What the Rebels Can Bring to the Wallabies - Green and Gold Rugby

What the Rebels Can Bring to the Wallabies

What the Rebels Can Bring to the Wallabies

Christian Lealiifano attended the most recent Wallabies training camp, making him the third specialist flyhalf there after Bernard Foley and Quade Cooper, and the sixth who can play at 10 after Reece Hodge, Matt Toomua, and Kurtley Beale. One factor that makes it difficult to choose between these options for the Wallabies’ flyhalf position is the fact that the Super Rugby franchises are not playing a uniform style of rugby.

Trying to get players from 2-4 different states and territories to come together and play the same game has long been an issue in Australian rugby, but the flyhalf’s role in creating and recognising attacking opportunities makes this even more integral. The Waratahs are currently playing a sideline to sideline type of game which necessitates strong passers and multiple playmakers, while the Brumbies rely heavily on the kicking talents of their halves and damaging one-out runners. The Rebels have taken advantage of having an all-Wallaby backline – except Billy Meakes, who still could be in contention – by having multiple players running attacking lines on every phase. This creates chaos in the defence and the Rebels simply have to trust Cooper to pick the right option.

There is even an argument for simply transplanting the Rebels backline directly into the Wallabies, with Meakes probably being replaced by the in-form Samu Kerevi at inside centre. One of the reasons why this is so appealing is because the Rebels players know to stay active and prepared around Cooper because anything could happen. The Wallabies have relied so heavily on Foley at 10 since Michael Cheika took over as coach that simply swapping Cooper for Foley in a traditional Wallabies backline has the potential to create a lot of issues.

There is evidence of this in the Rebels romp of the Sunwolves on the weekend. 7 of their 8 tries came from the backs, with the 8th being a post-80 minute rolling maul try. Cooper is primarily responsible for 5 of these tries and Jack Maddocks almost single-handedly created the other 2.

The first try occurred in the 12th minute off the back of a Rebels lineout, following which the forwards hit the ball up a few times on the blind side to draw in the Sunwolves defenders. Cooper then sets up the vaunted double-touch, passing to and receiving from Matt Philip (below) and then drawing the tackler before putting Angus Cottrell (in jersey 7) away unopposed.

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Meakes overruns the support line after Cottrell’s offload is delayed but he manages to do some good work off the ball, running a not quite obstructive angle that prevents the cover tackler from getting a good hit on Cooper (pictured below).

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This is a fantastic try. Cooper does create it, but the lead-up work in the rucks and off the ball ensures that he has the foundation to do so. The Rebels continue to suck in Sunwolves defenders and negate their line speed with blind side plays and driving mauls for the rest of the game.

The Rebels’ next try occurs 3 minutes later off the back of a lineout and short subsequent maul. The Rebels utilise Genia’s well-rounded skillset by having him fit in as the first link in the backline rather than simply feeding the ball, and this creates an extra player in the backline much like Cooper’s double-touch did in the previous try. Meakes and Maddocks also run inside lines, and with Cooper at the helm these present a genuine threat that sucks in the Sunwolves’ midfield defence.

Cooper receives the ball with three genuine options outside him (circled below) and selects the one running the best angle (Hodge). He crashes straight through the defensive line and gifts Koroibete a try in the corner.

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The ability to recognise all 4-5 runners and their lines on both sides of him and then pick out the best option is what makes Cooper so invaluable at flyhalf, but credit must also be given to the rest of the Rebels backline for presenting genuine options.

The next try occurs in the 27th minute while the Rebels have a man in the sin bin. As with the previous try, the Rebels lineout briefly becomes a maul before the man at the back feeds Genia who puts Hodge into a gap. Genia’s use as a playmaker is not only one of his talents but also a strength of the Rebels, having been heavily relied upon during the time before Cooper joined the team.

Genia creates a similar effect to a flyhalf double-touch by arriving at the ruck almost as soon as Hodge hits the ground and quickly getting the ball away to Cooper. Meakes’ willingness to get over the top of his midfield partner to protect the ball makes this possible (seen below). As soon as Cooper receives the ball, he spots the opportunity out wide and floats an approximately 25-metre pass to Koroibete who gets his second try of the match.

