Analysis: what Beale's role tells us about the Wallabies - Green and Gold Rugby

Analysis: what Beale’s role tells us about the Wallabies

Analysis: what Beale’s role tells us about the Wallabies

Back in 2014 one of the key to the Waratahs Super Rugby Title was the Foley/Beale axis. In many ways it was a blueprint for the Wallabies assault on the world cup the following year, with Giteau slotting into the 2 playmaker instead of Beale.

Since the World cup it’s been clear that with first Giteau and then Beale being out of the equation the Wallabies have struggled to fill that position, and it’s been clear in how Foley has struggled at both Super Rugby and international level with an additional decision maker in the 12 position. Sure Chieka moving Foley to 12 with Cooper at 10 looked sound on Paper but apart from a few glimpses it never really yielded any sustainable success.

So it’s really no surprise that after his European adventure Beale has been parachuted straight back into a key position in the Cheika blueprint of a team. We all know Cheika watches European Rugby and he will have followed Beales form closely noting that during his time at Wasps Beale regularly was deployed at 12 or 15 in a back line that was packed with decision makers.

With Cipriani, Goppperth, Beale and Le Roux all around him the pressure was off for him to just play and it was hugely successful with Wasps making consecutive semi finals in the Premiership and the knockout stages in the European Champions Cup – Beale playing an instrumental part before missing out on the 2017 Premiership final due to injury.

As fantastic a 15 as he can be in truth I really like Beale as a 12. I don’t think he has the passing range to play 10 (hence his sideways running) and I don’t think he handles the pressure of being the key decision maker well. Yeah, it’s had some success here and there but at this level, you need to be able to stand up week in week out and deliver.

In contrast, 15 can be an isolated position and for a player like Beale who likes to spark it can be a frustrating position to play in. So for me 12, where he’s in the thick of it but not running it, is perfect and Beale’s stats from the Springboks test seem to show us how important he is in the Wallabies systems.

The Stats

Two key stats that jump out for a playmaker/decision maker are passing and kicking:

Team Passing Stats

That roughly is in keeping with the possession stats in that Australia had 57% of the possession. But let’s break that down a little bit more and look at the individual stat’s for the backline within that (grey denotes substitute):

Individual Passing StatsObviously as one would expect that is heavily loaded to the halfbacks with Genia, Cronje, Foley, Jantjes, Phipps and Hougaard all putting the ball through their hands the most for their teams. But two numbers that jump out for me are Folau’s and Beale’s, especially in comparison to their opposite numbers and the opposition fly half.

A large chunk of Folau’s passing stats can be explained by the fact he fielded a fair amount of kicks in the wide channel often playing them in field to Beale (which links up with Beales kicking stats – more of which later).

In contrast to the Springboks, it shows how little ball the South African backs got in comparison to their Wallaby counterparts. But even so for a 12 to pass more than a 10 is, for me, an interesting stat. In fact if we exclude the halfbacks Beale passed almost as much as the entire South African backline combined: 13 vs 15.

Now kicking:

Kicking Stats

As with passing you’d expect your halfbacks to top out the kicks from hand stat, which is reflected in South Africa’s stats with Janjte’s taking on the vast bulk of the kicking from hand but not with Australia with Beale seemingly taking on the majority of the kicking duties from hand.

Again some of that is explained by his defensive positioning at 15, but overall the stats say Beale had 26 interactions on ball via kicking or passing, plus another 9 runs with the ball.

The Real Stats

So whilst the numbers and the charts look good what does it actually tell us about how Beale played, about his impact on the game, about how effective he was?

The answer is very little, it just gives us an oversight of how involved he was but it doesn’t really tell us what he was doing or how effectively. To make some sense of how these stats equate to how he played we need to look at those interactions in isolation and map if they were positive or negative contributions.

Which we’ve done.

