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

The Tuesday Top 5

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Tuesday Top 5. This week we scour over the weekend that was in rugby to find some good, bad and ugly, wrap up the Rugby Championship and ask an interesting question, keep raving about the NRC and provide the usual highlights packages for your viewing pleasure.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Good – Another good win over a tough Pumas side. The Wallabies are finally starting to play the way the fans have expected them to all along. And in doing so we have moved up to 3rd in the World Rankings. Whoot!

Bad – While second place in the Rugby Championship isn’t as bad as we could have finished, only winning 2 matches with 2 losses and 2 draws isn’t entirely good. When it all boils down to it, we need to be winning consistently, we still haven’t put 2 consecutive wins together since November last year.

Ugly – Not too much to report on that I find too ugly this week. Makes a nice change, doesn’t it?

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The Rugby Championship Wrap

Well it’s all done and dusted bar the … well bar nothing really. The RC is over for another year and to be honest it wasn’t entirely unpredictable. I think the Pumas performed a little worse than people may have expected, but I believe the finishing positions were close to what people predicted pre-tournament.

The best bit? For me it was the last match between the Springboks and the All Blacks. That was one hell of a match, going right down to the wire. The first half, with only 1 try scored, was some of the best rugby I’ve seen in ages, The Boks really took it to the All Blacks.

And the worst? Has to be the opening game against the Kiwis. The All Blacks were good, but the Wallabies were downright terrible. Thanks goodness they have showed some improvement since then, or I think they’d be playing to an empty stadium in the final match.

Williams, Barrett and Rona chase down a kick.

Williams, Barrett and Rona chase down a kick.

Biggest turnaround? The Springboks, going from being absolutely thumped, to drawing with the Wallabies to coming within a point of beating an All Blacks team that were playing well (as opposed to coming close to beating them when they play the worst rugby we have seen in 12 months)

Biggest disappointment? The Pumas. I had really hoped they would perform better. Although I have to say, if they learn to play for 80 minutes, stop giving away penalties and stop with the silly kicks they will be bloody dangerous. In both matches against the Wallabies, and one against the Kiwis, it was only the last quarter of the match where they faded. If they turn into an 80-minute team – watch out!

We’ve been watching the numbers each week, has the final round shown us anything special? Let’s have a look.

Rugby Championship rnd 6 Attack and Defence

 

Well let’s take a quick look at the Wallabies stats. They played really well, right? Considering it wasn’t until late in the match that they ran away with it, what were they doing with the loads of possession they had? What was happening on the end of all the metres they were running? It’s been a consistent issue with the Wallabies, they rack up the metres, but it doesn’t always amount to points.

Rugby Championship rnd 6 all teamsOverall the stats give us a pretty good indication of how the RC went. All teams have the lowest tackle success rate against the All Blacks, and the highest against the Pumas. The AB’s were the stand outs, obviously, and the Pumas were dragging the tail (although the Wallabies only just beat them with tackle %) with the Boks and Wallabies slotted in the middle.

As the dust settles where are we?

That’s a really interesting question to be asked and considered. It appears it’s all a matter of perspective. If you’re a South African, the fact that Cotzee has a better record than Cheika, is hamstrung by quotas and is still not winning is unacceptable and his tenure at the helm of the Boks is looking pretty shaky even with the performance on the weekend. One good game won’t silence the critics or the calls for him to go for long

If we look at the Wallabies numbers they are not pretty. Ten wins, twelve losses and 2 draws. That gives us a 41.6% winning ratio. But does that really reflect reality? Those numbers include lower ranked opponents like Wales, Italy, Fiji and Argentina. So with the Wallabies, how do we get a real measure of where they are at? Two draws against a team that is being hamstrung by selection quotas is arguably setting the bar low to draw much of a benchmark against.

Looking at our performance since the RWC the Wallabies are yet to beat either of the top two ranked teams.  Putting aside the Springboks we end up with Scotland as the best benchmark we have having beaten them by a point in November 2016 but then losing to them in June giving us a 50% win loss ratio. So the team currently ranked 6!

Scotland winning the penalty that won them the match.

Scotland winning the penalty that won them the match.

The real test and benchmarking process for the Wallabies and its coaching staff starts on the 21st of October against the All Blacks. With the Rugby Championship giving Cheika and his team time to play with combinations, increase the fitness and having the squad mostly intact and injury free the time for excuses has now expired.

So what will be an acceptable test series? The match against the All Blacks is the first of 5 games before the end of the year. Wins against Japan and Wales are expected. But it’s the games against the All Blacks, England and Scotland that will define if this Wallabies team are contenders or pretenders.

