Words by Tom Connor
The French have ended Australian hopes of an unbeaten Spring Tour and dealt Michael Cheika his first loss as National Coach in the process. Coming off the back of a three nil series whitewash earlier this year, Les Bleus were out to prove a point in front of a packed and vocal Stade de Francais, and whilst the Wallabies threw everything but the kitchen sink at them, it ultimately wasn’t enough as the home side held on for a 29-26 victory.
It was the fourth time these two sides have faced each other in 2014 and, just like the first three, it didn’t disappoint. As the Wallabies make their way over the Celtic Sea and up to Dublin where the Irish await, we take a look back at who impressed us in the second Spring Tour Test.
Sekope Kepu reaches the half-ton.
Sekope Kepu has become a stalwart of the Wallabies engine room, destroying the stereotype that Props are only good for one thing. Running out for his milestone 50th Test Match on the weekend, Sekope produced a typically workmanlike performance that saw him involved in all aspects of the contest.
It may not come as a surprise to learn that Sekope only switched to the Front Row when he was 19 years old. Remarkably that was after he had already represented New Zealand Age grade at No.8 when he was 17 years old. The transition was a seamless one though, with the Sydney-born enforcer going on to represent the Kiwis at U19 and U21 levels in his newfound position.
Renowned for his strong ball carrying abilities that are seldom stopped short of the gain line, Sekope provided a constant source of front foot ball against a sizeable French pack.
Having to overcome a string of serious injuries throughout his career, Sekope became just the sixth Prop in Australian Rugby history reach the 50 Test milestone, joining an elite group of players that include Benn Robinson, Ewen McKenzie, Ben Alexander, Al Baxter and James Slipper.
RUPA would like to congratulate Sekope on this amazing achievement and wish him and the team all the best against Ireland this weekend.
Quade shows glimpses in the final 20.
Quade Cooper was thrown in to the fray with about 20 minutes remaining on Saturday night, and showed glimpses of his impressive former self as the Wallabies came within inches of snatching victory.
After a season disrupted by injury, Quade returned to the Wallaby Gold against the Barbarians two weeks ago. After missing the Wales Test last week, Cooper came on against the French, setting up a try for Reds teammate Rob Simmons to give the Wallabies a shot of stealing the win.
With Kurtley Beale joining the side in Dublin this week, Cheika now has a plethora of attacking options at his disposal.
An interesting story to emerge out of the Wallabies training camp this week had Michael Cheika using some of his more unusual training techniques with Quade. The two were spotted in the corner of the field after training taking part in a spirited sparring session, with the exercise designed to focus on enhancing footwork and speed.
Ben McCalman continues to impress.
Ben McCalman continued the show the form that has him cemented as Australia’s premier No.8 on the weekend, producing yet another standout performance.
Coming up against a massive French forward pack, which seems to be a bit of trend amongst Northern Hemisphere sides, Ben tackled everything in a blue jersey.
Following the lead of Sekope, Ben was one of the Wallabies most damaging ball runners in open play. Often an unsung hero of the Wallabies pack, usually because he’s in tight taking care of the physical matter, Ben continues to grow with every passing Test Match.
Identifying handling errors as the overriding factor for their loss, Ben and the team will no doubt be eager to make amends this weekend.
The challenge doesn’t get any easier though, with the reigning Six Nations Champions coming off consecutive victories over Georgia and South Africa. The Wallabies will be intent on a making a statement ahead of the 2015 World Cup, and with just two encounters remaining on the Tour, expect this to be an absolute cracker of a game.