The View From My Couch: Wallabies v. Springboks - Green and Gold Rugby
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The View From My Couch: Wallabies v. Springboks

The View From My Couch: Wallabies v. Springboks

A win’s a win so we must all be feeling a little more positive after the Wallabies match on the weekend It’s certainly the first time we’ve seen a smile from Robbie Deans for a while. Here’s what I saw from my couch.

There are some positives to talk about but let’s be realistic – the Wallabies’ first-half performance was at best ordinary and the Springboks’ performance was pretty poor, so there’s plenty to work on before the match against Argentina this weekend.

Following on from my Wallabies Fightback series last week I’m going to review the Wallabies’ performance in some of the key areas I discussed.

The Wallabies attempted only one first phase backline play in the match – a cut pass from Quade Cooper in between the two centres to Dom Shipperley joining into the line. Whilst it was a very basic play it did get the Wallabies over the gain line and started the possession that led to Scott Higginbotham’s try.

In preparation for the match against the Springboks the Wallaby players and coaches said publicly that they had to improve their kicking performance and they had two weeks to review their performances, agree on a game plan that eliminated the wasteful kicks and practise that game plan. Yet the first time the Wallabies had possession against the Springboks, just 17 seconds into the match, Berrick Barnes opted for a grubber kick from inside his 22, giving the Springboks the ball in really good field position.

In the first half Barnes, Kurtley Beale and Cooper were all guilty of poor decisions with kicks.

Barnes’s kicking in general play is the biggest concern for me. When he receives the ball his first reaction always seems to be to kick and only occasionally does he seem to consider the alternatives, when in fact he needs to look for other opportunities first — and if there are none, then consider a kick.

When Robbie Deans was interviewed at half-time he indicated that he wasn’t happy with the kicking performance and had instructed the players to stop the grubber kicks in the second half, but it amazes me that it even got that far.

The job of a coach is to make sure players understand their own role before a match and how that fits into the game plan. However, once players run out on the field funny things happen and plans can be forgotten under pressure so if players are still making the same mistakes during a match the coach normally uses the radio to send a message out with a runner reminding them of the instructions.

If the pre-game instructions were to not use short kicks, it only took 17 seconds in the match for those instructions to be forgotten. And if messages were sent out with runners they didn’t get through, because those kicks continued throughout the first half — and even in the last minute of the half Beale again opted for a grubber kick, which gave the Springboks possession around the half-way line.

In interviews after the match players indicated that the short kicks were not specifically part of the game plan, so the first-half kicking performance raises a number of questions:

  1. Was the game plan to make better decisions regarding kicking rather than being specific about the type of kicks to use and when?
  2. If that is the case, shouldn’t the game plan be more specific?
  3. If that is not the case, are players not listening to the coaches?

Regardless of the game plan or the messages, the players have to also take some responsibility for the poor decisions. At this level of rugby players shouldn’t need coaches to tell them what’s not working and how to fix the problem. They need to make the necessary adjustments on the field.

If these kicking issues continue again this week against Argentina, personnel changes have to be made.

The Wallabies won their first opposition lineout of The Rugby Championship in this match – that is, the first lineout where the ball was turned over due to pressure by the Wallabies. That’s a positive, but that single turnover means the Wallabies only won five per cent of the Springboks’ lineouts. The tactic of defending one short on full lineouts that was used against the All Blacks wasn’t used in this match and the lack of pressure on the Springboks was again a result of the Wallabies competing in just 47 per cent of opposition lineouts. That performance is worse than in the two matches against the All Blacks.

When the Springboks won their own lineouts (95%) they also provided clean ball to work with from all of those lineouts. Whilst the Wallabies won 86 per cent of their own lineouts those wins included two lineouts in the first half that did not provide clean ball, so they achieved only 71 per cent clean ball in the match. In the first half the Wallabies achieved only 56 per cent clean ball but that improved in the second half with clean ball from all lineouts.

Without the platform of clean ball from lineouts the Wallabies’ attack options are compromised and allowing such clean possession for the opposition gives them too good a platform from which a more attacking team than the Springboks will punish the Wallabies.

Amazingly the Wallabies fed only three scrums in the match, all in the second half, and the statistics show they won all of those.

In the first scrum the Wallabies moved forward but Ben Alexander’s technique was poor – he over-extended and didn’t chase his feet up under his body, which caused him to collapse his side of the scrum. Fortunately the ball was already at the back and the referee was on the other side of the scrum so there were no repercussions.