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Koroibete is about 25-metres from the sideline when the pass is made but he catches it only a few metres out – it is Cooper’s ability to make the pass hang in the air and soar over the heads of the intervening defenders that makes this try possible. Koroibete also shows faith in Cooper’s ability to throw such a pass by staying in position on the wing. Dane Haylett-Petty contributes simply by being a big, hard runner in proximity to Cooper and drawing defenders as a result.

In the 52nd minute, Maddocks scores a solo try after the Sunwolves’ attack collapses in the face of Reece Hodge’s defensive pressure. He scores a second try in the 77th minute by simply receiving the ball from Michael Ruru while running a good angle and utilising the referee’s position to his advantage (below), and it is this ability to provide a threatening attacking option which makes him such a good match for intelligent and opportunistic players like Ruru, Genia, and Cooper. The fact that he sets this up off the back of a phase in which the Rebels lost a good 10-15m is even more impressive.

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Cooper repeats the pass from his previous try set-up in the 57th minute, receiving the ball off the back of a lineout and immediately throwing a flat pass 20 metres to Koroibete (pictured below).

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Again, Cooper has three outside options and picks the best one. Koroibete is about 15 metres from the sideline which creates a genuine risk of him getting on the outside of the defender. The flatness of the pass puts Koroibete on the front foot, and these factors enable him to use a powerful left-foot step to create a try 50 metres down the field for Haylett-Petty.

Between Koroibete’s speed, stepping ability, and raw power, there are few wingers who could reliably bring him down in such a massive amount of open space and with a charge-up. Coach Dave Wessels is aware of this and sets up this try by clumping the other 14 Rebels in about 55-60% of the field’s width. The defending team is faced with an impossible choice: to spread their line wider to cover the long pass and cross-field kick (which both Cooper and Meakes are capable of, making for an even more deceptive option) but risk leaving holes in the centre of the pitch that can be exposed by Cooper’s trademark short inside ball, or to match up mano-a-mano and pray that Koroibete stumbles while rolling over the opposing speed bump. The Sunwolves choose the latter, but even if the tackle had been made a good number of metres would have been gained from the lineout on halfway and Meakes’ previously demonstrated willingness to defend a ruck makes it likely that possession will be retained.

Critics will point out that Cooper’s flailing arm tackle technique is not particularly sound, but this myth has long since been debunked. Cooper’s tackle success rate is within 1% of Foley’s and is higher than Beale’s, and these two players have been the staple Wallaby playmakers since before Cheika took over as coach. The Rebels also have issues with defence, discipline, and the relative lack of power and top-level experience in their forward pack. The evidence of this is clear: they have received 8 yellow cards (2nd in Super Rugby after the Sunwolves), have an 82.8% tackle success rate (3rd last in Super Rugby, ahead of the Highlanders and the Sunwolves), and have only one current Wallaby among their forwards (Adam Coleman with 29 caps). But there is certainly a lot the Wallabies can learn from the Rebels.

While the idea of bringing Dan McKellar on board to recreate the Brumbies success with the driving maul at the international level is often discussed, Wessels should also be considered for a position relating to set piece attack. The Rebels have scored 53 tries this season, the 2nd highest in the tournament (after the Crusaders on 59 and with a bye to come), and most of these off the back of their lineout which is also the 2nd best in the competition with a win rate of 91.8% (after the Bulls on 93.5%). The fact is that it is the Wallabies’ attack which struggled in 2018 compared to previous years and this has an obvious fix – the fact is that with only a 1 game difference between them, Cooper has 26 try assists compared to Foley’s 9.

  • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

    Really interesting article, thanks mate!

    I’d really like if one team’s backline could be picked up and transplanted into the Wallabies, as it would really be using the Ben Darwin coefficient, but I sadly can’t see it working.

    The Rebels’ centres and wings just aren’t good enough to play international rugby.

    The Brumbies might actually come closest, as I think you could potentially select 9-15 from the Brumbies, adding DHP to fullback and Kerevi to 12. But I have a personal preference for Genia and Quade.

