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

The Tuesday Top 5

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.

Cheika

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.

Wallabies v England stats 1

Wallabies v England stats 2

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.

Wallabies v England back 3

 

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 stats 1

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.

Enever stats 2

 

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?

Blake Enever

Blake Enever

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.

McMahon Stats

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?

Kurtley Beale and Rod Kafer

Kurtley Beale and Rod Kafer

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?

Opposing captains - Kieran Read and Michael Hooper

Opposing captains – Kieran Read and Michael Hooper

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!

Highlights

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

  • Kiwi rugby lover

    MST as usual a great write up with some very good insights. I must admit you can’t fault Cheika’s passion. I’m not so sure that he’s reached the glass floor as it was always quite low. I’ve always thought that Cheika was great on passion and motivation but tactically quite weak. When I ref at half time you always hear some coaches ranting in about going hard, toughening it out, get stuck in etc and others who quietly tell players how they need to change their plan and what to focus on. Cheika reminds me of the first type. I was hoping Gray and Larkham could provide that tactical part but I’ve lost faith in both of them to actually do that.
    I’ve never been that impressed with Hooper as I don’t actually know what his role is and he’s a very poor captain. I do agree that his behavior is heavily influenced by Cheika, as is others, and I don’t think the Wallabies actually have the ability to step back and review what’s going on in a game at the moment.
    If they want to win in 2019 they need to make some big changes

    • Bernie Chan

      Good wrap…the stats for the back five is damning, showing how little impact they provide (especially considering how much possession we had..). Just as an example…I can’t imagine Higgers or Fardy carrying the ball 6 times for only 2 metres gained (or 0 metres for that matter…).
      BTW..Does anyone know who the gent on Cheika’s left is…? What is his role in the Wallas set-up? He certainly isn’t there to provide balance as he mimics almost everything Cheika does…
      The Scots beat us in June and almost beat the ABs last week…they will approach the next Test with confidence and if we take the same (daft) approach again then we will be unlikely to win.

      • idiot savant

        His name is Pat Molihan, an ex sports journo. He is Cheika’s Di Patston. Team manager. Childhood friend I think.

        • Bernie Chan

          Doing a great job of being a sycophant…is that what Cheika needs, more “yes” men…? Certainly has done little apparent to reign in the coach’s excesses…

        • Mr Wobbly

          And here I was thinking Cheika was just paying some bloke to sit there and mimic his reactions ;)

    • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

      I agree with all that you’ve said aside from

      The Brumbies under Larkham were tactically very smart. Focused on the basics of rugby: very strong set piece, very good defence and good discipline.

      Sure, they lacked in attack, but you look at the players they had: a poor rookie Kiwi 10, a useless 12, a defensively solid and hard-running but un-dynamic 13, a good winger and a poor winger. For the first half of the season they had Toua (the less said the better). Towards the end of the season they attacked much, much better once Banks switched to fullback and once Godwin was replaced with Smith.

      Larkham is the attack coach for the Wallabies and our attack has been world-class all season. Arguably as good as the All Blacks’ at the moment (even on the weekend we failed to score tries due to stupidity from Moore and Hooper being offside, as well as perhaps Kuridrani’s butter fingers). Larkham is doing his job perfectly in attack. Even in defence we are doing okay currently (still don’t have great faith in Grey, but whatever).

      Our issues stem from discipline and the fact we continually select forwards packs who can’t win the collisions (three lightweights in the back-row) and our line out sucks on account of not playing enough line out targets.

      • Kiwi rugby lover

        Yeah I wonder if it is him being marginalised but either way too many mistakes and no real game tactics

      • HK Red

        That’s the problem, are larkham and grey going to step in and tell Cheika that some of his selections and tactics are mind boggling? I don’t think so. Even if they did, would Cheika listen?

        • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

          For all we know they already are?

          I doubt Grey was enamoured by the suggestion that he had to make a defensive structure work for Bled 1 with a 10-14 of Foley-Speight-Beale-(an underdone) Kerevi-Rona.

          That’s a nightmare scenario if you are a defensive coach. Not a single good defender from 10-14.

  • ForceFan

    I can add to the Coleman v Enever comparison.
    On a ruck involvements per 80 minutes basis they are fairly close:
    Coleman (v Wales): 29 Total – 26 Attack/3 Defence
    Enever (v England): 26 T – 26A/0D.
    Coleman slightly more involved overall (~10%).
    Both equally supportive of the Wallabies ball carriers.
    However, Enever didn’t make a single “D” ruck.
    Enever was also slightly slower in getting involved, but had
    slightly more impact at the rucks.
    I agree that not a bad performance on debut.

    • Brumby Runner

      I know that Enever was replacing Coleman and there is interest in how he competed in comparison with Coleman’s performances, but I think the more salient point would be a comparison of Enever, Coleman and Philip to Simmons. He has the look of the weak link in the second row, and it might be telling to do such a comparison.

