Who Should Run The Wallabies’ Attack?

Scott Allen January 4, 2013 32

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Following on from my recent article on how the Wallabies could attack the All Blacks defensive structures, Dan Abrahamsen had a second question: who do I believe should be the Wallabies number 10 to run that attack?

Whilst attack is only one component of the game, I believe it’s the most important component for a number 10. Certainly a number 10 needs to be solid in defence but today my focus is on attack – the area where the Wallabies struggled most in 2012.

I consider there are five candidates for the Wallabies number 10 position in 2013: Kurtley Beale, Berrick Barnes, Quade Cooper, James O’Connor and Christian Lealiifano (although in Lealiifano’s case it would be a big call to select a debutant against the Lions).

When judging a number 10 in relation to his attack there are a number of elements I think should be considered. A number 10 needs to:

  1. Set the attacking depth of the team – they can’t play too deep or this gives the opposition time to move forward or drift across field in cover.
  2. Have to have the vision to see the opportunities and make the right decision on how to take advantage of each opportunity, and quickly.
  3. Preserve space for support runners – a team’s attack needs to be predominantly north-south, not across field or space is taken away. A number 10 can preserve space by:
    • taking the ball to the line before passing – this keeps the defence in two minds – and they have to make a decision on whether they should tackle the ball distributor or the runner, and
    • being a running option – this adds another thing for the defence to think about.
  4. Have the pass to take advantage of the opportunities – an accurate, well disguised short pass and a fast, flat long, pass, not a slow, looping pass with too much hang time.

Part one of the video shows examples of problems with too much depth, how various players have dealt with opportunities and passing capabilities.

Part two of the video shows examples of players taking the ball to the line and as a running option.

Having re-watched James O’Connor playing number 10 for the Wallabies on the 2011 end of year tour, I’ve changed my previous view that he should start on the wing for the Wallabies. His performances at number 10 in those two matches was very good.

I don’t think having a player making their debut against the Lions in such a crucial position would be a good idea so Lealiifano would be a bench option at best. Kurtley Beale should be the Wallabies’ starting number 15 — I think he’s far too lateral to be the number 10. If the restrictive game plan is to be repeated this year I think Berrick Barnes suits that game plan more than the other candidates.

I think the combination of Quade Cooper at number 10 and James O’Connor at number 12 would awaken the Wallabies’ attack, if the coach allows them to play their natural game. Of course, that’s subject to form in Super Rugby this year.

However, if the coach is going to impose his restrictive game plan on the Wallabies again in 2013, there’s no point in having an attacking number 10. I see that Simon Poidevin thinks the coach will be pressured into allowing a more attacking game plan this year, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Discussion

  • Canuckruck

    Scott, I couldn’t agree more with you on this assessment. I really don’t want to watch another year of Wallaby rugby such as we saw in the RWC and much of 2012. Please let us see some attacking rugby. Maybe the Wallabies could take a page out the RWC 2011 French play book (ignoring Liévremont), and play to their own game plan through to the end of the Lions tour?

    • ooaahh

      c’est une suggestion putain de génial!

      • Canuckruck

        Je sais. Je suis certain que ce serait la meilleure des options actuellement disponibles.

  • Lewis

    Great article Scott. I think we definitely need to watch these 5 closely throughout super rugby if we are to make the right choice for the lions. I really liked O’Connor at 10 in the EOYT last year, but I thought he was below par at the Rebels, whereas Beale was great with the Rebels, but below par with the Wallabies. Cooper must show some good form if he wants to get picked in the starting side after all that’s gone on.

  • misplacedcanuck

    Just read about bob’s heart attack. Sad news, hope for full recovery.

    • misplacedcanuck

      Ps….great article.

    • Canuckruck

      Agreed. Get well Bob.

