WITH the Wallabies on a mid-winter break, it's time to run an eye over the new side after six Tests with Robbie Deans in charge.
We break out the red pen and looks at the good, the bad and the ugly in a Wallabies half-term report card.


HAVING attacked like a lightweight boxer in recent years - jab away and wait for a lowered glove - the Wallabies under Deans have turned into a heavyweight hungry for a knockout. Years of relying on multi-phase attack has given way to Deans' style of seeking the space on a field at all times, and already it's working.

It's taken time to adjust, and has frequently been heart-in-mouth stuff, but the Wallabies have transformed fairly swiftly into a far more dangerous outfit with rapid passing and creative kicking skills. Quick service from new No. 9 Luke Burgess has helped ball-players Matt Giteau and Berrick Barnes flourish and embrace their new freedom.

Importantly, though, the hard-and-straight running of Stirling Mortlock and Lote Tuqiri has not been discarded and has proved valuable. The contribution of ball-playing forwards has also been noteworthy.

In last year's Tri-Nations we only scored three tries. In three games this year we've already posted seven.

Top rank: Matt Giteau. Best performance: v France, Bris. Mark: B+


THE centrepiece of the Deans era so far. Until the Eden Park mauling, the Wallabies had won their games on the back of determined tackling and team character.

They tackled themselves out of a potential Irish ambush in their opening Test and the win over the Springboks in Perth contained no less commitment and three match-saving tackles. The Sydney win over the All Blacks was no less impressive in terms of desire.

Top performers have been widespread: Barnes, Mortlock, Rocky Elsom, George Smith, Benn Robinson, to name but a few. The ugly blemish came in Auckland, however, when tiring legs and mental lapses saw gaps appear and the All Blacks rush through them for four tries. Must bounce back.

Top rank: Berrick Barnes. Best performance: v South Africa, Perth. Mark: A-


THE achilles heel of the Wallabies in recent years, the scrum has made strides in the first half of the winter. How far they've travelled is yet to be determined.

Ireland and France's scrums weren't first-class but the work of Al Baxter, Stephen Moore and Robinson was top-notch against the Boks in Perth. With a weighty backroom contingent, the front three followed it up by subduing the Kiwis in Sydney and providing a stable platform for attack. The usual criticisms of the scrum persist, however, and Baxter was repeatedly pinged for not holding the scrum up in Auckland. A tough trip ahead to South Africa will be the decisive test.

Best performance: v South Africa, Perth. Mark: B.


HARD to grade the lineout without taking a long look at the disaster of last Saturday. In one of the worst outings in years, the Wallabies gave up eight of their own throws and ruled out the lineout as a dependable attacking platform.

It was a shock, given the fact the Wallabies' lineout has run like a Swiss watch for a long time - even when all other parts of the game are in disrepair.

Prior to Eden Park, the lineout had operated solidly and reliably under the guidance of Nathan Sharpe and with new boy James Horwill on deck in Dan Vickerman's absence. Indeed, in five Tests they'd only lost three own-throws combined. Losing Elsom as a jumping option last week when the going got tight was, in hindsight, a big loss.

Best performance: v All Blacks, Sydney. Mark: C.


AGAIN, a previously outstanding area of the Wallabies' game was badly tarnished by last week. Under the old laws, the Wallabies were slow to re-adjust to the slower pace of the breakdown against Ireland and France but got the job done well enough. Returning to the ELVs, however, Australia blew the over-sized South Africans off the park when the speed returned in Perth.

Smith and Waugh had a field day over the loose ball and backed it up in Sydney against the Richie McCaw-less Kiwis. Phil Waugh and Wycliff Palu also added value.

But with Elsom out and a groggy Waugh in his place, the return of McCaw turned the tables last week.

Outmuscled at the contact zones, the Wallabies' ball coming out of the ruck was CityRail-slow.

Top rank: George Smith. Best performance: v South Africa, Perth. Mark: B+


HARD to find fault with five wins from five starts. Started slowly but claimed the top two teams in the world on consecutive weekends. The Sydney win was up there as one of the best here in a decade.

Mark: A


JUST the one game lost but, in a wider context, another in a long stretch of failures away from the shores of Australia. It's now 15 losses on the trot on the road in the Tri-Nations and a tough two-match trip to South Africa coming up after a heavy loss. Must snap this habit.

Mark: D


PLENTY of them and, by and large, all have impressed and brought freshness.

Burgess brings an extra threat but needs a dominant forward pack. Peter Hynes has been a real find, as have Horwill and Ryan Cross. The likes of Dean Mumm, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Lachie Turner and Timana Tahu show promise at Test level.

Top rank: James Horwill. Mark: B+


IMPORTANTLY, the experienced core held together well in the generational change under Deans. Giteau is in career-best form and the back-rowers have been largely dominant.

Mortlock's leadership has been strong in deeds and direction.

Top rank: Rocky Elsom. Mark: B


DEANS' "back yourself" edict was a major shift in curriculum for the Wallabies after years of being robotic. But as students, this group has eagerly embraced the change.

The players appear to have listened intently in the classroom, done their homework and performed well in nearly every exam thus far. Even in times of great pressure, or staring at a loss, enthusiasm to attack remains.

Best performance: v All Blacks, Sydney. Mark: A


HAVING thankfully abandoned the cocooned world of Coffs Harbour, the Wallabies have worked hard to re-engage with the fans.

Public appearances, media duties and even corporate engagements have been performed with knowledge the sport needs elite ambassadors. Deans has been tireless on this front and it's also good to see the coach inviting club coaches to training in every city.

Mark: B


IT would be easy to overcook the praise for Robbie Deans' new Wallabies midway through the first winter. They've attacked keenly, defended courageously and appeared undaunted by the tough challenges.

Last weekend, however, inserted a level of reality. The All Blacks showed that the Wallabies can be unravelled at points of strength, have depth problems in some positions and are still having trouble taking their A-game on the road.

There's been a shed-load of improvement already but plenty of room for more to come.

Mark: B