Analysis: Wallabies Backrow - Green and Gold Rugby

Analysis: Wallabies Backrow

Analysis: Wallabies Backrow
Lots of work from Hooper

Lots of work from Hooper

The Wallaby forwards played well in the second test against the Lions and built the platform for a gutsy win. I thought the tight five were particularly good.

In the first half the Lions won the battle at the breakdown which I thought was largely because the Lions backrowers, particularly Sam Warburton, were working harder and more effectively than their Wallaby counterparts.

As the match went on the weight of possession for the Wallabies started to tell on the Lions forwards and they tired noticeably. The Wallabies had 62% of possession and carried the ball 121 times to the Lions 55. As a result the Lions were forced to attempt 184 tackles compared to only 85 for the Wallabies. That led to the Wallabies taking the ball into 106 rucks compared to 49 for the Lions.

As the Lions forwards tired they became less effective at the breakdown and the Wallabies started to get on top. The Wallabies were helped by having Liam Gill on the bench so they played the last 20 minutes of the match with two very mobile backrowers on the park, one who was reasonably fresh. The Lions were disadvantaged because they effectively had very little in the way of lock cover on the bench forcing both locks to play the full match and they were two of the Lions forwards that were most ineffective in the last 20 minutes.

Overall the Wallabies retained the ball from 93% of their rucks whilst the Lions retained 92% of theirs.

I’ve been through the match and analysed the performance of the Wallaby backrowers in terms of the number of involvements and the effectiveness of those involvements. I measured involvements as carries, tackles attempted and hitting rucks (not standing as a guard or leaning on ruck once the ball was won or lost).

For each involvement I rated the effectiveness as:

  • Positive – where the involvement had a positive impact such as the ball carrier making ground, the player driving the ball carrier backwards or sideways in a tackle, the player shifted bodies or secured the ball at a ruck;
  • Neutral – where there was no positive impact but the player wasn’t going backwards;
  • Negative impact – where the player went backwards when carrying the ball, they missed a tackle, they made a tackle but the ball carrier went forwards from the initial point of contact, they went to ground in a ruck failing to clean out a player who stayed on their feet or they were driven out of a ruck.

As I went through this analysis it became more and more obvious how much work Stephen Moore had done so I included him as another backrower in my analysis.

The results were as follows with the Effective % being a combination of Positive and Neutral involvements:

Ben Mowen 46 57% 91%
Michael Hooper 53 40% 79%
Wycliff Palu 32 47% 72%
Liam Gill 22 64% 95%
Stephen Moore 55 60% 89%

Moore’s performance was outstanding, topping the number of involvements for the forwards with a higher percentage of positive involvements than any of the starting backrowers (60%). This measure doesn’t include any recognition of his excellent work at the set piece.

Ben Mowen was also very good, both in the lineout and around the park. He was very physical and as a result I rated a high percentage of his involvements as having a positive impact (57%).

Michael Hooper did a lot of work – he kept running and running but he had less of a positive impact, particularly at the breakdown where his lack of size doesn’t help him shift bodies or stay over the ball. Unless he can get into a ruck much earlier than the opposition he is not particularly effective at the ruck. I rated his positive involvements at only 40% which was the lowest of all the backrowers.

Wycliff Palu improved his performance from the first test. His workrate was quite good in the 60 minutes he was on the field with 32 involvements in that time. However, his positive involvements were only 47% which is not enough from an impact player.

Gill had 22 involvements in his 20 minutes and had a slightly higher impact percentage than Moore (64%). His return was what you’d want from a replacement – to make a positive impact and carry some of the workload for the players continuing on to play the full match.

Despite a good performance from the Wallaby forwards I won’t be surprised if Gill makes way for George Smith this week. Robbie Deans may be quite keen to have Smith on the field to end the match with his experience and leadership. That would make Gill very unlucky.

  • Jon Cooper

    This goes to prove that Gill and hooper should be swapped and how much we mis Higgers.

    • Jenkss

      Gill starting and Smith on the bench. Hooper out. But we know how Deans generally operates. Unfortunately for Gill, watch for him to be dropped and Hooper to retain his place despite two pretty average tests.


