Mack Mason and Australia’s Flyhalf Future - Green and Gold Rugby
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Mack Mason and Australia’s Flyhalf Future

Mack Mason and Australia’s Flyhalf Future

Everyone knows that the flyhalf is the most important – nay, the only important position on a rugby pitch. When they manage to pack a scrum without collapsing we sometimes tell the forwards that they can also be important, but mostly it’s just the flyhalves. By far the most common sequence of play on a rugby field involves the ball emerging from the base of a ruck/maul/scrum/lineout, the scrumhalf tossing it to the flyhalf, and then the flyhalf working his magic. It’s no coincidence that the best plays tend to be those where the flyhalf makes his pass and then wraps around to receive the ball a second time and make yet another pass.

Of course, the problem is that no one in Australia can manage this, which has led to the oft-discussed dual playmaker system. This typically involves Foley chucking the ball in Beale’s general direction and then Beale pretending that he’s the flyhalf getting a second touch. The only real difference is that there is no wrap around, which means that no overlap has been created. This sort of ruins the whole point of the play, but it still works sometimes because Beale is pretty good at putting guys into gaps.

But what happens once Beale starts showing his age? At 30 years old, this is almost certainly his last Rugby World Cup and Foley is only 9 months older than Beale. Even now, Beale has had a very slow start to the season which we can only pray is out of laziness rather than senility.

This is where succession planning comes in – or at least, where it should come in if it existed in the first place. While New Zealand has managed to churn out the likes of Beauden Barrett, Aaron Cruden, Richie Mo’unga, Lima Sopoaga, and Damian McKenzie to take the reins following the departure of Dan Carter, Australia has been using Foley and Beale for what feels like a bloody long time. Since the retirement of Stephen Larkham in 2007, Australia quickly lost the likes of Matt Giteau, Berrick Barnes, and James O’Connor to overseas clubs. Since 2013, only the occasional selection of Quade Cooper has managed to dislodge the Foley-Beale combination that has been imported from the Waratahs (though Matt Toomua had a few cracks at it last year).

Andrew Deegan put in an accomplished performance at 10

Andrew Deegan still in Australia and playing well for the Force

So let’s talk about the successor portion of the succession planning. Between 2010 and 2017, almost no Australian under-20 flyhalves have been retained through Super Rugby. This is despite the fact that no less than 16 players wore the green and gold at that level in those 8 years.

Ben Volavola ended up playing for Fiji and James Ambrosini is considered an Italian prospect.

Kyle Godwin was utilised predominantly at centre before moving to Ireland, much like Reece Hodge who has only started one Wallabies game at flyhalf despite having the most successful first-class career in this list.

UJ Seuteni is in France, and Andrew Deegan was in Ireland but is now in Perth (which may as well be Ireland) with Nick Jooste and Jack McGregor (yes – three u20s flyhalves still play in Australia but are ineligible for Wallabies selection because the Force is no longer in Super Rugby).

Jake McIntyre played 24 games for the Reds before being recruited to play in France.

David Horwitz and Mack Mason were both picked up by the Waratahs but sat on the sidelines for years – Horwitz eventually getting 16 starts before moving to Ireland and Mason managing only a handful of brief appearances (until this weekend).

James Dalgleish hasn’t managed to step above the NRC level, while Jordan Jackson-Hope has come off the bench for the Brumbies twice this year but only in the back 3.

Jono Lance managed just over 50 Super Rugby starts across 3 teams in 8 years before taking up an offer in the English Premiership.

Hamish Stewart and Jack Debreczeni have been given the best chance out of all of these, with Stewart being bred to be the next Reds flyhalf whether it suits him or not and Debreczeni being the main Rebels flyhalf from 2015 until 2018. Sadly, Debreczeni was displaced at the Rebels this year and now plies his trade for the Chiefs (he had a very impressive season with their feeder club Northland last year in the Mitre 10 Championship).

It is due to this total and utter failing on the part of Australian rugby to develop any young playmaking talent that could eventually oust Foley and Cooper that I watched this weekend’s Super Rugby games with interest. Mack Mason was thrown into the Super Rugby furnace without so much as a sun umbrella, while Hamish Stewart was pitted against an in-form Quade Cooper. Unfortunately, Stewart was played at fullback which dashes any chance for a fair comparison. As a result, I will be looking at how Mason did against experienced ex-Highlander flyhalf Hayden Parker.

Mason’s performance has already been discussed thoroughly despite the recency of the game, with the general consensus seeming to be that he was flustered by the standard of play but that he can’t really be blamed for it when he hasn’t been properly exposed to top tier rugby before. To be precise, Mason has played only 20 minutes of Super Rugby since July 2017. Many also feel that no one in the Waratahs backline lifted so much as their little finger to help him out despite 4/6 of the other backs being Wallabies. I have watched this game 3 times now and have formed a slightly different opinion. Let’s take a closer look:

Image 1

Only 38 seconds in (above), Mason shoots a great ball in front of Damien Fitzpatrick who charges on an angle through a half-gap and makes the offload to Beale. Unfortunately, he follows this up with a Foley-style aimless kick which is redeemed by being returned even more poorly.

