Brian Smith's Analysis - The Italian Job - Green and Gold Rugby

Brian Smith’s Analysis – The Italian Job

Brian Smith’s Analysis – The Italian Job

It might have been ugly but a win is a win and the record books will show the Wallabies won comfortably 40 v 27. However, the scoreboard did not tell the full story as the Italians made life very uncomfortable for Michael Cheika’s team when Rory Arnold threw a loose pass in the 67th minute to gift the Italians a try. At that point it was 28 v 27 and things were getting a bit funky but as you’d expect the Wallabies rallied scoring two late tries to see off the brave Italians. So to quote Shakespeare…”all’s well that ends well”.

Sefa’s Scrum Double

Before the game Coach Cheika said Sefa Naivalu was looking sharp and he carried his training form into this match scoring 2 excellent tries. The first was a scorcher from a centre field scrum and the second was a run in off the back of some brilliant skills from Bernard Foley. Let’s hope the flying Fijian can get back on the paddock soon because he’s as good a try scorer as there is when he’s in form. Check out how quickly he gets over the ground in this first effort.



Shaping Up

The Wallabies will be pleased there general phase shape was effective in this match. The following tries were engineered thanks to the Wallabies well organised multi phase attack. In the first example Karmichael Hunt stepped up as first receiver whilst Bernard Foley floated menacingly out the back of the Stephen Moore pod. Wallaby Skills Coach Mick Byrne will be very pleased with the length and accuracy of Karmichael Hunt’s 20m pass off his left hand to put Izzy away.



Defence Challenges

Whilst the All Blacks currently have their hands full wrestling the British Lions their analysts will still have an eye on the Wallabies for the forthcoming Rugby Championship. The Italians attacked two key areas with success and Wallabies Defence Coach Nathan Grey can expect the All Blacks to have taken note. The first area to be targeted was the halfback channel from scrum ball. The Italians ran a “Box” shape from the left side scrum targeting Will Genia and Bernard Foley with their Centre Tommaso Boni and big left winger Giovanbattista Venditti. Notice how Italy’s open side winger stands wide to ensure Israel Folau shuts the gate early allowing Michele Campagnaro a straight run the line.




The Wallabies will not be satisfied with this block of test matches and nor would we expect them to be. There are questions about their fitness and confidence and there is a general malaise around the broader game in Australia. At times like this the rugby community is looking for strong leadership. Michael Cheika is delivering that. He’s blooded a generation of new players through a very turbulent time for all players in Australian rugby. And he’s been brutally honest with his players and the rugby public. He knows he’s got a huge task ahead of him if his team is going to threaten the All Blacks this season but that’s the task at hand so good luck to him and the boys in Gold.

  • jamie

    Really looked like Super Sefa had to put the flaps down to land then!

    The man is so bloody quick. And he’s heavy. He looks big on TV but honestly he’s about as big as a good size flanker. I love him. Get him back ASAP Rebel/Wallaby team.

    • onlinesideline

      agreed – unless we have these x factor players who can win games from nothing forget it

  • Timbuktu

    Anyone else surprised at Reece Hodges turn of pace? Really stretched those long legs out quickly!

    • jamie

      Maybe he could be a winger after all!

      What a weapon to have on a wing. Him and Sefa are only mid/early 20s

      • Jy

        He reminds me a bit of sterling mortlock in his early years, hopefully he’ll have a career like mortlock.

    • John Tynan

      He scored that up the sideline we were sitting on and his speed was something I didn’t expect. When I was watching that clip, have a look at his running style though – hardly classical. He could probably get another yard if someone worked on that with him. That’s truly scary.

      • jamie

        Certainly the way he was moving his arms were unusual, to say the least, and probably almost counterproductive lol

  • John Tynan

    That clip where DHP hands the ball to the Italian shows up Horne’s work effort to get across “in case” – he is just jogging over and watching.

    • jamie

      But we need Horne in the team. He’s young and not going overseas so we can develop him into a world class outside cent-
      wait a second…

    • Bobas

      Spot on, I mentioned it in the ratings when you look at Horne’s. If he ran across and still missed the tackle it’ a completely different kettle of fish. This was just poor mental toughness to force yourself to stay with your player

    • mikado

      Yes, Horne way too slow there.

      That said, the crossfield kick was well executed and not that easy to defend.

      • John Tynan

        Thanks for making me have a look at it. Good article by the way, mate.

  • Waz_dog

    I hate our defensive shape in the last two clips and I’m particularly critical of the positioning of Izzy on the wing. He’s the fullback, the last line of defence – he should never be out on the wing in those two moments. I’m not sure if that a coaching or player issue but needs to be addressed.