  • Johnny-boy

    Good wrap Scott and hard to disagree with. I’m expecting the boxing to help Cooper’s defence enormously as well, especially as far as focus and decision making in contact. It’s true that for every position you need your number one choice and a close number two, even three given the game is so brutal these days, so Cooper, then O’Connor then Leilifano perhaps. If you want the Wallabies to be low sheen then Barnes suits Deans no doubt.but it bores some of us non tah fans to tears and frustration. I’m not expecting Cooper to play particularly well under Deans any time soon. I’m counting the end of the Deans disaster in days.

  • Robson

    James O’Connor has always looked the real deal to me either at either 10 or 12, and playing him at 12 with Cooper at 10 is a mouthwatering prospect. If Quade plays at 10 with a mix of Barnes or AAC or McCabe outside him the advantage Quade creates is basically lost and that was pretty well proven by the two videos you showed.
    Beale not only lacks the daring to take the ball right to the line (he releases it too soon), but the narrow vision he has from 10 is also partly to blame for that and significantly contributes to his cross field running; basically in search of a hole I suspect. He is not an international class 10 in my mind, but hey neither am I, so I shouldn’t be too critical. On the other hand the article does ask for our opinions and that is mine.
    I don’t think there is any doubt that a backline of Cooper (10), JOC (12) and the Honey Badger (13) would be the most potent attacking combo the Wallabies could put on the field right now because once Cooper in unision with JOC had worked their magic all you need is a big, powerful, straight running OS centre like Cummins to sort out the final overlap. And Tapuae would be a great back up for JOC.
    The worry for me though is the mindset of Robbie Deans. If he looks at videos at all, he sure as hell doesn’t look at them like this.
    On a sombre note, sorry to read about Bob’s heart attack in the Herald this morning. Hope he makes a complete and fast recovery.
    Thanks again Scott for yet another chapter of imposing video footage to illustrate the topic with.

  • skip

    in 2011 and 2012, the wallabies game plan was to go to a gunfight unarmed. you’ve got to fire some shots to win.

  • Kiap

    You know this article makes a lot of sense. Looking forward to this Super season and interest in the 10s will be at the forefront.

    I think Cooper is possibly our best option but he’ll have to show it anew for the Reds to get back in the test picture. Leali’ifano also needs to show again what he’s got (a pity he got injured last year because he would have been capped at flyhalf otherwise).

    The most interesting thing, though, will be what happens at the Rebels. Who will they play at 10? Be good to see JOC get some starts there so he can develop further and we can compare him with Lilo as alternate Wallaby 10s. O’Connor has been written-off too early by some observers as an option at flyhalf, imo. Both JOC and Lilo are potential test 12/10s.

    Beale will also probably get some Super starts at 10 but I agree that “Kurtley Beale should be the Wallabies starting number 15″.

  • Garry

    “…the Robbie Deans restricted game plan,..”

    Let’s shorten that to ‘Shackles Game plan” ?

  • brumby runner

    Been waiting a long time to see Cooper and O’Connor at 10 and 12. Unfortunately, with Deans’ record, I expect to wait a while yet. Will the Brumbies play Christian at 10? More likely Toomua at 10 and Christian at 12 at least while McCabe is injured. Barring injuries, the Wallabies are again well served at 10 by Cooper, O’Connor and Lealiifano. No others should be considered.

    Am also a fan of Cummins at 13 outside any combo of the three 10/12s. Then with Digby, Tomane and Beale in the back three, we have a backline to equal any in today’s game.

    • Who?

      Same here – Cooper’s our best 10 for vision, and O’Connor’s got to get his hands on the ball more often than he can on the wing, but without the restrictions that can be felt at 10 (where you can’t run the ball every play – and he’s such a good ball runner). To me, provided the defensive combination can be supported, it’s really a no brainer. The only other option would be Lealiifano or Tapuai at 12, to add a bit more size (but not lose too much – if anything – in ball playing, kicking, etc).

