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

The Tuesday Top 5

So welcome to the first of the final three instalments of the Tuesdays Top 5 for 2018. These three instalments are looking at things that really have no real bearing on anything, like how the run up to the RWC is tracking (according to verse 7, part IV, the Gospel of Cheika). Unfortunately, episode one seems to have us headed down the track of the Star Wars prequels- they offered so much but one is forgettable and the others were a real comedown from the past. So, let’s get to it, short sharp and to the point.

How did we go?

It was interesting to hear pre-game some of the pundits from overseas speculating that there would be tries scored and Wales would need to score 20+ points to be in with a chance. It was a pretty flattering forecast when you look at the Wallabies recent form. Off the back of the Rugby Championship the Wallabies were averaging about 2.6 tries per game, well down on the 4.1 in the 2017 Championship. In reality even the 2018 stat was inflated by the blowout 6 try win against the Pumas in the last round. So even if the Wallabies got lucky and scored their 2.6 try average (remember, this does not include conversions) would it have been enough? Now keep in mind that the Wallabies were kept in the game by Halfpenny missing two easy penalties. In reality the Wallabies 2.6 tries would only have kept things very close if Halfpenny was kicking at his usual standard. So, in reality the Welsh knew that if they could restrict the Wallabies to less than their 2.6 tries, they were in with a red-hot chance. As with the slide in the rankings the Wallabies attack has also been on the decline and the Welsh would have known their defence would be what wins that game (in combination with the Wallabies conceding an average of 9.6 penalties a game) and it ultimately did.

Looking for positives and signs of improvements is hard to find much. Our line out is still struggling at around the 80% mark and scrum is reasonable at around the 90% mark. However, one thing we can say did improve was our defence and tackle success. It improved from the 81% average to 90% this game.

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The RWC Pool D arms race

The arms race between Wales and the Wallabies is officially on. With Wales finding the way to win and now both teams being on par defensively it’s all about who can create some attacking capability. Whoever can turn up armed and score tries at the RWC will prevail.

For Cheika his puzzle starts with one of the constants with the Wallabies; the ability to have more possession and territory than the opposition and not really do anything other than playing keepings off. Since 2017 our attack has been regressing and we just can’t seem to find a plan that works. Cheika has played numerous combinations and now is trying the stability theory. But it is undeniable that we are struggling to score. Does he take a chance and mix it up for Italy or stick with the known formula and keep hoping it will sort itself out? If he sticks with the known how do we develop depth. But in there lays a bigger issue. Sure, he has players to “cover” 10, but he doesn’t have a real back up 10.

Gatland also has a challenge. There were glimpses of some attacking prowess but it was infrequent. The hard toil approach is fine but will it be enough and yield the results he needs? One consideration is that he dumbed it down against the Wallabies to keep the defence a priority. Every time they got an opportunity, they didn’t look like they were thinking anything other than taking the penalty and he certainly lauded his sides defence post game. Having Biggar sitting on the sideline for most of the game is one advantage that he does have. That luxury alone would have bugged Cheika.

So, come the RWC the difference between Wales and the Wallabies will be who comes with a functioning attack.

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Let’s throw in a wildcard 

You know how in some pools for the WC you look and just know who the top 2 teams will be. For example, something would have to go very wrong for New Zealand and South Africa to not be the top two in their pool. Well looking at Pool D, it looks pretty clear that the Wallabies and Wales will be the teams progressing (finishing order is totally up for grabs though!)

But sometimes you get that one team that just like to throw a spanner in the works and mess it up for someone. Last time it was Japan, who beat South Africa leaving them on the same number of wins as Scotland. This year in Pool D that honour could fall to Fiji. Rumour has it Cheika is worried and doesn’t want to give them a hand anymore and risk our Super teams making their players better. Fiji – they can certainly be unpredictable and are being touted by some as the dark horses.

