In our 250th edition of Friday’s Rugby News, we discuss our squad to take on the Welsh, more spin, a review under lock and key and more complaints about the lineout.
The November Internationals continue this weekend, with the Wallabies entering the dragon pit to take on Wales.
While we’ve stacked up a thirteen match winning streak against the Welsh over the last decade, many folks are convinced that given our poor form, that record is looking more likely than ever to come to an end this week.
It’s a weird record to have as well, as so many times the match has been decided by less than seven points.
Michael Cheika has made a couple of surprising changes to the squad, including dropping Marika Koroibete out of the team entirely to make way for Samu Kerevi, Jack Dempsey comes into the side and relates Ned Hanigan to the bench, while the Leicester contingent in Tatafu Polota-Nau and Matt Toomua come into the reserves.
However, the most controversial move is the decision to retain Tolu Latu in the squad, despite the fact that in the last two tests for the Wallabies, he’s been sin-binned for losing his temper. Add to that, during this season he wasn’t even the Waratahs starting hooker.
The Scarlets meanwhile have made three changes of their own to the squad that defeated Scotland last weekend, with Tomas Francis, Adam Beard and Josh Adams coming into the side. These guys were instrumental in Wales’ clean sweep of the Pumas during the June series, so expect them to have a big impact on the squad.
Wallabies Squad: Dane Haylett-Petty, Israel Folau, Samu Kerevi, Kurtley Beale, Sefa Naivalu, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, David Pocock, Michael Hooper (c), Jack Dempsey, Adam Coleman, Izack Rodda, Allan Alaalatoa, Tolu Latu, Scott Sio. Reserves: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Sekope Kepu, Taniela Tupou, Rob Simmons, Ned Hanigan, Nick Phipps, Matt Toomua, Jack Maddocks.
Wales Squad: Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams, Gareth Anscombe, Gareth Davies, Ross Moriarty, Justin Tipuric, Dan Lydiate, Alun Wyn Jones (c), Adam Beard, Tomas Francis, Ken Owens, Nicky Smith. Reserves: Elliot Dee, Rob Evans, Dillon Lewis, Cory Hill, Ellis Jenkins, Tomos Williams, Dan Biggar, Liam Williams.
This is going to be a difficult match, and god help us for the rest of the year if we start this with a loss. Raelene Castle has said that 3/3 will be a ‘pass’ for the Wallabies, so this not only has to be a win, but a more positive performance to give the players the belief that they can string those performances together.
I’m still going to back the Wallabies though. Wales are a genuine threat, but it was a hardly convincing performance against Scotland last week. Wallabies by 4 or less, because that’s how all these games go.
There are many other games this weekend, so we’ll start in Florence, where the Azzuri will kick off their November season against the rising European power of Georgia. The teams have only ever met once, with the Italians prevailing. However, Georgia are currently ranked higher in the world than the Italians, so anything is possible with that one.
Next up, Scotland will be hosting Fiji at Murrayfield, their second game of the season after their loss in Cardiff last week. Following that will arguably be the biggest drawcard of the round, when England host the All Blacks at Twickenham. It’s a pity this match didn’t happen eighteen months ago when England were in unbelievable form, but hey, this one should still be interesting.
After the Wales-Australia match, the USA will be hosting Samoa, Ireland will play their second match of the Internationals when they host the Pumas in Dublin, and finally, the last match sees the Springboks head to Paris for a fixture against France. And that one kicks off at 7am in the morning, so quite a respectable time actually.
Enjoy your rugby this weekend folks, and remember, if you get angry and feel the urge to put your foot through the telly, remember it’s only a game…
Searching for the Holy Grail
It’s test time once again, and beforehand comes the spin.
The lads have been at camp in Cardiff for the last few days, and have welcomed the return of veteran hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau to the squad.
Polota-Nau’s return comes at a great time for the squad, according to Folau Fainga’a, with the veteran imparted some much-needed knowledge on his younger counterparts.
“He’s a lot (of help) for us, especially for myself and Tolu,” he said to rugby.com.au.
“The experience he has playing over here as well and just for us, helping us heaps with our set piece when he comes back.”
With plenty of questions around Australia’s hookers, Folau admitted that it’s time for both him and Tolu Latu (who was selected as the run-on hooker) to step up.
“I think from us hookers we’ve got to take more ownership of that as well.
“It’s just doing more extras and hitting those spots during the week so we can take it into the game really.”
Fainga’a has admitted as well that he has become increasingly driven to play for the Wallabies, particularly considering the family support behind him. Among the folks who get up to regularly watch him play is his 94-year-old great grandmother Palolo.
“Obviously my family back home is my motivation,” he admitted.
“I’ve got a great-grandmother still alive, she’s always crying every time she sees me on television.
“She just sees my face and she just bawls out crying and even when I FaceTime her, it’s the same thing.
“They’re my motivation for the Spring Tour.”
Fainga’a’s enthusiasm has also not been lost on the more senior players, with David Pocock singling him out for praise.
“I was very impressed with his growth and his form through the Brumbies season, (where he) obviously earned the opportunity here (in Wallabies camp) and step up how he has,” he said.
