The Tuesday Top 5 - Green and Gold Rugby
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The Tuesday Top 5

The Tuesday Top 5

Well what an odd weekend of rugby that was. A few 0’s on the board at half time, a few teams had a near complete form reversal from one half to the next and we had the fun of the Hong Kong 7’s. After all of that I fear that this week’s Top 5 will be a bit dull ….

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Good – It was great to see the Fijian Sevens team get the win in Hong Kong this weekend, giving them a record breaking 5th consecutive title at the tournament. They went into this years comp having won the past four Hong Kong 7’s and proved too good for the French in the final this year.

Bad – I’m finding it really hard to actually gauge where teams are at this year. Sure, the competition looks to be wide open, but it seems like every week at least one team is below full strength due to players not playing for reasons ranging from injury to being rested to the birth of a child. Some examples? The Blues narrowly beat the Tahs, who were resting Hooper. The Tahs beat the Crusaders who were without 5 of their All Blacks. The Rebels beat the Highlanders who were without B and A Smith, Whitelock, Coltman and Li and then lost to the Sharks while they were missing Coleman, Genia and DHP. The Brumbies are easier to gauge, with the exception of the anomaly against the Chiefs, they are pretty much losing to everyone – however they have come up against mostly full-strength teams (as a Brumbies fan it is a shame that the Canes and Crusaders didn’t rest their stars against us!) I am a firm believer that to prove you’re the best you have to beat the best, and at the moment none of us can be sure that this is what’s happening.

Ugly – A crowd of 9,559 showing up to watch the Reds play the Stormers. To put that in some sort of perspective, the Brumbies (who always cop a flogging for their poor crowd figures) have had figures of 8,500, 8583 and 12112 this year.

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Report Card

Reds D/B+: I’ll be honest, I had no idea how to mark the Reds this week so I gave them a grade for each half. They went from having next to nothing in the first half, to playing well and getting a good win. In my view they did ok, but the win can’t totally negate the first half. They didn’t really look like threatening the line in the fist 40, while the Stormers had 2 very near misses. The only thing that stopped it from being an E for the first half was the good defence that stopped those two tries. All credit to the Reds, they came out firing in the second half and got what turned out to be a comfortable win.

Samu Kerevi

Samu Kerevi

Brumbies D-: Once again the Brumbies totally blew it after half time. I’m getting more than a little sick of saying that. They did really well in the first half, scoring one try, coming painfully close for another and holding the Crusaders to no score. But from the moment the whistle for the second half went, they looked like a different team. The Crusaders came out firing and the Brumbies seemed to forget how to defend, missing tackles all over the field.

Waratahs B: After 20 minutes it looked like the Waratahs were done and going to be beaten by a big margin. But they clawed their way back, repeatedly using the high ball to Folau tactic and at one point looked like they were going to steal a win. The Blues aren’t the easy beats of the Kiwi conference like they once were, so for the Waratahs to get this close was no easy feat. Lots still to work on however.

Rebels A: The Rebels put in a near complete performance against the Sunwolves, who never really looked to be in the match. They pressured the Japanese into some very costly mistakes and scored plenty of tries. It would have been an A+ if it weren’t for their poor discipline. They gave away as many penalties (16) as the Waratahs (7) and Brumbies (9) combined this week. It is becoming a real problem for the Rebels, they currently sit with 88 penalties, compared to 61 for the Tahs, 59 for the Brumbies and 57 for the Reds.

Oh yeah, about that Mack Mason and flyhalf issue ….

Last week we touched on Mack Mason not getting enough game time to be able to have a chance to develop or get experience playing at the Super Rugby level.  This conversation has a natural segue in to the Wallabies options at flyhalf come the Rugby World Cup. Yes, it’s a conversation that we have had many times and we all know roughly where it leads. So let’s set the benchmark for this conversation with the All Black incumbent Beauden Barrett. Surprisingly his stats right now don’t paint a picture of some demi-god like who commands what the ball will do.  Instead we see a player who is kicking near 80% and with decent number when it comes to try assists, turnovers, tackles and missed tackles. The numbers paint a picture of a complete player who is not brilliant at one part but consistent across all parts of his game.

