Hello, and welcome to the Penultimate edition of the Top 5. Well I think we all need to just take a breath and stop for a moment after the weekend that was in rugby, so here are some things which may, though more likely may not, take your mind off things. We look at the good, bad and ugly, re-visit the English match, talk perceptions, coaching and have plenty of highlights. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, we have the inside scoop on what Cheiks really said during the match.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Good – Simply the amount of Rugby that is on at the moment. At half time in the Wallabies game I switched over to catch bits of Wales v Georgia. If I was younger I would have stayed up to watch the Scots and All Blacks followed by the French v Springboks. But I had to settle for recording them to watch at a more reasonable hour.
Bad – In this match we saw a perfect example of why you should never make assumptions about what the ball is going to do. As the ball dribbled towards the sideline we saw Beale back off, I can only assume he thought the ball was going to go out. In the end it was ridiculously marginal, and regardless of whether it should or should not have been a try, Beale should not have backed off. A proper chase and the try would likely have been prevented.
Ugly – Seeing Cheika appearing to get stuck into the match official at half time was pretty poor (and that was before any of the really contentious calls). I understand that he gets frustrated, but I believe there are times when he needs to reign his emotions in.
England v Wallabies … ummm … that wasn’t good!
Well what a match that was. You can’t say it wasn’t ours for the taking, at no point in the first 70 minutes was the result certain. Did we let our foot off the gas in the final 10 minutes? Were we tired? Did we cave mentally? I guess only the players know.
There were many times in the match when we could have changed the outcome. If Beale had not given up the chase then the first English try would likely not have been scored. But moments before that, if Kuridrani had not spilled the ball after Kerevi’s break, it would probably have been the Wallabies scoring and the ball would never have been kicked through by the English for Beale to chase.
If Hooper had heeded the referee when he was called for repeated infringements within the same set of phases. If Genia hadn’t passed above the head of Foley. If Foley and Genia hadn’t thrown forward passes, if Foley hadn’t missed a relatively easy penalty kick, if Hooper had chosen to go for the points rather than the line, if two of our most effective players in attack weren’t replaced at the same time with around 15 minutes to go when we were still in with a big chance of winning … there’s probably more I could add but it is just getting depressing.
We were our own worst enemies, we didn’t play to the conditions and our skills seemed to go backwards from recent games. Was it a sign of fatigue at the end of a long season? Maybe. But we can’t use that as an excuse. When it comes down to it there are things the players and coaching staff simply should have done better.
Anyway, enough of that, let’s take a look at the stats and see if they show anything of interest.
As usual we ran more and had more possession. Most of the stats actually show two quite even teams. The English made more tackles, not surprising considering the Wallabies made more runs and had more possession. They were stronger than us in the lineout and won more turnovers. But there are no real areas where the English stand out as being well ahead, again showing that it was just down to the little things the Wallabies could have done differently.
So we know that the back row lifted from the game against Japan to the game against Wales. The England game is one where the breakdown was going to be vital, so let’s see how they went. I have included Itoje’s stats as well as Sam Underhill’s as he left the match after around 15 minutes. I have also included Ben McCalman’s stats as Hanigan went off at half time.
So it appears the Wallabies were back to being more attacking, they ran more and beat more defenders than they did against Wales, while their tackle rate and turnovers dropped. Personally, this surprised me, considering the wet conditions. The biggest point of interest? This is the first match that the opposition back row has matched or outplayed ours in both attack and defence.
It will be very interesting to see how we go against Scotland this week. We have a better winning record than they do (the Wallabies have won 21 out of their 31 encounters) but Scotland won the last encounter and the previous 2 before that they lost by just 1 point. Scotland will also be full of confidence after a very good performance against the All Blacks on the weekend, so it could be another tough match for our boys, I hope they have learnt some lessons from this weekend.
Did you see that?