In the 8th minute (below), Mason makes a similar pass to put Alex Newsome into a half-gap but unfortunately the winger can’t hold onto the ball. It’s hard to say which player’s fault this is, most likely it’s just a result of poor timing between players who’ve never really been on a rugby pitch at the same time.

Image 2

Five minutes later (below), Mason fires a pinpoint pass to Israel Folau. It needs to be pinpoint because there are two Sunwolves players rushing up for the intercept, but due to its accuracy and timing the man marking Folau is caught out and Folau makes a good 15 metres before being tackled by the cover defence.

Image 3

Mason also manages to shift the ball very quickly in the face of a belligerent rush defence for Cameron Clark’s try in the 14th minute.

In the 21st minute, Mason receives a long kick and immediately gives it to Folau. It’s good to see Mason backing Folau up here, leading to a 30-metre break when Mason receives the pass. Unfortunately, he passes it to Clark without properly drawing the defender (below) which allows Gerhard van den Heever to cover both of them and end the promising play. This is by no means a fault unique to Mason, and I would like to see this skill improved across the board.

Image 4

Mason also gets one up on his experienced opposite number Hayden Parker by charging down his clearing kick, unfortunately the ensuing grubber leaves the ball awkwardly too far from the try line to dive on it and too short to kick. Even though this does not result in a try, Mason deserves some recognition for creating this opportunity.

Something that may have gone unseen or even counted against him in many pundits’ books occurs in the 26th minute, when Mason manages to put himself into a gap (below). Unfortunately, the pass from Kepu is too high and the chance is lost.

Image 5

Mason puts a kick out on the full a moment later.

He manages the vaunted 2 touches in one phase in the 37th minute and the trick gains the Waratahs a few metres. Unfortunately, he drops a pass from Beale cold a few seconds after this due to the pressure from the rush defence.

The key incident for which his participation will be remembered occurs in the 51st minute (below), when his pass goes in front of Beale and is recovered by Semi Masirewa for a Sunwolves try. I have watched this pass dozens of times to determine if it comes off the hand of Harumichi Tatekawa, but the wide angle makes it impossible to be sure and my best guess is that it doesn’t, though it is possible that Tatekawa’s tackle changes the ball’s trajectory.

Image 6

Even if Tatekawa had zero impact on the play, I would not say that this is solely Mason’s fault. The Waratahs have run this play before and Beale is standing closer to Mason than is typical – in fact, when Mason throws the pass Beale is almost directly behind him. The sole tolerable Fox Sports commentator Rod Kafer appears to support this by saying that Beale is “too narrow”. The take away message from this play is that if Beale had been wider, then the pass would likely have connected. Ideally Mason would have adjusted his pass to Beale’s actual position, but under pressure from Tatekawa’s rush defence and with only a handful of Super Rugby minutes under his belt he probably just threw the ball where they’d practised during training. In my opinion, it is very harsh to pin all the blame on Mason for this try.

Unfortunately, this incident crushes his confidence and he drops the ball cold in the 53rd minute leading to his substitution shortly thereafter.

The above is a list of all negative or otherwise major involvements that Mason had in the game. In addition to them, Mason also provided:

  • Good backfield coverage;
  • A strong kicking game with 14 kicks (only one above went out on the full);
  • Crisp ball distribution including 21 passes;
  • A 75% (3 from 4) goal-kicking rate; and
  • A perfect defensive score, making all 4 of his tackles (and all 8 tackles this year) as well as 3 of his 4 kicks at goal.

By way of comparison, in the same game Kurtley Beale (who functioned as a second playmaker for 54 minutes and then as flyhalf) made 5 of his 7 tackles. In the previous game he made only 3 from 7 while incumbent Bernard Foley made 9 from 13. One of Beale’s missed tackles was directly responsible for a try. In fact, on review I think it is fair to say that Mason had a better game than Beale.

Despite the commentary to the contrary as well as two and a half years spent running water from the sidelines, Mason still managed to deploy an effective passing game and showed better tackle technique than any incumbent Wallabies playmaker. He struggled in attack when put under pressure, but I think there was enough promise shown to hope that he will begin to cope with the benefit of future experience.

Even those detractors who are good-natured enough to offset Mason’s mistakes with contextual information tend to overlook a lot of good things he offered during the game. Mason’s greatest asset at the junior level was his passing game, and from the evidence at hand it seems that he is merely rusty. Above all else I would like to see him become a regular emplacement on the bench with perhaps one more shot at the starting jersey this year. He needs to be given the chance to play and learn and make mistakes without feeling like he’s cost his team the game. Otherwise, Mason might just end up as another name on that list of u20s flyhalves who never got a fair chance in Super Rugby.

  • Rebels3

    I keep hearing murmurs that Jake McIntyre has had brief talks with a SR side about returning next season. I can’t see it been the Rebels (Toomua and have begun talks with Quade about him staying beyond this year) and I think Mack Mason is still considered the future at the Tahs, so that leaves two potential options.