Drua win 2018 NRC (Credit Getty Images)

On the weekend Fiji played Scotland, and were thoroughly defeated. But, as they did in the NRC, they got off to a good start and were leading for most of the first half, only trailing by 3 points at the break. The wheels fell off in the second half and Scotland ran rampant, but what happens if in the next 12 months Fiji get their act together, the way the Drua have in the NRC, and become an 80-minute team, fixing their discipline problems while they are at it? Could they genuinely threaten Wales or the Wallabies?

It may be of interest to know that out of the players in the Fijian starting 15, 7 had 10 caps or less going into the match. The combined number of caps on the bench was 42. One player on the bench had 21 caps, the other 21 were spread amongst 7 players (compare that to the Wallabies bench were there were over 400 caps between them). So it looks like they are definitely building. Again I’ll ask, what will they be able to do when they have more experience, more time together and can play for 80 minutes? They take on Georgia next (who are also in our pool) and then France, which might tell us a bit more about what we’ll be facing next year.

Decisions, Decisions

Now let me check Google; 20 June 2016 – Wallabies Stand-in Captain Michael Hooper – wrong decisions when to take penalties against England.

If I were a psychologist, I would put that England series as the reason as where Hooper’s indecisiveness was solidified. In one game he took a penalty late on rather than go for the line and in another he went for the line rather than taking the points. Both ended up with loses. One year on almost to the day and we had the headline of Hooper turning down a penalty shot late on in their loss to Scotland. We all acknowledge that at times it’s a 50/50 call but it’s hard to explain why he seems to pick the wrong way so often.

Michael Hooper

Michael Hooper

Part way through the NRC season I wrote about the fact that there was hope for Aussie rugby as away from the Wallabies and Super Rugby setups, in the NRC, we were seeing players using rugby IQ after seeing penalty kicks being taken in the NRC. It takes time to understand and acquire the judgement to know when to kick, and when to go for the try. In many instances it’s not just about “that” moment, it’s about “that” moment in the context of the game.

Hooper just simply could be unlucky or a poor judge. But noting that the Wallabies at times seem to be captained by committee and this is a regular occurrence I can’t help but think we may be better off being captained by the coin toss when it comes to time to decide if we take the shot or not.

One thing that I do ponder. We seem to be finding ourselves in the backend of games in this same position quite often. Coincidence? Maybe. Or are we putting ourselves in that position? Aussie rugby has been trained in recent years to shun that position even though in 2003 we saw how it can win you a RWC. Maybe it’s simply a trained flawed mindset. Either way, do we have a decent enough boot to kick our way to victory?

Highlight of the weekend

My highlight of the weekend actually wasn’t on the field of any of the matches, but in the commentary box. Now I’m usually the first to complain about commentators. Trust me, I have come very close to destroying a very good TV thanks to the drivel that spills forth from Phil Kearnes. In fact there are very few ex-players that I think make good commentators.

But I sat through the entire Wallabies v Wales match and not once did I find myself wishing that the commentators would just shut the f%^& up. I was pleasantly surprised when James Horwill said on numerous times that he agreed with the referee when calls were made against the Wallabies. Kearnes had led me to believe that almost all calls against the Wallabies were wrong! But Horwill was very even in his commentary and stuck to commentating on the action, not giving opinions about the referee. There was no bias one way or the other and he actually sounded like he knew what he was talking about.

So refreshing to hear from an Aussie commentator, especially one who is an ex player. Hopefully we will get more of it outside of these few test matches.

 

Photo by Keith McInnes

Photo by Keith McInnes

This one goes out to Cheika

We’re flashing back now to the time of song requests on the radio. You know, way back in the day when you rang the radio station (no twitter or email!) and asked them to play a song dedicated to that ‘someone special’?

Well we received a special song request this week – the powers that be at RA have asked for this special dedication to the one and only Michael Cheika.

Enjoy.

  • Huw Tindall

    Well done again on the TT5. Well balanced thoughts on the Wales game too. I went off on a long post on today’s news thread arguing that it wasn’t the worst Wallabies performance of all time. There were some positives which we can take. The Welsh side can score tries. With world beaters like Jonathan Davies and Liam Williams in the backs they aren’t the one out crash ball team of Gatland’s early years.