If we win three of the five it still leaves the Wallabies post RWC record at around 45% win ratio and if we fail to beat the All Blacks or England it will mean we are still yet to beat a higher ranked team.

On the horizon is Rugby World Cup 2019. Do we stay the course or pull the trigger for change? Or is the real question which will cost the least?

NRC – Getting to the pointy end

If the Drua were racehorse you’d have them swabbed. What a turn around for a team that managed only 5 points against the Vikings, to romp away with the match against the Rams, taking home the Horan Little Shield in the process. I wonder if that’s something anyone stopped to consider at the beginning of the season. A few weeks ago I mentioned the idea that Fiji could be hosting the final of the (Australian) National Rugby Championship. Now they hold the shield, and with a bye and 2 remaining games at home in Fiji, it could be a tough ask to get the shield back in Australia this season. The best hope would be from Qld Country, but Fiji are a beast at home, so who knows?

GAGR's Nick Wasiliev sending the Horan Little Shield overseas for the first time.

GAGR’s Nick Wasiliev sending the Horan Little Shield overseas for the first time.

Speaking of Qld Country, they were pushed to the end by NSW Country, only just getting the win. Going in to the round there was talk of them being favourites to take out the title, but after this round? I think we’re back to it being anybody’s game.

Although if Brisbane City continue to field a star-studded team as they did against the Rams, they must come back into view for the finals. With Frisby, Hunt and Cooper directing the backline and Ready up front, they are pretty darn dangerous.

The Vikings v Rising result was really pretty predictable, but the way the Vikings are playing, they too have to be part of conversations about the finals.

What a few final rounds there are to go, final four still up in the air, any one of about 5 teams could possibly top the ladder … I’m really enjoying the NRC this year and it is such a shame that it’s just a short burst of a competition. I know I’d love to see more games of the calibre the teams are giving us.

Highlights

 

  • idiot savant

    Very interesting write up MST. As you say, its hard to know just where we are on the relative scale. On the one hand we’ve beaten none of the worlds best teams. On the other hand we really look like we are playing much better football. The side seems to be shrugging off the ideological shackles that made us look so one dimensional prior to this RC. Our scrum is improving, our backs are putting on some enterprising play, we are kicking in general play. Perhaps its just the finishing that is letting us down. Part of this is timing. We seem to have thrown an awful lot of forward passes lately.

    I guess one question is how convincing are our forwards really? That might be answered in Bled 3. And will certainly be answered in the UK.

    I know Ive ranted about Cheka but holster your weapons cordial drinkers because I’m about to praise him! I think a couple of years of ball in hand philosophy has actually given us a base level of improvement in the patience and confidence to hold the ball for long periods. The 4 and a half minute retention in multiple phases after half time in Canberra absolutely broke the Argies. I don’t think we could have done this in times past. I think the fear of isolation and turnover and lack of confidence in being able to retain possession against the best sides in the world led to years of aimless kicking and rushed passing. By spending years getting used to holding onto the ball, Cheka has altered this perception and we have a much more stable base for decision making now. So keep drinking the cordial kids, Cheka is onto something!

    • Adrian

      Spot on idiot.

    • Huw Tindall

      How people actually thought Cheika was a complete idiot in the first instance is the most baffling thing. He’s had a plan in place since the beginning and he is working his way through it. The fact he hasn’t set it out for everyone to see is just plain common sense. You don’t reveal your plans to the competition! Cheika got slammed for not blooding young players originally then got slammed for too much chop and change.

      Looking back I’d say the broad plan was to:
      (1) bring a new culture to the team and have a red hot crack at RWC 2015 utilising all the experienced heads in Australian rugby including the overseas players like Giteau and Beale. = tick
      (2) post world cup transition out the ‘retiring’ players and begin to blood youngsters. A very messy period leading to our disastrous 2016 losing 3 zip to England and bringing back AAC for a few games to no avail etc. By the end of the 2016 though the Wallabies attack was looking excellent. Cheika probably should have pulled off the band-aid sooner and committed to the new players we are seeing in 2017 but it was always going to be a tough period. = OK pass
      (3) in 2017 entrench new culture (including focus on strength and conditioning) and firm up preferred team for 2019 RWC tilt. We are in the middle of this and you are starting to see the core of the team selected week in week out whilst experimenting with a few positions and transitioning out our final retiree in Moore. By the end of 2017 I’d expect we see a fairly consistent side with established back line and starting forward pack – even in the second row! The only selections still up in the air will be sorting out Pocock’s place when he is back, the pecking order of second rowers, who will be our ‘big ball running’ back rower, the best ‘finishers’ on the bench e.g. what to do with Hunt and who is the reserve front row (which incidentally I think is our biggest concern – not a lot of depth).