      How quickly we have forgotten about Pocock as well. His work over the ball was sorely missed in that last test. I mentioned this in a previous post but it seems more appropriate here.. A future wallaby backrow of 6.Mowen, 7. Pockock and 8. Higginbotham really excites me and is potentially a world cup winning backrow. The backs would get plenty of quick ball from that unit.. Bring on Hooper/Gill in the last quarter to really run them ragged.

      • Honiball

        I agree Mowen, Pocock and HIggers would be pretty impressive down the track, certainly better than the current lineup.

        If you’re going to bring in George Smith, wouldn’t you swap him for Palu and keep Hooper and Gill? Palu hasn’t had much of an impact in these two tests, and further the last two years.

        • Who?

          Nup. Palu’s impact hasn’t been as big as I might like, but I’d have him over Hooper. His impacts are more positive than Hooper, simply because Hooper’s too light.


          Again.. you need some weight at 8. I am afraid we would lose some impact at scrum time. Mowen, Gill and Palu to start…and Smith to come on early in the second half. We need more ball from the breakdown so sorry Hooper.
          I am getting goosebumps imagining the crowd reaction when smithy comes on. CMON ROBBIE!

      • Patrick


  • Mukhtar

    Thanks, Scott. Your analysis is as close as it gets to an objective, comprehensive insight into the performances of the Wallabies. To me, the back-row seems like the measure of a team’s prowess. Its where the ‘talismans’ like McCaw, Dusatoir play. Without doubt, the team that wins the breakdown, has a big advantage over its opposition. I hope the Aussies clinch the series playing free-flowing footy, from go-forward ball, provided by back-row tenacity!
    Big Kev’ is in for the decider! Allez, Capitan!!

  • So our best backrower is our hooker! I had the impression that Hooper was everywhere but got blasted off the ball a lot. The stats seem to back that up. Do you think Liam F’ing Gill should start ahead of him. Disregarding Smith of course.

    • Scott Allen

      It would make more sense to me to start your backrower who is your best breakdown operator then bring on your backrower who is your best attacker later when the game opens up, so yes I think Gill should be the starter.

      But I don’t think that will happen.

      • Da Munch

        Is there any weighting for how worn out the Lions were?
        I’m thinking the reserve 7 (ignoring what becomes of the starting 7 or what the reserve comes on as) will always have a higher percentage because as you have said the Lions forwards were buggered* towards the end of the game.

        * probably not using that word

        • bill

          All other things being equal I can pretty much garuantee you that whichever order you played Hooper and Gill Gill will have the better of the breakdown 9 games out of 10.

  • Jimmydubs

    Smith-Hooper-Mowen – I’d call that a balanced backrow.
    Gill to come on for Smith or Hooper, whoever is shagged or least effective after 60.

    Palu to pasture.

  • Kiap

    I like this system. Simple enough to assess the involvements, yet it gives an indication of that vital elusive quantity: effectiveness. Good stuff.

  • Greg Nelson

    Scott what do you believe is the key point of difference between Gill and Hooper that keeps Hooper in the side ?

    • Scott Allen

      I guess it’s because he makes line breaks and can spark some attack.

      For me attacking capabilities shouldn’t be high up the rankings when picking your #7. It should primarily be about the breakdown – must be first into rucks before any other player in your team, must be strong over the ball and must be technically good so can shift players off the ball and pilfer.

      Pocock isn’t a great attacker but IMO he’d be the first backrower picked if he was fit because he plays like I think a #7 should. Gill’s strength is his work at the breakdown. Smith is an amazing combination of a Pocock and a Hooper – once in a generation player.

      • Pivo

        Totally agree Scott that a better balance would be for Gill to start and Hooper to come on and wreak havoc with his wider running late in the match.

        Gill is far better over the ball both in defence, with his pilfers and general slowing of opposition ball, and in attack with his securing quick ball for his team. I think the other areas of note are that Gill makes plenty of metres in close with his short ball and pick and drive running and can also jump in the lineout, not to mention he is no slouch in open play and can run a line and has been known to throw a long pass better than joc.

      • Who?

        Completely agree. The interesting thing to see is how Colby develops next year, seeing he’ll finally have another shot at starting. And the depth continues to build…

  • Synovium

    Agree with Moore’s assessment; apart from a dropped pass , he was good; the fact that he as hooker hasn’t been replaced in 2 tight tests, indicates how crucial he is to the wallabies.

