Wallabies video analysis: perception versus reality

Scott Allen Columnist

By Scott Allen, Scott Allen is a Roar Expert

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    The All Blacks were clearly the better team against the Wallabies on Saturday night. With 30 minutes left the Wallabies were still in the match but then the All Blacks went up another gear.

    I’ve seen lots of different opinions in articles and in comments online over the last couple of days as to what went wrong for the Wallabies, what has to change and which players deserve credit or should be dropped.

    In this article and video I’ll discuss some of those topics to examine some of the perceptions and the realities.

    There are many reasons why our perception can be different from reality.

    Sometimes we’re looking at one thing on the field whilst something happens elsewhere. Sometimes the angles we see on the television or our position in the stands obscures our view of what really happened and sometimes we haven’t looked closely enough at an issue.

    I’m no different – I remember standing next to an experienced coach a number of years ago watching a team we were coaching together and he kept pointing out things to me happening in the match. Of course, I didn’t admit I hadn’t seen them but when I watched the video of the match I wondered how I’d missed them.

    Since then I’ve tried to develop my skills to be able to sort reality from perception so that as a coach I can make changes during a match that are based on what’s really happening in the match. Of course you never stop learning and my initial perception is often different from reality.

    As anyone who knows me will attest I can be fairly focussed!

    I will spend hours poring over footage from a match, recording statistics, looking at the vision in slow motion or frame-by-frame to try and better understand the game. I started sharing some of the views I form after these exercises online in 2009 and as part of my input at The Roar I’ll now be continuing that here weekly.

    My views may not match your own but hopefully you’ll take the time to wade through my analysis and watch the video to see why I’ve formed my views rather than just dismissing them – of course I can only include limited examples on each point in the video or I’d never get any sleep.

    This week there are three topics I’m going to cover:

    * James O’Connor’s defensive issues;
    * Matt Toomua’s performance including the problems with the Wallabies attack; and
    * The Wallabies backrow not working hard enough.

    James O’Connor
    It’s easy to say that O’Connor was poor defensively – he made two defensive errors within the first three minutes of the match, the second of which led to a try.

    I’ve seen the comment that four of the All Black’s tries came on the Wallabies left side of the field where O’Connor was supposed to be defending and that clearly shows his defence was dreadful.

    Is that view perception or reality?

    The final two tries down that side of the field, both by Ben Smith, happened when O’Connor had moved to fullback. The first came when the All Blacks had an overlap that the winger at the time, Adam Ashley-Cooper, couldn’t cover.

    The second came when Tevita Kuridrani dropped the ball and Smith ran unopposed to the line. It’s hard to see how O’Connor can be assigned any blame for those two tries.

    The first try on O’Connor’s wing came when he left his wing to try and help Ashley-Cooper tackle Aaron Cruden. As you’ll see in the video he clearly needed to stay out on Smith who received the offload from Cruden and went in to score unopposed.

    The second try on that side of the field by Richie McCaw came when the All Blacks again had an overlap but the question is did O’Connor come in off his wing to create that overlap? Watch the video and you’ll see that O’Connor was on the end of the line – he didn’t come in off his wing.

    If you think he should have moved out to the touch line to mark Smith, then I’d ask who would then have marked up against the All Blacks inside? The fact is the Wallabies got caught short with numbers on that side of the field but that’s not O’Connor’s fault.

    Michael Hooper and James Horwill got off the ground from the previous ruck and joined the line outside O’Connor.

    Had they realigned more quickly and inside O’Connor he could have drifted wider to mark Smith. O’Connor recognised there was an overlap and went forward to try and shut down the ball inside – it didn’t work but that decision was not what cost the Wallabies the try.

    The slow re-alignment of Hooper and Horwill had more to do with that try being scored.

    That second defensive error from O’Connor was costly but that was the last defensive error he made. He was the Wallabies most potent attacker during the rest of the match – every time he carried the ball he got over the gain line.

    He was the equal top ball carrier with 12 carries (level with Horwill and Rob Simmons) and he carried for 94 metres, second only to Will Genia with 98 metres (which obviously includes his great 60 metre try).

    Matt Toomua
    Toomua’s debut wasn’t great but it also wasn’t a disaster. To be honest he looked out of his depth – he didn’t give the Wallabies direction in attack and the majority of his involvements were simply passing the ball as soon as he caught it.

    He only took the ball into contact once and that was only because he tripped over before being able to pass it.

    However, there were some signs of improvement in the second half. In the first half he was at first receiver 15 times and I only rated his involvement as positive in two of those (13%).

    In the second half he was at first receiver 13 times and I rated 11 of his involvements as positive (83%) – not outstanding involvements but positive nonetheless.

    The difference was that in the second half he flattened up a little more as he took the ball which committed some defenders a little longer.

