OMuscled by England last month and coached by Argentina a fortnight ago, the Wallabies regained the pride of the old gold jersey this weekend, bouncing back from their recent 48-17 bombardment in San Juan to beat the Springboks world champion 25-17 in Adelaide. With Los Pumas upsetting the All Blacks 25-18 in Christchurch, Australia’s window to the Rugby Championship and a first Bledisloe Cup in two decades remains woefully ajar.
Hope can be dangerous for Wallabies fans. But Saturday’s performance instilled it. After losing the first 25 minutes of their last five starts, Australia started well for a change, taking the lead thanks to quick hands and a fierce run. An old Nic White header found Fraser McReight young legs after 62 seconds to draw first blood and signal intent. Noah Lolesio iced the try then netted a penalty to make it a solid 10-0 buffer.
Better yet, it was the smarts and the heart the Wallabies showed when the momentum inevitably returned to the Springboks. Facing a huge ‘bomb squad’ of elite attackers, the Aussies held their ground, repelling the Springbok marauders with courage and discipline. Again and again, they broadcast each raid with rushing defense, clever ruck steals or relief kicks that their back three chased down fiercely to keep their visitors on the back foot.
The toughest pursuit was Marika Koroibete. The big winger played like two men all day (except for the 10 minutes his wing partner Tom Wright was sent off, when he played like three men) and was again the best on the pitch. His decisive moment was a tackle at the end of the first half. Springbok speedster Makazole Mapimpi had found space on the far left and pinned his ears for a moment of glory as his winning try in the 2019 World Cup final.
By then, the Koroibete Express had already left the station. From the opposite corner, the big No. 11 had seen what no one else had and began to mow down a fast lane parallel to the tryline. Protected by Australian covering defenders, the South African winger heard the thunder, but it was not until the last gasp that he saw the lightning hit him. Inches from the line, in a tackle heard around the world, Mapimpi was boned in the air by Koroibete and sent flying.
Besides the fact that he thwarted a certain scoreline and kept the Springboks without a half-time try, it was as definitive a statement of belief as ever in the Wallabies playbook. Yet the big guy was asked to explain himself anyway. “The tackle had to be done,” Koroibete said in his own way sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. “We had a man down, we had to cover the short side and the other side as well. I just put my body on the line for the boys.
Simple words. Singular actions. Cover for a mate. Empires are built on less.
The Wallabies will settle for another win this week at Sydney’s new football stadium. After all, winning two Tests in a row is a feat they haven’t achieved in 12 months. The last time they did, on September 18, 2021, it was another victory against South Africa and the start of what has become a five-game winning streak. If they want to repeat that run, they must first eliminate the Springboks on Saturday and then inflict back-to-back defeats on New Zealand.
When the Wallabies play like they did in Adelaide, it seems possible. Especially now, with the All Blacks in crisis after three successive home defeats for the first time in 119 years. Although much of the Kiwi rugby fraternity begged for the installation of breakdancing Crusaders coach Scott Robertson, New Zealand rugby retained Ian Foster as coach until 2023 thanks to the 35-23 victory of the All Blacks over South Africa in Johannesburg two weeks ago. Now, having been overtaken by Michael Cheika’s Los Pumas, the fallacy of that dawn casts a harsh light on an unthinkable apocalypse – losing the Bledisloe Cup after a 19-year reign.
Every time Koroibete’s tackle is played on YouTube, a new thrill will chill the spines of the All Blacks. For too long Australia have been unwitting accomplices to their own demise in the Bledisloe Tests. But if they rally like they did on Saturday, if they show the same conviction as Koroibete, if young firebrands like Fraser McReight keep firing, if faith is shown in fresh-faced schemers Noah Lolesio, and if million-dollar man Taniela Tupou is making his money, watch out.
Right now it’s a sequence of a test. And too often, Wallabies fans have seen that light at the end of the tunnel turn into a train that snuffs out hope and shatters golden dreams to smithereens. But beat the world champions again this week in Sydney and Dave Rennie’s men are on a roll with only an outstanding All Blacks team between them and a first Bledisloe Cup since 2003.
And then, who knows? There are 13 Tests by the 2023 World Cup. Maybe after a season of terrible injuries and bad luck, the Wallabies finally have hope.