    Palu still lacks the impact he should have for a big man. I’d love to see him bulldozing through the defence and driving forward from the scrum base- something he hasn’t really achieved in all his tests to any degree. Maybe it’s still coming; i doubt he would have been a starter for the wallabies if Higgers was fit .Higgers was scoring tries and showed his career best form prior to injury. It would be good to see big Cliffy emulate this on saturday night!

    • st saens

      Hi Syn. Perhaps Palu should watch a few videos of Toutai Kefu to see what a big guy wearing 8 can achieve. Glad to see Stephen Moore getting some recognition for a great game last Saturday.

  • blindside starring Liam Gill

    Gill could easily be our 6, hooper to stay at 7 and Mowen to 8..
    when Pocock is back he should be our 7 and hooper used as an impact player with 15-20mins to go in a test (more or less time under particular circumstances too). either way, back row stocks look to be in good shape.

    • Bcombes

      I agree with this comment and if it isn’t obvious enough from gill having the most ball pilfered from breakdowns in the 2012 super season. He also gives us another line out jumper. To me hooper is an oversized slower 13. He spends most of his time to or three men from the breakdown and finds it necessary to return to deep kick defence with the likes of Beale and JOC. I think hooper could be a good player but he needs to ply his trade with his head in the breakdown either pilfering for the ball and holding players up in the breakdown. For me gill has to be picked over hooper any day… And I think some people seem to forget gill also has rugby 7’s specialist an U20 captain to add to his CV

  • bill

    During the super rugby season I was amusing myself comparing possible back rows for the wallabies. Anyway to cut a long story almost short I figured if you start Hooper ahead of Gill you’ll get a player who’ll provide speed and maybe a stellar try one game in ten and great effort every game but you’ll give up anywhere from six to twelve points every game and another player who gives you a great effort every game and isn’t too shabby at scoring tries in a different fashion. Both are enjoyable to watch though.

  • bill

    Maybe it’s a bit random or OCD to notice this but if Smithy gets a test on saturday and goes away a-rugby adventuring overseas again afterwards he’ll have the same number of tests as Bilbo Baggins had years before he left the shire a second time.

    • bill

      I’ll bet George has furry feet as well!

  • Pablito

    From a Lions point of view, Mowen is a real find for the Aussies. He’s big and strong but still gets around the park well.

    He closed down Phillips brilliantly in the first test and disrupted the lineout in the second test. For me, he was the best player on the pitch

    As for Moore, I’ve always thought the Aussies play so much better when he’s at hooker. He strengthens the scrum and as these stats show is invaluable around the pitch

    • Patrick

      He’s not a friggin “find”, he’s been there for a while now. He’s only a “find” for the dumbass who took two years to get over Dave Dennis and Timani.

      • Muffy

        I have a bit of man love for this comment

      • Pablito

        Calm down.

        Given his caps for the Quantas Wallabies TM now number just 2 and we’ve never seen him in the N Hemisphere before or in the Tri-Nations or Championship, that counts as a ‘find’ from the Lions point of view. Eg. not someone we expected to be picked or knew much about

        • Patrick

          I know that. But my point is that he shouldn’t have been. He’s been one of our most effective backrowers for at least the last two seasons now – that’s two end of year tours and a Wales tour and arguably a world cup in which you should have gotten used to him :)

        • Hugh Cavill

          Jeez let’s not overdo it. Mowen was always a solid Super player but never really on the Wallaby radar until midway through last season.

          I agree it was probably harsh he was overlooked for the EOYT, but Higgers was the form 6 at Super level and had the international runs on the board.

    • Couldabeen

      Mowen has been a standout 6 for several years. Letting him go to the Brumbies and bringing in Rocky was another cracking idea from Foley when he was at the ‘Tahs. I note that Hooper was ‘not effective’ but he still had that good pest value required by a number 7. In saying that George must start in the 3rd test and then bring on Hopper. Gill is great but just cant see how we can fit him in.

