The Wallabies may have re-established themselves as one of the leading teams in world rugby, but now they are in danger of becoming a one-man band.
Back-to-back victories against world champions South Africa and a convincing 27-8 victory over Argentina in Townsville on Saturday night have affirmed Australia’s rise to No. 3 in the world rankings.
But would they have won three tests in a row for the first time since 2017 without the return of inner center Samu Kerevi? Ever since the All Blacks decided to “give the ball to Jonah” at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa, an international team has not depended as much on one player.
And New Zealand’s failure to win the World Cup is a warning to Dave Rennie’s team, which is becoming too dependent on Kerevi’s powerful breakthrough, shock and decoy role.
Sure, the retirement of veteran playmaker Quade Cooper has made a big difference in the Wallabies’ game too, but they could adequately cover Cooper’s absence following James O’Connor’s return from injury.
There is an urgent need to develop a Plan B in case the opposition finds a way to contain Kerevi or if he is injured.
It’s a similar situation to that of the NRL’s Manly Sea-Eagles, who struggle to win when star winger Tom Trbojevic is injured or heavily marked by opposition.
The only player on the Wallabies team who could duplicate what Kerevi does is technical running back Reece Hodge, who currently plays as a winger.
Hodge has the size and strength to lead the Wallabies across the lead line in midfield and the passing skills to continue an attacking move. But Hodge lacks Kerevi’s X-factor, which is just as important as his physique and skill set.
If the Wallabies can’t replicate the Kerevi factor, they’ll need to develop another way to play without it to ensure they continue to progress in their game.
Kerevi produced a man-of-the-match performance in Townsville, setting up Hodge’s try in the fourth minute with a strong outburst and scoring himself in the 18th minute with a pick and went to the Argentina line.
The victory confirmed that the Wallabies were heading in the right direction, but it certainly wasn’t the polished performance Rennie had been looking for.
Despite the 19-point margin, the victory was similar in some respects to their 28-26 victory in their first Test against the Springboks.
Despite the Wallabies outscoring Argentina three attempts to one, the Pumas left eight points on the field and winger Emiliano Boffelli missed three goal attempts – scores they could generally rely on.
The sum of those points would still have left Argentina well below the Wallabies’ total, but Australia also benefited greatly from the poor discipline of Pumas running back Marcos Kremer, whose actions led to two reversed penalties.
Australia held a 17-3 lead at halftime, but Argentina showed signs of making a game early in the second half after hooker Julian Montoya scored from a rolling maul in the 42nd minute.
The Pumas were awarded a penalty in the 47th minute for a high tackle, but the penalty was reversed when Kremer threw Wallabies side Marika Koroibete to the ground.
Eight minutes later, the Wallabies’ second rower, Matt Philip, was penalized for a ruck violation, but the penalty was reversed after Kremer dropped Hodge. Kremer was sent to the trash, taking the Cougars’ hopes of returning with him.
The game could have been much tighter or it could have been a blowout. In the end it was neither. Although happy with the victory, Rennie was frustrated that the Wallabies didn’t make the Pumas lose in the second half.
Australia dominated possession and territory but more importantly, they beat 26 defenders to Argentina’s five and made eight clean counterattacks to none, while the Pumas missed 26 tackles to Australia’s five.
These stats should have resulted in the Wallabies scoring more than three attempts, but costly turnovers and a poor lineout prevented them from fleeing with the game and invited their opponents to stay in contention until winger Andrew Kellaway put the score on. result beyond any doubt at 69. minute.
While the All Blacks secured the Rugby Championship with a 19-17 win against South Africa in Townsville, the Wallabies and Springboks are still vying for second place with one round to go.
Rennie hinted to make a couple of changes for Test 2 against Argentina at the Gold Coast on Saturday afternoon. Koroibete is heading home for family reasons and will likely be replaced at wing by Jordan Petaia, who had limited playing time off the bench.
There seems to be little doubt that Japan-based rowing racer Sean McMahon will receive his first test cap since 2017, either at No. 8 or on the blind flank.
But maybe the only change Rennie should make is resting Kerevi just to see how the Wallabies fare without him. He would tell Australians if they have become too dependent on him and what they must do to address the problem.
It is not something that should be left to the last minute, like the final of a World Cup.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism