Brian Smith's Analysis - The Fightback - Green and Gold Rugby

Brian Smith’s Analysis – The Fightback

Brian Smith’s Analysis – The Fightback

The Lunacy of Optimism

At some time, all coaches are faced with the task of getting their troops up after a nightmare performance. this was the task Michael Cheika faced last week, as he prepared the Wallabies for Bledisloe 2 in Dunedin.

Logic says that after shipping 54 points in Sydney, the Wallabies’ chance of winning in New Zealand to keep the series alive, was pretty slim. But coaches don’t always deal in logic and in this case Coach Cheika clearly planted a seed in the minds of his Wallabies in Dunedin – that seed was the “lunacy of optimism”.

The essential paradox of the fightback is that miracles happen only if you believe. Sports psychologists have studied this phenomenon, and have data to suggest that those who have unrealistically high expectations and believe they can create miracles perform better than those who think more logically. The science says self-belief bolsters performance and optimism contains the seeds of its own fulfilment.

Whatever the Wallabies did in their preparation last week, it’s clear that Michael Cheika was successful in convincing his team to believe in the lunacy of optimism.

The Arm Wrestle

Had the Wallabies scrum been more effective, it’s probable Bernard Foley’s try in the 14th minute would not have been scored. It was Australia’s third try and judging by the reaction of Michael Cheika he was not at all surprised, even though the rest of us may have been.

To be fair, Will Genia had no right to make a line break off the back of a scrum retreating so quickly. But he did and he was well supported by Michael Hooper and Bernard Foley, who eventually scored. The most pleasing thing from a coach’s perspective was the number of gold jerseys pushing up in support when the try was scored. This try put the Wallabies ahead 17 v 0 and the pressure was now well and truly on the All Blacks to respond.


The next try we’re going to look at was also scored from a scrum, only this time it was scored by the All Blacks’ fly half, Beauden Barrett.

Last week the Wallabies defended the blind side with Curtis Rona and Kurtley Beale double teaming Rieko Ioane. This week Kurtley Beale defended in the centres at scrum time and, it has to be said, he did a very good job.

However, the All Blacks noticed the change in defence structure and had a crack at Dane Haylett-Petty all alone on the blind. With Aaron Smith doing enough to hold up Will Genia at the base of the scrum, the All Blacks created a 2 v 1 on the blind side and Beauden Barrett was quick enough to capitalise. In order to stop the try Dane Haylett-Petty would have had to spot tackle Beauden Barrett. But he stayed out on Rieko Ioane and Will Genia had too much to do to stop the try. This try in the 60th minute put the All Blacks ahead and must have severely challenged the Wallabies’ collective belief.


However, it is in the crucible of optimism that the alchemy of greatness is created.

Once again, it was Will Genia’s blind refusal to accept defeat and his doggedness to ignore surface rationality that got the Wallabies back in front. His solo effort in the 66th minute allowed us all to dare to dream and the lunacy of optimism was alive and well for Wallaby supporters. If you look at New Zealand’s back field in this clip you’ll notice that Beauden Barrett and Damian McKenzie were defending as 2 fullbacks and Aaron Smith was sweeping behind the ruck. That Will Genia was able to find the space to squeeze through and score speaks volumes of his ability and belief.


The lead changed again twice before this final play in the 77th minute determined the outcome of the match. Clearly the Wallabies did not have a mortgage on self belief. New Zealand also demonstrated belief and on top of this they added an unwillingness to accept defeat has become part of the All Blacks DNA. They clearly share the collective belief that you never give up, you keep playing, you keep driving until the referee blows that final whistle.

Beauden Barrett’s miraculous try to steal the win for New Zealand was started by Kieren Read. He won the kick off and then a few phases later ran into a hole created by Tevita Kuridrani as he attempted to spot tackle Scott Barrett. The Kieran Read bust was finished off by Beauden Barrett after a clever catch and pass play by TJ Perenara. It was a quality play, the best of the evening and it dealt a cruel blow to the gallant Wallabies.

The Last Word

The Wallabies will no doubt be gutted by this result but as the pain drains over the next few days they deserve to feel good about the fighting spirit demonstrated as they bounced back from Bledisloe 1. Credit must go to the head coach for planting the seed of of optimism in his Wallaby squad.

It’s not easy to turn a team around inside a week particularly when there is travel involved. Michael Cheika is clearly a fighter and demonstrated his ability to coach a team under extreme pressure and without a lot of confidence. It’s easy to coach when things are going well, but it’s a different ball game when the results are going against your team.

The Wallabies now have 2 weeks to prepare for their next match v the Springboks in Perth on the 9th of September. Let’s hope they can build on this rousing performance and chalk up their first win of the 2017 Rugby Championship.

Remember boys…self belief bolsters performance!

  • Brumby Runner

    Will be a crying shame if the ARU/Western Force debacle is still playing out and the game fails to attract a decent crowd. Wallabies need as much crowd support as they can muster atm.

  • Sully

    The absolute necessity is that Cheika not change the team as he is prone to do.

    • Brumby Runner

      Sully, I think the backrow could be beefed up and that would be an improvement. I’d also still like to see Hodge in there for his big boot to get us out of trouble. Maybe a backline of Genia, Beale, DHP, Hodge, Kuridrani, Speight, Floau.

      • I agree. This other Sully guy is wrong.

  • Bobas

    “…ran into a hole created by Tevita Kuridrani as he attempted to spot tackle Scott Barrett.”

    Surely you mean it was Beale not

    Fantastic article regardless.

    • Parker

      No, it was Kurindrani

      • Bobas

        Look at the last vid… it’s Beale.

        • Natman


      • Pedro

        Definitely Beale

    • Brian Smith

      You’re right it was Kurtley…my mistake…I was going from memory as I belted out the column…will double check in the future…

  • Bobas

    While I freely admit Kieren Read is a fantastic player and would be near un-droppable if he was Australian.
    But as the captain AND number 8 he needed to keep the ball in the scrums and gain the penalties that would have followed. His decision making as player and captain got rattled playing catch up, and while his team was rewarded for dominating most aspects of play after the 15th minute they only took the lead with 20 minutes to play. Only for his team to let that slip due to fatigue. His play at the end got the chocolates and full credit to him for that. But remember captains, it takes more out of you to attack than it does to defend, take the 3 points. Trust your team and leave the dice rolling ’til the final quarter, when you’re more than 6 behind.
    Let’s also remember that time off was called almost immediately between scrums in the final minute of the first half. As well Sio or AA somehow managing to cause a knock-on. The first half finished at 6:50 after a scheduled 5:35 kick off. If NZ didn’t go down by 17 early, it would have been a regular half length, not time off every stoppage to play catch up rugby.

    • idiot savant

      Read would be a 6 in Australia.

      • Ruddyright

        Read would not be an Australian…..Aussies dont puck that body tipe for the role…David Wilson was the best No 7 and Poidevin would probably have been your best 6. But you can dream of developing a Read……

        • idiot savant

          You’re right we don’t pick Read’s body type at 8, we pick it at 6. Hanigan is almost exactly the same height and weight as Read, same as past players in that position like Cornelsen, Cockbain, and Higginbotham. We have usually picked big boppers at 8, but since Hooper has been 7, Cheka has preferred traditional 7 type players at 8 like Pocock and McMahon. And Poideven was a 7 btw. And you’re right Wilson was outstanding at 7 but he was much shorter and lighter than Read, more like Hooper.

  • Parker

    Excellent article. For all the reasons that commenters on this site give for the Wallabies’ failures, the lack of self belief is the most instrumental in their decline over the years. I believe it started under Dingo Deans whose term broke the spirit of the Green and Gold. For all his rough edges and dubious selections, thanks to Cheika for starting to repair that spirit and establishing an attitude of ‘yes we can’. I hope this can take deep root and and flourish once again as the hallmark of the Australian team. The attitude of “No matter how undervalued, we believe we’re in with a fighting chance and we’re going to fight like buggery to make the best of it”. That has lifted us to sporting glory in the past and can do so again. Yesterday will have made the ABs very nervous to see that we have regained some measure of self belief.
    In closing I’d like to thank you for including that clip of the AB’s winning try because it allowed me to confirm my suspicion that the pass from Reade to Perenara was FORWARD.

    • Bobas

      Pass wasn’t forward

    • moaning expat

      Flat as a die. But not forward.

    • Hoss

      Its all academic now mate, but i am on your side. I obsessed over it a dozen times. He chucks it just outside our 22 and Paranoia catches it 2 metres inside. having said that i would be filthy if we had done same and got pulled up on it. Good old Rugby definition of ‘flat’ pass.

      KB panicked in D, Taf had Read covered on the inside, KB just needed a little more faith.

      Having said that, i reckon its best we’ve played since Links last game in charge as coach in 14 at Suncorp.

      If that performance is the new ‘baseline’ than i cant wait for rest of RC

    • HK Red

      Flat pass….unfortunately.

    • Brian Smith

      Yeah, like you I thought it was forward but the skill set was very good and no ref will pull that back in the closing moments of a game…if it were the NRL we could have gone to the Bunker…we could learn a bit from the NRL when it comes to these matters.

  • Who?

    Mr Smith, I’d imagine that as a former Wallaby half back you’d well understand that playing attacking backline rugby off a rapidly retreating scrum was once our forte! :-P
    Also, whilst we messed up on the openside on a scrum last week, I’d question whether Foley was too slow to react this week. I get that he shouldn’t have immediately switched the second that Barrett started moving. But he was completely stationary (i.e. he didn’t change his feet or really even look to move his head) until after Smith had thrown the pass to Barrett… Barrett was Foley’s man, I get that if Smith had gone open then chasing Barrett all the way to the blind would’ve created an overlap on the openside for Smith to exploit. So I understand not chasing at full pace early. But he could’ve narrowed himself to the scrum, to reduce the distance he had to cover once he was certain of where the attack was directed. It’s not like he couldn’t have opened out if Smith had gone openside.

    • Brian Smith

      Hi mate, you’re spot on with your comments about covering the blind…the ABs are very good at setting up defences and they often have nice change ups to catch teams out…it’s Wayne Smith’s calling card!

    • Simmo Green

      It is a golden rule that you place your best backline defender on the blind side of what was effectively a mid field scrum, in order to cover the 8 picking and shifting to 9, which is a classic play. Foley should have tracked Barret, but Beale should have been defending that space. If play goes open side Genia just pushes hard at the 10. Awful defensive shape off the set piece

  • dsb

    I can always accept a loss if at the end we were doing our best to win. Congratulations Wallabies for showlng you really wanted to win

  • idiot savant

    Thanks Brian. Cheka did a wonderful job growing and maintaining belief. I think keeping the team together away from the capital cities might have played a part in building a positive bubble around them. I wonder if it was always planned to leave on the Sunday after the Sydney match for NZ or did he make that decision in the immediate aftermath? I assume it was planned. A real measure of the belief was how every player across the board performed their roles.

    • Brian Smith

      Hi mate, the travel plans would have been in place in advance…it’s a big logistical move (fights, hotels and training facilities) that could not be changed at late notice…it worked out well so expect they’ll continue with this in the future.

  • Natman

    Much better performance, and one of the best parts was Genia’s comments after the game. He place the responsibility for Game 1 squarely at the players feet, and similarly this game. Perhaps amongst players he had one of the biggest turn around in performance. Unless the players own the results they will be destined to play the same poor game over and over. To be honest the talk before Game 1 from Wallabies was that they were going to win it. Given the AB opposition, a better attitude would have been to say “we have had a great preparation, we have a good game plan, and if we put in, we are a chance.” Brian is correct, self belief and attitude are often the only thing that separates teams of similar skills. Too much self belief facing a hard task could result in a collapse at the first hardship encountered as in game 1. Getting up in the AB faces in defence was the biggest game changer in my opinion.
    I hate to pick, but I noticed a few things during the game, first the Wallabies still came onto the inside man in defence (as per the last try above) when the inside defender looked to have the tackle covered; lack of communication or trust perhaps? Watching the 70th minute try above slowly, I was astounded how long it took Foley to cross to cover Barrett. He wanders over with no urgency! He may have been covering a short forward run, but the ball is being well and truly presented on the other side of the scrum; lack of communication? I noted that Foley tackled well, but really didn’t hold the guy for a millisecond past the initial tackle (I know you have to release) but the tackled played had momentum to crawl forward after being let go by Foley. Make sure the guy is stopped before releasing tackles (I am being picky). Whilst I think of it, can a rule expert tell me how far it is permissible to crawl with the ball tucked under your arm after being tackled and released, the All Blacks on many occasions made a good few metres this way.