    For the record I’m of the belief Stewart is a 15 or 12

    • GO THE Q REDS

      So how did zero coaches pick this up not only in his junior rugby but club, Nrc and the first 2years around Reds Super Rugby? Not having a go at you. .. I agree. I think 12 suits him, but only if your not playing a true playmaker at 10…..which I’ll never understand. It’s a massive waste of space having 2 playmakers when the option is 1 good playmaker and a damaging runner!

      • Rebels3

        I don’t think school rugby overly means a lot where you play. Pocock was a centre, Malcom’s marx was a flanker, TPN a no.8, etc. I believe Stewart himself was a flanker until his last year or two.

        As for him at pro level, was it more a case of lack of options than him actually suiting the role??? As you said there is better judges than me around that have been exposed to him. He’s got the talent, so I’m sure he will nail down a role eventually that fits his skills

    • Cameron Rivett

      I don’t know if Stewart even belongs on a Super Rugby field yet. I still have hope for him but he’s been given a lot more time than Mason and I’m no longer sure that he’s continuing to improve. If he doesn’t show something this season, I reckon let him earn his stripes in clubland.

      Not keen on Jake McIntyre coming back either, but I guess the Reds are getting desperate. The Brumbies are more likely to look to Hawera I think.

      • idiot savant

        Stewart had 5 starts at 10 last season and the Reds won 3 of those and scored 7 tries in one of the losses. He came on at half time at 10 in another game which the Reds won. His two starts at 10 this season were credible losses to the Highlanders and Crusaders and lets face it he spent most of those games at outside centre. On the evidence of how the side performs with him 10, I think Stewart has been better than any other 10 since Cooper left.

        • Cameron Rivett

          Those are pretty good stats, but it’s hard to tell just from isolated stats. Rugby is such a team game in this way. Stewart may have had better ball from the forwards in those games and worse in the losses which affects his own ability to playmake. It’s like Steve Hansen said about Richie Mo’unga and the “Rolls Royce forward pack”. Even Mo’unga would probably look at lot worse on a team as inconsistent as the Reds. I’ll be sure to keep an eye on this througout the season.

        • idiot savant

          Its true it could all be coincidence but when you consider the Reds only won 6 games all last season… You could add to that the performance of the Qld Country backline in the last 2 NRC seasons. I know NRC is a level below Shute Shield and again probably no guide but the Qld C backline scored more tries than any other Australian NRC backline with Stewart at 10 and made 2 finals, winning one.

        • Who?

          NRC is only a level below Shute Shield if you’re talking about games involving NSW teams. Everyone else plays at a much higher standard.
          Or are you claiming that Parramatta plays at a higher standard than a Qld B team, or a Brumbies B team, or a Rebels B team..?

        • idiot savant

          Well I might be a bit tongue in cheek! Everythings better south of the Tweed right? I think they are different types of rugby. SS finals probably have better defences and are more physical than NRC games but the athletes on show in the NRC is probably higher. Also NRC backs stand much deeper. Its a different kind of rugby.

        • Who?

          I grew up south of the Tweed. What I couldn’t understand was why most of my classmates supported the Maroons in Origin! So my natural inclination would be to support the Tahs, and there’s times I’m hugely onboard, but for someone who didn’t live anywhere near Moore Park, the arrogance that can surround the team (not necessarily from the team, but surrounding them) can be repulsive (i.e. it actually repels me and pushes me away).
          .
          They’re different types of Rugby due to the histories of the competition and the levels of player available. NRC was set up with trial laws to try and encourage high scoring games, to increase entertainment value for the casual observer. So it’s always been shootout Rugby.
          But the athletic levels, as you’ve noted, are higher, and I’d argue the skill levels are generally higher, too. You’re right, it’s a different style of Rugby.
          If only the NSWRU had jumped on board with the NRC (and dragged the SRU along with them) – results from last year indicate they still haven’t managed to do that.
          And tight games are what you play when you’re too tired to spread the ball. :-P

        • Cameron Rivett

          I don’t really consider NRC worth much. It’s no wonder they halved the number of NSW teams; everyone I speak to considers it a joke. I can only really count on Super Rugby form and to some extent club rugby form. But you’ve definitely made a point, I will be looking at Stewart differently for the rest of the season.

        • Who?

          Cameron, the problem with NRC is that those you’re talking with live in NSW, and the SRU and NSWRU’s arrogance around the value of the Shute Shield sees them value a competition with amateur players that mostly aren’t good enough to make a Super squad that’s based in a singular city above a national competition with most of the Super players involved.
          .
          The NSWRU and SRU were dismissive of the NRC, therefore everyone under their jurisdiction undervalues it. Perhaps also because that failure to give focus has seen the NSW teams consistently become cannon fodder. I can only think of one season of strong performance in the NRC from a NSW team, the Country Eagles 3 years ago (and they didn’t win it). Everyone outside NSW appreciates the NRC.

        • GO THE Q REDS

          Now break those wins/games down and tell me how many were directly linked to plays he was involved in, or even better he orchestrated! Because I watch the playmaker channel very closely and can firmly say he was no standout last year. His defensive stats are his only competitive strength.
          And if those stats bear out so well for him why has he been shuffled around? It most certainly hasn’t been to fit others on the field who demand selection!