      There is method to the madness.

      Perhaps the one area I’d seriously criticise Cheika is not have a flexible or clever enough game plan for each side we play. The classic ‘there is no plan B’ problem. Maybe Cheika wants to nail plan A first but I’d like to see some more intelligent tactics. We need to play a different style against England than we do against NZ for instance. England will relentless kick to us so we need to handle that and not play the game in our half. Against NZ it’s about not giving them easy counter attack opportunities. These subtleties are what we lack at the moment. Hopefully with time we build them in – both in terms of team tactics but also on field leadership to realise when we need to change things up.

  • Pearcewreck

    Nice article MST.
    Lots of good stuff.
    Can I just question one thing please?
    In the 3rd table with the summary of each match, are those stats right?
    I can’t believe that we ran the ball for more meters in Perth against SA in match 3, than we did in Dunedin against NZ in match 2.

    In Perth we did nothing but kick it for the first 30 minutes, where as in Dunedin we racked up 3 early tries from long breaks, plus scored tries in the 2nd half.

    • MST

      Thanks.
      Yes, I just double checked (well triple actually, I checked repeatedly as I entered them to make sure I had it right) and according to the stats on sanzarrugby.com those are the run metres for each of the games.

      • Pearcewreck

        Cool.
        Good work.
        I still think their stats must be wrong though.
        I mean …….

        • MST

          It’s possible the stats are wrong but most sources show we ran more in Perth than Dunedin. Even the Fox sports “wacky” stats as we love to refer to them tell the same story..

          Perceptions a funny thing ain’t it!

  • Simon

    I think the Vikings showed the only way to really beat the Fijians is with Brumbies-style rugby. If you try and play open, traditional NRC-style rugby they are going to slaughter you. You have to use strong, compact defence, strong reliance on set piece (Drua scrum is probably their biggest weakness) and structured play, slow their ball down and whenever the game gets too open you need to shut it down. It’s a shame because the whole point of the NRC was to play entertaining open rugby but we can’t compete with them on that front.

    • Brumby Runner

      Simon, did you even see the game against the Vikings? No way they could be accused of such negative tactics. The Vikings opened play up with their attack, including if my memory serves me, a full length of the field try. It is true that they mixed up their attack with very strong defense, but that was not to the detriment of the game or the NRC.

      • Simon

        I did watch it, from about the 20 minute mark. I think they were up 21-5 which surprised me, and then I became progressively more impressed watching them shut the Fijians down. The Fijians were off their game but a large part of that was because the Brumbies didn’t let them play it. It was a great example of how to shut down that sort of unstructured play that the other NRC teams have struggled to do.

        I don’t mean to suggest they played negatively – just that there was an undeniable strong streak of Brumbies about their game. I don’t think the Brumbies play negatively either – I enjoy forwards-focused rugby as much as the flashy backline stuff. Most of their tries were scored by forwards and most of them burrowing over from a metre or two out. There were some great full field tries in the second half when the Drua defence opened up.

        I just don’t think it’s any coincidence that the only team that’s comprehensively beaten the Drua is the team from the Super franchise that plays a game style furthest away from open Drua style rugby. It’s Fijian bread and butter and if you try to play them at their own game they are going to beat you. If you attack their set piece, use pick and goes, compete at the breakdown, kick for touch and above all, keep a structured defence, they are very beatable. That’s not negative rugby, but it’s not what the NRC is targeting either.

    • Miss Rugby

      I was at that game and thought the Vikings played some of the most entertaining rugby I have seen this year. Their defence was exceptional, it did shut down the Fijians attack, should they have eased up their defence, allowing the Fijians to run wild just so it was more “entertaining”?. And their attack involved running, offloading, tackle busts clean breaks etc.
      But I clearly don’t know what I’m talking about, I thought the whole point of any competition was to win. IMO the Vikings did both against the Drua.
      Oh, and personally I saw very little Brumbies-style rugby from the Vikings against the Drua. They played the way most Brumbies fans I know wish the Brumbies played.

  • juswal

    Thanks for the usual food for thought, MST.

    Mulling over the big table . . . the ABs are vulnerable to conceding turnovers and playing with less than 50 per cent of possession, but they scored five, six, eight tries per match so it didn’t matter. Does this mean that yielding the ball is acceptable within their game plan? Or that they need to work on retaining possession so that they can score even more tries?

    Tries for and against in 2017 TRC:
    All Blacks 35:14
    Wallabies: 25:22
    Springboks: 17:20
    Pumas: 10:31

    • Who?