It’s interesting to read the comments and reactions on social media to see what Wallabies game people were watching. Perception can be quite an influencing factor on how we see things. Aussie rugby has some ingrained traits on the way it makes judgments about players and the teams’ performances. We seem to focus on the flashy, “X” factor, bells and whistles and we like to keep to the same script or mould. Some of the post-game comments have seen many Wallabies fans not sure on what to make of their performance. Before we look at that, do we know what we are looking at or for?
For some, the absence of Coleman made a huge difference, Simmons was the standout lock, McMahon had a super performance and Koroibete went ok and Evener had on ok debut. Many are seeing an evolution of the Wallabies game plan and a different script. But let’s look at the evidence to validate some of the things that we think we saw.
Enever had the highest tackle count for the Wallabies, followed by Hanigan and Koroibete (7 tackles). Credit where credit’s due, last week I said Koroibete was weak in defence, well he had a great game this week. Hanigan was fairly solid too for the 40 minutes he was on.
The fact that we were without Coleman is coming up quite frequently as something which had an impact on our game. He was a big loss for us this week. So let’s have a look at Enever’s stats v England compared to Coleman’s stats v Wales from the previous week.
Bearing in mind that Enever was on debut, in the wet, against England – undoubtedly the biggest match of the tour – and played 61 minutes compared to Coleman’s 80, he matched Coleman in almost all areas yet is perceived to have had an average game, while we desperately missed Coleman. Is the reason we tend to focus on Coleman partly due to the head gear making him stand out and because of his involvement in a lot of afters?
McMahon in many eyes seemed to perform very well. He did play very well but let’s benchmark his performance against his opposite number to get a better marker of whether it’s a genuine performance or the best of the Wallabies.
Very much like the perceptions around players we can fall in to the same habits with other parts of the game.
What we did see was an ever-familiar script with the same key issue again hampering an otherwise very good performance. Again, we dominated possession (56%) and territory (54%) but failed to make it count. Again, we were on the wrong side of the missed tackle count (83% compared to England’s 85%) even though we made 48 less tackles. These are both trends that have been consistent throughout the past year.
The discipline. The penalty count was dead even at 10 a piece but the key difference is the type of infringements and the frequency. Four penalties in just over a minute while the English were on attack that lead to the card is hard to argue against and another bad Wallaby habit we have seen before. Again, this is not a new issue.
So how are you forming your perceptions? What are you using as the benchmark? Was McMahon’s performance rated on being the best of the bunch or against his counterpart?
Do you assume the best performances are those which are more visible, the ones we see stand out? Does flashy mean good? Did the player who runs hard all game and breaks the defence on one occasion, or the guy who only made one tackle but it was a huge bone shaking hit have a better game than the guy who tackled his arse off all match? Are those who quietly get on with the job underperforming? Are we still judging on reputation – Coleman is a tough nut who makes a difference in games therefore we must have missed him? How are we judging our team’s performance? Is it still that they are improving or on the results?
So, was it a good performance or not? Are you sure your benchmark is real or is it your Green and Gold perception?
I think it was good, but……
Let’s get rid of the elephant right up front. If the roles were reversed we would have claimed the ball was in, the player was offside, and it was obstruction. Now with those 3 items put to one side how do we rate the Wallabies performance?
Very good actually. In sport, sometimes you get the “rub of the green” or “bounce of the ball” luck, other times you don’t and that doesn’t diminish a good performance irrespective of the result. Overall the Wallabies have stepped up. It could be that the old benchmarks of picking the best player out of a bad bunch and seeing if we improved this week are no longer relevant and have thrown off our perception and judgment. The key take-away from that game was that if the ball had bounced the other way we would have been right there at the end at minimum. We were in it until about the 70th minute.
The Wallabies now have hit that stage where it is all about the details, the 1%ers that now make and break performances. An easy spill by Kuridrani, a lazy chase by Beale and a lucky bounce of the ball and it was effectively a 14-point turnaround. Small things with big outcomes. The All Blacks live on a steady diet of the oppositions bad 1%ers.
