It is doubtful whether many people expected Australia to lose to Argentina in the second semi-final of the Rugby World Cup. There was a period last year when this could have happened, a time when the Wallabies were being described as the Wobblies, but under the new coach, Michael Cheika, things seem to have changed.
But the scoreline — 29-15 — flattered Australia. The last try that blew out the score came off a forward pass from Drew Mitchell to Adam Ashley-Cooper, a pass that went unnoticed by referee Wayne Barnes. But that is not surprising because Barnes does not seem to know how to spot a forward pass. He has form in this regard.
Until that try, Argentina was within touching distance and only needed a converted try to level the scores. That they failed to score a try was due to their lack of experience; the line breaks came with regularity but whoever did so tended to hang on to the ball too long and ended up losing possession. This happened no matter whether there was support or not.
The holes that appeared in Australia’s back-line should be a cause for worry but they appear to have been glossed over by the media in the euphoria over Australia’s win. There appears to be miscommunication between centres Matt Giteau and Tevita Kuridrani and that, in the main, appears to be causing huge gaps to often open up. That is not surprising for the pair only came together for the World Cup; contrast that with New Zealand’s centres Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith who have played 57 Tests together.
The match against Argentina also showed how dependent the team is on David Pocock, a forward who is excellent at forcing turnovers, disturbing opposing forwards, and acting as a disrupting force par excellence. He was bloodied a great deal during the semi-final, but it is not too much to expect that no matter what his condition, he will be there at No 8 next week.
Israel Folau played only to about 30 per cent of his capacity, and there will no doubt be those who advocate that Kurtley Beale replace him for the final. But playing Beale is a big gamble as he tends to do stupid things at time, much in the same way that Quade Cooper does. Folau, even at that reduced level, is a whole lot safer than Beale.
There is no certainty about the final. New Zealand can play well one day and collapse altogether the next. Over the last 20 years, I have seen the best and worst of the All Blacks and it remains to be seen which team turns up for the final. There is plenty of additional motivation to win for a number of players are playing their last games for the team — Richie McCaw, Nonu, Smith, Jerome Kaino and Keven Mealamu will all leave after this game — and their teammates would love to give them a nice leaving gift.
But Australia is a talented outfit and they always raise their game a notch against their traditional enemies. I would not be surprised if Australia squeaked through due to an error or two by an over-confident All Blacks team.