burke could be spared from commentary duties.

Our line-out should have been a strong point on Saturday. The rolling maul tries not withstanding – it wasn’t.

The line-out is as much a test of thinking as jumping. We could have taken lessons from the variations used by Fiji and little Japan.

How quickly we can learn to focus and think for 80 minutes – we find out next weekend.

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