      A couple of years ago, the junior team I coached had a fantastic defence. But it got really boring. It felt like we were watching them do nothing other than tackle. So we started,, as a coaching group, to think that perhaps we weren’t playing that well, given we had no ball. But eventually, especially given a very handy win/loss ratio, we realized it was simply that the boys were scoring quickly, and then oppositions were bogged down. If they got the ball, they’d be over within 5 phases. If they didn’t have the ball (given that referees didn’t necessarily reward our jackal, who got his hands on opposition ball legally at 50% of breakdowns – they just weren’t required to release. I remember one particular game where, during an injury break, after watching this kid be the first arriving player at five consecutive tackles (each time having three good rips at the ball without a release, penalty or opposing player cleaning him out), I told them not to bother contesting the breakdown, given we were getting no joy anyway, and we had a lead to defend), they’d defend for long stretches without conceding territory.

      A clinical attack doesn’t need much time to score points. The ABs are, at their best, very clinical. A strong attack uses a lot more energy than a strong defence. So ball retention isn’t the key, it’s how you use it. And there’s plenty of examples of that over time – England against us last year, us against England in 04 (29% possession, 51-15 win!)…

      • idiot savant

        There goes my Cheka is a genius theory…. With 71% possession we couldn’t score enough points.Tho I think thats changed.

        Your point about the ABs not needing much ball is backed up by their victory against the Boks at the last RWC. The Boks played like England did against us last year. They were happy to kick the ball to the ABs and try an tackle them into mistakes. It very nearly worked but the ABs had enough strike power to score enough points. Thy also were able to hold onto it for long periods.

        • Who?

          I’m not sure it’s changed. Not every game. We had 59% of possession in Perth, but only scored two tries. And those two tries, one was off a kick off (and one tackle), the other was off a maul. So whilst we had heaps of possession, we didn’t score because we worked the phases. We either scored inside two phases, or achieved little scoreboard reward…
          I don’t think that having lots of possession guarantees a win or loss – I think there’s much more to it than that. Lots of possession from slow, sloppy rucks is no more beneficial than defending when you’re able to disrupt their breakdown.

        • Kokonutcreme

          Agree completely that possession stats on their own can be very misleading as a gauge for how well a team is playing.

          It needs to be assessed in conjunction with metres carried, advantage line gains, error rate and defenders beaten.

          In the NZ v SA match there was a 10 minute phase of play during the first half leading up to Ryan Crotty’s try where SA had the majority of possession but couldn’t get over the halfway line. Every time they passed the ball wide of the ruck, the All Blacks defence forced them further and further behind the advantage line forcing Ross Cronje to box kick to relieve pressure. It eventually led to Beauden Barrett charging an attempted clearance and the first try.

          Viewed statistically the possession numbers favoured the Boks and you’d be scratching your head wondering how they conceded the try.

          But when you combine it with other metrics it would tell a different story.

  • McWarren

    Thanks MST.

    Those stats confirm too me that the AB’s win games on defence. Their defence is what creates the pressure and turnovers to score from. I’m not sure Grey can get us to that standard.

    • Huw Tindall

      Yeah defence is my main concern too McWarren. We need to be up to 85% tackle rates, looking at the stats, to be a constant challenge. Would have liked the Dunedin ‘Beale in defending in the line’ approach to be trialed more. Seems we went straight back to musical chairs in the backline leading to vulnerabilities on counter attack. I’d like to see how Northern Hemisphere teams stack up in relation to these stats. Are England defensive power houses like NZ?

      Other than defence I’d also like to see more subtle tactics and game plans from coaches. The ‘plan B’ we’ve been crying out for when relentless ball in hand isn’t working. I think we are getting there now that the attack is humming. This will allow the players to mature mentally on the pitch and exercise game smarts along with being able to execute variations from the coaches.

      • McWarren

        Huw I’m a bit old school in regards to tactics. I’d like to have seen a more traditional approach to territory, work our selfs out of our quarter or half the easy way and then apply pressure with a high 80’s% defence. Once this is mastered then work on an exciting ball in hand approach. Like you said a plan A and a plan B. I keep seeing stats that say the winning team had less possession but used the ball well when they got it. An obvious example are the AB’s. Often the Wallabies play all the rugby and entertain the most only to either lose or draw against the bhigher ranked teams.

  • Parker

    Foley’s goal kicking was pretty ugly.

  • Tommy Brady

    Always a well thought out piece MST. Thank you.

  • Bay35Pablo

    Can Matt buy Nick a G&GR polo to present the Shield in? Let’s get some corporate presence going here chaps …. :)

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