Looking at the Australian flyhalf options there is no real contender from the Reds in this conversation at this point. So our usual suspects of Foley, Lealiifano and Cooper are the only real participants in the conversation. Looking at their stats it interesting there are some numbers that jump out for each of them. But when I say some numbers it’s the contrasting numbers they each have. Starting with Foley, while his turn overs are low and his tackle count high his kicking is low at 65% and he is missing around 33% of his tackles. So right now he is well below the bar in both kicking and in defence. Lealiifano’s kicking is in the low 70% range and he is making a high percentage of tackles, when he is in position to defend, but he is running equal second in the competition for turnovers conceded.  Cooper is our most successful kicker at this point and does well in the try assists. His expected frail defence is not too bad actually, but his turn over numbers are ugly and even more so are the 13 handling errors so far this season.

Quade Cooper chips for Jack Maddocks Reds v Rebels 2019

So what we end up with is part of the flyhalf we need, not the complete player like Beauden Barrett who we used for the bench mark. The Mack Mason story last week really highlights that Australian rugby has had years to look for alternatives but we just haven’t really been willing to go beyond the known flawed contingent.

The compromise economy of Aussie rugby

When I started considering the whole flyhalf conundrum I ended up realising that really we have put ourselves here willingly and deliberately. Let’s face it, when it comes to the three key realistic names for the flyhalf for the RWC we are already making compromises to make it work. Right off the bat I will put it out there that I think the tag “best before date” is applicable to at least one if not most of the options. While one is having his second coming, he is being benchmarked off a new mould after the old one didn’t cut it for the Wallabies. Reinvented is fine, but it’s still settling for the best of what’s left from the past. Foley is a mixed bag. When on song he can be not too bad, he certainly won’t be that ”wow” player but he provides a basic and reliable platform to operate from most of the time. But I am not sure that is enough. With the try scoring issue that Wallabies shave been suffering over the recent past I would say it’s strongly suggesting it’s not enough.

This is not a new problem so where are the other options? This is where the compromise economy in rugby is really apparent. Do we take a chance on the new or different like Mack Mason, or Hawera, Isaac Lucas or even some outside option like Hegarty or Jackson–Hope? At the end of the day the compromise economy dictates that you stick with the old knowing it has not provided you with what you need but it’s a known quantity and it avoids the risk.

But how can this be? It not like we didn’t know this was an issue. Can you imagine if Cheika and RA were serious about finding new talent and reinvigorating the pathways and the game as a whole and demanded that these newbies and alternatives were mandated to play a certain number of games in the lead up to the RWC on the off chance we may unearth a better option? Nope, let’s compromise and stick with what we know. It’s a theme Aussie rugby covets, it’s what we do and that compromise right now has Aussie rugby in many places we don’t want it to be.

I know, what I am banging on about is all bollocks right? There is compromise in every selection. No player is perfect. That I can’t argue, but in all honesty if you start to cast your eyes over the Wallabies backs for example even Gibson having to defend Beale due to his defensive deficiencies in previous weeks. There has even been talk that if the new selection regime pick players based on position, would Hooper get a run? Over Pocock, or do we compromise and move one to play out of position at 8?

Photo by Keith McInnes

Photo by Keith McInnes

The reality is the compromise Aussie rugby is making is far deeper than just compromising on the composition of a team to get balance. At some point we need to face the demons fully and realise  hiding players when its comes to defence, playing players out of position to get them on the field and not risking a youth development and continuing to persist with players that have not produced in the past is compromising the game. Four years ago we knew Aussie rugby had a deficiency in flyhalves. In four years, with the exception of the forced compromise of playing Hawera in place of a sick Lealiifano there really has not been much effort to find new Aussie flyhalves since the last World Cup. As for the argument that there just isn’t any talent out there, well that leads to the question of if there ever will be with the diminishing numbers and should we just compromise and accept that Aussie rugby’s best days are behind us?

 

Our Picks

Try of the week: This match-winning try from the Jaguares was pretty special.

“Oh dear” moment: The mistake from the Sunwolves that lead to a simple try for Billy Meakes.

Dud of the week: I won’t put you through the pain of watching 40 minutes of rugby that could easily cure insomnia. The first half in the Reds v Stormers match was sleep inducing. Especially considering the match it was following.

Match of the week: Highlanders v Hurricanes. It was an incredible match to watch, leaving most who saw it exhausted!

