Australia v. Fiji - Post Test observations - Green and Gold Rugby
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Australia v. Fiji – Post Test observations

Australia v. Fiji – Post Test observations

Australia ground out a 39-21 victory over a spirited Fijian outfit to get their 2019 World Cup Campaign off to a good start. However, what were the key takeaways from the performance?

Plan B?

The Fijians were playing an up and in defence leaving plenty of space out wide which Australia attempted to exploit. However, as a result they were caught trying to play the match at Fiji’s frenetic speed leading to a number of handling errors and pushed passes in the midfield. Michael Hooper showed in the 19th minute that through the middle as the way to go against the Fijians, as he crossed for a pick and drive try.

However, the Wallabies didn’t learn their lesson until around the 50th minute mark as they trailed 21-12, they finally changed tactics and begun to crash it up the middle. This immediately paid dividends as the forwards regularly got over the advantage line to limit the Fijians line speed, thus, opening up more space and time for the backs. It is no surprises that once the Aussies started trying to go forward first, the likes of Kerevi and Toomua begun to have more of an impact on the game. Hopefully there is more of the same against Wales.

The ‘Finishers’

Eddie Jones coined the term in 2015 but it was Michael Cheika who used them brilliantly over the weekend. With the Wallabies struggling to gain any dominance over the Fijians, Cheika went to the bench early with Genia, Toomua, and Salakaia-Loto all coming on to make an immediate impact.

Genia’s box kick to trap the Fijians inside their 22m was the turning point in the match, while Toomua seemed to be a calming presence at flyhalf. Salakaia-Loto was fantastic at lineout time to secure possession allowing for the Wallabies to employ a Brumbies-like rolling maul.

The Wallabies have the most amount of Test caps in their World Cup Squad compared to the rest of the tournament and this experience will be a big part of the impact the ‘finishers’ have on the outcome of the Wallabies results.

Super Hooper

All the talk in the lead up to the match was about David Pocock but it was Hooper who gave a timely reminder why he is captain of this side. Hooper’s stats alone make for impressive reading with 17 carries for 99 metres, one try, seven tackle breaks, and seven tackles.

Moreover, his captaincy decisions were spot on. With half time looming the Aussies had a relatively easy chance to take three points, however, with the score at 14-7 Fiji’s way, Hooper went for touch. A few phases later and Hodge was over in the corner to cut the deficit down to 14-12. In the second half Hooper decided to take the points on offer, before happily telling the Fijians they will be scoring soon to take the lead. He was right.

A lot of people rave about Ardie Savea, Pocock, or Siya Kolisi as being the best opensides in world rugby. Hooper has a fair argument for the claim as well.

Flying Fijians

There was a lot of talk coming into this World Cup that this was the best Fijian side we have seen in this tournament. They didn’t disappoint. With Semi Radradra and Josua Tuisova out wide it is no surprise the Fijians have two of the best wingers in the world. However, it was the skills that we don’t normally associate with the Fijians that were most impressive.

Ben Volavola’s kicking game was brilliant, while the control and discipline in defence showed a side with plenty of potential to frustrate sides into mistakes, as they did with the Aussies. Although the Fijians conceded six tries they only had 30 per cent of possession and forced Australia into going away from their original plans. They will cause plenty of headaches for the Welsh if they produce a similar performance.

What’s Next?

There are a few questions for the Wallabies selectors this week. The lineout was not as strong as it has been this season so will ‘Pooper’/’Hocock’ be released again this weekend? The referee seemed to be very keen on preventing Pocock have any fair crack at the ball at the breakdown so should Australia focus on disrupting the Welsh ball through power rather than precision?

Furthermore, Reece Hodge has been cited for a dangerous tackle and looks likely to miss this weekend. The issue of World Rugby going soft aside, who replaces Hodge on the right wing? Dane Haylett-Petty is the likely choice but he has shown in the past his best position is fullback rather than wing. Will the Aussies look for an experienced head in Adam Ashley-Cooper or throw Jordan Petaia into the mix for his debut? With this game likely to decide who finishes top of the group, there are some crucial selection decisions.

  • Max Graham

    Excellent write-up! Or in other words, I agree with your opinions.

  • Patrick

    Great review. I too agree with your opinions :)

    Some thoughts from me:
    1. basic rugby tactics

    It is no surprises that once the Aussies started trying to go forward first,

    I admit that I still cannot believe we even have any other game plan. You could say about every match we play except the (sadly not so few!!) ones in which we never do this properly.
    2. basic rugby selections
    I think for Wales Cheika will in fact put DHP on the wing, but it would be a lot better to put DHP to FB and Beale to wing.
    In fact I would much rather DHP to FB and AAC to wing and Beale to the bench.
    And maybe our best line-up would be JOC to wing and Kuridrani and Kerevi in the centres??
    At the end of the day it is just unbelievable that we don’t have a single dedicated winger left in the team after one match.
    3. Yato
    He was on track for man of the match for mine, didn’t he turn on a show? I hope he gets back up for Wales.