        • idiot savant

          Im not saying he is a wunderkind by any means. He clearly has a long way to go. And he was helped last season not playing behind Lucas in the early part of the season but I too watch the channel. He runs straight, keeps his shoulders square to the line, can offload in or just before contact, has fast hands and can throw long passes both sides. He has the skills. Im not sure about the brains. I think they are playing him at 15 to improve his eyes up vision. Blooding 10s at 15 is a kiwi thing to do. That and the desire by Thorn to teach him a lesson that he has to earn everything.

        • Who?

          Kiwis don’t always blood 10’s at 15. DC started at 12. Shag’s on the record as having said that he thought Beauden Barrett’s natural position was 15. He’s revised that now, but I’m less certain.
          DMac plays 15 because he’s a good 15. In the same way that Beale is best used in space.
          Mo’unga didn’t debut at 15.
          .
          I don’t care if a 10 stays square or has a great long pass when he first appears. I mean, by Super Rugby, he should do, but it’s not the determining factor on where a player should be. There determining factor on whether a player should play 10 is a combination of vision, involvement, arrogance and unselfishness. It’s a weird combination, I know, but it’s someone who wants the ball, who believes they know best, who consistently can see opportunities but is happy to give them to other people. That’s a weird mix, and finding that mix is more important than skills that can be developed, like passing (even if some Wallabies are trying to prove that passing can’t be taught!).

        • idiot savant

          Agree Who.

  • Bernie Chan

    UJ Seutini is a perhaps a sorry case study in regards to talent retention. He was very highly rated as a schoolboy player but went overseas very early in his career. He was spoken of as the player to eventually replace QC as the playmaker….? He is not playing flyhalf in France though, it seems he plays more #12 and fullback.

    • GO THE Q REDS

      Yep and I’ve noticed Seutini plays a secondary playmaker role at 12 as well. Not sure who the 10 is for them but he’s not exactly electric. I’d imagine if he played back in Aus he’d do a role similar to Duncan P.

  • Twoilms

    Beale was directly responsible for two of the Sunwolves tries. The first, a flapped attempt at a tackle on the line. I would honestly have been astounded if the effort had actually impeded the attacking player at all.

    The second, he rushed up out of the line from 12 and completely missed his man.

    Mason did alright and then his confidence blew out. But the rest of the team did just terribly.

  • Brumby Runner

    One out of left field. From early next year Hawera will be Wallaby eligible. Many posters don’t have a high opinion of his talents, but he is not that far behind Lealiifano as a playmaker, and better than most of his competition in the up and coming No 10 spot. He certainly has a lot more Super Rugby experience than any of the younger players.

    • Rebels3

      No chance of him taking over. Both Foley and Cooper are still wallaby eligible if they move overseas.

      I’d put more likelihood of someone like jono lance been promised a wallabies jersey if he returned home if his club is relegated. Toomua at worst will fill the void in the next few years if Foley and Cooper decide not to play Int anymore.

      For the record Hawera is a decent 10 and worthy of a Super spot but well down the list of wallaby options

    • Hoss

      Had an old rugby coach tell me ‘your not drunk till you shit yourself’

      Putting Hawera forward mate – i’d go check your daks……….

      • Brumby Runner

        Hoss and all the other henny pennies above, I am simply saying that Hawera has as much chance as the likes of Mason, Stewart and the host of others mentioned in the article. The article simply avoided mentioning him at all.

        If Cooper isn’t available next year (and hopefully he will be) then Matt Toomua should be a lay down misere for the spot.I really don’t see a new coach bringing Foley back under the Giteau rule.

        I won’t be at all surprised, however, if Hawera makes it back as the starting No 10 for the Brumbies this year. He has some good attacking skills and plays a more rounded game than many of the players mentioned. Then with CLL at 12 we just might start to score some tries again.

        • Cameron Rivett

          Toomua is the youngest player who has been a playmaker for the Wallabies in the past decade with the exception of Reece Hodge (who played only 1 test at 10 and that was against Japan), but even then he is still 29. I don’t fancy his chances of making it to the next RWC. I honestly don’t think you’re that crazy to suggest Hawera, early signs aren’t promising but 10 is a very difficult position and the Brumbies have had him learning from Stephen Larkham and Christian Lealiifano so he may yet improve.

        • joy

          Toomua has previously failed the field kicking test.

  • Hoss

    Good right up Rusty.

    I had the ‘unique’ pleasure of being at the ground (as i believe you were) and in the cold light of sobriety and reflection, two things stick out clearly:

    1. The Tah’s sure as shit can NOT win the competition. With Spanners off to chase yen next year (i will gladly drive him to the airport), Gilberts signed with Sony to release his greatest 20 hits belted out on the Dyson and the Bovine Sprinkler is off to experience Guinness and its bladdertory effects so that (in theory) should give Shifter plenty of actual game time along with the Commissioner to work on combinations and understanding

    2. Leadership is well and truly missing and that’s not a dig at Lee Majors. He is so busy busting his arse covering for others and their lack of effort that he really doesn’t have the time or seemingly the focus. Leadership isn’t about pointing to the sticks or sideline or those farking player circles ad nausea. Its about empowerment and clear understanding of roles & responsibilities and here he falls down, not a criticism at all, just an observation.