“There’s plenty to learn and I guess he’s shown just how much he wanted to learn and we’re starting to see that in his game.
“The young hookers we’ve got coming through can be around for a long time, it’s very exciting.”
While the young guns are coming through, there has been one issue around Latu: that he continues to have brain snaps (see last match in Yokohama). However, Nathan Grey admitted that the team have proven to be an important factor in managing Latu.
“It’s all about realising how that impacts the team and it’s crucial,” he said to rugby.com.au.
“Tolu’s certainly aware around how to deal with those situations and keep himself under control but from him personally it’s a matter of understanding, ‘How does that impact my team?’ and that’s got to come into your decision-making, when you get into those heated moments and being able to control yourself.
“Because there’s heaps of them in the game, so it’s a matter of understanding how that impacts the team.
“He certainly understands how things went with that yellow card (against the All Blacks) that it was pretty costly for us.”
It’s clear though the team still have faith in Latu, with him being named as our starting hooker. For Grey, he hopes that this match will see some defensive consistency, which he views as the “holy grail” for the team.
“There’s snippets of all the matches that we’ve played this year that we can really hang our hat on that defensive performance and say, ‘Okay, that period we’re really good,’,” Grey elabourated.
“But we all know at this level, you have to get that consistency and that’s something we’re working towards and the players and the coaching staff are really driven to achieving that.
“Having the players believe in the system and just go out and execute it is something we’re searching for and when the guys get that, that consistency’s going to be delivered on the park,” he said.
“That’s the holy grail of coaching trying to get that consistency and that belief amongst the players, so they go out, execute, no inhibitions and really back themselves and when you’ve got 15, 23 players doing that, you become a really dangerous proposition.”
Under Lock and Key
Well I’ll be damned. Earlier this week, Cricket Australia released a damning cultural review, exposing a toxic environment and a “win at all costs” mentality that has led to the resignations of chairman David Peever and board member Mark Taylor.
The review was conducted by Simon Longstaff of the Ethics Centre, and interestingly enough, he was also behind a similar review that the Australian Rugby Union had back in 2015.
So what were the results of that commission? Delusional praise? Controversies so bad that several board members should resign?
Unfortunately, we’ll never know because the governing body has elected to keep it under lock and key, and has never released it to the general public.
There are some indications of what is contained within the review. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, while it didn’t turn up anything as bad as what has happened with our national cricket team, there was plenty of mention of “disconnect in certain values and objectives within the code.”
The review at the time was hardly a secret, as it was revealed that it would feature interviews from over 400 stakeholders. However, with World Cup fever in full swing, it managed to keep a low profile until Fairfax highlighted that such a review existed earlier this week.
However, a Rugby Australia spokesperson made mention of the fact that the report was never intended to be released to the public.
“The review was intended to inform the strategic planning process that was undertaken in 2015,” they elaborated earlier this week.
While many would demand that the findings at that time should be made public, it’s easy to forget that the report (which was being compiled while Ewen McKenzie was still coach) is mostly focused on many of the ARU’s governing body, most of whom have since left the organisation. Any dirt on Cameron Clyne though?
But on the other hand, it was also mentioned that the findings of the review we’re used as a foundational part of the five-year strategic plan the ARU unveiled in 2016.
Rugby Australia have announced they have no intention to revisit the findings from the 2015 report, now or in the future.
Considering the shit that’s going on now though, I reckon we’d be better served by having a brand new cultural review for what’s going on at the moment.
Not Big Enough?
The Wallabies lineout has been very disappointing this year, and questions have only continued to grow following the result against the All Blacks in Yokohama.
So the question now? According to Fox Sports, does it come down to the fact that we haven’t really got any giraffes in our squad?
You know, that’s what they think of? Instead of the fact that both Tolu Latu and Folau Fainga’a are still quite inexperienced by hooker standards? But I digress.
Ned Hanigan is the tallest of the Wallaby back three at 1.94m, but with Michael Hooper and David Pocock alongside him at (at 1.82m and 1.84m respectively) the rest of the back three look set to be dwarfed by their Welsh counterparts, at least in terms of height.
David Pocock however played the question with a straight bat when he was asked it on Thursday, with folks asking if it comes down to one of the ‘Poopers’ going off the park.
“I love playing alongside Hoops, but that is up to the coaches and what they think is going to be best for us as a team,” he said.
“I will stay out of that one.
“But I really rate Mike as a captain, as a person and as a player and love playing alongside him.
“We have worked hard and trying to get this combination working as best as we can.
“I think we are pretty handy jumpers but I guess that is always going to be talked about.
“That’s up to the coaches and the profile they are looking for.
“What they think are benefits are opposed to the cost of having two shorter players in the backrow.”
Folau Fainga’a at least admitted his two cents worth on the whole matter.
“It’s really up to us hookers to own it,” he said.
“It doesn’t make a difference.
“He (Pocock) has strong lifters behind and around him.
“He gets up to the same height you get from your Rory Arnolds and those kind of players.
“It’s all about where you hit the target and making sure you do.”
Well put. Fingers crossed the lineout gets back to it’s best this weekend…