In the second and third scrums James Slipper had replaced Alexander at tight head with Benn Robinson back on at loosehead and the Springboks had the Wallabies under pressure. Whilst the Wallabies won the ball in both scrums Slipper’s technique was poor, with the biggest issue being the fact that he moved his outside foot backwards as he engaged in both scrums; his body height and shape were poor and in the second scrum he went down to his knees under the pressure.

In scrums the Springboks fed the Wallabies performed reasonably well. The statistics show that the Springboks lost two of their six completed scrums so won only 67 per cent. The two turnovers came when the Springboks were penalised but the Wallabies were fortunate on both occasions with Tatafu Polota-Nau offending in both scrums, the first when he stood up early and the second when he went to ground.

When we interviewed Andrew Blades last week he told us that his immediate focus was going to be on defensive scrums and regardless of the infringements missed by the referee it appears that work paid off. Hopefully we’ll see a focus on scrum performance on the Wallabies’ feed this week because the technique was poor in this area last week, and Argentina’s scrum looks more potent than the Springboks’.

There were some pleasing signs of a better attacking structure with more players realigning quickly and providing options for quick ball. There was much better usage of the Wallabies’ same-way pattern, although on a few too many occasions just when the Wallabies were starting to drag the Springbok defence towards one side of the field the Wallabies came back the other way. This pattern can be improved further by continuing for another phase or two to the touch line more often.

I was very impressed with the performance from Argentina last week against the All Blacks and if they produce another performance like that they’ll offer a bigger challenge for the Wallabies than the Springboks did. The loss of Will Genia is a major blow, but fortunately the Wallabies are making a bit of a habit of responding better when their backs are against the wall.

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  • DC

    I really like how Hooper is progressing as an International player. He and Gill really show how much they want to take advantage of their opportunities, and boy do they use them well. The way Gill scrambled and arm crawled the other week in NZ just to try and and get the ball is determination I haven’t seen from a Wallaby in years!

    I would love to see Gill transform into a player like Marcel Coetzee, Imagine Gill at 8 and Hooper/Pocock at 7, teams with no current fetcher like SA wouldn’t know what hit them.

    Yes, a big battering ram 8 would be nice but we just don’t have one for the future right now, Palu is too injury prone and Samo is too old to rely on for the future, although did impress on the weekend.

    Dennis and Higgas can fight for 6 but I think I know who will win that contest.

    Will be watching the likes of Hugh Jones (pretty sure that’s his name) next year at the Rebels, may make a wildcard for the B&I Lions tour next year.

    Blessing in disguise that Genia is gone, yes he is world class and I wish him the best in recovery, but Deans was never going to let another 9 have a chance to show what they could do.

    If White is injured, call Frisby straight up to 9. His combo’s with Quade at Reds training I’ve heard was something special, something Phipps will never get. He isn’t even International quality, Robbie must be worried that he may actually have to play his daughters boyfriend.

    • Luke

      You have Hugh Pyle and Luke Jones mixed up there, mate ;)

      • DC

        Haha that’s it, hopefully see the likes of both of them by the end of the B&I Lions tour in the jersey

    • Brumby Runner

      Don’t think Frisby’s ready for test football yet. A better option would be Ian Prior, backup half to Nic White this year but very close in skills. Also, has played inside QC at the Reds.

  • Willus

    I didn’t watch the match but your first 3 minutes really spoke volumes for me and highlighted something. The players within the Australian team are KNOWN for being devastating runners of the ball not kickers (probably bar Barnes), for example…

    – When people think of QC they normally mention his step, pass or vision, not his excellent grubber kicks
    – When people think of KB they mention his ability to accelerate, his top speed, his vision and his footwork, not his excellent grubber kicks
    – When people think of AAC they mention his fend, his leg drive, his chasing, his strong running, not his excellent ability to score off grubber kicks
    – When people think of Genia they mention his pass, his running, his positional play and strength and NOT his kicking.
    – I have no idea what to think of Barnes anymore, he is usually noted for his vision, organisation and willingness to take on the line but the last game again the Boks and AB’s completely show otherwise.

    The Wallabies have so many different strengths and I haven’t even begun to mention other players such as Ioane, JOC, Mitchell etc. The last match showed that we aren’t playing to our strengths, when it is clear that the players are blessed with multiple forms of skill to win a match.

    Backs need to get their gear together.

    • Patrick

      So you will be watching Hugh Pyle and Luke Jones then…. Both great prospects, frankly!

      For my money Luke Jones is a genuine 5/6 right now, but both could develop into strong scrummaging locks.

