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

The Tuesday Top 5

After a week off last week, just like our National Team, we’re back. But unlike them, this week we got the job done. In the Top 5 this week we give you our good, bad and ugly, jump on the Poey is rubbish bandwagon, fall off that one and get on the Poey is a legend bandwagon, punish ourselves by examining some of the Wallabies game in detail and throw a quick look at the NRC.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly Oh God, Please No

Good – Watching the Drua carve it up in the rain. I love the way the conditions didn’t stop them from playing that amazing attacking rugby we all love to see.

Bad – The continuing downward spiral of the Wallabies. No clear plan in place for WC 2019 beyond what is already being trotted out.

Oh God, Please No – I can bet I wasn’t the only one who started furiously praying to the Rugby Gods (and any other deity who I thought might possibly be listening) when the footage of Poey lying on the ground clutching his knee appeared on the screen. For those who didn’t (kind of sensibly I think) get up at 1am to watch the game, at around the 18 minute mark we saw this.

Poey Knee Concern

Poey holding his knee, teammate showing concern – it didn’t look good and Mr MST and I both swore at the screen and hoped it was nothing too bad. The headgear came off, commentators speculated he was out for the game, Rugby Reg tweeted that Simmons might have to come on and all hope was just about lost for both Poey’s knee and the match.

But thankfully it didn’t appear to be anything major, he got up, walked about, put his headgear back on and re-joined the action. If you hadn’t watched the game you might not have even known that for a moment there the hearts of nearly every rugby fan in Australia were planted well and truly in their mouths!

Speaking of the great man ….

Remember last year, when Pocock got a paid holiday from the ARU/RA? A “sabbatical” away from Rugby to study, holiday, play in Japan etc. It has been brought up over and over in comments sections of blogs, social media and in articles like one titled “ARU madness! Pocock earns three times more than McMahon for not playing”.

Sounds pretty bad doesn’t it, a cash strapped RA paying Poey the big bucks to take time away from the sport. Plenty of people were quick to put the boot in over it too.

From Christy Doran – “Let’s not forget that at the same time Pocock was enjoying his highly paid gap year, Australian rugby was embroiled in crisis and messily culling the Western Force.”

And this gem from Spiro Zavos (from the above mentioned article) – “…the game’s finances were used, or abused (in my opinion), with the Pocock handout” (But to be fair, he also said numerous times in that piece that Pocock was effectively a has been whose best playing days were in 2011 and his payments were the reason that players like McMahon left Australia which in my opinion raises questions of the credibility of the author).

For a while there, everyone seemed to turn against Pocock. He was overrated, past his best, a player who was bench quality at best for the Wallabies. Seriously, some of the comments made were pretty nasty. Why was there so much anger directed at him?

Well when it was announced that Pocock would be having a year away from rugby, nowhere did it give the terms of that agreement. Contract details were, in Bill Pulvers own words, confidential. So guess what happened? People started guessing. Pocock was signed on a seven-figure salary and would be taking one third of his new contract off. The media wrote about it and we saw articles such as this one.

https://www.smh.com.au/sport/rugby-union/why-the-aru-will-pay-wallabies-star-david-pocock-handsomely-for-his-year-off-20161202-gt2jkn.html

So what else were people to think? Pocock, having spent most of his time at the Brumbies injured, was being paid handsomely for taking a year off. That’s what we were being told by the press.

pocock-injury

But what didn’t we know?

Then a couple of weeks ago a new article popped up. I would have missed it completely if it hadn’t been posted by Geerob on twitter. And it was a real eye opener.

But I’ll get to that in a minute. Firstly, there was something else I discovered when looking up news articles about this topic. It may come as old news to some of you, but I wasn’t aware of this. Poey was seriously considering giving the game away “I guess mentally it was time to retire or take some time off and get back into it.” Thank goodness he spoke to someone about it and got some advice.

In 2016 when Pocock signed his new three-year deal, including his year off, it was a former player who gave him the advice. “Pocock revealed his considerations as he explained how a chat with former Wallaby Daniel Vickerman, and a desire to detach himself from the daily training regimen of a professional rugby player, helped him decide to take a sabbatical year in 2017.” Dan Vickerman was instrumental in effectively keeping Pocock in rugby. I didn’t know that.