    His only handling error in the match was the result of a poor pass by Christian Lealiifano, who incidentally had a really poor passing game with four bad passes that disrupted the Wallabies attack.

    If the Wallabies want to play more attacking rugby, Toomua will have to come out of his shell – if that means risking more errors, so be it – he also needs to straighten the attack and take the line on from time to time.

    Quade Cooper made a big difference to the Wallabies attack when he came on and his control of the game was much better than Toomua.

    Having said that I believe Toomua should be given the chance to start again this week – he’ll be better for the experience of that match and no doubt Jim McKay will be working with him to straighten the attack.

    Wallabies backrow not working hard enough
    The All Blacks were very good at disrupting the Wallabies ball at the ruck – the All Blacks turned over the Wallabies ball on five occasions but were successful in slowing the Wallabies ball down in many more.

    Whether their tactics at the ruck were legal or not is irrelevant for the purposes of this discussion – if you’re going to rely on the referee to protect your ball, you’ll lose the contest, so get in there and stop the opposition disrupting your ball.

    This is of course a function of both getting into the ruck and also of being effective.

    The breakdown is the primary responsibility of the backrow but obviously all other players in the team have a role to play.

    According to Rugbystats the Wallabies starting backrow were first into 14% of attacking rucks. By contrast the All Blacks starting backrow were first into 36% of their attacking rucks.

    To further demonstrate the low level of involvement by the Wallabies backrow, Simmons was first into attacking rucks 13% on his own with Horwill at 12%.

    When each of your locks is doing nearly the same amount of ruck work as your backrow combined and there is such a big difference between the performance of your backrow and the opposition, you know there‘s a problem which explains a lot about why the Wallabies were struggling to get clean, quick ball from the ruck.

    The Wallabies starting backrow simply didn’t do anywhere enough work in this match and were carried by the starting tight five players.

    Simmons was really good – he carried strongly, was the leading player into breakdowns early for the Wallabies, made all of his tackles and secured two lineout steals. Horwill was also strong with the only negative being his missed tackle that led to Conrad Smith’s try.

    With five players compared to three and different players not playing the full 80 minutes the best way to compare the tight five to the backrow is to measure events on a per minute basis as I’ve done below.

    * Carries – 50% more per minute played by the Wallabies tight five compared to the backrow;
    * Tackles attempted – 6% more;
    * First into attacking rucks – 65% more;
    * Over those three measures – 34% more.

    Here are the numbers in comparison to the All Blacks starting backrow, again on a per minute basis.

    * Carries – 43% more per minute played by the All Blacks compared to the Wallabies;
    * Tackles attempted – 39% more;
    * First into attacking rucks – 47% more;
    * Over those three measures – 42% more.

    Obviously there are other measures you could look at, particularly defensive rucks but I haven’t measured all of those.

    If I asked you to nominate one player from the each of the Wallabies tight five and backrow that dragged the averages down for their respective groups I think most of you would say Ben Alexander and Hugh McMeniman.

    If so, you’ll be surprised that it was actually James Slipper and Michael Hooper. The graph below shows you the number of involvements in the three categories above for each of the Wallabies starting forwards per minute played.

    As you can see Horwill and Simmons were the standouts with their work rate. Stephen Moore and McMeniman were next followed by Alexander and Ben Mowen. Hooper had the lowest work rate per minute played of any starting Wallaby forward in these measures. The fact that two of the three backrow players have the lowest work rates is a big issue.

    Watch the video to see examples of the issues I’ve discussed here and read on for some further analysis regarding Hooper.

    Is this just a case of statistics not telling the full story or is this a case of perception over reality? After all most people would have Hooper as their Wallaby player of the match.

    I would certainly have him in my top three players for the Wallabies based on his five very noticeable involvements in the match – four turnovers at the ruck and swooping on the ball to set up Genia’s try.

    In my opinion he should be, and I expect will be, the starting number seven for the Wallabies next week. However let’s look a little deeper at Hooper’s performance so I can show you where he can be so much better.

    Apart from those five involvements I mentioned he did very little in the match.

    He only carried the ball on four other occasions, he only attempted seven tackles (the lowest of any member of the starting pack), he missed two of those tackles for a 71% completion rate (again the lowest of any Wallaby forward), he only got involved in seven other attacking rucks and nine other defensive rucks.

    Let’s compare his work rate per minute to that of Richie McCaw who has played very little rugby of late.

    * Carries – 150% more per minute played by McCaw over Hooper;
    * Tackles attempted – 93% more;
    * First into attacking rucks – 192% more;
    * Over those three measures – 139% more.

    Just to clarify, those numbers for McCaw are the percentage above Hooper’s numbers – it’s not that McCaw did 139% of the work Hooper did in those measures – it’s that he did 139% more.

    If you want to look at the measure the other way McCaw did 239% of the work per minute that Hooper did!