  • johnny-boy

    Thanks for the reality check Scott. I have to keep humouring myself after digesting your analysis that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully it’s the McKenzie Midnight Express.
    Cooper appears to be deliberately playing very quiet and just going along with the show, until there is change. He seems happy to let Barnes dig himself a big big hole. Big enough for two. Cooper did throw some lovely passes tho. I can’t think of anybody else who would have set up those tries so well. Funny how despite numerous injuries few are complaining about the replacements. I wonder why that is when apparently there is no depth in Australian rugby …?

  • johnny-boy

    Clarification – Cooper threw pass to Alexander I believe but you can seem him in Scott’s video appearing to finger to Genia for the forwards to take it thru before Higginbothams try. Nice work.

  • Bobas

    Another great article Scott, the ARU will give you some specialised title soon.

    Although tactically poor again, Deans early substitutions got us over the line.
    Higgers and a 2nd Fetcher off the bench works well.

    And curse all the bastards on here who were calling Alexander the new Baxter.

  • Skip

    this is fantastic analysis. the best out there.

    on a semi serious note, i would have loved to see a camera shot of dingo giving his radio a spray after those grubber kicks, like Meyer did when the beast was binned. It ought to have been clearly stated after 10 mins “fucking stop it, or i’ll hook you!”

  • Deez

    Another solid analysis Scott – interesting that the scrum issues you identified on Aussie ball were all at tighthead. Did you think Robbo was solid at loosehead or just not as bad as the tightheads?

    • Scott Allen

      Robinson was poor in the series against Wales at scrum time – he’s been getting better since the beginning of TRC. Still a way to go to get back to his best.

      The vast majority of problems with the Wallabies scrums in 2012 have been on the tighthead side whether TH prop was Kepu, Slipper or Alexander. All three have ongoing technical faults – no doubt they will improve the longer Blades has them under his wing. Alexander is already showing signs of good improvement.

      Anyone know how Palmer’s injury is progressing?

      • Brumby Jack

        He’s out of the moon boot and back training as far as I know, but not up to test level.

  • Skippy

    For the first time in my life I turned off a Wallaby test match. After 12 minutes and repeated grubber/chip kicks from Barnes etc I couldnt stand the thought of watching for another 68 minutes so I turned it off and went to bed.

    Well done Barnes. Well done Australia. The games already struggling for support and you dish up that shit so next week I’m going to watch the NRL semi final and get 80 minutes of action instead of watching you and your shit.

    • Blinky Bill of Bellingen

      Dead right Skippy – After that little effort there’s little wonder fans are falling away.
      Frankly I’ve long given up on waiting for Robbie to blow us away with a master stroke of coaching & a game plan that knocks our socks off. But now I’m hearing from him that those shitty bloody kicks that are driving us all crazy, are not part of the plan at all.
      Well if they’re not part of the plan then why are the culprits still on the field? It’s time for Robbie to show some bottle and hook these guys for fucking-up.

  • BigNose

    Another great analysis, but I find myself disagreeing with you on one point (for the first time, I have to say).

    At 3:30-3:45, you call Alexander for not chasing his feet far enough. I read that differently. If I was refereeing, I would have pinged SA for that collapse, not the WBs. If you look at Mtawarira’s shape from 3:45-3:50, he’s under pressure, his arse is well above his hips and just before the scrum goes down, he jumps backwards and “hinges”. Alexander meanwhile is driving slightly upwards and only fails to chase when the thing he’s pushing against effectively disappears.

    • Scott Allen

      Understand your point but Alexander has a responsibility not to go down even when he’s going forward and Beast is going backwards. He brings his feet up at 3:44 but then doesn’t ever really get them up under him again.

      Beast went backwards but stayed up – he only hinges after Alexander starts taking him down.

      Even if you’re correct and it’s not a penalty against Alexander he was lazy and had he kept chasing his feet the Wallabies would have pushed the Boks over the line – once Beast was going backwards he was there for the taking.

      Alexander makes this mistake with his feet repeatedly so must work on it.

      • Patrick

        Agree, that was the kind of good scrum drive that should go another metre or so, but it couldn’t since Alexander couldn’t get his legs up.

      • Bally Moore

        Put it down to lack of experience dealing with a situation where his opposite is going backwards in a scrum…!

        Thought he had a pretty good game around the field. Knackered when he came off…

  • Yet AnotherConspiracy

    I have been surprised that there hasn’t been an outcry from the South African rugby-viewing public about the lead-up to Higginbotham’s try.