    Rebels have looked like gods against weak teams, but have really struggled against good foreign sides (admittedly more of a forwards issue). I’m not convinced Koroibete, Hodge (at 13), English or Maddocks are good enough. Even Meakes… you can’t not have Kerevi at 12.

    • Cameron Rivett

      Thanks! I think the Rebels wingers would do better than those of the Brumbies. Koroibete’s weakness is still his defensive positioning, but he’s improved with that and I think Speight and Pulu have their own issues. Aside from that I agree with you,

      • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

        What issuess do you see with Pulu or Speight?

        Pulu hasn’t been super good, but not weak. Speight has been creating line breaks at will, rucking, defending awesomely. Never been a huge Speight fan, but this is the best I’ve seen him since 2014.

        I’d drop Pulu and put Banks on the wing.

        • Cameron Rivett

          I agree that Speight has been playing his best in recent weeks in a good 5 years, but I have seen him miss too many simple tackles last year and early this year to truly rate him. He has a lot of experience which can make up for this to some extent, and always runs good supporting lines, but he seems to have lost a lot of his impact with ball in hand.

          I’m loathe to comment on Pulu too much considering I haven’t seen much of him above Mitre 10 level and I did have high hopes for him at the start of the season. He hasn’t been playing badly either, but he lacks a lot of the polish and (for want of a better word) class or maturity that you’d expect from a 29+ year old winger.

          Above all else, Maddocks and Koroibete are young enough to be around for the next RWC – Speight and Pulu are not. That is always a consideration when elevating someone to the international level, especially wingers who tend to be the youngest in the squad for a reason.

        • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

          Koroibete is terrible though, and moving overseas. How can you pick a guy who doesn’t really know the sport?

          Maddocks has a future I hope, but it certainly ain’t on the wing. Doesn’t offer much in attack or defence there. Brilliant start to the season against weak sides, but very underwhelming since.

          I honestly don’t care about the future, I care about the world cup.

        • Geoffro

          Has White finished his commitments and any chance of him suiting up down here prior to wc ??

        • Kiwi rugby lover

          I like your first preference but would consider Maddocks over Banks as I think he’s a better wing and Banks needs to concentrate on 15 and not dilute his skills to the wing. I’m not as convinced as some on here who think the wing and 15 are interchangeable. I think that as the game has become more professional all the positions have become more and more specialist and while reserves especially have to be versatile I think it’s the exception and not the rule

        • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

          I personally don’t think Maddocks belongs at international level, at least on the wing. All season I’ve said he will get shown up at super rugby on the wing, and he has been recently. His defence is pathetic there, he’s not that fast, elusive or strong through contact.

          Aside from perhaps Pulu, Banks is the fastest man in Aussie rugby, the best at beating guys one on one with his feet and a threat on the wing Maddocks just isn’t.

          All my opinion, of course.

        • Kiwi rugby lover

          Of course. As is mine mate. I think wing needs more than just speed, although I agree that’s critical and I think banks needs to focus on being a good 15. Of course if he sees wing as a better option then by all means, but play there and develop the skills.

          I’m not as harsh as you are on Maddocks defence and I think a lot was because people inside him didn’t do their job. I just like the way he finds the try line.

        • GO THE Q REDS

          To be fair your only focusing on Banks strong points. Maddocks is the best back in Aus for vision and hence all the tries he scores! Comes from his natural 10 qualities that actually show he could be a good 10 funnily enough. His vision is why he works so well with Quade! Maddocks unlike most players does not have to be PUT thru a hole….. he reads the play and puts himself there so if he gets the ball half the job is allready done. Someone like Speight or Korobete has to be put into space by the playmaker.

    • From NooZealand

      Learned of a very important coefficient and this: “The Crusaders is embracing the ideas behind Cohesion” Gain Line. Many thanks DBTB.

  • sambo6

    Trying to get players from 2-4 different states and territories to come together and play the same game has long been an issue in Australian rugby

    Dont worry, Im sure the wallaby attack/backs coach has got it all sorted out….oh fuck, hang on…

    • Jason

      We all know Cheika will play exactly the same game plan as always.