      • MST

        Definitely agree, they should be compared to Simmons. I don’t think anyone would really be surprised at the results TBH. But the point here was to see how he stacked up to Coleman given all the comments about how much we were missing Coleman v England.

      • ForceFan

        Don’t suggest we include Philips in the comparison as he’s only come off the bench for 17 mins & 21 mins.
        The same comparison for Simmons (per 80 mins av over both games): 24T – 23A/1D.
        i.e mostly supporting our own ball carriers.

        Simmons is the slowest of the 3 to enter the ruck (1st or 2nd <70% of time) and lowest impact (~70% of time).
        He's been missing his target quite a bit.

        However, he's not alone as there appears to be a trend to have a little dance around the ruck rather than actually make any impact. Even TPN suffered from this against England.

        • Brumby Runner

          That’s true for TPN, and I also noticed he missed more than a few tackles – sometimes not even making contact but projecting himself like a missile at the ball carrier just to see him step and leave TPN grasping at air.

    • MST

      Thanks for that, those type of stats are really useful when comparing (I just use the ones I can find easily – I’m lazy!). Surprised at the lack of defensive ruck engagements by Enever, at the Brumbies and Vikings that’s somewhere I seem to recall him being heavily involved.

  • Patrick

    Great write up and great analysis. I agree totally on Cheika and Hooper and on Enever. Letting Foley kick the first one and then going for the line immediately after screams “NFI what the plan is”, not many teams in second division have that problem let alone in world’s best!

    As for McMahon, those stats back up what I saw: he is more than half of a three – man back row. He and Kepu are the only Wallaby forwards who hit the line as if they actually wanted to break it – and they usually do at least bend it.

  • mikado

    Great article MST, loads of good points there.

  • mark conley

    Enjoyed the article, thanks.
    Doesn’t it annoy you when the highlights, which run for 2-5 minutes are taken up with teams running on, anthems, the goalkicker taking 30 seconds to line a kick up, the successful scorer running back and being given a water bottle, …
    (I realise not the author’s doing)

  • Josh Ashbee

    This is genuinely good analysis – and glad to read it as i thought in the podcast you chaps had lost the plot and too busy moaning about the ref’s to see the reality – however, i do think you miss a couple of things out:

    1) strength in depth/bench/squad: england have now won 5-0, home & away, good conditions and bad, tight games or open, leading from the start or coming from 2/3 tries down. In every game they have finished strongly, an old AB tactic of the replacements increasing tempo and taking games away that have been tight for 60/70mins.

    This game was not a freak in terms of the late england tries – it happens & has happened every match.

    everyone wants strength in depth, but the reality is that aus either need to find some (not easy) to be tactical about balancing their team so they have real impact in the last 20 (ie have one of the big centers & wings on the bench to bring on and carry hard), or you have to expect to be 20 points clear on 60mins and hold on; which isnt realistic vs england or nz who tend to raise the tempo

    an aside form this is there was too much congratulating yourselves after a routine 13 in a row win over a crap welsh team who had no bench whatsoever.

    Its no good praising the wallabies for winning vs wales in the last 20 when wales have a bench full of rookies to then go and concede 20 to england in the last 10 who have a good bench, you know this is coming.

    (likewise england need to stop relying on this, but it is a deliberate tactic, not a fluke)

    2) Clinical nature

    this game was lost because england took all their chances, and aus bailed there’s. From the winger shinning the ball to hooper instead of diving on it and sliding over, moores getting in front and in the way of kuridrani, numerous dropped catches, even to beale not chasing the ball prooperly and kicking it out.

    this is compared to the english players, traditionally not as skilled as the aussies, who over the last 5 games have shown themselves to be more clinical.

    in pouring rain, england scored 4 tries involving kicks, hack ons, pick-ups and finishes.

    why are england being so much more clinical?

    • Mica

      Can’t argue with any of that.
      Ref wasn’t great, but neither were the Wallabies.
      Which of these two things can we control?
      We were in the fight through adversity for most of the game; this is where leaders need to lead.

  • JimmyC

    Let me address the refereeing. It wasn’t the four calls people were blowing up about. The way I see it they are all fair but it was the ones that were missed that hurt us. All of which happened 5m from the tryline. Simmons being stripped when he was on the ground (just prior to the first try), early drive on Hooper at the line-out, the warning to eng then no card 2mins later and no advantage which would have given us a 5m scrum and finally Farrell offside for the Korobetite no try which should have also been a card. All of these opportunities should have resulted in points to Australia.

    • HK Red

      Did youngs actually tap the ball begore the Beale knock-down?
      Was Daly in front of the kicker leading up to his try?

      • Who?

        Dunno if Youngs tapped the ball, but he certainly wasn’t on or behind the mark… I’m also not sure that either English player was supporting their own weight trying to pilfer that ball, or that either player released the ball when Kerevi formed the ruck (as they are now required to do under the new law changes, which I hate).

  • Duncher

    So true, I love watching the November Internationals, there’s just so much on and it’s brilliant because the northerners take it seriously. If I was younger, didn’t have a wife and family I’d also be watching all of it

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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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