      • redbull

        Replace Hooper with him. Simple

  • Crash Ball2

    Both Gill and Hooper are phenomenally gifted footballers and worthy of their Gold jerseys. But I want my starting seven for the deciding Lions test to be hard shouldered at the point of collision when second man in isn’t an option, have instinct and an opportunist’s timing rather than simply workman-like metronome, be that unmoveable object leveraging the defensive breakdown when tiring locks are struggling to make it back to the defensive breakdown, be the sideways glance Johnny Sexton takes just before he punts to clear his 22. I want my seven to be the smartest guy on the pitch, unafraid to stick his head into the darkest of places and emerge with the pill and possess a tireless motor that defies age, logic and countless failed beep tests. I want George Smith.

    • Cutter

      I want what you’re having.

    • Benny A’s Tackle

      Beautifully poetic

  • Patrick

    I’d thought Moore was one of our best players so I’m glad to see this confirmed!

    TPN is one of those injuries that it is a little bit of a relief as the crazy coach can’t pick the injured guys…

  • Lewis

    Surely Gill should start for his kicking game.

  • Bullrush

    Scott why do just about every stats site list Palu as having a high involvement rate but you?

    • Scott Allen

      I’m pretty sure I know most stats sites and I see no real difference between my numbers and theirs.

      Maybe you can be specific as to what you’ve seen that I haven’t?

  • bill

    I think Robbie will go with Smith at 7 if he’s fit. Although he could end having Smith at 6 or 8 as well with Mowen in whichever spots left.

  • Sc

    Scott, as a means of measuring the effectiveness of the the ‘tandem 7’s’, do you happen to have Hooper’s involvement stats once Gill came on? With Gill on, Hooper seemed to play different, searching for the ball more rather than needing to secure it, a role which Gill took on.

    • Scott Allen

      16 involvements for Hooper and 22 for Gill when they were on the field together.

  • Pedro

    I wish “ruck involvements” were more widely published. This would make players more easily distinguished with regards to effort while at the same time enhancing my fantasy rugby experience (which I have gone from devotion to complete ignorance over the Lions tour).

  • Joe Blow

    If George Smith is legitimately fit, as he claims, why not start with him at 7 with both Gill and Kimlin on the bench?
    Smith will not be blown off the ball and will help establish dominance at the breakdown. He is one of the best ever in this area.
    Both our second rowers can play 80 minutes with Kimlin and Gill to replace Smith and Palu. Kimlin can go into the second row if injury requires it.

  • GB

    Thanks Scott, great work. It seems a bit like quantity over quality with Palu & Hooper’s involvements. Surely Smith would bring both, as well as his linking play, if Deans would just start him. Some mixed messages last week out of Camp Wallaby where Smith has said he’s good to go but Deans is saying he’s not. Like the idea of fitting Kimlin in the mix somewhere, saw his game for the Brums v Lions and he was immense. Jake White has done a superb job in bringing on Mowen and Kimlin…

  • jc

    i was kinda hoping for part2 on scrums

  • wannabprop

    Scott. Really appreciate your analyses on here. Personally, I’d like to see the stats broken down further, into carries, tackles, rucks hit etc. Palu gets plenty of grief on this site and elsewhere, and although admittedly I was watching on a shitty pixelated live stream, I saw Palu making many good carries, and getting over the advantage line (right up till his pass to no one, after which he was pulled). I think we’d all like to see him breaking the line more, but jeez, both sides have been great defensively. Unfortunately, I can’t see any other (currently fit) No.8 bending the line like Palu does (including Mowen, Smith, or Higgers for that matter), and isn’t that really what’s required? A backrow of Mowen, Smith/Gill, and Palu looks nicely balanced to me.

  • Paul D’Agostino

    If Mowen is having an impact and Palu isn’t then why not drop Palu and add Kimlin?

  • A. Fox-Russell

    If Sean O’Brien starts at 7, I think Robbie will, and should, start with Smith.

    It’s a measure of Smith’s quality I reckon that he looks to have put on a fair bit of weight (he’s carrying a pretty chunky “seat” these days as Kearns would put it) and yet on his return to Super 15 pretty much owned every other younger, faster 7 that was getting around.

    Mowen, Palu, Smith -> I’m not a huge fan of Palu’s work rate, but as a back-row that is pretty bad-ass.

  • rebelpirate

    can we convince Smith to stay in oz?

  • kp

    Drop Palu and bring Smith in at No 8. Start with Gill and bring on Hooper with 20 to go. Hooper is more runner then pilferer so his energy would be useful against tired players.


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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