    • HK Red

      Hahahha spot on.

      Thing is, in the article I thought this was a really weak excuse. Why is it that NZ, Ireland, England, South Africa all seem to be able to do it???
      The way I see it at the moment, we have a lot of lazy players on the field, playing dumb rugby, that’s the problem we have in Australian rugby. The number of times I see Australian rugby players lose sight of the ball at the ruck and the opposition just walks around them and picks it up. Or they’ll stand and look at a ball on the ground “hmm should I dive on it??”, like they’re trying to figure out the rule. The opposition doesn’t give a toss, they want that ball and the want it so bad they will endanger life and limb to get it. The opposition eave it to the ref to decide if it’s legit or not. I’m sick of this standing back, play the fcking ball!!!!

  • Packy

    Great post Cameron.
    Quade is organising Koro to be like Digby.
    Can Kerevi be coached to blow over like Meakes at the ruck

    • Who?

      One of Samu’s tries earlier this year came because he ran in from 10m back to protect a ruck, but it broke down so he just picked up the ball and dove over…

  • Who?

    Excellent post Cameron.

    having multiple players running attacking lines on every phase. This creates chaos in the defence and the Rebels simply have to trust Cooper to pick the right option.

    Which is how I think teams should always play. Genuine options. I believe Cooper’s the best in Australia at picking the right option, but EVERY 10 looks better when the defence has real threats to cover. Far too often, we see options set up that are genuinely fake, and because players know where the ball’s going, they don’t sell their dummy role. Back in 2009/10, we had a lot of complaints about Quade. “Not even his team mates know what he’s doing.” The reality was that he was picking the best runner for the situation, even when they were dummy runners. And when they thought they were dummy runners, players didn’t have their hands up, so passes that hit chests went to ground.
    Coaching players to be genuine options at all times is hard. It seems more common to tell players they’re dummy runners, and few sell that well. One of the few who did it well was Rob Horne – you’d regularly see his hands up actively reaching for the pass that was cutting him out. Not everyone’s that good, so I believe it’s better to have them all as genuine options, with a ‘preferred’ receiver, but with everyone genuinely looking for the ball. And let your 10 have freedom to pick the best runner.
    Beyond that, there’s a real discipline in getting back into position and presenting yourself to be a runner – even when you know you’re not likely to receive the ball. Attention to those sorts of details is what makes the greats – Conrad Smith was a master of it. There was an example almost a decade ago on here where the analysis (I think it was Dwyer writing) showed that Conrad Smith taking two steps backwards was the difference between the ABs scoring or not scoring. They made a massive break downfield, were caught just short of the line, Conrad was one pass off the ruck but ran just a little too flat to be a real option. By the time Aaron Smith picked and cleared the ball, Conrad had taken two steps backwards, making himself a genuine option for the pass (Aaron went across him), forcing the defence to cover him, leaving space for the next man to go over untouched.
    So to have players consistently getting themselves into positions – in phase play – is the toughest part of this task. Given the amount of times we’ve seen the Rebels chasing the game in the last 10 minutes less than a score down, then found a photo with 13 Rebels within 10m of the ball (usually with Genia tackled and Cooper playing halfback), this is the area Wessels and Berne still need to nail down.
    The Wallabies haven’t always been great at it. I think they were ok in 2017, but poor in 2016 and 2018. The Reds, they’ve been rubbish at rapidly realigning and then presenting multiple options on differing angles since Link left. Cooper’s been proclaimed in and out of form at times, but often it’s just the strategy around the attack. Because…

    The ability to recognise all 4-5 runners and their lines on both sides of him and then pick out the best option is what makes Cooper so invaluable at flyhalf, but credit must also be given to the rest of the Rebels backline for presenting genuine options.

    Cooper’s been able to do that all along. It’s his greatest strength, and what he does better than any other Aussie 10.
    Our most potent attacking backline this year, outside 10, potentially includes Kerevi, Kuridrani, Beale, Banks, Koroibete, DHP (not as fast or quite as powerful, but a very clever runner)… Why would you want ANY of those players to be anything other than a genuine option when they’re running a line? Get them all on varying lines, as genuine receivers, and let the 10 – whoever it may be (but especially if it’s Cooper) – pick the right option. Because with options like those, sooner or later it’s going to pay off.

