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

The Tuesday Top 5

Welcome to the slightly emotional top 5. It has been through a bit of an emotional rollercoaster these past few days, I think my anger is fading and I am now in a more serene space, enjoying the fairies in my head that are telling me everything is going to be ok, Australian Rugby can only go up from here. But there is still a little dwelling to do, so here goes. This week we look at a number of possible reasons where it all went wrong, focus in on the real reason it all went so wrong, then lift the mood with some NRC talk and look ahead to the rest of the World Cup.

WE WERE ALL IN ON THE “UNPREDICTABILITY OF SPORT” TRAIN UNTIL REALITY DERAILED IT!

With the autopsy well underway and the finger pointing well advanced, the inevitable questions of why and who to blame are being fired by every rugby pundit. Most hilarious for me is the Rugby names, most with either fingerprints on, a “members” entry pass to RA HQ or have been on the payroll, all playing the blame game; yet were all party, even if it’s been a minor part, to alleged crime.

Now, let’s cut through the BS and get to it. Who couldn’t read the writing on the wall?

Today marks 400 days since the Wallabies beat a top 6 ranked team without the aid of a Red card. Generally speaking, I believe it’s fairly safe to say that if you are planning to get through to a quarter final of any RWC you’re going to most likely be playing a top 6 ranked nation. So that has to be your target at a minimum and for 400 days now it’s been a bridge too far. If we look back further it had been a 50/50 prospect at best. Taking a step back its clear we were on the down side of the lofty heights of sometime being able to beat a top 6 ranked team to where we are today at the bottom of the heap; Number 6 in the world.

The “Larkham gate” drama and his subsequent sacrifice to the rugby gods was just a reminder of the try scoring inability of the Wallabies that still persist today after many years. The only new dimension that the Wallabies did come up with trying to make attacking rugby is expanding their attack to both a vertical as well as the horizontal concept. Lateral metres as well as forward meters seemed to be the only innovation our attack has come up with in recent history and we do seem to be quite apt at the lateral metres. It’s just a shame they don’t count as imagine the extra metres in the stats.

But Rugby is a team game, a collective. Words like combination, cohesion are used; or for those that want to keep it simple; getting your best 15 on the park to pay as a team. But then there is the “other” approach where every kid gets a prize it seems every eligible player gets a Wallabies jersey. (Yes, some missed out but we can change the rules to fix that. Not like we haven’t done it before!).

Just take a look at this.

Wallaby team changes2

This table shows the Wallaby team selections for all of their World Cup matches. The changes from match to match are highlighted. 54 changes were made to playing roster during the course of the World Cup. We did not have the same player in the number 10 jersey in any consecutive matches. The 9/10 combination we went into the final with had not played together all tournament, bar the final 20 minutes of the Georgia match. A number of players played a number of different positions, regardless of what their “best” position was. Is it any wonder the players looked a little lost at times?

SO WHAT HAPPENED?

Last week I wrote about the Wallabies numbers and how for all the positive numbers, when it came to our attack we were more likely to hatch the Gilbert than get it over the line for points. Even after sacrificing an attacking coach to the Rugby Gods and reinventing our attack nothing really changed and the habits persist.  The numbers are again ugly:

  • 64% possession
  • 62% territory
  • 122 more runs than England.
  • 303 more metres run
  • Almost double the number of clean breaks making 14

It certainly does solidify the obsessive “ball in hand” game Cheika was apparently pushing. The risk reward justification that was being preached by some seems to come to an abrupt conclusion once you introduce the 18 turnovers conceded into the conversation.

Jones’ words from the lead-up press conferences will probably haunt Cheika for a long time. Ball in hand was fools philosophy and the inability to honestly look at the numbers and realise that most likely the reason we had the ball so much was that we didn’t know how to score was a humiliating oversight.

We also need to be honest about the players and selections. The team change piece above makes you wonder what the Wallabies selectors were trying to achieve. Build a team of the best 23 or just a squad with options? On many occasions I heard the comments that no players had really put their hands up to claim a position. With so many changes, how could they? Were they given the tools and combinations that allowed them to show their best? I might be old fashioned but I was led to believe you build a team by identifying the right combinations and skill sets to support and complement. But alas, the lesson of the 2011 Brumbies, that awesome super star filled team that were world beaters on paper but a dog turd on grass should have been a clue with this one.

This was always the “back to the future” squad. So many players that had never been able to bring us success. How Genia was targeted because of his predictability in previous games was the clear evidence of that. The core of our backline had been, gone, come back and after being tried in every possible combination you can think of, and still unable to produce the goods, we just persisted with it.

I will openly admit that I am a huge Pocock fan but I can’t help but question his selection. He was fairly ineffectual and really doesn’t bring much in attack. As hard it was to see and admit, Chris Alcock highlighted Pocock’s running inability during his stint at the Brumbies.

Chris Alcock socres for the Brumbies

Chris Alcock scores for the Brumbies

The Wallabies were akin to one winged bird. Koroibete really showed the true value of a quality winger. Imagine what you could do with two real wingers in attack?

For those who might want to challenge my views I would ask you to consider if Cheika would have really stayed on as Wallabies coach. Look at what he is left with. Who is the 10? Toomua? The chances of success in 2020 are…..? Come the next RWC who will be the 10; no stop! Better still, can you name all the 10’s (or potential 10’s) for the four Aussie super rugby teams next year?  As you rattle them off confidently you will be able to explain how all the high-performance spin RA has been on ability and a group of under 20’s who show potential, who we also have no choice but to grab as they are best available option the future.

One thing the autopsy will reveal but won’t be discussed or ever able to be accepted is that the true crime so many have naively been co-conspirators in is the realisation that as Cheika leaves there is nothing left. Aside from the ashes of a failed campaign, we have a group of players in their twilight, a group of youngers guys who have been treading water for years and no real succession plan.

Excuse me?

On Saturday night I wasn’t surprised. Disappointed, yes, but I wasn’t devastated. Maybe because I, along with many others, saw it coming. The writing was on the wall when Cheika stated bluntly that he doesn’t do analysis of the opposition, that the focus is solely on the way we play. Against some teams that’s fine, but clearly not against England (who had clearly done their homework!).

But then, not long after the match, I turned from being resigned about the result to being angry. Furious actually. When I heard these words spew out of Michael Cheika’s mouth.

“That’s the way we play footy. I’m not going to go to a kick and defend game, maybe call me naïve but that’s not what I’m going to do. Rather win our way than no way at all, that’s the way Aussies want us to play.”

Now, I don’t necessarily want to bash Cheika any more than he has already been hit, but really? This is the World Cup, right? The once every four years, winner takes all, pinnacle of World Rugby? Because if there was ever a time to do whatever you had to do to get the win, I would have thought that this was it. But according to Mr Cheika, I must be the only one who feels like this, as ‘Aussies’ would rather the Wallabies ‘win their way’. Personally, I would rather they just won. I don’t care how they do it. Kick and defend their way into the semi-finals or run the ball from everywhere and end up on the plane home …. Tough choice, I know.

Watching the Springboks beat Japan last night, I felt like throwing stuff at the TV every time the Boks went to the driving maul. Because it nullified the Japanese and made the game dull. But you know who didn’t care about that? The South African fans. Their team won and they were ecstatic! Hell, as a Brumbies fan I don’t always enjoy the way they win, but I’d sure as hell rather they won than lost.

I can’t work out if that statement from Cheika is ignorance, arrogance or that he truly believes that the fans are happy to lose as long as we don’t play “kick and defend” rugby. Judging by some of the responses on social media, I am not alone in feeling this way, so I hope whoever the next coach is takes notice.

Fans want the team to win.

Especially at the World Cup.

Cheika

NRC Wrap

Ok, so I’m going to leave all the negative crap there and focus on some positive stuff for Aussie rugby. The NRC! This weekend we found out who would meet in the Grand Final next week. The two teams who finished first and second on the ladder, the Force and the Vikings, will duke it out in WA next week to see who takes home the trophy.

In the first semi, the Force seemed to be doing it easy. But Force fans might have been getting just a little nervous as Brisbane City staged a massive fight back, coming from 42-17 down going into the final quarter to lose by just 4 points. Brisbane scored 3 tries and very nearly stole the match away from the Force.

Jonah Placid scores Western Force v Brisbane City NRC 2019 (Credit Delphy)

The second semi played out the opposite way. The Vikings were down 22-0 at half time, and speaking as a fan who was at the match, it was a bit of a glum atmosphere. Now I don’t know what Nick Scrivener said to the team at half time, but they came out firing in the second half. After a massive comeback, when the clock hit 80 they were down by 6 points before Tom Banks got over the line. The conversion after the siren sealed it. It was one of the best finishes to a Vikings match that I have been to.

So next week the Force host the Vikings in the final. It’s the first time the final has been held in WA. While technically it is the Force’s first Grand Final (the other two times it was Perth Spirit), it is the third time that both the team from WA and the Vikings have been in the final. Perth Spirit were runners up in 2014 and Champions in 2016, while the Vikings were runners up in 2015 and 2017.

Match details:
Saturday October 26
3:00pm AEDT (12:00pm AWST)

What do we watch now?

Just because the Wallabies are out of the Cup, there’s no need to get rid of Foxtel just yet. There are still 3 matches to be played in this World Cup, and all have the potential to be brilliant (well actually there are four matches, I keep forgetting about the Bronze medal playoff).

First up we have semi-final one. Like last weekend, the most anticipated match is up first. New Zealand play England. This could be a tight one, but I struggle to see England matching it with the All Blacks. The AB’s play the sort of attacking rugby Cheika can only dream about, but they also throw in that kicking and defence that really has no place in rugby. You can bet Hansen in as we speak studying the English playbook and will be prepared for whatever is thrown (or kicked) at them, and have a plan to counter it. Likewise, Eddie jones will know fully what to expect from the Kiwis and is probably at a bar somewhere trying to come up with a drunken revelation about how the hell to stop them.

e jones

The second semi, while still interesting, will be a different kettle of fish. Wales v South Africa. They way both teams have been playing I would probably have to give this one to the Boks, they have looked in better form. They will have to adjust their game plan, the scrum and mauling that destroyed the Japanese won’t be so easy against Wales, and Wales have a much better kicking game than Japan so the Springboks will have more to worry about.

Saturday 26 Oct 7:00PM
England vs New Zealand

Sunday 27 Oct 8:00PM
Wales vs South Africa

Friday 1 Nov 8:00PM
Loser SF1 (England) vs Loser SF2 (Wales) **

Saturday 2 Nov 8:00PM THE FINAL
Winner SF1 (New Zealand) vs Winner SF2 (South Africa) **

* All times are AEDT
** teams in parentheses are my predictions, don’t take it as fact!

  • MungBean

    I don’t know Michael Cheika from the next bloke and I suspect that he’s probably an alright type of person. BUT…

    …the post game press conference was one of the most cringe-worthy demonstrations of childish surliness and self-pity I’ve ever had the misfortune to witness. It was embarrassing.

    The part where Cheika responded to a question about his future by asking for the journalist to show compassion for him and Hooper was so pathetic I’m still trying to work out if it was a joke.

    The boast that the Australian public wanted to see running rugby was, I believe, an actual jibe at the Australian supporters; we do want to see running rugby but trucking it up from deep in their own 22 or chipping over the first line of defence to a fullback is plain idiotic, and to suggest this is what the supporters want, is puerile.

    Both he and Hooper dripped with insincerity when claiming that their main concern was with letting the fans down. Then, when challenged by journalists who were asking the questions on every fan’s lips, got super defensive and lippy. It was atrocious.

    So much of this World Cup campaign was just bizarre:

    * the persistence of using Hooper (surely, now, one of Australia’s worst captains and overrated opensides) and (out of position) Pocock in tandem

    * selecting Foley against Wales (at all)

    * selecting Genia against England after his calamity against Wales

    * chopping and changing the halves, the centres, fullbacks, going into a QF with a backline that had never been tested

    * picking the world’s slowest winger, Hodge, clearly for his kicking ability then employing “run the ball” exit strategy instead of getting him to hoof it 50m upfield.

    Everything. It was simply unbelievable.

    • Patrick

      Agree with all it, but you forgot the fact of taking Beale and Foley to the world cup instead of, say, Banks and Sefa/Speight, I thought we were f*&^ed right then.

      But I most of all agree with the waste of Pocock.

      • Mica

        How they left Banks out, I don’t know. I also note that he hardly got a chance pre-RWC

        • Patrick

          Yep that drove me crazy.

    • AllyOz

      selecting Foley at IC for a game in the November Tests…I would add that if you are looking beyond the World Cup.

      • Patrick

        I’d just say the first two words, but definitely agree ;)

    • Who?

      I agree with much of what you say, but have grown to have a little more time for Hooper. I think he’s been excellent this year. I think Pocock at 7 rather than wearing 6 wouldn’t have made as much of a difference as some think, I believe the bigger issue is the way the breakdown has degenerated and the fact he competes much more legally than most were bothering to attempt (i.e. he understands the concept of the gate).
      .
      Meanwhile, Hooper and Pocock have been two of our hardest working players. Hooper’s carried himself with grace, in spite of having to sit alongside Cheika. His captaincy – especially his communication with referees – has come along in leaps and bounds. I would’ve swapped their jerseys, but I genuinely think Hooper/Pocock/Naisarani was the right loose forward combination from those available, and I think Hooper gave his all.
      .
      And you’d likely remember that I’ve not been Hooper’s greatest fan.

      • Patrick

        I agree with everything except that Hooper’s comments today make me wonder if he has any brain cells left.

        • Who?

          What’d he say? That makes you question him? I haven’t seen it…

        • Patrick

          Per today’s GAGR news, that the team was completely behind the game plan and thought it was sound.

          (Spoiler alert for the team: it wasn’t!)

      • MungBean

        Pocock is a better 7 at 7. He shoudn’t be expected to play 6 to accommodate a lesser 7. Hooper’s perpetual presence at 7, at the expense of Pocock playing there, has been a huge undoing for years now.

        • Who?

          The real question is, does the 7 in the Wallabies’ structures under Cheika – particularly their defensive structures – have a massive impact in positioning the 7 to be a pest at the breakdown in comparison to the 6? I’m not sure that it does.
          .
          Especially when you factor in that attacking teams have learned to follow the ABs’ lead and run at Pocock. He lead us for tackles in the tournament, because teams were running at him then preventing him from contesting the breakdown. Then factor in the shambles that is the breakdown, particularly in this tournament, where referees no longer penalize for sealing off or require players to keep their shoulders above their hips whilst entering the breakdown. If players can enter the breakdown – often prebound – and seal off, and we expect the bloke who’s being forced to make the tackle to contest, should we be disappointed when he doesn’t win as many turnovers?
          .
          Meanwhile, Hooper’s skillset has moved more from a 6 to that of a 6.5. He’s continuing to chase hard in defence, but he’s also contesting more rucks, and stealing the ball again.
          .
          Pocock’s been held to absolutely impossible standards (standards set by himself and George Smith in very different eras), in a game that’s ‘evolved’ through a continuing degradation in refereeing enforcement of the existing laws and law changes (including 2016) which have made it far too easy for attacking teams to retain possession (unless you’re crazy enough to run the ball constantly, making it easier for the defence to commit more numbers from the backfield to the breakdown).

        • MungBean

          Hooper represents a huge conundrum. He’s the best player in the team but not the best player in any position.

        • Who?

          NZ have had a very similar issue. Except their conundrum was playing at 10. Which he can do, but was it his best use..? Because Beaudy’s looking awesome at 15…..

  • Patrick

    Wales will get absolutely put to the sword by South Africa. I predict a 20+ point win.

    I fully expect NZ to beat England but I don’t expect them to have an easy time of it, and I’m intrigued to see what Eddie comes up with. My guess is that he has the heavy ball runners going hard at the five-eigths/three-quarters channel, lots of hard-chased kicks and maximum niggle in the rucks and tackles.

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      I’m not sure that Wales won’t have something in reserve, they haven’t played like the 6 Nations champion team yet and they did win that competition well. Whether they can turn it on is another issue.
      I’m certainly hoping for an AB win and a Southern Hemisphere final and reasonably confident that we can beat England. Should be a good game though

      • Patrick

        I am not sure about Wales. They haven’t shown a glimpse if they do (have something in reserve), and frankly the Springboks look able to outpower, out-set-piece, outmaul, outruck, outrun, out-kick and out-supporting play the Welsh.

        I would love to be wrong but I don’t see this being a great game.

        England vs you I have high hopes for though!

      • ballymoreburning

        take Anscomb, Falatau and Jonathan Davies out (is he gone for this week also?) and Wales just aren’t nearly as capable as the team that won the 6 nations. its literally their 3 most influential players with ball in hand.

        • Damo

          Yep, without those 3 attacking/creative weapons I’ve got a vision of Faf fixing his hair and box kicking the shit out of the ball for 80mins. Kolbe and Mapimpi might get their hands on a couple of these and the points will come.

        • Patrick

          Yep they just cannot break the line, and certainly not South Africa’s.

    • I Should be Coach

      Willie Le Roux will keep Wales in the game. He is the KB of SA. Had an absolute shocker on the weekend.

      • Patrick

        Nothing will keep Wales in the game.

    • Mart

      It’ll probably play out like that But geez it would be good to have someone different get up.

      Go Wales hey. It looked like France had more firepower But le red

      • Patrick

        Nope go France they at least try and play attractive rugby.

        • Mart

          yeah that’s what i was saying But i think you’ll find they’re out

        • Patrick

          There is that.

    • As a Wales fan, I think it depends a bit on who is fit. If Davies turns up ok, then I think SA will struggle to punch through the line, and Wales will absorb a lot of pressure happily. The SA defence is vulnerable to the way Biggar chips and gathers his own kicks, something we haven’t particularly seen thus far.

      I’m not confident Wales will win, but I think it could be a lot closer than your prediction.

      Like you, I struggle to see England beating the AB. Those big ball carriers – the AB see that from SA and soak it up all day long – and England struggle to chase teams down and to keep them contained over this year. You’d hope they’d be better after all this time together, but I think it’s an issue of how they’re coached and play and NZ will exploit it given half a chance.

      • Patrick

        On the bright side I’m less sure about either of these matches than I was about us losing!

        For England I just wonder if Eddie can pull it off. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.

        For Wales I just can’t see how they score nor how they hold out the Boks. They’ll have to turn the dial a long way up from before, and they’ve probably had the hardest run with realistically 3 hard matches almost in a row, whereas South Africa have been cruising since the first round.

  • Kiwi rugby lover

    Thanks MST. I feel the fallout from this disaster, as you quite rightly describe, will last for a long time. While Cheika really has to shoulder most of the blame, the parochial bullshit from QLD and NSW rugby is also a large part of the equation. I actually wonder if Rennie actually would want to part of this setup, I know I wouldn’t.

  • John Tynan

    “…we were more likely to hatch the Gilbert than get it over the line for points…”
    Gold!

  • Happyman

    Thanks MST

    I think this could be our 2007 Kiwi’s moment if handled correctly it needs a root and branch change in how we do things going forward.

    RA needs to make peace with WA and bring them into the fold.

    The usual suspects who have been drinking from the trough need to be pushed out. If former players are to be involved it needs to be guys like Justin Harrison, Morgan Turanui, Beau Robinson and other players who have returned to Australia from overseas and are putting back t because they love the game and have some real IP to put into the mix. All of those three put back for no financial gain. I could name more.

    Things that are going well
    – NRC (God I hope they don’t drop it)
    – Club Rugby There are some really good players coming through in Colts who are not getting picked and for mine the real strength of any environment is having really good players who cannot get a crack, Hopefully we can continue to monitor those guys and pick up the late bloomers.
    – Womens Rugby

    KRL i disagree about wanting the Wallaby coaches job. I would take it and I am a rubbish coach I could not do worse and with the talent pool all I would need is to be competent and I think I could get the team back to the top 4.

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      Mate I’m a crap coach as well and wouldn’t do it because I know I’d fuck it up. I just think Rennie would need big changes in the whole setup before he’d agree to set himself up to fail

      • Happyman

        Mate connect the dots.
        Scott Johnson goes to Scotland and turns around the OMNISHAMLES that was Scottish rugby. Sets up good systems and gets them moving in the right direction.
        Rennie is lured to Scotland by SJ and puts him in charge of Glasgow and they get there shit together.
        Smokey would be Vern Kotter I believe has a good relationship with SJ

        After Beale, Hooper and the cadre of NSW players fucked Link over MC was given to much power and was too beholden to them for getting the job. The set up will be a lot better with MC gone.

        • AllyOz

          I really haven’t made up my mind about Scott Johnson yet but there is a couple of things I like.

          Firstly, he had a go at coaching Scotland, probably could have hung onto the job but was smart enough to realise that this wasn’t where his talent or his energy laid. He took on the Director of Rugby job, found a great coach in Cotter, developed the systems around him and brought through Townsend at Glasgow as a replacement.

          Secondly, he hasn’t had a lot to say, he seems to be going about his job, he doesn’t seem to want to get into the press to kick shit out of Cheika (deservedly or not). Just seems to do his job.

          Thirdly, I think he has a reputation as a lateral thinker and is prepared to do things a little differently rather than just adopt something because it works in another sport or in business – he seems like a good thinker.

          Now I might be wrong on all these things. However, I saw him getting fuel at Chinderah when I was getting fuel and he said g’day after I nodded at him on the way out of the shop so I reckon he might be alright. If Castle and the board are responsible for his appointment then I think they have at least got one thing right and I also think that his job was really supposed to start NOW – the past 6 months has just been about getting him into the system.

        • Kiwi rugby lover

          No argument with your last sentence. Or actually the rest of it. I still think Rennie will need something to show the changes will occur but maybe his relationship with SJ is enough

  • Fair analysis. Thanks.
    What frustrates me most watching Australia play rugby lately is that we finally seem to have the tight 5 sorted out at a high level and then the backs become disjointed. Can we only do one or the other ?

    • John Tynan

      I’ve never played with jointed backs.

  • donktec

    thanks for the autopsy, lot of work to do to rebuild from here, wonder if the head honchos will grasp the nettle..!

    • No. They’ll replace the coach, there might be a ceremonial sacrifice of someone else. But the vested interests at the top and around the power structures will remain.

      The Kiwis did it but they always had a system that focussed up to the AB, they just stopped and refined that. The Welsh are trying to do it, and the regions are fighting tooth and nail to resist it but it is slowly getting there. The fact that the Welsh have risen to be a pretty much permanent fixture in the top 3 in the world rankings in the last 4 years is, in part, down to the restructuring that has seen better contracts for their test players, as well as a coming together of a decent bunch of players. The fact that Gatland is a good coach has really helped too – two semifinals under Gatland is quite an achievement.

      But, to the best of my knowledge, no other tier 1 nation has managed to do that. Same old mess, club vs country and the old boys network. RA doesn’t strike me as functional enough to really do more than a cosmetic change. Sadly.

  • Brumby Runner

    Thanks for the write up/analysis MST. One of the best reviews of the Cheika RWC campaign I’ve seen. Have to agree with a lot of comments from posters as well; those from Mung Bean and Patrick particularly.

  • southern macro

    What does it say about Rugby Australia that they most probably knew that Michael Cheika was out the door by now but have no idea who the next coach is going to be?

    • There are a LOT of high quality coaches going to be on the market and some (at least) are going to be after a job over the ditch. Appointing the one that doesn’t get it from Gatland, Schmidt (if interested), Foster (if he wants to move on) etc. plus Rennie, Cotter if interested etc. is not a terrible position to be in.

      I’m pretty sure while the AB might have a short list, they don’t yet know who they’re going to appoint to replace Hansen.

  • Hoss

    The problem for the players is they have been stuck in The Cheiko-Chamber so long they believe all from the former messiah. They have been in the cult so long I would expect their judgements to be slightly askew. But refreshing to hear Hoops say ‘guys are sick of where it’s at’ in reference to the results.

    • Bernie Chan

      Yeh…to listen to Hooper saying the players were 100% behind Cheika’s strategy was grating. Probably why Hooper was always to keen to ignore a potential 3 points on offer and keep kicking for the corner?
      Cheika….maaate…the Aussie way was (until you came along…) to play clever rugby. Know your opponent and plan accordingly…smart kicking works, being predictable rarely does against better sides.
      I knew we made too many changes game-to-game, but 54 in 5 games? Bloody hell…and throw in an unsettled 9/10 combo…

  • juswal

    The table of line-ups is illuminating. The 23 for England was very close to the one for Fiji. The three matches between served no strategic purpose.

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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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