What The? I think this one speaks for itself – kind of.

  • theduke

    Thanks MST.

  • Kiwi rugby lover

    Thanks MST. Another thought provoking article. love it. I would see how much of the compromise is due to both fear of getting it wrong and having your career as a coach compromised, lack of RA influence over the franchises and Having to keep so called “name players” out there. I think this is also part of why players are allowed to not get better and improve their deficiencies which shits me to tears. I mean does anyone here really think Folau would have been able to stay with the same deficiencies if he was in a kiwi team? It’d be “improve or piss off”
    Can’t argue too much with your scores although I didn’t think the rotation policy was the reason the Tahs failed, I think it was poor play by their name players that remained. I didn’t think they were more than a D+ with that loss

    • I really hadn’t thought of what the selection policy means in terms of the failure of the players to improve, good point you make there KRL.

      While I agree to some extent every team selection is a compromise, surely the point of your team selection is to pick a team that a) wins and b) implements your plan? I’ve put them in that order, because if your team implements your plan and consistently loses, you change your plan.

      Played 11, Won 3, Lost 8 – if you’re my local club and you rely on the same 23 folk who turn up and pay their subs to play every week, you don’t have a lot of choice. If you’re national coach, surely that’s the point where you’re saying “the plan is wrong and the players are wrong?” Even if you’re making different compromises, there are other choices out there.

      • GO THE Q REDS

        And that right there describes perfectly the Wallaby Migraines we’ve all been getting.. ..

        • I never said it was an original thought, just a different way of framing the same old roundabout. But sometimes reframing it is useful.

          This time… probably not, because even if Cheika reads this, I don’t believe he’ll change his tune on plans or selection.

      • Kiwi rugby lover

        You’d think so wouldn’t you

  • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

    Looks like McDermot might have to wait at least another year:

    https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6006560/all-white-brumbies-keen-on-scrumhalf/?cs=14280

    • ALJ

      White is good and it would be a huge boost for the Brumbies to have him back, but wouldn’t it send a great message to overseas players if the Brumbies said, “thanks but no thanks” on the basis of their existing depth. At the moment it seems like players can go off and do an overseas stint and then walk back into a team. Would be good to be at a point in AU rugby where we had the depth where that didn’t happen

      • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

        Wouldn’t it send a great message if we refused to welcome back one of our star players who has expressed a desire to play for the Wallabies again (and as a side, who only went overseas when Cheik told him he wasn’t interested in him)?

        Personally, I disagree with you here.

        • Bobas

          I see both of your arguments.
          I don’t see the brumbies as having enough depth at 9 to say no to Nic White. I think White has a massive point of difference in his skill set and has proven capable as an impact player against the best team in the world in the past (see Sydney Bled 2015).
          While I think Genia is untouchable this year in 9. I would say Gordon or Phipps would be the back up if we are picking Foley at 10, Nic White comes into the calcs if Quade is in 10.

        • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

          Along with Faf de Klerk, White is probably the best 9 in the Aviva Prem.

          He would certainly be the next best 9 after Genia, and I suspect may be closer to Will than we might expect.

        • While I agree that White is a class 9, I wonder how much of that is that Exeter have a class pack, certainly in Gallagher Premiership terms? In Europe this year, as in previous years, Exeter failed to impress, and a chunk of that was their forwards running into French packs who didn’t exactly take them to the cleaners but certainly stopped them being as dominant as they are in the premiership. White went from looking brilliant to looking very ordinary.

          That sounds like I’m picking on him, and I’m not really, lots of 9’s look poor behind a pack that is being beaten up, but I just wonder with White how much of his gloss is because he’s playing behind a forward pack that rarely looks like it’s in trouble?

      • GO THE Q REDS

        I think I disagree too. The Brummbies are probably the only team he COULD walk back into. Everyone else has succeeded in getting good depth. If there’s teams that hasn’t developed the depth in a position I see no reason why overseas players that ate good can’t be lured back early. That’s a good thing! It’s also a good thing there’s only one team he could fit into based on form/depth!

    • Happyman

      He would have to have been given a guarantee as he is playing lights out for Execter and would be taking a substantial payout to come back. He is probably on 300,000 pounds to play in the south of England.

      • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

        Playing for the Wallabies is a big carrot.