    Shifter got shafted last Friday, dropped head first into a steaming pile of excrement and told to find the nougat at the bottom while Gilbert & co stood back and concentrated on anything, actually – everything else.

    The kid needs game time, that’s the only cure for rust – actual game day lubrication. What have we got to lose ???? The title (best British accent here) – not bloody likely.

    • Keith Butler

      The Shifter appears. It’s amazing how watching a game in the cold light of day can change your perspective. I do it all the time eg the SDs play well but we’re in fact shite. We bagged Mason on the night but it was the other more experienced players around him that should carry the can. That being said, if either Spanners or QC sustain long term injuries ( and I sincerely hope not) the G&G are screwed as the cupboard looks distinctly bare.

      • Parker

        Toomua

    • Cameron Rivett

      Thanks Hoss! What a pleasure it was to fork out the big bucks to finally attend a game in my hometown only to have the players scuttle off in shame after the match.

      1. We have seen the damage to the Reds from having Quade Cooper depart and Hamish Stewart come into the squad. If these players had enjoyed a more deliberate transition then I think Stewart would be a much better play than he is. The same goes for Mason – I don’t want him to get essentially no time and then suddenly next year be the starting flyhalf. He needs to be given game time now while the two Wallaby playmakers are still in the squad to guide him. Like you say, we don’t really have anything to lose anyway.

      2. Backline leadership is definitely missing which is incredibly concerning considering the number of Wallabies caps floating around out there, though I have been pleasantly surprised by the Tahs forward performances this year considering the lack of depth in their front row and their small size all round.

      • Brumby Runner

        I think Stewart’s issue is that he was being put in the 10 spot when he is quite clearly a better player out wider. I reckon his form at 15 has been quite good and he is looking a much better player in that spot.

        • Cameron Rivett

          He seems less out of his depth at 15 but still not particularly inspiring. But mostly I mean that he doesn’t seem to be developing, I feel that he’s at a similar point in his game now as at this time last season.

    • Patrick

      Hooper is unfortunately not captain material. He is a super-inspirational player and I would love to have him alongside me (although he would be horrified to line up next to me), he does not manage the ref, the team nor the game and never has. QC, Pocock and Genia have all shown more of each of those than he has.

      • GO THE Q REDS

        And it seems Sooo obvious I really don’t understand the issue. Sometimes I wish they would shed enlightenment with full clarity so we can understand what they’re doing!

        • Patrick

          I agree that there a lot of calls where I am willing to say I don’t know necessarily better, even the Pooper for example, but frankly, with Foley and (much less so but to a degree nonetheless) Hooper it is just inexplicable

  • Kiwi rugby lover

    Well written Cameron,

    I watched the game when I got back from NZ and I thought he actually played quite well. His pass is definitely crisper and flatter than Foley and I think he just needs more time to get in his stride. I actually didn’t really understand the vitriol he was given and think a lot of it was not really justified.

    Also, I agree Beale is playing even more crappier than usual this year.

    • Cameron Rivett

      I think his pass is his greatest asset, and that’s why I think he’s our best chance for a Wallaby flyhalf out of the current under-29 crowd. He’s nowhere near there yet, but if he can pass like that then it opens up the possibility of a ball running 12. The last thing I want to see is some horrific dual playmaker set up like Hawera at 10 and Stewart at 12.

      • Kiwi rugby lover

        absolutely mate. I just hope he gets brought on and not dumped on

        • David Creagh

          Don’t worry KRL. I am sure they will find the next “big thing” with “X-factor” who will “change the way the game is played” and dump him like a stone as a “did not make it consistently at this level”.

        • Kiwi rugby lover

          Sad isn’t it?

      • Brumby Runner

        I believe it’s called blind faith Cameron. Mason has been pretty ordinary at SS level when I’ve watched him. He is a long way short of Super standard at present and the Wallabies are not even on the horizon.

        I would say that Andrew Deegan is currently streets ahead of Mack in terms of both skill levels and experience. Pity he can’t get a gig out of WA.

        • Cameron Rivett

          Sadly I haven’t seen much of him in the Shield because I don’t watch many games involving clubs south of the bridge. I would agree that Deegan has shown more, but I’m reluctant to comment in more detail because a few games under different rules against mostly hodge podge teams doesn’t provide a great platform for assessment.

  • Who?

    I tuned into the Tahs/Wolves game after Mason had been removed, so can’t comment on everything he did. However…
    I completely agree the pass for Masirewa’s try isn’t wholly on Mason. Beale’s too narrow. And I think the reason for that – and for the poor pass – is great pressure from the Wolves’ 12. He got up and in quickly. He was up there to smother the pass, earlier than Mason expected him, and well before Beale was in position wider. Folau’s run is better timed, but even he could be a little earlier, because he’s in the right position to receive the ball right as that photo above is shown. So, he needed to be there earlier, Mason needed to be shifting the ball two steps earlier, and Beale was about 5 steps late. Or they needed the Wolves’ 12 to be 4 steps slower! And he deserves credit.
    .
    But I completely, completely agree that we’ve completely failed in developing any sort of talent in playmaking roles for ages.