    Foley looks out of form – several times he’s just been 2nd receiver out there and let the gears turn over instead of taking control. Hunt has just shouldered more load and hasn’t missed a beat. It’s a shame there isn’t a reliable kicker in the team other than Foley – he could do with a rest.

    • John Tynan

      He’s been playing almost continuously for a long time now.

    • phil peake

      Just read this and had written the same thing myself. Totally agree. Grey and Cheika defence structures needs to change fast, they have been proven to not work!

    • Who?

      I hadn’t picked until these clips the way that Foley was at second receiver for the two plays into Folau’s second try, and was calling for Hunt to pass him the ball. Hunt ignored him and gave it to Issy – a ball to Foley was blocked by the 11 (who almost cut off all options – Hunt only got the ball away because he came past the 11). Was good play by Hunt – engaged the defence, particularly his opposite 12 (who was outside him – he ran at the 12’s inside shoulder and completely fixed him), rather than shovelling on the pressure. That preserved the space outside. Then he found the right runner. Something that’s easy to get wrong.

      • Waz_dog

        Yep – stand out back of the June series for mine. He took a lot of 1st receiver duties in this game, not just the ones that set up the tries.

        I don’t know if you could shuffle the back line around to get Reece at 12 (kicker), DHP to fullback, Izzy to wing and Hunt to 10. It would definitely harden the defence and I don’t think you’ve lost any attacking power. I think Chieka would be forced to allow Reece/Hunt/DHP to exit kick from our 22 which would make it less predictable also.

        Hunt would need to work hard on his tactical kicking and Reece would need to practice goal kicking till his nose bleeds but it think it could work. I really don’t know what Chieka has as a back up plan for goal kicking if Foley gets injured – need to look past Quade for goal kicking duties.

        • Who?

          I agree Hunt was the standout back. But don’t want him at 10. He could do it, but we’re better using existing options (who are both younger) or going younger again. If we really want change, we could have him playing 12, Beale at 10… That might work almost as well as QC/Hunt, and wouldn’t be completely dissimilar to Foley/Hunt (given Foley’s a ball runner, and Beale is a ball runner).
          I don’t know about Hodge at 12 yet – his hands aren’t good enough… But I agree that I’m not in a hurry for Quade to be kicking. If possible.

        • Waz_dog

          He’s 3 years older than Foley & 1 year older than QC – that’s not a concern to me. He strikes fear into the opposition with his defence – a far cry from what has been in the 10 channel for a while. My two biggest concerns are: Izzy is not a 15 – never has been and never will be. We need an out and out 15 in that position. In AFL terms he’s a one way running – will bust a nut in attack for the glory but won’t get his hands dirty in defence. When has he made a try saving cover tackle lately (if at all)? 2nd – our 10s are numbties. We don’t have a world class 10 and if we’re not going to play Hunt at 15 give him the reins. Foley was a 15 so there’s nothing to say that Hunt can’t (and he did for most of the game on the weekend).

          Cheika has put himself in a jam – he could have conceded that we need to go through a rebuilding phase to get the combinations right for the RWC but he’s saying we’re going to beat the ABs… So it’s going to be more band aid player positioning as we stumble along with luke warm performances.

        • Who?

          I agree that Folau’s positioning is often ordinary, my ideal would be to see him on a wing with either Beale or DHP in the 15 (and likely Sefa on the other wing). That way he can still have that ‘dual fullback’ thing, or we can describe him as a winger with a roving commission, much like some of our best wings. Ioane. Tuqiri. Roff. Campese.
          But it all still depends on game plan and structures… If you put Beale at 15 and leave Hunt in the front line, there’s no shuffling from attack to D.

        • Waz_dog

          I would like Hunt at 15 as he’s a sure bet under the high ball – you don’t know what you’re going to get with Beale and Izzy doesn’t do what’s necessary in defence. If we’re going to go the youth policy might be worth looking at Hamish Stewart or another up and comer for 10. Be all reports he’s a dead eye dick from the tee.

        • Kiwi rugby lover

          Mate while I agree he is very safe under the high ball, he has been caught out of position a few times that have made him miss tackles. I quite like him as a 12 but I hate the way they chop and change. IMO Foley is a real weak link in the team with all the changing positions, plus his incredibly poor tactical kicking, ffs just stay at 10 and direct the play.