    That try was the game-changer, and it came from a poor call by referee Owens, at least if Channel 9’s team called it correctly. Their narrative of the play went something like this:

    “South Africa on attack. Scrum. Oh! A penalty for collapsing. Against South Africa. That was lucky. The referee looked away during the shove, otherwise he’d have seen the Australian prop commit a penalty offence. When he looked back, the South African prop was committing an offence. Ping! It’s lucky Owens missed the Wallabies’ infraction. It’s a long penalty kick, and a great lineout position for the Wallabies, let’s see what they can do from here.”

    Not long after – “Try!”

    • Patrick

      There would be serious problems in the Republic if anyone there was desperate/stupid enough to subject themselves to an Australian commentary team.

  • spectator

    But it was a chip/grubber kick that produced the pressure resulting in Boks losing the forward – a factor which Bok Coach highlighted as being major in his teams loss. The game certainly turned after that incident.

    To be constantly best strike backline in the world, it will be an expansive one that the Wallabies have over everyone else i would guess, and that needs space and momentum.

    An top three international probably isn’t best place to practise chip/grubber kicks, but it would makes sense to me if this area is developed in for fast strike power if attacking back play is being muffled – which it has been.

    If a retention rate of 30% or higher can be developed with chip/grubber play, then let the opposition charge the backline at their own peril in order to cancel out it’s expansive flair or having that rested entirely on forward go forward for a whole match.

    Given that it was mis-executed for just about entire game, yet one was enough to create a pivotal moment, i think throwing baby out with bathwater is a possibility.

    All the same & either way, we all want to see the Wallabies win!

  • Joe

    Pocock should be a 6, there really is no reason why he can’t be. He’s got the physicality and the defensive qualities, the fetching is a bonus. Hooper at 7, he plays with a lot of energy and is a great link player and then Gill at 8 who goes all night. Why not have your best players out there if you can??

  • Joe Blow

    It was a better performance all around.
    AAC made a huge difference with his presence in the mid field and the forwards played as a pack for the most part. They will have to do so again next week against a better set of forwards in the Argentine 8.
    The Wallabies started to get a LITTLE continuity to their game for the first time this year. That is our strength and we need to get back to quick recycling so that QC can take advantage of any opportunities that pop up. Shipperley was solid and I look forward to him being given the ball in more space next week.
    Barnes’ first instinct has always been to get rid of the ball before assessing what is going on around him and most of the time it is by kicking the ball away. He really has to go. I would love to see Taps given a run. Barnes goal kicking has been top notch but if we had maintained possession more in the first half we would probably have got into our stride earlier in the match and scored a try or two more. As soon as JOC is back Barnes should be out of the 22.
    Cooper and Beale can back up JOC in goal kicking duties.
    This week I would seriously consider starting Harris or McCabe at 12.
    Lastly Phipps was much faster at clearing the ball from the base than Genia. Why has Genia all of a sudden started to hesitate and give the opposition time to re-align? While we lose a lot with Genia injured it will be interesting to see if Phipps and/or Sheehan make a difference in the speed of our phase play.

    • Deez

      I thought generally Genia cleared much faster than in previous games – seemed like the forwards were much more on the ball (excuse the pun) and ready for the quick passes. Having reds teammate QC receive the quick ball also helped.

      I hope Phipps can keep the speed up – he has a good low trajectory pass, but not sure how he’ll fare over 80 (or even 60) min.

      And WB selectors – PLEASE do not select Sheehan. Ben Lucas is much better, or even Brendan McKibbon if you still have a flavor for Waratahs. For the love of God – please no Sheehan

      • JimmyC

        Lucas is injured mate.

  • mad italian flyhalf

    Absolutely wrong!

    All 3 of the first grubbers were good decision especially in the first half.

    Winger drawed up from moving, full-back far deep in the field.

    There were nobody back to cover, the issue is the communication among the players to CHASE that kick, not the decision, nor (sometimes) the execution.

    By doing that any time there’s space the opposite winger should adapt and stay more deep, that creates space out wide to run the ball.

    The kicks that upset me were the ones where the Bokke were defending with 3 or even 4 players back!
    Those have been poor decision of course.

    But the Wallabies varied the kicking game quite well in this match, though sometimes bad execution or bad decision didn’t make it work.

    Again: first 3 kick were good choices.
    Again: only variying your whole game allow you to give more question mark to your opponent.

    Deal with it, kicks can win a match. The quality of execution were maybe below par, the decisions were instead above par.

    The fact is the Wallabies spent 66% of the 1st half in their own half!
    Difficult to run the ball from there, they kicked more especially for this reason and because of the scoring.