Beale Pos-Neg Stats

So by our coding of the game, Beale had 31 Interactions in total as opposed to ESPN/SANZAR who recorded 36 – that’s fine interpretation happens, but I think we get the general overview of Beale’s involvement and how effective it was. It’s worth noting that a stat such as “no obvious impact” shouldn’t be seen as a negative, that’s just him distributing to the next man out resulting in no obvious line break etc…

Negative kicks we’re judged on the outcome, did it give possession or territory away? For example, late in the game Beale fields a deep ball and kicks down town, Coetzee kicks long into the Australian 22 and Beale again fields the ball this time putting it in touch deep in SA territory. The first kick was measured as negative the second as positive.

So, Beale, he didn’t really do anything then?

We’ll no, not quite he certainly didn’t do anything substantially wrong, but if we look at Beale’s performance what’s interesting is his interactions went up during the final quarter of the game. A third of his interactions occurred in that final 15/20 minutes of the game. Meaning a third of his on ball stats came in the final quarter. Of course, not all of them were positive or had an impact but I think that flurry of activity in the final 15 minutes or so shows a level of leadership and wanting to take control of the game – which for me are genuinely positive contributions to the game but Australia lacked the fundamental stucture to allow him to do so.

So did Beale have a good or a bad game?

A question that’s not so easy to answer. He certainly scored a wonder try but outside of that he was just, well consistent and I think this highlights one of the fundamental failings in Australian Rugby right now. In that with such an overly complicated game plan in attack and defence players like Beale just aren’t being used in a manner that is optimal to their skill set.

By this I mean they are being asked to play a game that doesn’t really suit them.

The Issues

So why all the Beale hating?

Well, the point isn’t to give KB a hard time, but highlight the failings in the Australian camp and how it’s letting the players down.

In reality we, all know Beale is at his best attacking the line squaring the defence, sitting them down and preserving space for the next wave of attack (or getting an offload away to runner off his shoulder). Where he’s not really of much use is distributing laterally which is a lot of what we saw and sitting back 30-40 metres waiting for a kick to return.

His brief is clearly to assist Foley and Folau, taking some of the responsibility away from them. The problem here is he is being used as a Second Bernard Foley. He’s hidden away on defensive duties (how can a 12 make only 1 tackle in an entire game).

Which in all is just a fancy way of saying the Australian game plan isn’t really working (or potentially doesn’t even seem to exist).

If we look over the previous few weeks have we genuinely seen a sharp upward curve in performance? I’d say not really. Sure they ran NZ close in NZ but many poor teams have done that over the years, it’s impressive what a hiding can do to get you up for the following weeks game, but for me there is an inherent lack of spark in the team.

But in reality we continue to see a defensive system that hides poor defenders out of harm’s way. We continue to see a forward pack that isn’t really dominating the gain line and we continue to see a relatively flat one-dimensional backline attack that continues to go edge to edge without really moving forward (which we will look at in more detail in a future piece), but overall we continue to see there is just something off with the Australian performance and players like Beale are paying the price.

Bringing the best out of players like Beale, Folau and Foley isn’t about just giving them options it’s about giving them a framework to exercise those options within. It’s all very well saying you want to play a certain type of game, and for players to express themselves but you need to give them the framework in which to do that and for a player of Beale’s attacking spark to return stats like above against what was frankly not a pretty average Springbok side you have to again question where the team see themselves going.

And somehow Cheika and co need to rediscover that something that made them all click a few years ago at present i’m not seeing anything that makes me think they will.

As such it will be interesting to see how the Wallabies back up another lacklustre performance and against a powerful Pumas pack. The advantage on paper is certainly in the Aussie backline, but the question is can they stop these lateral attack patterns, be direct then they can they sit the pumas drift defence down and preserve space for runners like Hodge and Folau, Rona and Speight if they do that they can I think they can tear Argentina a new one.

I’m just not sure they currently have the heart to do so.



  • Greg

    Thanks for the interesting and detailed analysis Graeme.

    I think the need
    – Folau to run straight and hard – probably at 11 or 14. no more slowing down and skipping.
    – Beale to play 12 all game which perhaps needs
    – Hodge at 15.