  • GO THE Q REDS

    It’s funny it feels like this article is a direct copy and paste from my posts on the forums for the last 3years……constant assessment of our 10s and the abhorrent lack of both cover and growth in the 10 position in Aus. Primarily since the unceramonial axing of Quade and the far from International level of play from Foley for at least the last 2Super seasons along with the Tests!
    As for poor ole Mason.. … well I’ve been boasting his talents since before he joined the Tahs…. .(most vote for Stewart…..how blind some are)
    and now it appears he has a coach who would rather follow his emotional brain than the stats guy beside him whose screaming at him. . ..”GET BEALE OFF THE FIELD”. Using Mason as a scape goat was pretty poor form as he played pretty well considering his team mates efforts AND the rather low benchmark Foley has been setting!

    • Cameron Rivett

      It seems we share a lot of opinions! Another thing I’d like to say with regards to how 10s have been handled in Australia is that it’s really hard to train a 10 to be world-class if there isn’t already a world-class 10 in the squad. Giteau learned from Larkham. Lynagh learned from Ella. Mo’unga learned from Carter. Barrett learned from Cruden. It’s hard to say that Foley/Beale are world-class, but I think they’re close enough to teach Mason enough to get him started. It’s an incredible shame that Stewart doesn’t have the chance to learn from Cooper.

      • idiot savant

        While Lynagh probably learned a bit from Ella, he came out of a different tradition and was a Qld type kicking general already rather than the Randwick runner that Ella was. They were completely different players which was one of the great things about them playing together at 10 and 12 because they both brought different skills.

        I agree that it was a shame Stewart didnt get to learn from Cooper because the one thing that really could take Stewarts game to a new level is learning how to play flatter.

    • Jimmydubs

      Zero?

  • RugbyReg

    Another good article Cameron. A few points. Firstly, I believe Force players are most definitely eligible for the Wallabies. Note Deegan and Ferris playing in that internal trial last year, and Rocket Rod playing in the 7s.

    As for the development of our young 10s, it is perplexing.

    A couple of wild theories both revolving around the fact our schoolboy 10s are rarely playmakers in the true sense of the word.

    They are other the most freaskishly skilled (ala Beale), or just simple passers of the to their outside runners (which is all Mason had to do at school). There’s probably a third in the killer boots. I note Carter Gordon and Campbell Parata could be considered this.

    I think it’s because schoolboy coaching is barely that. There’s no time to develop these players. They are bought in and expected to deliver. Not focus on reading the game etc. There are obviously glimpses of alternatives – Isaac Lucas seems one with a bit of everything (although seemingly a limited kicking game at this stage).

    Where did Steve Larkham play at school though? I know he was a former scrumhalf, did he play that at school?

    • Hoss

      He was a fullback wasn’t he mate ?

      • RugbyReg

        He debuted for the Brumbies at 13 but played scrumhalf before that. Was curious if that’s where he played at school.

        • Cameron Rivett

          Debuted for the Wallabies on the wing as well. It seems that we’re lucky he settled into the 10 jersey as well as he did.

        • RugbyReg

          Larkham? First test off the bench and 2nd test at fullback

        • Cameron Rivett

          I’m referring to his debut off the bench for Ben Tune on the wing, I know he didn’t actually play there long.

      • Patrick

        That is what I always thought too.

    • Who?

      Great point about the limitations of Schoolboy Rugby. Yet another reason why the focus on development should be through clubs, where kids grow over years, rather than schools, where it’s just about stealing a result with your First XV.
      .
      I still maintain that Foley and Beauden Barrett look like U13’s flyhalves. As in, U13’s, a lot of coaches just grab the kid who’s fast and stick him at 10. Give him the ball and he’ll set something up with his feet, everyone else just support him. No playmaking required, no direction. It’s lazy, it’s not good enough. As opposed to teaching kids how to identify space, how to preserve space, and how to be unselfish finding the kid who’s best located to use that space. And that’s the issue for a lot of these guys at the top of schoolboys – they can identify space for themselves, and put away the kid on their hip, but they can’t see anything wider. It’s like they’ve failed maths – they can’t quickly identify numbers on each side of the field and each side of the ball. When I was coaching, we worked really hard on that in Under 10’s, and we saw results with certain kids. Other kids, they would consistently try to run the ball when they had two defenders in front and five team mates outside them. Those kids, though, went to the right schools, so therefore ended up in rep teams……… Whilst the kids who could read the game, they were left out through not attending the right schools.

      • GO THE Q REDS

        I never really thought about that whole school boy thing and how it kinda doesn’t matter where you play! But from my memory most players allready knew they wanted to be a halfback, or a 10, a winger or in the front row. If your tall your discisions made for you! Other than Hamish Stewart I really can’t remember the last young player that came through the system that hadn’t allready worked out their place in rugby by the time they got to NRC let alone Super Rugby. There’s cerainly been Jack of all trades that can play multiple positions tho…

      • Happyman

        Mate it is like we have sat on the same sideline watching the same games with the same players involved.

        School rugby is the life blood but the politics and nepotism just beggars belief. You will never see a schoolboy selected attend a club game to see how a state school boy goes in a club team.

        • Who?