522953-dan-vickerman

We were all curious about how the time away would affect his game. Well I think this quote from Simon Lewis in the Irish Examiner sums it up pretty well. “Pocock returning to the gold jersey for the first time in 18 months and looking as if he had never missed a minute’s training as he tore into the breakdown and caused havoc on Irish ball, winning penalties, turnovers, and generally making a nuisance of himself…” So much for him being past his best and needing to be relegated to the bench (at best).

Can you just imagine how the last weekends match would have gone down if Poey hadn’t been playing? I shudder to think.

Now the article I mentioned above – to some this isn’t new information, some commenters in blogs had already said this was how the finances were being managed. But this confirms it for those of us who didn’t know or who relied on the media for information.

It says that Rugby Australia offered Pocock a contract for 2018-2019. No mention of 2017 (year off). Then Pocock said “After I agreed to sign for 2018 and 2019 they asked if they could average some payments across the three years instead of just two.”

So in other words – no he was not getting a year’s pay for his year off.

From Emma Pocock - “I had gone from planning how we would get through a year off with no income, and thankfully we found a way around that with a mutual agreement we didn’t think too much of, and then all of a sudden it’s in the papers that Dave was getting paid for taking time off. Here he was knocking back lucrative European offers so he could have time away from the game and do some work in Zimbabwe, and then he was being taken for a money grabber, taking cash to go and have a holiday and then go play in Japan.”

And unfortunately the negative press had other consequences.

“I think the worst part was that it definitely made it harder in Zimbabwe. A couple of the stories that ran in Australia were printed verbatim over there, and then people just thought I was printing money. There was a development project I had been working on for a couple of years that I’d put money into, but needed a lot more to scale it, and we had some investment lined up. But all of a sudden they were thinking we could just put in a few million US dollars, so that didn’t go ahead.”

You can read the full story here.

All I can say is thank goodness he did have that time off. He is still a world class player, and the Wallabies need him now more than ever!

While we’re on the topic of the Wallabies …

Am I the only one a little befuddled by some of the positivity coming out of the loss to South Africa? I’ve seen people saying what an improved performance it was, our tackle rate was better than it had been, we gave away fewer penalties etc. The best one – the one that always makes me laugh and shake my head at the same time – “we scored 2 tries and they scored 2 tries.”

This may not be a favourable opinion, but what we saw against the Springboks was still rubbish. I don’t know that I can call it an improvement.

  1. Yes, we missed fewer tackles. Because we were not forced to make as many tackles, for the majority of the second half we held the ball. You can’t miss tackles if you’re not making them.
  2. We gave away fewer penalties – again, we mostly were in possession of the ball. It’s easier to give away penalties when defending.
  3. We scored the same number of tries as they did. BUT WE STILL BLOODY LOST!!! I don’t give a crap if we score 10 tries or 0 tries, I want us to win. Scoring the same number of tries as an opposition that still beats us does NOT demonstrate that we deserved to win or that we were the better side. “They got lucky with an intercept”, well the coach who said this is the same coach who glossed over the lineout screw up that gifted the Wallabies the win in Brisbane, preferring to talk about grit and determination.

But the bit that really makes me wonder about where they are getting the whole “we played better” “it was a much-improved performance” thing is this. The stats for possession and territory are pretty damning.

Possession – 1st half 52%  2nd half 68%
Territory – 1st half 46%  2nd half 79%

 

So effectively for the vast majority of the second half we were camped in our half with the ball. Yet we failed to score a single, solitary point. None. Nada. Big fat ZERO.

Looking closer, at around the 54-minute mark Faf De Klerk gave away a (pretty dumb IMO) penalty. Toomua put a kick to touch around 5 m from the try line. The ball is thrown into the line out at 54:54. In the next 5 minutes we don’t leave the 22. South Africa are penalised twice and we chose scrums each time. At around the 60-minute mark we knock on and the Springboks feed the scrum, still around 5 m from their own try line. After a clearing kick we regain possession and run the ball back into the 22. The ball was outside the 22 for approximately 7 seconds.

We attack for another minute before there is a SA knock on. Scrum again. South Africa penalty just after the scrum, we go for another scrum. Still in the 22. We win the scrum, attack again, the ball leaves the 22 for about 15 seconds before another penalty and yellow card to the Springboks. We kick for the line and have another line out 5m from the try line.

At 65 minutes, with a one-man advantage and a 5m attacking line out, we lose the ball.