    Why is it that Mr Cheika has such a different view. What is it he sees?

    then 6/7/8…. i don’t have the heart to go through it again.

  • Brumby Runner

    The hardest questions in Aus rugby at the moment should be directed to the game plan and coaching strategies of the Wallabies’ coaching staff. If they can get their strategies right, they just might start to pick players who can perform. More than a couple at the moment are hardly more than passengers.

  • ForceFan

    Thanks for the different perspective Graeme.
    Much food for thought while I watch the Pumas game.

  • One tackle! Yeah shit is weird in this side.

  • Kiwi rugby lover

    Nice analysis Graeme. I see Beale better at broken play than in the structured area. His tries against us and the Boks came from unstructured play where he just jumped on what was in front of him and they were awesome to see.
    I don’t see him as a 12 when I look at the more traditional role where the 12 crunches up in both attack and defence and for Beale to play there he needs a very different 10 and 13 than what is provided by Cheika.
    I think his kicking is because the team is finally facing up to the fact that Foley is crap and so he’s grabbed the duty.
    I’m not even going to go into the defensive plan and poor loosies, it’s just heartbreaking. I think the Wallabies will take the Argies but it’ll be close if they don’t tighten up.

  • RedAnt

    Really interesting analysis and thoughts, Graeme, thank you.

    I’m glad you’re as confused about Cheika’s strategies as the rest of us… unfortunately, it seems that most of the players are too.

  • HK Red

    Never thought Cooper to 10 and Foley to 12 looked good on paper. Thought it was unfair on Cooper, as it didn’t given him a straight runner and solid defender directly outside him.

  • AlanDownunder

    Beale played in the line in the Wallabies’ best defensive performance – v NZ in NZ. Critical error going for an outside-in stopper in the final play, but otherwise exemplary. I don’t think he was hidden defensively v SA and Arg subsequently – more that a lot of counter attacking opportunites from kick return were anticipated.

    • Alan, in two (and now three) of the internationals played this year he has defended predominantly at 15 with Folau pushed to the wing channel and Hodge or Speight coming in field.

      Yes he defended at 12 in NZ (and it worked) but hasn’t at any other point, he’s being hidden away.

      Additionally Foley is continually defending on the wing.

      Even if it was for Counter Attack against SA it failed dismally as he made one break and beat one defender.

      • AlanDownunder

        All true and no disagreement. Just pointing out that there was no need to hide him. I’d also like to see him closer to the action where opportunities to ignite things – in attack or defence – are more plentiful.

  • Strip Chief

    First up, get Foley and Beale to defend on their own channels…remember the tackle and rip against SBW? Once they consistently do that, then they’ll be more dangerous.

  • Garry

    Well written analysis, thanks again for your quality input again Graeme. You have explained some of the concerns that I ( & probably many WBs supporters) have had for a long time.
    What’s an unhealthy warning sign for me is that we have to focus so much attention on the input of the trio of Foley/Beale/Foley. What of the (possible?) contribution of the other backs? This maybe an indicator of poor strategies, at times I struggle to see any strategy.
    At the risk of mentioning his name, and I only do to point out what a different game plan can produce, but I slip on my rose glasses and reflect on Link’s game plan for the 2011 reds. Despite injuries, he’s was able to bring in new inexperienced players and they were able to perform to the necessary standard to keep winning, due to a solid game plan where all new their roles.
    One problem I see with relying so heavily on the Waratah three, is they are brilliant together and take advantage of their familiarity, but their unpredictability is difficult to build strategies around.

    Questions to you. Can you shine a light on what you see as the current WB’s game plan is? What role Foley plays in it, and how well he is doing? How do you rate his ability to control/dictate the game? Does our game plan provide an environment that takes advantage of players from all provinces?


an Englishman living in France, Graeme runs the Rugby Analysis website He coaches in his spare time, is an IRB qualified coach and you can catch him on twitter lazily re-tweeting other peoples comments.

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