The Tuesday Top 5 - Green and Gold Rugby
Rugby

The Tuesday Top 5

The Tuesday Top 5

Hi all and welcome to Alternate Reality Top 5, where we are happy, winners and all is looking good with the Rugby World. Makes a nice change, doesn’t it? I won’t rain on the parade by getting all worried about the All Blacks bouncing back, that’s for weekend MST to worry about. Anyway, this week we talk Wallabies, only a little though, what is there left to say? We check in on the Pacific Nations Cup, wonder what on Earth is going on in the rugby world and share some of the ‘special’ things we found during the last two weeks.

ERROR – UNABLE TO PROCESS INPUT

There are times I read the social media then head in to the GAGR forums and just think to myself that it’s got to be a piss take. It makes me wonder what the hell is up with you rugby supporters?

So, I am calling time-out! Now; the script said that rugby was on the decline, ratings and crowds are supposed to be poor and nobody cares about the Wallabies as they just keep racking up the losses. I am pretty sure it’s the script we all settled on?

Can someone explain what is going on? I swear I only had one beer before 7:45pm on Saturday.

There was a huge crowd, there was a group of blokes in Gold that looked and even acted like rugby players. Then there was the thing with the score board where we ended up with more and I think someone hacked the TV ratings websites as apparently lots of people were watching the game.

Optimism, balanced assessments, sensible logical comments in the GAGR forums………this is twilight zone stuff!

What is going on?

WAL019

 

Now the Mst’s have been in a tail spin since Saturday. I actually think it’s a bit like RA are experiencing right now. We hoped for some positives; some improvements. We were even prepared for the possibility of the Wallabies to get away with a close upset. But we weren’t prepared for THAT! We only have a 4 positive item maximum for Aussie rugby at any one time!

We are Wallabies supporters and we don’t know how to do lots of positive!

I wonder how the mood is at RA headquarters? Is it the horrible realisation of that double edge sword? 60K+ crowd in the bad-lands. Good ratings off the back of average performances. A real shot at the Bledisloe and on the run in to the Rugby World Cup. It’s straight off the RA wish list.

But I can’t help but think that it would have also made RA nervous amid all of the excitement and even got some of the SANZAAR partners thinking. It might be a case of careful what you wish for.

What to do? There is a clearly a lot of life left in Rugby and plenty of support out there. The RA wish list has come to reality all at once. Good crowds, good ratings, improving performances, optimism and interest and support for the Wallabies.

For SANZAAR, the Boks have come good, the All Blacks are beatable; it’s all of a sudden become interesting.

RA’s wish list complete. The key element that broadcasters and advertisers seek have now been proven to exist.

Over to you RA.

TOLD YA YOU SUPPORTERS KNOW NOTHING!

Prodigal sons, the outcasts and shunned, selections based on form. What a radical mix. Who would have thought of that?

Keeping it simple, keeping possession and all of a sudden, the Wallabies accidently worked out how to play the Kiwis and beat them.

It was really interesting to look at some of the elements that were part of a really good Wallabies performance.

I had mentioned previously that Nic White may bring some of his northern hemisphere forwards centric play in to the game which might not befit the Wallabies. Well on Saturday night it worked and got our forward pack on the front foot putting a lot of pressure on the All Blacks. Come the RWC we will need to know we will be able to grind out games using the forwards if the conditions are poor or it’s a really tight affair. A big positive for me is with our forward pack on the front foot the pressure should be off our backline and I am hoping we will see more attacking rugby from them.

WAL039

The locking combination of Arnold and Rodda looks like a really good combination. It’s the combination many have been calling for and I hope (barring injury) we stick to this combination.

6, 7 and 8: I am still not totally sold on Saturday nights combination. I would like to see it put under the acid for a full game but the Red card changed the breakdown competition so it was hard to get a judge its performance. The 6 is the key to this puzzle.

Simply put, White and Lilo work. I am not sure it’s based of the past time together, but the combination works well. Kerevi is also starting to work well with Lilo and you can see they already have some “chemistry”.

I stated last time out that the Kerevi / Kuridrani combination only worked on paper and called for change. I would have never thought to have put JOC at 13 but it worked. After watching it and pondering why it worked it occurred to that in reality it’s a case of simple reverse engineering. Kerevi is a natural 13 with his size and running ability with the skills to play 12. JOC is a fleet footed 12 playing at 13. The re positioning gives a different way for the backline to function and a different look for the defence to try and deal with.

Beauden Barrett was quoted during the week staying he believed Beale was more of an attacking threat than Folau was. Having Beale at full back has forced the Wallabies away from the aerial game. Competing in the air had yielded results in the past but was never a sure thing. Give the All Blacks an opportunity to counter attack is playing with fire. Beale showed his attacking flair with ball in hand but the by-product was far more inserting. With White resisting his instincts to kick, the Wallabies starved the All Blacks out of the game and kept the tackling pressure on. The poor ball handling skills of the past seems to be forgotten on Saturday night with the Wallabies hanging on to the pill for long periods and showing skills that we doubted they had. Go figure; more ball in hand, less kicking and more points.

If nothing else it should instil some confidence in the team and be a real eye opener about the possibilities and how simple changes can make such a difference. Better selections, the right combinations, synergy, a better game palm and keeping it simple.

Irrespective of the result next week, if we can see those elements again I believe that it puts us on a really good path heading into the RWC.

If only someone had suggested some of these radical ideas earlier!

Pacific Nations Cup

This weekend saw the final round of the Pacific Nations Cup played. Last weekend, USA beat Samoa 13-10, Fiji soundly beat Canada 38-13 and Japan thumped Tonga 41-7.

Going in to the third and final round, Japan were sitting clear on top of the table with 2 wins and 0 losses. But close behind them was the USA, also with 2 wins form 2 matches. It was fitting that these two teams faced  each other in the final round, with the winner taking home the Cup.

The first match of the round saw Tonga defeat Canada 33-23, leaving Canada winless from the competition. The match of the round came next, with The USA taking on Japan. The USA were hoping to get their first championship in the Pacific Nations Cup, but it wasn’t to be. Japan opened the scoring in the 4th minute with a try to captain Michael Leitch and kept the lead the whole game, the final score 34-20.

In the final match of the round, Fiji defeated Samoa 10-3.  Scoring their only try of the match, Fijian winger Vereniki Goneva became Fiji’s highest try scorer with 21 tries in test match rugby.

This is the third time the Brave Blossoms have taken out the Cup, having won the championship in 2014 (when the Cup was divided into conferences and Japan and Samoa won their respective conferences so are both listed at Champions) and 2011.

The Brave Blossoms have achieved the first of the two main goals that coach Jamie Joseph outlined earlier in the year. Winning the Pacific nations Cup was first on the list, followed by a top 8 finish at the Rugby World Cup. The Japanese are playing some pretty decent rugby at the moment, lots of running, fast in attack. Being in a pool with Ireland, Scotland, Samoa and Russia, there is a good chance they could knock off Scotland to take a top 8 spot. We all saw what happened at the last World Cup in their pool match against the Springboks …….

japan win

Speaking of the World Cup …

So where are we? Have our predictions changed after the weekend? The Wallabies have definitely given us hope, many had them written off in the pool stages, but beating the All Blacks on the weekend, and Fiji not taking out the Pacific Nations Cup for the first time in years and suddenly our chances are looking a lot brighter.

Adding to that, Wales played England in the early hours of Monday morning in a World Cup warm up match. We had all seen the tweets, all new the score. If Wales knocked off England they would go to the top of the World Rugby Rankings. It was looking pretty good too, they held a 14-match winning streak over England, England were fielding what some saw as an understrength side, some say “experimental”, while Wales looked to be at or near full strength.

But things didn’t go according to plan for the Welsh. They were down 21-7 at half time, and despite fielding a come back of sorts, still went down 33-19. To make matters worse, fly half Gareth Anscombe ended the night on crutches with a knee injury.

Embed from Getty Images

So does that make our road to the finals of the World Cup a little easier? I think we are all a little more confident that we will finish in the top 2 in our pool, but what about after that? And who else is in with a chance? Based on their past few performances, I’m not sure we will see Argentina repeat their finals run like 2015. Especially as the USA seem to be a bit of a wild card at the moment after their showing in the Pacific nations Cup. England will likely be there and France? Who knows.

The big ones to watch are the Springboks. Same pool as the All Blacks and on fire at the moment. Are they now favourites to take it out? Or will Ireland bounce back to their form of a couple of years ago?

The big question for me is will the World Cup be anything like this year’s Super Rugby season, where the results were so all over the place it made predicting results difficult. Personally, I can’t wait to find out. 

Oddities

Every so often news stories pop up that make you look twice, laugh or just shake your head in disbelief. Here are a few of those we have dug up from the past couple of weeks.

First off, we have Nigel Owens and the touchie causing confusion and possibly impacting the result of a match. During the Pacific Nations Cup match between USA and Samoa, Samoa looked set to score a try when Owens called the play back, believing he heard a call of ‘knock-on’ from his AR. But after talking his AR he realised he had made a mistake and awarded the scrum feed to Samoa. Unfortunately, it robbed them of a certain try and with the USA going on to win 13-10, could have cost Samoa the win. Next up we have a try celebration with great accidental aim. Fijian winger Josua Tuisova scored a fantastic try in Fiji’s 38-13 win over Canada in the Pacific nations Cup, matched only by his throw of the ball in celebration. The only way it could have been better is if it falconed the AR. How’s this for celebrating winning a scrum penalty in the 78th minute? In a Currie Cup match the referee puts his arm up to award the penalty, and is high fived by Lions number 8 Hacjivah Dayimani. The Lions were trailing the Cheetahs 22-21 when the penalty was awarded, flyhalf Shaun Reynolds kicked the aforementioned penalty to steal the win 24-22.

And for the head shaker … I know that the Wallabies haven’t got a lot of positive press in recent times. But is that any excuse for this kind of reporting? One of the basics of journalism (I assume) is know who you are writing about. And caption photographs of players with their correct names, not who you think it might be. Courtesy of news.com.au

Is it Kerevi

  • Steve

    Great Tuesday writeup as always MST.

    It’s time for a bit of cautious optimism – I like most Aus rugby supporters, aren’t really sure how to express it though.

    I think it’s a bit unfair to characterise White as a halfback who must suppress his first instinct which is to kick – He certainly looked like that in the White-era Brumbies, but his joining Exeter was a (deliberate) career masterstroke on his part – They play a continuous ball-in-hand game with a huge passing load on the halfback, and he seems to have brought that game back to the Wals, long may it continue.

    One thing I did notice on the weekend is that the Wallabies are slowly figuring out how to play flat to the line against the standard international rush defence. The first couple of games were characterised by pointless pop passes between players standing still or going backwards. Playing flat to the line really can work, but you need centres/wingers generating momentum and forwards winning their collisions – As well as a 10 with a quick pair of hands who can win his own collisions when it is the best option. If done flat-footed or retreating, you do tend to look pretty dumb just juggling the ball.

    It all came together beautifully on the weekend, Christian delivering the ball to people in motion, and making ground on his own when required.

    I personally still felt like the breakdowns were pretty nervous and we could have lost that area – The red card really eased the pressure there.
    But they’re still not getting there quite quickly enough and it would be where I would attack if I were a fired-up All Blacks team. Do that and the Wallabies could be back to their form vs. the Springboks.

    I’m actually super excited about the NH vs. SH aspect of the WC now. There was a lot of talk last November of the ‘gap narrowing’ but the Six Nations was then pretty underwhelming, whilst the Springboks in particular have been on fire. I will cautiously suggest that the gap isn’t as narrow as the UK pundits would love to believe.

  • Hannes En Brianda Barnard

    RA problem is that the best home ground advantage and spectator support are in the wrong place. The place where a test still sells out within 6 days, where rugby supporters breaks attendance records for the stadium and Wallaroos, is also the place RA wrote off for dead and where they burned their bridges with the administration, supporters and government.

    The WA rugby community moved on and is looking forward to get now behind the Hong Kong Rugby Union’s GRR competition that will kick off next year – another missed opportunity for RA as GRR affiliated with HKRU as RA was too difficult to work with.
    RA has nothing to more to offer the WA rugby community as RA already commited many test matches including multiple Bledisloe tests and a 2023 Lions tests to Melbourne as part of a secretive deal to prop up the Rebels operating costs for the 2018-2020 seasons. The Rebels will need more funding post 2020 – it is not clear where this funding come from and what else RA can sacrifice to allow the Rebels to survive.

    How can RA not look silly or even stupid for painting themselves into a corner after all the off field success we tasted in Perth? Who does RA really represent?

  • Who?

    MST’s – the Kerevi misnomer was in another News article, too. Poor to get it wrong once, ludicrous to get it wrong twice!
    .
    Your points about lessening our kicking… They’re interesting. When Folau was there, all we ever read was that we didn’t give him enough aerial contests, except when discussing box kicking (which is always done too frequently, apparently – it’s never that we chase poorly). Meanwhile, to change back to kicking less frequently, that’s a change back to the more traditional run-the-ball Cheika philosophy. And not just that, but we’re playing directly. But it’s not, because it’s not purely based on power. There’s some guile, and all players are increasingly looking to create and exploit space (yes, that includes Kerevi looking to pass more, which has happened in each game).
    Now, I haven’t re-watched the game, but, to me, it felt like the ABs didn’t have huge linespeed on the weekend. Certainly not compared to the Bokke. We ran the ball extremely effectively. So the question in my mind is, how do we go with this philosophy against the rush defence? Because the Bokke belted us (though we were – and still are – bedding in new structures). And both England and particularly Ireland have very good rush defences. So we’re still yet to see how the new game plan might unlock a rush defence. It’s an open question.

    • Anonymous bloke

      This is exactly my concern. What do we do when we can’t get over the gain line consistently/flat runners off 9 aren’t working, and our 10 has less time? i.e what’s our plan B so we don’t end up like the Rebels this season.

    • numpty

      The game plan being used by the WBs is specifically designed to counter a rush defense. Playing off the 9 flat and hard gives you more chance to get over the gain line then playing deep in the pocket. Nic Whites sniping and constant use of the blind are also trademark tactics to nullify a rush defense. So, technically the WBs shouldn’t be in bad stead. I think the margin of the WBs loss against SA was due to teething issues, it’ll be a much closer affair next meet. However, the battle for physical dominance would be an intriguing one.

      • juswal

        I hope it keeps working that way, numpty. The Wallabies have been have been hogtied by rush defences since the first Tests of 2016 and the only coping tactic has been standing deeper and passing backwards. Kicking the ball away (especially to BSmith, BBarrett or Mackenzie) just invites a different kind of pain.

        • numpty

          100% agree in regards to past WBs performance. but the whole pt is that we have a new gameplan that (hopefully) will not stand deeper, shovel and try to go around it.

      • Steve

        I agree that a sniping halfback is a good counter to the rush defence numpty, but playing very flat is actually very difficult against it.

        There’s a good chance you get smothered before making your play, and a good chance that the tackler has built more momentum than the ball carrier at point of contact. This is what we saw Vs SA.

        It relies on a 10 who can make very quick decisions as it cuts his thinking time right down, but the advantage is that if his runners have timed their runs well and actually built momentum, the defenders have little time to react.

        So it can cut both ways – I’m nervous that with enough pressure we will revert back to the SA performance.

        • numpty

          I think CLL actually stood relatively deep, its the hard runners off the 9 hitting flat. I think the key Steve is to get front foot ball first before going wide. Very hard to rush after you’ve had to back peddle 5m. This is why the likes of Kerevi, Naisarani, Tupou and to a lesser extent LSL, are key to the success/failure of this approach. I also think that having a varied attack from the 9 was really important on saturday. Hard to rush an attacker if you don’t know which one is getting the ball. The snipe makes the defenders pause their rush and turn their shoulders in which then allows the forward runner to dominate the contact – in theory. Against SA, I don’t think we got our forward play and decision making off the 9 right. We were better against Arg but kept dropping it. Finally got it humming against the ABs. Lets hope the trend continues, although that would be breaking a trend in and of itself of the wallabies performing well for more than one week at a time ;).

      • Who?

        It’s one way, but it only works while you’re winning the contact. Then you need to have flexibility – something the Rebels didn’t have when they were using a very similar tactic through the season.
        Suddenly – with largely the same players (only Naisarani is new in the forwards this year) – we have a seemingly strong forward pack. But no forward pack in the world is dominant in every Test. The question is about how we go when that battle for physical dominance is an arm wrestle, and what happens when it’s lost.

        • Max Graham

          I don’t agree that the Rebels share the Wallabies’ attack. Rebels went wide early and played very flat. With a mediocre tight 5, they struggled against fast line speed, but their pack would have struggled regardless. Wobs aren’t playing flat and are only getting the ball once the pigs have done the work. As you say, White (and Genia) are doing well by sniping to draw defenders before hitting runners. Good luck to any team trying s blitz defence when the scrum half is drifting hitting forward runners.
          I happen to think this is a very different pack than recent years – only Pocock is injured. We have good props who aren’t able to crack the wider squad. We have a giant playing 6 who, despite the cries from the peanuts, is smashing rucks – the usual suspects are playing club footy. We have Simmons coming off his best Super season since 2011 unable to make the bench instead of starting every week. We have Rory Arnold back in the sides after being overlooked for years – he’s playing his best footy. Naisirani as you mention. Slipper is in career best form and that gets him a bench role. Latu and Faingaa are far better than they were last year. Sio and Allalallalallallalalatoa are having their best ever seasons. Tupou is a freak – walk up start for starter in the ABs – he’s on the bench. This is the hardest working, biggest, fittest pack that the Wallabies have put on the field in a long time. Probably the biggest and fittest ever. Nick Phipps is now in the wilderness- instead they are being directed by a pair of excellent, intelligent scrum halves. Also, we have two flyhalves that can tackle – no more easy metres simply by running at the fringe.
          Plus…. we have current and potential all-time greats about to be available for selection. I’m getting out the 15+ and a big fat – it’s about to be our time in the sun!!

          Oh, if we don’t win the ruck then we don’t win the game. That’s how it’s always been and will be. Screw the Plan B.

        • Who?

          The Rebels often crashballed Quade at 10 on first phase. They played more off Genia than Cooper, unless the defence was retreating. I agree their tight five wasn’t up to maintaining that game plan (after the initial shock of its deployment). I’m not saying it’s exactly the same, but there’s clear similarities.
          .
          The pack isn’t significantly different. As I mentioned, only Naisarani’s new. LSL was there last year (until after the Pumas test). Arnold and Rodda were there last year. The entire front row was there, bar Slipper, who was injured. You can argue progress, but it’s still the same pack. But we’re seeing them used differently. It’s very clear that the game plan’s changed.
          .
          Scrumhalf and 10? Cheika could’ve tried alternatives at 9 last year. He had Powell and Gordon. Powell doesn’t snipe much, but has a quick clearance. That said, we weren’t playing off 9 last year, so that suited fine. Gordon is constantly praised as a good ball runner – his sniping would fit. But Cheika (usually) prefers experienced players in key positions. Hence why Powell’s got what, 20 minutes of Test Rugby under his belt after 2 full seasons with the squad? Hence why we have such inexperience in our hooking stocks (given Squeaky and Taf shared pretty well every minute until the end of 2017).
          10, Cheika could’ve looked elsewhere in previous years, except for 2018, where the Super coaches gave him literally no choices. He could’ve looked at Cooper (the cries on here previously were that Cooper could only play a deep game, and we wanted to play flat, so we had to play Foley – until this year, when the Rebels’ game plan required a flat Cooper, at which point Foley was suddenly the better deep 10, which would better suit the Wallabies). But instead we looked at Paia’aua and Hodge as 10’s.
          .
          And having a plan b is never a poor concept. It’s something all the best teams have, because every reasonable person recognises that you’re not going to win the contact every game. Sometimes you’re going to get monstered. Losing the contact (critical to win in a flat game plan) doesn’t mean you have to lose the ruck, or play off slow ball. We’re playing flat from 9 – with high linespeed, that can mean catching the ball as you get smashed. That leads to dropped ball (just ask the Rebels). So how do they then adjust to faster linespeed? Do they play deeper? We saw against SA that’s not necessarily going to work. I’m ok with them trying things, I just want to know they have more than one concept of Rugby in their heads, as the successful teams are the ones who can adapt to opposition successes. The players might just focus on ‘do your job’, but that doesn’t mean the exact details of the job can’t change focus from game to game or even minute to minute.
          .
          I’m glad you’re feeling positive. Most who are tentative haven’t become tentative overnight – Cheika has the poorest win/loss record of any Wallaby coach. He’s still on 29 losses, prospectively becoming the first Wallaby coach with 30 losses, with a win/loss record under 50%. He’s had teams who have regularly played in most disjointed manners, far weaker than the sum of their parts. If it’s just the development of players that have built this year’s improvement, then Cheika’s achieved nothing. If it’s redesigning game plans to better suit players, then Cheika deserves credit. But we also have the right to be cautious, given his coaching history, and given the history of Australian Rugby and false dawns this century. So whilst you can feel positive, you should understand why many aren’t ready to immediately proclaim off the back of one strong performance that we’re going to win the RWC. And predicting it off one good game doesn’t make one Nostradamus – it can just mean one is a blind optimist.

        • Max Graham

          As you say, LSL wasn’t at 6.
          Rory Arnold wasn’t in the test side last year. Latu played few games. Faingaa played 1. Slipper played none.
          If a team wins the contact and gets over the gain line, it’s very difficult to sustain fast line speed in defense. The Wallabies aren’t playing like the Rebels. They aren’t playing flat. I’m not sure what else to say.

          They’re playing more like the Melbourne Storm. Cameron Smith is committing the markers and allowing big pigs running at angles to get over the gain line and create fast ball.

          If you’re determined to look for negatives you’ll find them, but for the last two weeks I think our attack looks great. And nothing like the Rebels.

          p.s. we aren’t playing flat.

        • Who?

          LSL was at 6 against the ABs and Pumas.
          Arnold’s not a new player, which is the point.
          Latu played a few games. Fainga’a played at least 2 – Salta (where he did well) and Tokyo (where he was excellent), before being unceremoniously (and unjustifiably) dropped.
          .
          The issue with dominating the contact is that it MUST lead to quick ruck ball. That didn’t happen in SA, even when we won the contact. Without quick ball, dominating the contact is pointless. SA avoided that because they contested our ruck much better than we secured it.
          .
          I’m not looking for negatives. I’m just aware that we’ve had one good performance in the last couple of years. It was a very good performance, and it was last weekend, but it’s one performance. All that stuff about one swallow and the like.
          .
          And you’ve got to be the only person I’ve read who doesn’t think playing off the 9 to flat forward runners isn’t playing flat, especially when our backs are also largely taking the ball in a flatter-than-average alignment. Anything less than a 30º angle across the field tends to be called a flat alignment. Running angles doesn’t make it a non-flat alignment, it’s just smart(er) rugby (than we’ve tended to play under Cheika, where we’ve often been one out and trying to run over defenders instead of finding a weak shoulder).

        • Max Graham

          I consider playing ‘flat’ to be a term used to describe a distributor (other than the scrum half) passing the ball to runners at the gain line. Like the Rebels do. Like Randwick used to do. I believe that forwards taking the ball deep off the scrum half to be bad rugby. It shouldn’t happen as it’s easy to line people up and smash them. The 9 committing defenders and passing to forwards running onto the ball is not what I’d consider flat attack and I didn’t know others thought this. This is new for the Wallabies. The lineup we have is unrecognizable from last year and to say otherwise is crazy talk. Go through the team sheets from last year and see how many of last week’s team were on a single one. I’d be surprised if there were 6 of these blokes playing in any game last year.

        • Who?

          Ok. I’m using the traditional term, where anything 30º and less is a ‘flat’ backline alignment. Our backs are in a flat alignment.
          Playing off the 9? It’s effectively what the Rebels did, their better games coinciding with times Genia had opportunity to hold the defenders by sniping a bit more.
          .
          Team sheet for the Pumas at CBUS on the Gold Coast last year:
          WALLABIES TEAM TO PLAY ARGENTINA AT CBUS SUPER STADIUM, GOLD COAST ON SATURDAY, 8.00PM AEST
          1. Scott Sio (48 Tests) 2. Tatafu Polota-Nau (85 Tests) 3. Allan Alaalatoa (26 Tests) 4. Rory Arnold (16 Tests) 5. Izack Rodda (10 Tests) 6. Lukhan Tui (10 Tests) 7. Michael Hooper (c) (85 Tests) 8. David Pocock (72 Tests) 9. Will Genia (93 Tests) 10. Kurtley Beale (77 Tests) 11. Marika Koroibete (14 Tests) 12. Matt Toomua (36 Tests) 13. Reece Hodge (30 Tests) 14. Israel Folau (66 Tests) 15. Dane Haylett-Petty (24 Tests) RESERVES 16. Folau Faingaa (2 Tests) 17. Sekope Kepu (96 Tests) 18. Taniela Tupou (5 Tests) 19. Adam Coleman (25 Tests) 20. Pete Samu (6 Tests) 21. Nick Phipps (66 Tests) 22. Bernard Foley (61 Tests) 23. Jack Maddocks (3 Tests)

          .
          So, that’s the same 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 16, 18, 19. Latu got Tests last year. Naisarani I’ve acknowledged as our one debutant, and Pocock was there in his place. So, 6 of 8 in the forwards alone! And only Kepu switching out for Slipper in the tight forwards on the bench (Samu for Jones at bench flanker – a swap which may happen, pending fitness).
          In the backs, White was in England, Leali’ifano declared himself ineligible, but the halves are obviously different (I’ve not said otherwise, only said that other than last year, Cheika always had other options beyond those he played). Kerevi was out injured last year (bicep), TK was injured, JOC was in Europe.
          .
          Either way, I think that’s pretty clear evidence that most of the pack was around in the past.

        • Max Graham

          Fair point on the side. That surprised me.

          Wallaby backs don’t play flat in my opinion.

      • Who?

        It’s one way, but it only works while you’re winning the contact. Then you need to have flexibility – something the Rebels didn’t have when they were using a very similar tactic through the season.
        Suddenly – with largely the same players (only Naisarani is new in the forwards this year) – we have a seemingly strong forward pack. But no forward pack in the world is dominant in every Test. The question is about how we go when that battle for physical dominance is an arm wrestle, and what happens when it’s lost.

    • idiot savant

      Its a good question Who. Hopefully we now have the maturity in the halves to vary the play according to the circumstances (Play whats in front of you!). We can play flat with Kerevi because he’s a beast and can make gain line under pressure. We can also play deep and bring Beale in with speed which presents different challenges. We can do as Numpty suggests and have White snipe and use the blind. We can also stand half way between flat and deep and catch and pass quickly to use JOC’s elusiveness and distribution skills out wide. We can also box kick and chase on Korobete’s side. Personally I would be encouraging Thor to keep the grubber going. We have variety without having ti stick to any one philosophy. Whats needed is mature playmakers on field, not yes men, to make decisions. Not something that has been encouraged in the past 4 years.

      But more importantly to use these options we need go forward from the intelligentsia up front. Im loving our 6 front rowers. They have work rate and are top flight scrummagers. Im loving our 3 locks, also have work rate and can jump. And Im loving Naisarani’s grunt and work rate and Hoopers work rate. If the forwards maintain their form we are a threat. The biggest key for me going forward is ball retention at the breakdown. It was outstanding against 3 jackals in Perth. The ABs will get home town refereeing in Auckland and the intensity will be off the charts. If we can keep it close, we will be building to something. At this point I would have the Saffers as favourites or the RWC if they can keep Pollard and De Klerk on the field. But I am so much more optimistic for our chances of going deep than I ever imagined possible a month ago.

      • Who?

        I think our front row has been building for a while. Nick Bishop pointed out how crucial the front row was in the turnaround at Salta last year, in their ball running. I don’t know the front row for the World XV these days, but I’d wager our props aren’t very far off.
        .
        Against SA, with their incredible line speed, I can’t help but feel like the tactic explained here would’ve worked. But do we have the flexibility to look for those sorts of tactics?
        .
        Mr Bishop’s not half bad, look at this from January 2018.

  • Nutta

    Firstly, thanks for the article. Always a good, provocative read.

    Regarding the Wobbly Supporters confusion to the current situation, I’m ecstatic at the weekends win, but I’m sitting mum until we win 3 matches in a row. Then I may get a little enthusiastic. Until then I shall remain optimistically pessimistic.

    • juswal

      For me, this is like the aftermath of the Brisbane Test in 2017. It felt so good for a little while, but nothing really changed.

Rugby

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

More in Rugby