The rest of the game goes back and forth, Pollard kicks the ball dead after a penalty, but we fail to capitalise, we knock on 4 times, there are turnovers both ways and we barely threaten the defence again.

But for that period of time between 54 and 64 minutes, we had nearly 100% possession inside the 22 and failed to score a point. We turned down around 5 very kickable penalties. Yes, as Hooper said they succeeded in getting a yellow card against a SA player, but it didn’t give them any kind of advantage.

The South Africans were not afraid of committing penalties because they knew Hooper wouldn’t take the points, instead going for a scrum or a very weak line out that was picked off at will. Yes, they had a man sent to the bin, but their defence was strong enough (or was our attack weak enough?) for them to cover it.

How is this positive? How is this an improvement? It is not smart rugby, it is dumb, predictable and demonstrates many of the things that are wrong with the Wallabies. We did not have the skills to be going for touch after penalties. Our line out was one of the worst aspects of our game but it still wasn’t enough to make Hooper choose to take the points.

“I think we dominated the physical contest enough but we were still able to manufacture a lot of opportunities.” Sorry coach, but just manufacturing opportunities is pointless if you can’t capitalise on them. Or if you blow as many as you create.

Michael Cheika and David Pocock post match press conference

Michael Cheika and David Pocock post match press conference

NRC Stuff

Firstly I’d just like to thank whoever read my top 5 piece from 2 weeks ago about how the huge margins and one sided matches were getting a little dull. The following week there were some absolute crackers, come from behind wins, wins after the siren – it was great! This week we were back to some blowouts, but that’s ok because the game I went to was a tight match that wasn’t really decided until near the end. The Vikings have given us quite a few close results this year.

Yes, we were some of the few who went to the game on Saturday night. It was cold, the crowd was small, but really got into the game. I was talking to a couple of guys who hadn’t been before, and really enjoyed it. It’s a shame they might not get another chance to go to a game this year. The last 2 Vikings games are away so unless they get a home final we won’t get to see them play again for a year.

There are other teams in the same boat, only 3 home games. I guess that’s what happens when each year we lose a team, we get fewer games. It’s hard for fans to build a relationship with the team, so to speak, when we see them so rarely. For those of us who followed over from the Brumbies it’s easier, but trying to entice new fans is hard. They go to a game to see what it’s all about, have to wait a fortnight to go again then before you know it there are no more games. And those people aren’t going to go out of their way to stream games because to be honest they don’t care that much yet. There is no “tribalism” like we see in other codes and local competitions because we just don’t have the chance to build it.

Meanwhile, the Horan-Little Shield will be up for grabs again this weekend. The Force, current holders, have defended it twice successfully at home, so now any of their games becomes a challenge. This week it will be against the Rising – could make for an even more emotionally charged match.

Horan-Little Shield handover

Horan-Little Shield handover

The Shield. To be honest, until I saw a tweet saying the Force had retained it this weekend I kind of forgot it existed. I had to google it to remember how it worked and when the next challenge would be. For those unfamiliar, the Horan-Little Shield is kind of based on the Ranfurly Shield in the Mitre 10 Cup. The team that holds the shield has to put it up for challenge and home games, if the other team wins they take the shield. Once the it has been defended successfully twice at home it has to be put up for challenge at the next game, home or away. The team that holds the shield at the end of the season has their name engraved on it, regardless of how long other teams held it during the season. For example, the Force have held it all season, but if it goes to Melbourne this weekend and they then defend it the following week, then the Rising will be the 2018 Shield winners (unless they make the finals and chose to put the shield up).

Like I said, could make for an interesting match this weekend.

  • theduke

    Can’t understand the Pocock negativity. These guys are bred to be professional footballers from a very young age. A guy takes a break for a year, in between world cups, then comes back fresher and no doubt added longevity to his career. I’d rather blokes take a year off and come back with a more worldly view than burn out. And wonderful that Pocock talked to someone about his feelings. The sad irony of it being Dan Vickerman, gives me pause, but also nice to know they had that connection. Thank you again Dan.

    • Patrick

      If I ever did read Australian rugby press since Ev Whitton retired I would now have a good list of absolute stupid clowns to not read from this. Imagine thinking that it wasn’t worth paying Pocock not to play (even if we weren’t). We have at the absolute best 3 world XV contenders and only one likely starter which is Pocock, and he wants to keep fresh… go for it son!

