Wallabies hunt for ‘balance’ but say they understand the need to kick

The Wallabies will look to retain their up-tempo attacking game plan in the third Test against France, but at the same time temper it by finding greater balance in an approach that includes “smart kicking”.

Coach Dave Rennie on Thursday afternoon unveiled his team for the series-deciding third Test, Australia making seven changes to the run-on XV and a further positional swap for Hunter Paisami. The Reds centre has shifted into No. 12 to accommodate the promotion of Len Ikitau, a combination that Rennie hopes will offer further attacking threats and potentially open up Australia’s kicking game a little more.

“Hunter’s had an excellent season and so has Lenny,” Rennie told reporters. “And Lenny’s a bit different for the Brumbies; he’s got a great skillset and has an ability to get passes away under pressure. He’s got really good feet, he’s aggressive in carry and defence and he’s got a left foot, which we like, to compliment Hunter who can be dynamic with and without the ball, and he’s got a really good kicking game.

“We didn’t see a lot of kicking [on Tuesday], I think we kicked all of nine times and one of those was Marika at halftime, catching it and kicking it over the sideline. So we’ve talked about getting balance to our game. We want to play, but we also want to see opportunities to kick and turn the French around. We’re pretty confident that they’re probably going to give it back to us.”

The Wallabies’ 26 points in their 28-26 defeat by France on Tuesday night were the most they had scored under Dave Rennie since the former Chiefs coach took charge last year. The fact Australia outscored their opponents two tries to one, and dominated possession and territory by a near two-thirds-to-one majority, has only served to further their frustrations.

The French, on the other hand, virtually came away with points every time they visited Australia’s redzone and also had the long-range boot of fullback Melvyn Jaminet to punish the Wallabies’ infringements around, or even beyond, the halfway line.

Having had 36 hours to conduct the post mortem from that match, Rennie stressed the need to find greater balance in the Wallabies’ attack, including a willingness to go to the boot when on the front foot, but also nail their cleanouts against a French back-row that was magnificent around the tackle area.

“That doesn’t sound very good when you say 26 points, does it?” Rennie joked when that figure was put to him. “Look it’s just balance, it’s an attacking kicking game, it’s a smart kicking game, and sometimes if they kick long you’ve just got to return it and then have a crack on the next one. So we just need a bit of variety around our kicking game.

“We had games last year where we over-kicked. I think we attacked pretty well at times on Tuesday, so we created opportunities for us to kick and find space. So that’s really important, it’s kicking off our shape as opposed to someone sitting in the boot and hacking downfield.

“But a couple of areas hurt us, we’ve already talked about post-tackle and they’re very strong there, I’m not saying it’s always legal and we’ll get clarification around some things there. But we’ve got to be mindful that we’ve got to win races [to the breakdown] and be brutal around that area.

“And we cleaned out really well for a big chunk of the game, but we lost the key moments and it hurt us.”

One of France’s strategies was to kick almost every restart to Marika Koroibete, knowing that in all likelihood the Wallabies winger would run the ball back. Australia were then loathed to clear their own territory by going to the boot, putting them under huge pressure against a set defensive line that was ready to attack an exposed breakdown.

Rennie is more than happy for France to continue that strategy, but did reveal Koroibete might look to change things up when the series returns to Brisbane.

“If they kick long to Marika, occasionally he might kick it back, we haven’t seen one yet but we’ve talked about it,” Rennie replied when questioned on the tactic. “He’s going to carry hard and the idea is to give us go-forward, and then give us an option to play off that or kick off that.

“As we saw, he’s a bit of a handful carrying back, he got one clean break which put us right down the other end of the field, and likewise on counter. Maybe they’ll decide to kick elsewhere, but we’re pretty comfortable with them kicking down Marika’s throat.”

Rennie will also seek out referee Ben O’Keeffe for a word before the two teams run out onto Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.

While the French have enjoyed plenty of legal success over the Wallabies’ ball at the breakdown, Rennie believes the tourists have been getting away with too much leniency when it comes to rolling away at the tackle.

“We spoke about it after the first Test, if you get caught on that side, you’ve got to roll east or west. Tthey tend to get on their hands and knees,” Rennie said. “And other than our 9s tripping over them to milk a penalty, they’ve got no right to be there.

“[Referee] Brendon Pickerill after the first Test said they need to be strong around that and we felt they were able to slow a lot of our ball in that fashion [in Melbourne]. We’ll certainly be talking to [Saturday night’s referee] Ben O’Keeffe about it.”