    • Brumby Runner

      AFAIK, no distance at all. If tackled, must release the ball immediately. If not tackled, can’t play the ball on the ground. If the player is on the ground, he should be out of the game at that point.

      • Xaviera

        Correct on both counts. Law 14 (Ball on the Ground – No Tackle) is only short, but it’s important, and players crawling along the ground are not only annoying, but illegal. I’ve penalised it twice recently, during a finals series (once against each team) and lo and behold, they stopped doing it, as they should. Apart from anything else, crawling along the ground has to be one of the slowest ways to gain territory, so the player would be much better placed to either offload to a supporting player, place the ball and stand up and pick it up (which we see a lot in sevens), or just stand up and start again.

        As to Foley’s technique, and that of many a player, they are often coached to make the tackle and if not pilfering, disappear ASAP into the defensive line. The trouble is, they need to hold on just a bit longer to force the tackled player to play the ball, rather than have the tackled player use their momentum to regain their feet and continue on their merry way.

        • Natman

          Thanks for the input everyone, so in summary, there were several Wallabies that were not making effective tackles as they released too early (do these count as a missed tackle), and there were numerous AB’s that were not playing in accordance with Law 14. Zero penalties however, and I think I can recall at least 6 occasions in the second half alone.

    • John Williamson

      once the tackle is made the tackled player must play the ball immediately. he is only tackled if he goes to ground and is HELD. I saw what you saw but the AB was not held, as far as I can remember

  • Brendan Hume

    It has been one of the hallmarks of this team since the very early 2000’s that a good performance has been backed up by rubbish. This is something that really needs to be addressed by the coaching group – keep the foot on the throat of the players and demand excellence. It worked this week – as it should have. If changes need to be made, make them, whatever the outcome of the match. Players need to earn their spot and feel the pressure from the subs. In all fairness to Hooper, who I think is a pretty good footy player, he’s had a mortgage on his spot at Super Rugby and International level for ages. Bernard Foley is the same. Both players rated poorly in the game reviews. I’d reckon both are probably cooked – not sure when Foley last had a break since the 2015 RWC. Both racking up massive minutes for whatever team they’re playing in and not being incentivised to improve.

    Thanks for the write up – looking forward to seeing what the men in gold can pull out for the rest of TRC.

    **edit — Moore also in that category…

  • juswal

    Thanks for the analysis, Brian. The clips have plenty to look at. Barrett’s move to the blind side was perfectly done. Check out the background action as Genia goes through the line for his try: there’s an example of that unimpeachable All Blacks fair play right behind Owens’s back.

    • Who?

      Owens caught it though – there was lots of discussion after the try, and his ruling to Hooper was, “There was foul play, advantage was paid, you scored the try.”

      • juswal

        Thanks. That improves the scenario a bit.

  • Simmo Green

    Poor defensive set up with Barrett try at 60:18. Typically 8 would pick, attract 9 and then shift, creating 2 v 1. This time Barrett scurried to short side and Foley did not track. Would not have been an issue if Beale had set up in D on that side. This is a ‘no brainer’, even at lower levels, unforgivable in a Test match


Brian Smith is a rare breed who has both played and coached international rugby and doesn't mind telling it as he sees it. He's currently putting his Oxford degree to good use teaching Commerce and coaching rugby at the Scots College, Sydney.

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