          I just wish school rugby wasn’t the lifeblood. The schools care about enrolments, not Rugby. Club rugby should be the focus, school focus being to get kids to join clubs.

        • Happyman

          Agreed a mate of mine was on the board of large rugby school. He wold me on the drink one day that the highest paid employee was the principal and the second highest was the first XV coach. Given the money involved do you think that guy is interested in what a player is going to look like at senior level or just keeping his job. So bigger is better and don’t let them play club as you don’t want your best players to get injured.

    • Cameron Rivett

      Hi Reg. My bad regarding the Force eligibility, I didn’t check this and just remember some discussion around it when World Series Rugby was first announced. I did enjoy seeing Deegan in that trial, but I think it’s still much of a muchness considering that no one from the Force has made the actual Wallabies squad since they were cut from Super Rugby.

      I think you’ve hit a really important note regarding schoolboy/u20 playmakers. The school system needs to be expanded to give players more game time, and to do this it needs support from RA. QLD schoolboys are playing far fewer games (I think about 40% without checking) than their NZ counterparts which is part of why they enter professional rugby so underdone. Mason may have been a simple passer, but to me his appeal is that his passes were actually good rather than just serviceable. We don’t need Beauden Barrett right now, just someone who can make his tackles and passes.

      I’m not sure where Larkham played at school sorry, I’d have to do more research. I would be wary of using his fullback to flyhalf (or Beauden Barrett’s) as an example for Australian rugby though, as I think that there is already far too much positional switching.

      • GO THE Q REDS

        It’s not even about the Pass. .. .It’s about the vision that player has of what lies in front of him. His pass can be as slow as he wants as long as he puts the ball in those players hands he identifies as oprtunities. That’s something I rarely saw from Hamish Stewart on his way through. BUT Mason on the other hand… . Even the Tahs game on the weekend you could clearly see his ability to identify players around him and pop insider balls at short notice amount other things. He just needs time to develop EVERYTHING!

        • Cameron Rivett

          Exactly what I mean! In a coordinated team, a flyhalf should have a number of options on the outside as well as possible inside runners to pass to. When I say Mason passes well I don’t just mean that the ball has a better than average chance of reaching the hands of its target, but that he chooses between those options well. I think he chose every option well on the weekend and it was just some rust on his execution that let him down.

        • GO THE Q REDS

          Yeah it’s annoying because it’s sounds like your just as keen as me for another game where Mason can be watched and disected! Fat chance of that me thinks.
          What about Teti Tela. He showed huge promise pre season at the Reds. Only named once so far I think but not used at all! There needs to be a huge focus on this in Aus rugby! The players are there but never given that final shot to see if they can cut it! It was embarasing that the wallabies fould themselves last year resorting to a player whose CV boasted playing 10 back in high school.. .. Very embarasing!

        • Cameron Rivett

          Yeah it’s annoying because it’s sounds like your just as keen as me for another game where Mason can be watched and disected!

          I sure am. I was having a laugh in my opening paragraph, but good playmaking is one of the main things that separates rugby from other sports for me. It adds this extra strategic level, one where you out-think your opponents rather than physically out-perform them. My understanding is that Foley will be rested at least once more this year; I strongly hope that Gibson doesn’t succumb to the temptation to simply move Beale to 10.

      • Perth girl

        Yes the Force players are definitely available for Wallaby selection but it would be far to embarrassing for RA for them to be chosen no matter how well they play! Have you seen Deegan play recently Cameron?

        • Perth girl

          Also Jack mcGregor and Nick Jooste are also in the Force squad so that is 3 former U20 flyhalves who have not gone overseas thanks to the Force!

        • Cameron Rivett

          I watched every game of World Series Rugby last year and was very impressed with Deegan. Sadly, I haven’t watched it this year. I’m just not sure that the Force represents a serious pathway for players like Deegan, regardless of what RA says. It may be that he has to play for a Super Rugby team before he’s taken seriously which is just sad.

        • Perth girl

          And which SR team do you take seriously Cameron? SR is dying! It is up to RA to create a pathway for Force players without them having to play Eastern States Rugby

        • Cameron Rivett

          I think you misunderstood. I am not satisfied with Force players not being taken seriously by RA, and I think cutting the Force was the worst thing RA’s ever done (and they have a pretty long list of mistakes). In my view, Deegan is possibly the best flyhalf under 29 in Australia.

          My only negative comment is that it is hard to be certain because the quality of opposition the Force play against is lower than what the Waratahs play against. The Force played the Crusaders b-team last year in Perth and were still resoundly defeated while the Waratahs beat them this year and should have beaten them last year if not for some of the worst refereeing I’ve ever seen. While I think the Force play at a very respectable level considering that the rug has been pulled out from under them, it’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges. They’re not even playing under the same set of rules!

          I’m also not sure that Super Rugby is dying. Viewership is up massively this year and it seems likely to continue once the conference model is dropped. I agree that RA needs to do better to create a pathway for Western Australian rugby players though.

        • GO THE Q REDS

          To be fair they will need time to work that pathway out. It’s still a new thing and Twiggy rugby still hasn’t started in its proper form yet!