      Beale’s got vision, but more often than not it’s vision for himself, not vision for the next bloke. So stick him at 15 and don’t burden him with running the game. And it’s nice to see someone (how unsurprising that it’s Scott) point out (for the first time since Gits stopped playing 10 for the Wallabies) that the 10′s job is to play straight. All the media – Kafe, everyone – was raving about the positive that was Kurtley’s ‘lateral pace’ at 10. What were they all thinking? That Kurtley runs it faster sideways than anyone else can pass it sideways? Did they really think we weren’t lateral enough? How many times do we see ourselves bundled into touch? Often, exactly as shown in the clips, running from one side of the field, 20m backwards, and into touch on the opposite side.

      And whilst McCabe’s brain fade at 41 minutes in the RWC final was shown in the clip, I have to defend him a bit… If he’d passed (and remember, he passed less than once per Test in 2011, he was extremely green at 12 that year), we’d all be lauding him for being the only Wallaby centre in the Deans era to preserve the space outside him by holding the defenders and not running cross field. As it was, he did turn two AB defenders (Weepu and Franks) around and stop another who was off to make up the numbers (Smith) in his tracks. A simple pop pass to Quade – something that Robbie should’ve been working with him on (given he didn’t pass enough) – and there’s no penalty, but instead we’re up the other end of the field (just how far, no one can know).
      The question is, if you’ve got Cooper, O’Connor, Lealiifano, Barnes and Beale in McCabe’s position, who would you trust? Cooper, I can’t pick. He could’ve stepped inside (but I’d back him to get through), or spread the ball. Same for O’Connor and Lealiifano. I think Beale would’ve tried to run around Smith himself, and Barnes, well, he played in 2009, when Robbie drilled it into him and Gits to look for territory, so he’d likely have kicked it.
      All that said, I really do think that whoever gets picked at 10 under Robbie’s on a hiding to nothing. There’s not enough clear structure for anyone to have any real hope of success. Mr Dwyer (I trust he’s feeling better now) pointed out recently a conversation he had years ago explaining why his Wallabies were so hard to defend. The attack was designed so the ball carrier always had three clear options. With the Wallabies under Deans, it’s pretty clear that the only options are kick or pass it to a bloke who’s running cross field. There might be more than one bloke, but they’ll all be running parallel to each other, not the sidelines, and there’s nothing to fix a drifting defense. So while I was sad to Lealiifano injured, and disappointed we didn’t see him in Gold, I did think that perhaps not debuting this year wasn’t the worst thing that could’ve happened to him (though obviously there’s better ways to avoid selection than a serious injury).

  • Patrick

    Do the Wallaby centres ever pass or straighten!?!??

  • Henry

    9. Genia
    10. Cooper
    11. Mitchell
    12. O’Connor
    13. AAC
    14. Ioane
    15. Beale

    With everyone at 100% would be awesome. Doubt we’ll ever see it though.

    • Blinky Bill of Bellingen NSW

      As much as I like AAC, he seems to me that he’s lost too much pace for 13. Cummins at 13 is a very exciting prospect but can he pass?

  • Athinaur

    The simple truth as I see it is that the wallabies demonstrated in games like bled1 2011 and IreRWC that they didn’t know how to earn the right to attack. Fundamental in the ABs playbook. As far as they are concerned showboat plays can go leap in a pit of pigswill and drown. Showboating is for when you have achieved the (not ‘a’) breakthrough.

    Deans, even more so given the player mix available decided it was time to play the conservative game, consolidate skills and attitude, and bide time for a better hand dealt. Which actually worked overall, albeit terribly shown up in bled 1,2 2012 and v France (who may I say played the best brand of rugby I saw this year).

    Moreover, my guess is Deans is seriously disappointed QC couldn’t man up to that plan, because the next deal is coming and I think Deans will have wanted to up the ante hard this year, ie attack. And that should have been a QC 1 degree smarter and 2 degrees harder from RWC2011 and a recovery in 2012.

    • pants

      That’s an interesting spin on us playing a boring as shit brand of rugby that we were dished up this year. Deans has been given far more rope than any Australian coach ever has at this level because people always make excuses for his shit.

      • Robson

        True, very true, but why is that?