      Ps: the next wallaby coach needs to sign in his own blood to two things:
      1. Pocock captain
      2. We take the f&*^en points.

  • Kiap

    Interesting info about the contribution big Dan V made to help Pocock. We lost a good man last year.

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      Yeah that’s a pretty awesome story. So sad to lose him so early

  • RugbyReg

    didn’t know about the Horan Little Shield? You should read the NRC Round previews..every week.

  • Mart

    “South Africa are penalised twice and we chose scrums each time” I’m glad i slept through that one…If i saw that live i would’ve been tearing my hair out. Take the points, take the points, every day of the week in an international test match

    • Greg

      As I recall it was dead in front….

  • Bernie Chan

    Good wrap MST….That moment when Pocock went down was a ‘holding our breath’ moment for all Oz rugby supporters. In regards to the Pocock contract, it is hardly surprising that the SMH and Fuxsports crew come up with rubbish….they appear to have an agenda. So if the deal to split a 2 year contract into 3 yearly payments is so bad, wonder what view they have on some other contract offers made by RA in recent times. So Spiro thinks Pocock is a ‘has been’…? Seems to me that McMahon left Oz because he felt that under Cheika he was at best 3rd choice (Gill in a similar situation…?). So far as Vickerman’s influence in Pocock’s decision to take a break…he gave such good advice but no one was aware he was facing his own demons…bloody sad, and we need to look after players and former players better. Can’t just cast them adrift even if they have made mistakes take note QRU/Reds…!
    Poor captaincy to turn down easy points…but 5 times is plain daft…

    • formerflanker

      “Poor captaincy….” I’m sure Hooper’s decisions are not unilateral. The coaching staff must run scenarios with the on-field leaders all the time and the “take the points vs go for a try” analysis would be a first point of discussion.
      It’s a squad strategy, implemented by Hooper. If he was breaching Cheika’s instructions on such a regular basis he’d lose his job.

      Given the analysis by MST, it would have been a lot better for Cheika to send a message to Hoops to take the 3, then get back into their 22 and take the next 3, and so on.

      • Bernie Chan

        Hard to disagree…there appears to be a certain process the team adheres to, and the fault lies with the coach’s strategy.
        Run the ball out of the 22…tick.
        Ignore ‘gift’ 3 points…tick.
        Backline shuffle…tick.
        Maybe that’s why certain players are out of Cavour…because they don’t sing from the same songsheet…?

        • Huw Tindall

          100%. Our tactics are a bit sh!t and then you layer on the top we don’t have the cattle it’s a real sh!t show. Cheika doesn’t have the players to play his front foot, ball in hand, wide passing game that he seems to favour. The Wallabies can get good front foot ball enough so it’s game over. Tactics need to adapt to the people available.

  • Kiwi rugby lover

    Thanks MST love your work mate and agree 100% I’d never have guessed losing to a team you beat last time you played was an improvement. The entire setup seems lost.

    The saddest thing for me right now is seeing the level of despondency on this sight. More and more fans are getting more and more negative about the players, the coaches and RA. Shit even Adrian is struggling to be positive. I’m not sure that a win in Argentina will actually change it that much either as it seems the only people not seeing the problems are the players, the coaches and RA.

    NRC has the potential to be a savior but between RA and NSW even that is being stuffed up. Unfortunately mate I don’t see a change until after a final crash forces one. I just don’t see where that will occur.

    • Geoffro

      It can get worse and I think it probably will before it gets better.Unfortunately if Cheika doesn’t get the bullet can see him playing the same guys on the EOYT instead of a development squad.If he’s faced with dropping a few more games by playing some new blood when his neck is on the line don’t think he’ll do it.On the other hand a new coach is not going to bite the bullet either when their survivability is so result oriented.It really is a catch 22.

    • The trouble is fans of any side always want their team to win. Realistically, unless you’re an AB supporter that doesn’t happen in any sport. There are a few, I believe where it happens for a year or two as a particular team dominates, but year on year like the ABs, not in any sport. I live in the UK and although I don’t follow it, during the Alex Fergusson years Man Utd still lost games regularly, just not very many.