The game plan seems to be pretty good but are we just working too hard now? We have the possession, we have the territory so why aren’t we converting more? It’s either poor options, easy turnovers or we are just overworking it. The overworking tends to invite the other two issues. The missed tackles? I am starting to think it’s a mix of repositioning of players while trying to hide defensive frailties and silly “turnovers” in positions that put us under the pump quickly. Execution may have a little to do with it but the Wallabies seem to want to use speed in defence which tends to have a “risk v reward” factor and may be why, although working, it drags the stats down. Missed tackles didn’t directly cost us that much.
Looking at the players and selections are the next detail that we may need to scrutinise. Enever shows we do have depth if we are willing to look. He doesn’t fit the usual “standout” mould but does fit what the Wallabies need. So are there others? The resolution of the depth issue will enable selection on form but that seems further down the road yet. Foley is a case in point. He is off form but what do we do? It will also open up the healthy debate about selections. Is Hodge in the team for just his boot? I think Beale bring more to the 15 then Izzy. But what do we do with Izzy?
So can the Wallabies fix the details? No. Not at the moment, and not under Cheika at the moment. Watching the game on the weekend I have settled on the conclusion that right now Cheika has hit his glass ceiling. He has done some fantastic things with the Wallabies rebuilding them and getting them to this point but like many coaches for whatever reason they hit their glass ceiling and its stalls. I believe that he was the weakest link in the Wallabies on the weekend and could be the key issue right now.
For years we have heard him preach about the required mental toughness and getting the Wallabies heads in the right space. On the weekend we saw a coach out of control emotionally and mentally. Many have asked about why he dragged Kerevi when he was cutting up the English defence and replace him with Hunt. Why did he leave Beale after his performance dropped off after his card? Why replace Kepu who had just started barnstorming through the English? Is he mentally in the right place to strategically manage a game or is he out of control? This flows on to how he addresses the players at half time and the instructions he sends.
Consider all the focus on the mental side of the game and discipline and the 4 penalties in about a minute that lead to Hooper’s card. Where was the discipline and mental fortitude at that point? It’s clear there are issues. 40% of all the penalties were committed in around a 60 second window while defending on the line. Look at the last 10 minutes where the game blew out. Were we mentally defeated? Cheika appeared to have lost his cool and composure by then and had moved from his box to the side line, reacting to the barbs of at least one English fan on his way down.
On field we heard some of the interactions between Hooper and the referee including Hooper telling the referee after a TMO review that the decision was poor. The majority of referees will not respond well to comments, especially criticism like this and I could not help but notice the similarities in attitudes between the Wallabies coach and Captain. Could this be a contributing factor about why we are on the wrong side of the whistle? Could it also be part of the issue with the players mindsets?
Cheika has poured his heart and soul into getting the Wallabies to where they are. He potentially has poured too much in and he now appears over invested. He is unable to retain the composure and mindset required to maintain attention to the details during games. He needs to be the leader and the strategist, the cool voice of direction and focus to make sure the Wallabies headspace is right. He should be the one to have his finger on the pulse in games making the adjustments and key changes. But he is not and can’t.
It doesn’t diminish his achievements nor detract from his coaching abilities. I have genuine empathy with him like many of you also do. He has worked hard and still we keep falling at the last hurdle or suffer form inconsistency. All whilst rugby around him is in turmoil. We also need to remember that this is his first international coaching job. I believe he has he hit his glass ceiling. It not an issue that can be fixed overnight.
One thing is undeniable; he is currently the centre of attention and brings more media focus on the Wallabies. Something no team wants.
What Cheika was really saying
Yes, that’s right. We have the inside scoop. Remember, you heard it here first!
This week I have trawled around to see if I could find highlight of the other internationals that are being played. With no NRC to entertain us, I figured you wouldn’t want to see highlights from the latest Wallabies match.
There are some matches missing – Namibia v Uruguay and Belgium v Brazil were impossible to find! Also not all are in English, but the rugby is still good.
* Stats courtesy of rugby.com.au