        I am constantly baffled by the way some people with really good rugby pedigrees continue to support his five year reign of abysmal and soul destroying results. If performance means anything in modern sport, Deans should have been history long ago.

        • Johnny-boy

          It’s a fuckin mystery. What mystical hold does Deans have over the ARU ? Is it that they crave respect from NZ and the All Blacks and they misguidedly think having an ex All Black and kiwi as thier coach (despite the fact he is so obviously an incompetent fraud) will bring them that ? Particularly when the opposite is true. It’s making the ARU look like fools and JON as much admitted it on his departure

    • Morsie

      I think you’re giving Deans way too much credit for being a good thinking coach. History has proved otherwise.

  • Chunderstruck

    Great article as usual Scott. There aren’t many things more infuriating to watch than crabbing backs destroying space.

    I will say however that you’ve presented only Quade Jekyll and neglected the existence of Quade Hyde…

    • Scott Allen

      In preparing these videos I watched matches over 2011 and 2012 again.

      I found some poor kicks from Cooper and some poor attempts at catching the high ball but the video of kicking mistakes and poor catching from all the Wallabies backs would be a very long production. I also found the kickoff out on the full against NZ in the semi-final against NZ.

      There were two instances of mistakes in attack in the match v Ireland in RWC 2011 – a poor offload decision and the behind the back intercept pass but I struggled to find other examples.

      I’m happy to put together the video to show areas in which Cooper needs to improve his running of the Wallabies attack but what were the ‘Quade Hyde’ moments – poor passes, intercepts, missing opportunities – which matches?

      • Robson

        My fervent hope is that Quade is learning to develop a feeling for what is “on” and what is doubtful because he has the kind of talent that – if harnassed judiciously – can produce amazing results.
        The no look, behind the back pass that was intercepted against Ireland in the RWC may be an isolated example, but only the speed and copybook tackling of JOC stopped a try from resulting from that. For Quade to fire a pass out like that – when it was totally unnecessary – is the kind of lunacy that he has to eradicate from his game. I am hoping that he has really thought all these issues through during his layoff.

        • Blinky Bill of Bellingen NSW

          Good point Robbo.

          I don’t quite know why it is, but I’m hoping like hell that boxing will – in some magical & mysterious way – provide QC with the smarts to actually learn when ‘it’s on’ and when it’s not.

  • Duckman

    Whilst JOC has the talent to play 10, giving him more space at 12 would yield better results in my opinion. Similar to when Giteau moved from 10 to 12 – being close to the action meant less opportunities to target gaps in the defence.

  • http://www.facebook.com/julesie.bolwell Julesie Bolwell

    Will someone send this analysis to Deans? It is bloody brilliant. Mind you, probably far out of Dean’s comprehension. Attacking play seems to be unknown to him.

  • Nowared

    A good analysis of Wallaby backs by a good coach – this is not rocket science and begs the question what the hell are the wallaby coaches doing – if current backs can’t identify a 3 on 2 or realise the problems created by a deep attack, then they should not be there – with the use of videos such as shown by Scott you would think that our top line backs would be able to work out what should be done – to me it’s bloody obvious the the coaching staff of the Wallabies needs a total over-haul – when did you ever see the ABs being technically inept as the Wallabies. Scott, like all good coaches you keep it simple!

  • bill

    I think JO’C is an excellent ball player, and he generally makes metres with footwork at 12, but I’d still prefer Tap’s there. But if our forward pack could get us over the gainline well in quick phase play JO’C would be pretty scary outside Coops.

    Over the course of a test season, you would really have to manage JO’C's workload at 12, to keep him from getting worn down.

  • http://twitter.com/martyaskew Marty Askew

    I’ve thought for a long time the Cooper 10 O’connor 12 would be the best option.

    But O’connor defended poorly at 12 in super rugby. He got beaten by Tom Carter!?!

  • Dave

    Here is a pretty good article on the pro’s and con’s for the No 10 jersey

    http://www.therugbyblog.co.uk/battle-for-wallabies-no-10-cooper-oconnor-or-beale

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