    • Blinky Bill of Bellingen

      I’m having trouble following your defence of those woeful grubbers as ‘good decisions’.

      Even if they were attempted way up the other end of the field in their 22 and with us on attack, I’d question ‘was it the best option’. But in OUR 22?

      Sorry but they seemed the wrong decision, attempted at the wrong time against the wrong team. And as we have seen, pretty poorly executed to boot.

      I’m not against kicks per se and recognise they have their place, especially against a rush defence and lumbering players that have trouble stopping & turning around. But where, when & how needs to be factored-in.

      Those grubbers oh so easily could have deflected towards our try line to see our ace 15 Kurtley, throwing himself into the turf, waving his arms to stop Bok tries and rising from the ground with that deep furrowed frown he is developing. Lady Luck smiled on us this time.

    • Force Fan

      Just one question, how often do the AB’s use the “chip/grubber” kick……effectively or at all??

  • mad italian flyhalf

    The aimless kicking is what the Springboks use to do.

    THAT kicking is really aimless.

    Wallabies kicking has been quite good.

    • Patrick

      You’ve gone mad….

  • Touko

    So Scott, thanks for all your great and thoughtful articles about the Wallabies and rugby. I really enjoy reading them, not just because they’re insightful but because they’re actually well written too.

    I’ve got to say I pretty much agree with all you’ve written here too. The Wallabies turned in a slightly improved performance against an inferior opposition. Though I guess it proves that two dodgy sides who are about the same level are often close on the scoreboard and that can be entertaining.

    But having watched the Pumas – ABs game, Richard Loe’s words are ringing in my ears and I’m more than a little worried that the only game the Wallabies are going to win during the Rugby Championship has already been played…

    • ooaahh

      I’d second that if as hinted at in the paper Dave Deniss is selected as a second rower this weekend. If Sitaleki is out you’d expect a pyle, neville or douglas to be picked surely.

  • Garry

    Thanks Scott, from all who follow the WB’s.

    There you go Dingo. Something to work on to produce a semblance of a game plan. Something that you haven’t been able to come up with during your prolonged tenure.

  • Garry

    Scott,

    how did you rate Timani’s MOM performance. Worthy?

    • Scott Allen

      I felt his performance was well down from his good game against the All Blacks.

      I have no idea how he was considered the MOM.

      • johnny-boy

        Phew, glad I wasn’t the only one.

  • Scott, agree with what you say re Barnes. The trouble is that it seems clear Barnes decides what he is going to do before the play begins then does it irrespective of what opportunities open up.

    He doens not appear to be a player who thinks quickly off the cuff and can adapt on the fly when in attack. We’ve seen this with the Waratahs as well. Pre determined actions ignoring opportunities such as holes that open up out wide.

    We need more. If Barnes doesnt have this ability now he will never have it. We need JOC back and to experiment more with a Tapuai, Harris, Inman outside to work out what combination works best.

    We also need to have players who can and do pass at least as far out as the outside centre. Basic!

    • Scott Allen

      I know Barnes has had the kicking bug at the Waratahs in the last couple of seasons but can’t remember 2010 or what he did at the Reds before that.

      Anyone got any recollections of his kicking pre-2011?

  • old weary

    In regards to the lineouts contested, there were a number very close to our tryline (I can’t remember how many but at least 2 I can think of). Obviously there the WB’s did very well in killing th erolling maul by not contesting.

    Removing the lineouts where the WB’s tactically did not contest (rather kill any forward maul), does this change your number much?

    • Scott Allen

      There were three Springbok lineouts inside the Wallabies 22 in the match.

      The Wallabies contested one of those which was the only lineout they won in the match. There are benefits to be had in contesting at least some of the opposition lineouts in your own 22.

      If we remove those three lineouts from the equation it’s 8 contested out of 16 = 50% so only a slight improvement. In fact that 50% number is even more concerning as there really isn’t any justification for not contesting outside your own 22.

      • johnny-boy

        I have never, ever, seen a post lineout maul repelled more successfully simply because the defending team didn’t jump. It’s just a lazy copout and a loser mindset. It gives the attacking team an easy setup whereas if contested, the attacking team has to scramble to set up a maul, or creates uncertainty for a possible set piece move, making it easier to defend anyway. Sometimes the defending team even wins the ball !

  • Gunner

    Having Sharpie as skipper will help, anyone putting in pointless kicks will hear about it, Will didn’t seem to get involved enough in this department

Rugby
@ScottA_

Scott is one of our regular contributors from the old days of G&GR. He has experience coaching Premier Grade with two clubs in Brisbane.

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