    • Graeme Smith

      If he can’t play until mid 2020 how would that qualify him for the World Cup? Don’t you have to play the previous season in Oz.

      • Who?

        How many games did Toomua play last year..?
        .
        Rule is that you have to have a current contract signed with an Australian team (Super Rugby or the Force), not that you have to play before that point. The first to use that sort of arrangement was Kane Douglas at the 2015 RWC. He was in the squad before he signed with the Reds, having never performed in Gold but having apparently been a large part of the reason the 2014 Tahs were successful (though I still maintain JacPot was a bigger factor).

  • Brumby Runner

    To illustrate the schizophrenic nature of SR, I am tremendously encouraged by the form of the Rebels and am confident there will be an improvement in the Wallabies later on so long as team selections are based on form. Otherwise, I am particularly disappointed with the Brumbies and their efforts in the SR competition. On the one hand there is promise for the Wallabies but on the other, my preferred side in the SR comp is going nowhere. Just what is the main purpose of the SR competition for the Aussie sides?

    I still retain a modicum of hope for the Brumbies. So many teams this year are not performing consistently. It will only take one or two unexpected wins to move up the ladder. Bu to be second last at this stage of the season is totally unacceptable.

    Would Nic White want to return to the Brumbies? In all the time he was here, while arguably being the best of the No 9s, he saw more bench time than playing time with the Wallabies (hyperbole), and was subjected to unending criticism from the fans of other teams. A bit of time in light blue, or the promise of it, would more likely see him get both time on the park for the Wallabies and a lot more positive reaction from fans.

    On that subject, I think it is a poor policy to allow selection in the Wallabies for players returning in the subsequent year. It does little to encourage the players who choose to remain in the years between WCs.

    • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

      Presume you read the Canberra Times article today?

      I’m worried that even if Cheika picks enough Rebels, his horrific game plan of long deep passes to a second man behind the gain line again and again will make them look shit.

  • Happyman

    Thanks MST
    I like the Compromise piece. I actually like the resting players as I actually think it is forcing our super teams to take a squad approach. For the past five years our teams and coaches have been too afraid to blood new players. Link was probably the last coach to use a squad mentality for QLD but he had the advantage of winning.

    The Reds are still just immature as the best they put on the field is a 8.5 and the worst is a 1. Once they get to the point the worst is a 5 they will be a decent team. Honestly as a Reds supporter I would have taken two out of three wins out of the home games.

    Brumbies are a great first half team and terrible second half team

    Rebels are the pick but need a signature win possibly the Tahs.

    The Tahs flatter to deceive I expect them to falter after the Easter Saturday game against the Rebels.

    • RugbyReg

      The Reds are still just immature as the best they put on the field is a 8.5 and the worst is a 1. Once they get to the point the worst is a 5 they will be a decent team. Honestly as a Reds supporter I would have taken two out of three wins out of the home games.

      an excellent point. One I hadn’t considered but I think it’s bang on.

  • Jason

    You can’t just give the Brumbies a D- because they lost to the Crusaders — it’s the Crusades! You don’t say to an 8 year old that they are shit because they couldn’t compete for the highball against Folau… It’s the Brumbies vs Crusaders, the Brumbies did fairly well against an overall much better Crusaders.

    • IIPA

      The same Crusaders the Waratahs beat comfortably two weeks back ?

      • Jason

        Yeah, no. That wasn’t the same Crusaders and anyone who thinks it was either is ignorant of the going-ons in Christchurch recently or hasn’t been watching any of the Crusaders in the last 3 years.

        The Waratahs did not beat the Crusaders, the Crusaders lost to the Waratahs there is a different and if you need proof watch their games before and after that one.

  • Red Block

    MTW, your comments really reflect on what is happening with so-called High Performance Unit in Australia. It is hard to think of a single player who has reached Wallaby level and then gone on to really improve and take their game to another level, apart from perhaps Pocock and possibly Hanigan but this remains to be seen.
    Where is the conveyer belt of talented inside backs who are being match hardened and prepared by Australia’s best coaches to prepare them for the rigours of provincial rugby? Most appear to be like Isaac Lucas, a schoolboy star who had never played against men and was told to sink or swim.
    Surely there is a better way.

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Brumbies first, then for the love of the game. "It infuriates me to be wrong when I know I'm right." —Moliere

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