      So losing matches, doesn’t make the fans happy, but they accept it if their team seems to learn and improve. What’s disheartening with the Wallabies is that their Super Rugby franchises perform poorly, and have for years. Ok, the Tahs reached a semi-final this year but probably even the most ardent Tahs’ fan will admit they didn’t really expect that. Anyone sane would suggest the Tahs should have played away for their quarter final too.

      Then you add a layer on top of that where supposedly the pinnacle of Australian rugby plays. For all my criticisms of Cheika every national coach gets criticised for some of their picks by their fans and their media. The big difference? In general, the fans and media broadly agree and would tinker a little bit – maybe one to three tweaks. For Cheika it’s often about half the side.

      Likewise, when a side is trying to bed something new in – as Gatland did with Wales – the fans can be a bit more patient as they can see the players are not quite used to it. But, with Wales, the fans expected and saw an improvement. Perhaps not as fast as they hoped but they did see it. With the Wallabies we’re being told there’s an improvement while our eyes tell us it’s getting worse. Cheika’s been there for four years now, he should be beyond trying to bed in a new system – Gatland did it three years ago and it paid off really in this years 6N – but the Wobs STILL looks like they don’t have a clue. [There should be some expletives in there but I’m at work.]

      I sometimes joke that the best way to sort out politics is to hold elections and assassinate everyone that stands until there are no idiots left that try to stand. Then institute a more sane form of government.

      While I don’t actually advocate killing that many people, I think a revolution on that scale might be kind of necessary to fix the woes we’ve got because the current crop of pigs are, to mix metaphors, so content with their snouts in trough they can’t see they’re trampling the goose that lays the golden eggs.

  • Simon

    “Dumb rugby” is going to be the epitaph on the headstone of Cheika’s career.

    A complete inability to respond to changing game conditions, both in-game and between games. One of many examples that’s pissing me off at the moment is that fact we’ve got the best player in the world in the air by far, yet Beauden Barrett kicks for the corner far more than the Wallabies, and regularly scores tries from it. We try it maybe once every couple of games, and don’t appear to practise it between games, so we mostly send it clear over the sideline. You’d think we’d have entire training sessions where our 10 and 12 do nothing except practise kicking to Folau in the corner against the opposing squad, as it only needs to be vaguely in his direction to be odds-on of scoring a try. But the only game plan we have is to hammer away for 20 phases making zero metres until we inevitably spill the ball or get turned over.

    • Jack

      absolutely agree

      • Brumby Runner

        Sorry Jack, but as HK Red said above, there were at least three high kicks put in for Folau to chase and he didn’t take one of them. The Saffas had worked out a strategy where usually the opposite winger ran back towards the spot the ball was travelling and by doing so effectively put himself between Folau and the catcher. It proved to be a very easy tactic to counter. It also made Izzy look disinterested when he didn’t get to catch the ball, and maybe he was just that because he had virtually no other involvement in the whole game. Time to be rested/replaced.

    • HK Red

      That’s not quite true, I’m sure I remember at least three examples where we’ve used that as an exit strategy – putting up bombs from our own 22. None ended well and one of them Folau did his ankle. Great strategy !

      ** sarcasm font off

      • Simon

        Yeah – for a team that’s so reluctant to use the up-and-under as an attacking weapon, they are bizarrely devoted to it when it comes to clearing the 22, even though all it generally achieves is handing the ball back to the opposition on the 10m line.
        Even if it does come off and we regain possession, we still end up having to attack from within our own half and without time to organise structure.

  • idiot savant

    Great piece MST. Thanks for the research.

    I am flummoxed by how few backline moves we have seen this year. I recall quite a few on show last year but this year has been quite conservative and as others have observed, its a mystery why kicking for Folau doesn’t happen many more times a game. Its like they have been gripped by fear of failure which can lead to playing it safe.

    The Cheika years have been marked by reliance on the talents of Foley, Beale, Folau to produce something magical, rather than strategies or game plans (other than ‘ball in hand’). When these guys dont produce the magic, there isn’t any smart rugby to fall back on.

  • Andy

    Good listening to Glen Ella on the Fox Rugby Podcast. Very honest assessment. Basically, they are doing nothing right, selecting players in the wrong position and it all stems from having poor rugby “nouse”. Basically no thinkers on the field who can change the pattern of a game when things aren’t working. Just the same crap over and over again.

    • Huw Tindall

      What were his suggestions to change? (don’t have time to listen to another pod this week!!)

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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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