    Yes Hoops should have taken the points and yes we really need to get our attack working. Don’t know what’s gone wrong as we’ve got essentially the same players as a couple of years ago but are scoring about 50% less tries. Rugby defenses haven’t got that much better in the time so I can only look at the coaching staff as key driver.

    It’s still been a dire year and I’d like for Chek and co to fall on their swords but short of that happening I guess it’s just going to be a long 12 months. Even pulling one out of the bag and beating the poms would only make this a slightly less worse year.

    • Geoffro

      I thought Anscombe did pretty well too and Gatland has got him playing a game that well suits his and Wales’s capabilities.Pocock usually chirps up when the matter of taking a shot or going for touch arises.I can’t recall whether he was in Hoops ear or not ?

  • Wallabrumby

    I think we need to all sit back and have a strong drink and realise that Cheika is not going anywhere. It is too late to make a change and with the state of RA some coaching stability (although would suggest it is lacklustre) will benefit rugby in this country more than a overhaul.

    I don’t think the issue is necessarily the coaching, rather the selections. Maybe this game plan would work if we had the players to execute it. Surely if 95% of comments on this site focus on the same players and the bemusement of their selections there is proof they are COMPLETELY wrong.
    e.g.
    Hoopers Captaincy – say no more
    Latu – Can be more a liability than match winner.
    Simmons – Is the Sean Marsh of Australian rugby, except he hasnt even made a bunch of runs (or equivalent) lately to keep the punters a bit quiet.
    Hannigan – needs time to develop / earn his place

    All above showed in one game why we are all so bemused with their selections. There was one play where Simmons ran upright, spilt the ball and next phase Hannigan gave away a penalty that lost us the match. If that doesn’t emphasise their weaknesses to Cheik then I am LOST

    We need an external selector / panel, give Chieka a 1/3rd say in it, but no more.

    We should be rewarding players on form, not potential or even past performance and familiarisation to the coach. While form at the moment for any Australian players is hard to come by, there is enough of it to at least name a team. If that player does not perform then replace him. Like every other national team does.

    IT MAY BE TOO LATE TO CHANGE THE COACH BUT NOT THE POWER OF THE COACH!

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      The trouble with that approach, especially now, is that it will just provide an excuse for Cheika. I actually don’t agree with it as I believe the power should be with the coach and he lives or dies on the results. The real issue here is the lack of accountability and the incredibly stupid contractual arrangements that makes it so expensive to sack him.
      Right up there with the stupid decisions that has given so many underperforming players such big contracts that a new coach has to manage.

      • Wallabrumby

        Do the all blacks have a selection panel? Or is it 100% with Hanson? From what i understand most of the unions around the world have either one or two selectors or advisers with imput.
        I have heard also that even withing the Wallabies coaching set up the assistents get very little say in the selections.

        • Kiwi rugby lover

          The selection is done by the coaching team. There has been some pretty good arguments at times but it is generally a consensus of that group.

    • st saens

      Can’t agree Walla.
      Good players come into the Wallaby squad and 3 week later they are shite. The only one who has avoided this is Genia (and I suspect he wears earplugs and ignores everything Cheika says)
      Compare NZ where…good players make the AB training squad and become great players.
      IMHO Cheika’s coaching style is to play mind games with players (in some misguided attempt to motivate). The results are as plain as the arse on my face…Cheika is a shit coach who destroys players’ confidence and careers.
      SACK CHEIKA NOW

    • Parker

      It’s never too late to improve.. Time to start thinking and behaving like winners and Chieka isn’t one.

    • Patrick

      Running upright, my god. I am so sick of all of them running like Michael f”*çen Johnson… When you get to things that even I could do on a rugby field, you start to really wonder.

  • sambo6

    One of the great joys of living in the UK (which somewhat offsets the relative lack of sunshine) is not having to listen to Australian commentators for basically any sport.

    I have said this many times before, but I blame channel 9’s rugby league commentary team from the mid-1990’s as starting this trend of over-familiar, loutish, dumbed-down style commentary – it was successful for a short window, as a novelty – but its now standard operating procedure, and has permeated other sports coverage in Australia.