        • Perth girl

          So you are satisfied with potentially better players being ignored just because they dont play for a SR team?

    • Patrick

      I’m pretty sure Larkham played fullback most of his career before making the switch at super rugby.

      • RugbyReg

        Mostly right. He debuted for the Brumbies in the centres and found his way to fullback soon after.

        Wallaby coach wanted him tried at flyhalf for the 1998 Super Rugby season as we struggled to find a replacement for Lynagh (who went OS in 1996). Brumby coach Eddie Jones refused.

        So Larkham’s first professional game at 10 was the Wallaby test v England at Lang Park, opposite a teenage Jonny Wilkinson, where the Wallabies won 76-0 and Larkham had, what the old timers call, an absolute corker.

        • Patrick

          I remember that, I had watched Johnny just one year before when the UK schoolboys toured.

          I also remember the push-up boys giving up after 30 minutes :)

      • David Creagh

        Played at Wests and was a converted half back. Not sure but I think he was at Marist and 2nd XV. Was recognised at colts.

  • RugbyM

    Great write up.
    Twitter had a field-day last week about Mason’s (in)ability to play, but peoples, the bloke’s had 3mins max at this level in his entire life and was dropped from the plane without a parachute and told to land perfectly. They knew the rotation policy was going to play a factor, why not give the ‘B team’ players a little more gave time at this level, bringing them off the bench for the last 20 or so for a few games, so they actually know what they’re doing and the blokes around them can work with them to land safely.
    Alsos, if everyone could work on their general passing, rucking, tackling and ball skills, that’d be great as well

    • Brumby Runner

      This is just emotional rubbish. If the Tahs were to replace the likes of Foley, the front row, Hooper, Folau etc for 20 minutes per game just to give the B team a run, they would likely still be looking for their first win of the season. The howls from the fans would be a lot louder in that case than the criticisms of Mason’s ineffectiveness when given a chance.

  • Tim

    I thought Western Force players could be picked?

    • Cameron Rivett

      Please see Reg’s comment below, they can indeed be picked.

  • Cameron Rivett

    Stewart only had a few on-field appearances in 2017 before Quade was given the boot. You’re right though, that should have been sufficient time for him to show us SOMETHING. Barrett only had 1 season at the Hurricanes while Cruden was around, and it’s the same for Mo’unga with Carter. Obviously having a world-class tutor isn’t the sole factor, but Stewart has had far more opportunity than Mason and I’m just not sure he’s improving anymore.

    • GO THE Q REDS

      Yeah and even early on Barret was good enough you knew you had to play him even if at FB. Like his brother. But is Hamish that good? Not sure he offers enough to demand a field presence!

    • GO THE Q REDS

      And remember everyone was talking about him being the next wallaby 10 already. Most probably never even saw him play. And didn’t get to a wallaby camp that year aswell! Great talent scouting right there…..

    • idiot savant

      I still hold out hope that Stewart will become a top 10. I hope he is being played at 15 as part of his development. But if he keeps improving at 15 he might find it hard to get back to 10. He does show some Berrick Barnes signs of utility value. I think he can play 10, 12 and 15. If Kerevi goes he could find himself at 12.

      • Cameron Rivett

        I have also been reminded of Berrick Barnes. I detested Barnes when he first made the shift and even shouted at the screen when he was selected for the 2007 RWC, but in the following years he became one of my favourite players. Like Barnes however, there is a risk that he will always be better at 12 and never really make the transition to a Wallaby-level flyhalf.

        • idiot savant

          Barnes performance in the win against Wales as a 20 year old at Cardiff Arms Park in the 2007 RWC remains the best test flyhallf debut I have seen. IMHO he should have remained at flyhallf. The changing altered his development. He was man of the series against Wales when they came out here as 6 nations champions in 2012, the best series performance by a flyhallf since Larkham.

  • Patrick

    I could not possibly disagree. I think the consensus here was that he is almost certainly a better 5/8th than Foley and that we all just hoped that this kind of clusterfuck of man management did not ruin his confidence and career.

  • I didn’t watch the whole match as usual, so it was interesting to read your analysis. The brief highlights don’t paint Mason in a bad light, but the general comments did. I took them with a pinch of salt, it’s a rare player that has a great game after playing for 20 minutes in 3 years!

    I do find it interesting that a lot of this is under Gibson. He was brought up in an environment that nurtured young talent. It’s one of the many things the Kiwi sides and the ABs do so well. There is a debate raging in NZ about Mo’unga or Barrett at 10 (Ritchie outplays Beauden when they clash, although his pack is better which helps). Beauden clearly has much more international experience, but if Ritchie ran on in the RWC final it wouldn’t be like poor Mason running on – he’s got international caps and a tonne of SR experience.

    So is Gibson under orders to let Foley play as much as possible? Or did he not learn that lesson about developing for the future? I don’t have the inside line to the Tahs and couldn’t say but I am curious. It’s not only Gibson, but he really should know better…

Rugby

Somehow still a Wallabies fan. Enjoys brainstorming ideas on how to fix Australian rugby. Waratahs/North Sydney/Country Eagles supporter. Ex-Kiwi with just a touch of love left for the Highlanders and Otago.

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