MATTHEW BURKE – SUN HERALD COLUMN

Gritty triumph fails to mask lack of bite in attack
Matthew Burke

The Wallabies might have won the series against Wales, and rightly so, but how far have they come since the World Cup?

I couldn’t be happier for Australian rugby and I’m certain Robbie Deans is breathing a little easier after winning a tough series, but one thing I’m slightly concerned about is the fact that despite winning the series, there have been some real attacking oversights. We’ve scored five tries the entire series, and three of them were in the first match.

In Melbourne, for example – a thrilling win that was lauded by all – the Wallabies really broke the line only once and from a set-play. And with only one try again last night, there are no signs that Australia is the attacking force we all want it to be.

They survived by the skin of their teeth against a strong Wales side yesterday and were outdone on stats by Wales in Melbourne. To be perfectly honest, when you’re playing the All Blacks or Springboks you’re going to have to break the line more often than that.

I hope for Australian rugby’s sake that winning the series won’t result in Deans glossing over a few attacking issues that have been evident in all three Tests.

One major positive of the series has been Berrick Barnes, with two man-of-the-match performances. He showed great vision, his attacking kicking was insightful and nine times out of 10 he’s taken the right options.

If it weren’t for Barnes’s efforts, it’s hard to see how the Wallabies would have been so effective with the ball.

Looking forward to the Rugby Championship, Deans has a dilemma of sorts in his play-making ranks. He has three blokes in the mix for the No.10 jumper – four if you include James O’Connor.

Does Kurtley Beale stay at fullback or does Berrick keep his spot? Does Quade Cooper come back into the mix and, if so, who misses out? Does Barnes shift to No.12 and Pat McCabe move to the bench, or vice-versa?

Then you have to consider whether you want ball-playing centres in Barnes and Rob Horne or the more direct option of McCabe. Adam Ashley-Cooper also comes into that mix. And after that, just who becomes the general will be another dilemma Deans will have to face.

No doubt this Test series has been a welcome relief to the Waratahs players, and hopefully these blokes can take back to the provincial level what they have learnt in the past three weeks. I’m certain Michael Foley will be hoping that is the case.

There are eight Waratahs in the Wallabies side and perhaps that’s a sign they are not playing as bad as their win-loss record suggests. Either way, it seems that Berrick is a different player at international level.

It was suggested to me that Barnes plays deeper at the Wallabies level and on investigations it seems he does. And with that extra time, it allows him to get the ball away a little easier and sum up the defence. Perhaps that’s something the Waratahs – who have payed largely a flat game – could consider. It gives everyone a bit more time and space.

One thing that’s really excited me is the new lease of life Nathan Sharpe has been given. All of a sudden, the value of his commodity has risen significantly. With injuries to Dan Vickerman and James Horwill, he was begged to stay on and has pretty much gone from being the odd man out to commanding his price. And it goes to prove that age isn’t always a barrier, it’s something you need within a team and Sharpie is certainly fitting that mould. Here’s looking forward to the Rugby Championship in August.

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