Top of the table but not the best
THE ghosts of Mendoza have been well and truly buried, Wallabies halfback Nick Phipps declared after their stoic victory over Argentina.
Last October, in this city, one of the most tumultuous periods in Australian rugby history began, with the Kurtley Beale- Di Patston spat exploding before the game, and then the overwhelmed Wallabies losing the Test, giving the Pumas their first Rugby Championship victory.
The hollow, quiet dressing room scenes inside the bowels of Estadio Malvinas last year were replaced by the Wallabies hooting, hollering and singing along to cheesy pop music after the 34- 9 win yesterday morning.
It’s been a tough 12 months, but it’s great we’re heading in the right direction
“I was just sitting in there thinking about how different it is,” Phipps said after walking out of the Wallabies change room. “It is really satisfying to put that behind us, a new squad, new team, new coaching staff, we’re all really happy to put that behind us. Now we can move on.
“It’s obviously been a tough 12 months, but it’s great we’re heading in the right direction. We started at the very base of a never- give- up attitude, the boys are really around each other, it’s a great mood at the moment.”
Phipps said the victory should finally close the chapter on the ugly period that later saw coach Ewen McKenzie resign, to be replaced by Michael Cheika.
“Everyone is really happy with what we’ve achieved here,” he said.
“Playing- wise, we’ve still got a lot of work to do. There’s a lot of stuff we’ve got to nail down especially leading into the game in two weeks.”
The Test against the All Blacks gives Australia the chance to bury another ghost – they have not beaten New Zealand in four years.
“We won’t get too ahead of ourselves, they’re top of the world for a reason,” Phipps said.
“They played really well against South Africa, got themselves out of some trouble over there, they just have ways of finding wins.
“I don’t think they played to their full potential against South Africa, so they’ve got another level to go up again.”
Phipps should resume his tussle with Kiwi halfback superstar Aaron Smith, who took the points the last time the pair tussled in the Super Rugby semi- final last month.
“I’m looking forward to going against him again, we love going at it on the field,” he said. THE Wallabies are leading The Rugby Championship table and will have home groundg advantage in the tournamentn decider against the All Blacks in a fortnight, but they admit there remains an enormous gap between the sides.
Australia’s 34- 9 bonuspoint win against Argentina, while delivering the required points, was a far cry from New Zealand’s exhilarating comefrom- behind 27- 20 victory over world No. 2 South Africa in Johannesburg hours earlier.
That match was rugby of the highest calibre, with the speed of the game, precise movement of both sides, and first- class capitalisation of opportunities marking a clear line between the top tworanked teams in the world and the rest.
Australia laboured to victory with more scrum problems and backline uncertainty. Two tries in the final three minutes blew out the margin in a game where the Wallabies struggled to maintain rhythm.
But while the Springboks were brilliant, they have lost their two Rugby Championship Tests, allowing the Wallabies to set up a competition “final” against the All Blacks at ANZ Stadium on August 8.
Australia and New Zealand have nine competition points but the Wallabies have a better points differential of one to lead the table.
“It’s two games, you look at the competition table after two games, that’s not when it finishes,” Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said.
“This year it’s a little bit closer, but it’s very obvious that New Zealand are the best team in the world, and I mean by a long way at this stage.
“We’ve got to work really hard over the next couple of weeks, plan well and really make sure that when we run out at ANZ Stadium in a couple of weeks’ time we’re ready to make Australian rugby people proud of how we play.
“We’ve got a few guys who will be back available now, Wycliff Palu will become available now as will Henry Speight,” Cheika said.