    Sky Sports have used Lynagh for years in their Super Rugby coverage, and Horwill also did a few games this year too. The UK model of just allowing these experts to use their knowledge base, and speak in measured tones (rather than a barrage of nicknames and over-emotive shouting) means they both come across extremely well.

    • Ad Tastic

      As someone who lived in the UK for many a year, I agree 100% with those sentiments.

    • Richard Patterson

      Well said. As a very big NFL fan I love the insightful comments from Troy Aikman, Tony Romo, Cris Collinsworth and others which are next level. Their role as analyst is to work alongside the play-by-play commentator and provide thoughtful, intelligent, value-added analysis of the game. They all attempt to educate, and all make you feel part of the action.

      Somehow our model Down Under here is to put idiots on who spend large chunks of a game stating the obvious, serving up tired, dated cliques, criticising officials and being openly cynical to opposition players and teams. They are lazy in their analysis and underwhelm with their thoughts. I do not understand how they are allowed to continue (or is it simply that other more reputable candidates have zero interest in being associated with the circus?). Very easy to blame clowns like Kearns. Or is Kearns et al merely doing what FOX Sports or SKY Sports (NZ) management want him to do? I fear the latter. He would have been fired long ago if not.

      • Who?

        Romo’s awesome, but Aikman annoys me…

    • Parker

      That’s why Roy and HG were so popular..

  • theduke

    The UK seems to attract great Australian commentators. Michael Lynagh did a terrific job also. Many times English friends have gone out of their way to say how reasonable and even handed he was. Great to see Big Kev continuing this tradition and being a great ambassador for Australian rugby.

    • Ad Tastic

      I think it boils down to which direction the producers want to take it and local tastes. Shane Warne was always much better at Sky than he was with Channel 9.

      • sambo6

        “TURN IT UP!!!!…..he’s copped a deadset falcon, right on the noodle!! Real shame, as he ran through A THOUSAND defenders to bag that meat pie!!”

        I dont even know what the above means…but apparently (my producer tells me) if I shout it louldy enough…sports fans in Australia will like it…..

        • Ad Tastic

          LOL! Like the sweet sounds of fingernails on a blackboard

        • Adrian

          Maaate…

        • Mica

          Turn it up Adrian – You’re havin’ a dead set shocker ya drongo :)

  • Ad Tastic

    Finally someone getting on the same page as me regarding a kicker. I have no idea why Wallaby teams, past and present, have refused to carry a sharp shooting goal kicker over the years.
    In that sense, I feel sorry for Hooper. He’s never had anyone reliable enough to confidently go for sticks.

  • Kiwi rugby lover

    Morning MST, another well written piece. Thanks.
    Interesting comments on the coin flip. Makes you wonder if this is even discussed. I guess when you’ve got a coach who bases his coaching on “more mongrol & passion & going harder” these sort of subtle skills aren’t covered a lot.
    TBH with what I’m reading on here and other blogs as well as talking with some mates there’s a real resignation that I’ve never seen before. Usually Australian fans are positive to the point of unreasonable but this has really disappeared in the rugby community. Most seem to be waiting for the inevitable crash at next years RWC and hoping it’ll be the catalyst for much needed changes.

    • Adrian

      Unfortunately true KRL

    • Patrick

      Yep. It sucks. But is there anyone in the world who thinks Hooper is the best captain available to Australia? Personally think the whole team would be 10% for having Pocock be captain, or even Genia. (and then how much better if Pocock was actually playing at 7…)

  • Brumby Runner

    Googie Harrison also deserves a mention when it comes to knowledgeable impartial commentary. Maybe it’s an hitherto unrecognised talent shared by locks. I seem to recall Sharpie being not too bad too.

    Wallabrumby has also hit the nail on the head with his observations about Simmons and Hanigan. That little phase of play really highlights the lack of contribution these two make to the team.

    • skip

      Careful. I’ve discovered that Rob Simmons’ mum comments here and takes a dim view of suggestions he doesn’t shift his fair weight.

  • Brisneyland Local

    MST. Couldnt agree more when it comes to the commentary of James Horwill. I thought he was excellent. Which means he will never get a run on Fuxsports!