    • Cameron Rivett

      Fantastic post. I try to keep my word limits down by cutting out excessive details but you’ve pretty much nailed one of the main things I was driving at – Cooper is the best at picking options, and the Rebels work because his team creates options. I’d also like to add that Wessels as a coach is aware of this and sets up the structured plays in a manner that enables this.

      You’re right that a lot of players don’t genuinely sell the dummy run option. The 1014 guys are always talking about how Joe Schmidt emphasises having his players be very animated on attack, and I think this is a necessity in the modern game. Like you say, this extends to simple things like pod positioning (I hate seeing 3-man pods lined in in such a way that 1-2 of them could never take the pass or even an offload from the 1st man) and getting back not only onside but totally into position quickly. That’s why I also wanted to highlight Meakes’ contributions even though he makes and receives 0 passes in these tries – because work off the ball is so important.

      • Who?

        On Super Rugby Wrap this week, Hoiles pointed out a couple of places on first phase where (from memory) Foley was the ‘out the back’ runner, but knew he wasn’t getting the ball, so he didn’t sell it at all well. And because of that, he didn’t run his line well, didn’t draw the defence. But because of that, if the Tahs had been more flexible and had picked the best option, rather than the default option, they’d have ended up with a massive overlap out wide.
        Just helps to show just how critical that work off the ball is. :-)
        But I still reckon that Foley and Leali’ifano are also better served by having multiple options and being asked to pick the right one. Because, provided the 10 mixes things up, sooner or later even I would pick the right runner from 10.

        • From NooZealand

          “provided the 10 mixes things up, sooner or later even I would pick the right runner from 10.” Yes, statistics say so. Thank for your long but it was a delight to read.

      • From NooZealand

        Thank you Cameron. Your initial commentary and the follow up shows faith in the players and hope (I’m going religious now) for the wellbeing of the Wallabies. Greetings.

    • Geoffro

      Sells the dummy better if they’ve got their arms up and look like their really ready to cop the ball instead of sprinting through the line and just having one of qc’s offloads bounce off them.Good post.

  • Bobas

      I’m happy to wait for the 5.05 train aswell!

  • Geoffro

    Combos are important but the ability to have a well rounded squad and being able to tweak it to play whats in front of them (each opposing nation has particular strenghs in either the forwards or backs or styles) where you’re wanting a horses for courses effect at times I reckon.

  • IIPA

    You’d be owed some royalties then. What’s 10% of 0?

  • Perth girl

    The Rebels dont have enough money to host a finals game if they get through and are charging local clubs 500 bucks for a Rebels player to play for them, that is the real story!

    • Cameron Rivett

      They are unlikely to host a finals game anyway as the Brumbies are likely to hold down the conference leader position. If the Rebels make it, they’ll probably be an away team in a wildcard position.

      • Perth girl

        But that is besides the point Cameron!

  • Who?

    Well, they didn’t offer up that many angles tonight… Cooper went looking for a lot of second touches (also hit a lot of rucks), but everything was much tighter, more controlled. Felt much more programmed.

  • Brumby Runner

    Good analysis Cameron. Pity the Rebels are not up to the task. The loss to the Tahs should see many of the likely Wallabies now on very shaky ground indeed.

    Coleman is nowhere near the standard required. Philip would go ok if he tones down his over-aggressive approach. Naisarani should be the No 8 starter.

    Genia will be lucky to make the bench on current form and Quade just doesn’t take real opportunities to nail down one of the No 10 spots. Marika is now making a strong case for a wing spot, and DHP should be there. Not many others if any.

  • Peter Morse

    Fuck all it seems.


Somehow still a Wallabies fan. Enjoys brainstorming ideas on how to fix Australian rugby. Waratahs/North Sydney/Country Eagles supporter. Ex-Kiwi with just a touch of love left for the Highlanders and Otago.

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