        • Waz_dog

          Yep 100%. The whole debate between QC and Foley was just a distraction on the fact we just don’t have a genuine flyhalf. Idk we have a 14 playing 15, a 15 playing 14, a 15 playing 12 and when Beale comes back he’s a 15 playing 12 also. We had qc/foley playing a stack of minutes out position in the 12 channel also. Going to take a long time to untangle this mess…

  • John Tynan

    I’m still worried about the defensive systems. One good point someone may be able to confirm – did I seem to notice Foley defending more at 5/8, with Timani in his pocket a la Tonie Carroll? I say good point becxause I’m not a fan of re-arranging between attack and defence and vice versa.

  • phil peake

    Hi Brian Grey’s defence has Izzy often picking a side and standing out wide like a wing instead of standing back a bit and further infield. I think this leaves us without a ‘last line of defence’ type of fullback when someone breaks our line. In your clip where their 13 scores, look where Izzy stands, it means he’s too late to get there to prevent the try and as usual jogs in after they’ve scored.
    Do you think this is one of Greys defensive structure’s flaws?
    Grey also likes his wingers coming off their wing and taking the second last attacker which leaves the overlap but I don’t think that has ever worked either. Love to know your thoughts.

    • jamie

      Our colt team generally runs with the same defensive play regarding wingers. We match up from the inside and then try and force them to go outside. Good communication sees the defence slide across, however it does have the occasional lapse when we’re fatigued and when their attack sticks their man. But usually defences seem to get busted when attacking players stick their man.

      Of course, this works well at colt level. Not sure about wallaby level though…

      • phil peake

        I like drift defence and forcing them to the sideline like you’ve said but it should still mean that the wing stays on his guy, the last man, and doesn’t come in to take the second last guy.
        Aust rugby defence has them coming in thinking it’s agressive defence and it will shut down the attack, but more often than not, they get the pass away and the fastest guy has a clear run to the line.

        • mikado

          I think the wing’s supposed to stay on whoever he’s marking, and trust the cover defence to get the opposition winger if necessary.

          England and most of the other NH teams employ the same kind of defence as Australia – congested in midfield and apt to be exposed on the wings. England generally get away with it because their line speed is good and Brown’s a decent cover defender, but when they’re exposed the defence looks awful.

    • mikado

      Folau goes out to the left because the Italians have kept their width across the pitch and are threatening an overlap. DHP should have dropped deep to cover (I didn’t see whether or not he did, and in any case Campagnaro’s line was such that DHP would never have got there in time in this case).

      I think the particular problem for Australia for that try was that their relatively congested midfield failed to stop the Italians from breaking through. Hunt’s a spectator as the play goes past him, Horne is too slow to catch Campagnaro and even Naivalu’s attempt to catch him was poor.

      • phil peake

        But breaks in midfield sometimes happen and the fullback and blind wing need to be in the right spots to cover. Folau reacts soooooo slowly that he should be standing deeper and further in until the ball has gone past the centres. He just doesn’t read the attack well so I think the coaches have dumbed down his positional play to their own detriment.

        • mikado

          Fair enough. I agree he very rarely ends up making a covering tackle, so something’s going wrong somewhere.

  • Missing Link

    I think the Wallabies defence is their biggest weakeness, but blind freddie could tell you that. There seems to be a tendency to to favour all out attack over defence and hope that the opposition don’t score as many points as us. It worked against Fiji and Italy but it failed against Scotland and it will fail against anyone else in the top 5. We have the ability to attack and we have the players to execute, but what we need is a wall of gold in defence (that 10 minute period against Wales with 13 men), absorb the pressure, strangle the opposition and force mistakes – then unleash the attack.

    I think that’s what NZ do well, they absorb the pressure, strangle the opposition and force mistakes, then pounce on the opportunity whether that be from set piece or in broken play.

    • harro

      It’s interesting because I was thinking about that defensive effort against Wales recently and comparing it to our efforts lately. Grey was defensive coach back then, right? And Cheika was the head coach. Does that mean it’s a change to the system by them or is it due to the change in players. Whatever it is, I’d like to see us go back to putting in efforts like we did in that Wales match

    • Parker

      Once again I say, bring back Muggleton. When he was defence coach there was a consistent wall of gold.

  • Old School

    I wish the ARU had the same problem as Cricket Australia. The ability to terminate all contracts on June 30

    • Alister Smith

      Who would you leave with a contract to play the All Blacks?

      • first time long time

        Just put me in coach!

  • Barnicle Bill

    Any logic to moving Hunt into 10? I know age might be a concern but as long as he is healthy it should be a non issue. Obviously not ideal for AB’s,Bok’s & Puma’s but then again? I just feel he seems more level headed and therefore trusts his vision? Too early to tell I suppose and against Italy possibly easier to ‘look good’….


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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