  • HK Red

    You sure it was Eddie that came up with “finishers”? I always thought it was Cheika first, then Eddie started using it to wind him up.

  • Who?

    Good article, but I can’t help but note that not only was it that we started playing more directly at 55 minutes, but we also started securing our ruck ball far better. Genia wasn’t rushing to clear the ball the way White was forced to clear it. That coincided with Coleman coming on (though I don’t believe Arnold was a poor performer at our ruck), and Naisarani departing for LSL. LSL went to blindside, Pocock went to 8, and was suddenly much more visible in securing our attacking rucks.
    I’m not saying it was Pocock alone – after the changes started to ring, it seemed all our forwards were more visible around securing our own ball. Hooper, for example. That’s not a criticism of Hooper – our flankers regularly play very wide in our attacking formation, so it’s not easy for them to secure ruck ball in the midfield. But when you’re seeing both Hooper and Pocock securing the same ruck, it’s pretty clear there’s been a conscious decision to give more consideration to the job the opposition are doing of spoiling your possession.
    It’s great that the team made this change. However, one has to question why it took 55 minutes. And why it wasn’t fixed at half time, if not beforehand. Did the coaching staff not see the absolute field day Fiji were having, dominating the contact and then the breakdowns that followed? Was the on field leadership – which isn’t a dig at Hooper, I’m talking Hooper, Pocock, Rodda (because he’s a captain), Sio, all the experienced campaigners – so poor as to fail to identify the problem, or were they more concerned with maintaining the proposed game plan?
    Was the change that Genia came on at 55 minutes, had his excellent clearing kick, and though, “Stuff me, poor ol’ Nic had a shocking time out here, I see why, I better boot these piggies up the backside and get them over the pill”…..? Marshalling forwards is a scrumhalf’s job – did Genia do it better, or did he overrule the game plan?
    I don’t know the answer to the question, but it’s the most pressing question in my mind. Because, once the change in tactics was made – not just going direct and using set piece, but specifically committing more numbers to the breakdown (something that cost us against the Bokke in Johannesburg, too) – we were fine. What prevented the earlier change, and who was responsible for it?

    • They are good questions. I don’t think it was just the arrival of Genia, although perhaps I’m wrong. I think a change happened on the Fijian side, and the move of Pocock to 8 helped.

      Part of the problem, for me, was that the selectors/coaches have asked the loose forwards to play the numbers on their backs – which I approve of broadly – but Pocock is not a 6 (or an 8 really) and he looked woefully out of place there, until he forgot himself and played more like a 7. I’ve seen people argue that Hooper can play all three back row positions, so they need to play like they’re in SA shirts, with open side and blind side the wrong way round. At 8, he and Hooper at least have several years of understanding how to play with each other, and (sorry LSL) but of how to play with a largely ineffective 6 too!

      Fiji, for all they’ve mostly got professional top tier players from leagues around the world, lack tier 1 test matches. Someone on one of the posts here said “because they play in top leagues/SR they should be fit for tests” but as you know, that’s rubbish. Test matches, especially for tier 1 nations, are faster and harder than the Top 14, SR etc. The Fijians, from what I could see, started to drop off at around that mark, just because they don’t play 80 minutes of top class test matches often enough.

      Those two, in combination, started to give the Wallabies some holes, and the forwards started to exploit them…

      Less a case of plan B, more a case of the breakdown suddenly not being hammered and some big holes for the tight five that they went through.

      I hope I’m wrong, but I suspect I’m right given how lacking in a plan B we’ve been for years.

      • Max Graham

        LSL coming on was a key reason the Wallabies started to dominate. He smashed anyone near him and got well over the gain line. Also, the lineout started to click. Pretty harsh to call him ineffective. Also, Wallabies stopped trying to make breaks in the outside backs and instead started to pick and drive and run off Genia at the edges. It was a significant change of tactics. And…. Yato went off, and he was the bloke causing the most damage to Oz ruck. And…….. well, that’s enough for now.

        • You’re right, I was imprecise about LSL. He looked decent against a tired Fiji, just as he did against the AB for the last 20 at Perth when they looked tired. More generally he’s ineffective though.

          Yato went off around the 25th minute. Not quite sure how that helped the Wallabies change tactics in the 55th?

          I assume the last bit is in reaction to me saying there wasn’t a Plan B? But if you read what I wrote I said they changed how they played – I didn’t explicitly state forwards picked and went, I said they played it tight and went into the space as the Fijians got tired. I’m just wondering if that’s an actual Plan B, or the forwards reacting to a big, open space? It would be nice to think there’s a Plan B there, but after a few years with no sign of one, I find it hard to take it on faith.

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Aspiring sports journalist with a passion for all things rugby. Currently studying journalism at the University of Wollongong.

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