VIDEO: Wallabies' backline conundrum
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Kurtley Beale’s health status won’t be known until midweek but the wellbeing of Australia’s backline play will come under immediate focus in their preparation for the World Cup quarter-finals.
The Wallabies are unanimous that the forward pack deserve the plaudits for the 27-8 win over Georgia and that the backs face a week of introspection.
Coach Michael Cheika conceded the problems were “out the back” as they squandered a wealth of possession laid on by a dominant front eight, admittedly in wet conditions on Friday.
The last time Australia scored less points against a current tier one nation was in their 3-9 defeat of Samoa at the 1991 World Cup.
A similar lack of precision against likely quarter-final opponents England in Oita next week would probably prove tournament-ending.
That sentiment was acknowledged by experienced outside back Dane Haylett-Petty although he quashed a suggestion the backs had failed to gel through all four pool fixtures.
“I probably don’t feel like that from the last three games, but I definitely think that [against Georgia] the forwards were the stars of the show,” he said.
“Out wide we probably struggled a little bit, especially with the conditions.
“You can see from the way we’re playing the game, we have probably the most passes going around in the competition because we like to use the ball. But with that comes errors.”
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Cheika will have a headache finalising his starting backline after chopping and changing over the last month..
Wing Marika Koroibete’s dazzling solo try against Georgia continued his bright tournament form but inspiration is missing elsewhere.
Matt Toomua was direct at flyhalf but lacks the finesse of the world’s premier playmakers while Christian Lealiifano’s form has been patchy, although better than that of the squad’s other No.10 option, Bernard Foley.
James O’Connor is struggling to make an impact at outside centre but introducing Tevita Kuridrani there may reduce their creativity further.
A grey area is the health of fullback Kurtley Beale, who failed a head assessment after taking an early blow.
He will be assessed by an independent doctor on Wednesday or Thursday to determine his availability, by which time Cheika may have already finalised a team.
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Vice-captain Samu Kerevi said the early indications were positive for Beale.
“He has still got that buzz about him and beautiful smile that we like to see,” he said.
“I saw him at recovery and he is feeling good. His disappointment is more that he couldn’t be out there with the boys in the game.”
If fit, it could be that Beale misses out on form grounds anyway.
He has lacked punch in Japan and Haylett-Petty stood out at fullback in the loss to Wales when Beale was on the bench.
Meanwhile, Wallabies wing Reece Hodge’s return from suspension could be a timely one.
Hodge has had three games off to think about his tackle technique after becoming the first of 11 players at the tournament so far to be banned for high contact.
He could also be the first to return, if selected for the quarter-final in Oita on Saturday, most probably against England.
The 25-year-old’s availability may be invaluable given the head knock suffered by Beale against Georgia that threatens to sideline the fullback.
Hodge was a first-choice wing through the first four Tests this year and won the nod for the opener against Fiji last month in Sapporo, where his tackle on Peceli Yato was deemed high by a judiciary.
That contentious ruling riled the Wallabies and Hodge conceded he found it “pretty tough” to immediately cope before harnessing a sense of worth through a support role.
“I had 30 of my good mates around me and great support staff around to really help me through that time,” Hodge said on Sunday.
“The way I kind of saw it was after the first couple of days, there was no point trying to fret about the decision.
“I really tried to help the guys out wherever I could and also to take the opportunity to … improve little bits of my own game to be in the best possible shape for this week.”
If selected, the Melbourne Rebels utility back has vowed to go lower when lining up tackles.
“My kind of tackling in the wide channels is always in the low knee-to-hip kind of region,” he said.
“I learned my lesson that it is going to be quite harsh if you stray from that kind of goal so I’ll definitely be trying to tackle low this weekend for sure.”