    • A Dingo Stole My Rugby

      Big Kev nailed what is central to the “art” of commentary. He added context to the pictures on screen, rather than than just describing what was there for all to see. And he only spoke when he had something interesting to say.

      James provided genuine insight and explanations for why things were happening, clearly based on his playing experience and expertise. He also offered solutions for problems the Wallabies were encountering, and actually predicting a few moves at lineouts before they happened.

      Oh, and Kev did all of this using simple language, un-embellished with smart-arsery or ego. Such a contrast to the garbage so often found “elsewhere”.

      • Brisneyland Local

        Very Eloquently put!

  • Mica

    I enjoyed Jimmy Horwill’s commentary too.
    I am not surprised he came across so well.
    In the couple of brief chats I have had with him as a fan (during good and bad times), he has always come across as humble, genuine, professional and amiable.
    Definitely a top bloke in my opinion and a man for the people.
    Wish we had more like him.

  • skip

    To reflect the current form of the wallabies and their seemingly endless plummet to new depths, it might be worth renaming this column ‘the bottom 5’.

    I’ll show myself out.

  • Who?

    No argument that he has a pretty good idea what’s going on, I just find his commentary boring to arrogant. Whereas Romo just sounds like an excited schoolkid out there – every bit as much insight (in fact, I reckon he gives more current insight than Aikman does), but an infectious enthusiasm. And they’re both Cowboys…
    I just enjoy seeing Brady lose. :-P

    • Richard Patterson

      Haha – we think alike my friend!! If Brady didn’t have Belichick and played in a properly competitive Division unlike the consistently woeful AFC East he might have 1 ring.
      I hear you on Romo’s infectious enthusiasm. I love his ability to call the play – before it unfolds. Awesome!!
      Who’s your team?

      • Who?

        I don’t really have a team, but I have preferred styles of offences. And I’m trying not to have a team, because I don’t want to end up learning as much as Rugby – I want to be able to stay a somewhat casual observer…
        But I prefer to watch QB’s who aren’t Brady or Manning – guys who can throw, but who are also happy to extend the play and run. So Mahomes has been fun to watch this year. Rogers is a great QB, but has a poor coach. I like the Seahawks, though they’re not a great team.

        • Richard Patterson

          Nice! You’re a smart man Who. You could be a long time NY Giants fan like me and suffer a roller coaster of emotions over too many years.
          Rodgers is magnificent – as an athlete, but more as a cool, intelligent football player.
          2 things that really interest me (which are coming to rugby at a much slower pace).
          1. The quality of the young QB’s / skill position players now entering the NFL. All been groomed since 12 years old to do this. All been in academies & QB camps. All been physically, mentally psychologically prepared. There will always be busts — but sense they get fewer as the seasons progress (or is it good young guys getting into really bad organisations?).

          2. The influence of analytics. How many players who are great one season are less effective the next? Because coaching staffs in the off-season have a library of film to break down and dissect. The great players advance and evolve. The average one’s plateau and flame out.

        • Who?

          Poor Eli… Must suck to be the third best player in your family, even though you’ve got a Bowl or two!
          The coaching and analysis in the NFL is incredible. Nick Bishop loves going through that stuff too. Rugby’s arguably harder to run that way, given every NFL play is set piece, but I’m confident it’s going to get more accurately analysed. The question, then, will be the quality of playmakers, people who can instinctively understand when, where and how to break the patterns. I’ve always said, structure and pattern to create opportunities, but freedom to play what’s in front of you when you create the opportunity. You’ve got to be able to audible the play.
          It’s also interesting to think about ‘good guys into bad organizations.’ Every game has to have a loser. So the difference between a good team and a bad team can be so tight… The Pats/Chiefs game was great example – it was only the clock that split the teams. Yet the Chiefs had to eat the loss. There’s always going to be a ‘worst’ team, and a weakest conference (that’d be the NFC West, wouldn’t it, with the Seahawks coming second with a sub-500 ranking?), but the differences are only ever going to shrink.

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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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