    I’m sure if we had the GPS numbers, Hooper would have recorded much higher metres travelled than McCaw because he certainly ran around a lot, whereas McCaw got in and did the work required.

    The biggest issue for me with Hooper in this match was his lack of involvement at the ruck. By involvement I mean actually hitting the ruck, not standing beside it.

    Of 65 All Black rucks he was only involved in 12 (18%). That he turned over the All Blacks’ ball in 4 of those shows how effective he can be.

    The Wallabies took the ball into 102 rucks but Hooper only got involved in 12 of those (12%).

    That’s a total of 167 rucks in the match where he only got involved in 24 (14%).

    Different players in a rugby team have different priorities and should be judged on how they perform against those priorities. I believe the ruck is the number one priority for a number seven and I’ve said in the past, and maintain my view, that Hooper’s biggest weakness is over the ball – he just doesn’t get over the ball enough.

    McCaw and Hooper played very similar minutes on Saturday night but according to RugbyStats McCaw was first into 22% of the All Black attacking rucks compared to the 5% of the Wallabies attacking rucks that Hooper was first into.

    That difference between Hooper and McCaw shows a different approach to the game.

    I’m not suggesting Hooper should try to be a clone of McCaw but if the Wallabies are to compete with the All Blacks I do think Hooper has got to start focussing on the ruck more than standing off looking for opportunities to attack.

    I always tell any number seven I’m coaching that they must ‘live on the ball all day’ – follow the ball in attack and defence and get into rucks early to protect your own ball and try to disrupt the opposition ball. It’s one of the reasons that I rate David Pocock so highly – he focuses on the correct priority for a number seven.

    Mowen was very quiet and McMeniman looked like a guy that hasn’t played a lot of rugby recently. I think Scott Fardy should start at number six this week.

    Regardless of who starts, the Wallabies backrow must lift their work rate this week.

    Scott Allen
    Scott Allen

    Scott has been a rugby contributor with The Roar since 2013. After taking some time out to pursue other roles in the game, including coaching Premier Grade with University of Queensland and the Wallaroos at the recent World Cup, he’s returned to give us his insights. You can follow him on Twitter @ScottA_ to hear more from him.

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    The Crowd Says (168)

    • Roar Guru

      August 20th 2013 @ 7:31am
      biltongbek said | August 20th 2013 @ 7:31am | ! Report

      Very impressive and revealing Scot.

      It is true perception and reality can often be far removed.

      Love these analysis.

      • August 20th 2013 @ 12:06pm
        Shop said | August 20th 2013 @ 12:06pm | ! Report

        Me too. Is it just me or has just about everyone seen the game twice to anylize what they missed the first time around. Sign of what was a good test match played by both sides.

      • August 20th 2013 @ 2:53pm
        Ralph said | August 20th 2013 @ 2:53pm | ! Report

        The trouble with this kind of analysis it undermines the simplistic idea that when the WB’s lose it is because of South African refs and Richie McCaws cheating.

        • Roar Guru

          August 20th 2013 @ 8:10pm
          biltongbek said | August 20th 2013 @ 8:10pm | ! Report

          Yeah well, Fair is fair, we used Bryce as an excuse. Only our gripe was legit. 😉

          • August 28th 2013 @ 7:51pm
            neilo said | August 28th 2013 @ 7:51pm | ! Report

            But was it. Pity there is no report like this one.

      • August 20th 2013 @ 3:33pm
        30 mm Tags said | August 20th 2013 @ 3:33pm | ! Report

        Dont you love clinical , no flag waving, no polite deference, iconoclastic, no hubris or willingness to accept the media view,just the distilled facts, sheer essence. I look forward to reading Scott Allen’s articles more than any other. It’s better than the History Channel analysing Adolf’s campaign failures at Stalingrad or McCarthur’s island hoping . Maybe even better than Chris Master’s famous Four Corners programme in approx 1989 on failed strategy at Gallipoli . Scott Allen you excel.

      • August 20th 2013 @ 7:57pm
        Jokerman said | August 20th 2013 @ 7:57pm | ! Report

        Cooper looked ok, but he made errors and that is a lot when you are only out there for 20 minutes.

        Didn’t make the 10 on a restart kick off. Dropped the ball when he had space and a potential try was on from a tackle from the All black number 6. And he got the ball knocked out of his hands, but a scrum awarded to Australia…almost an error.

      • August 20th 2013 @ 9:19pm
        GotHim Yeah said | August 20th 2013 @ 9:19pm | ! Report

        Brilliant Scott !! At last… !
        I am sure the Wallaby Backrow/Breakdown stats are the same for the last decade – doesn’t matter who the Wallabies play.
        We are competitive in all other areas.
        The point is there are 100+ rucks per game Vs a couple of dozen set pieces. You have to win at the Breakdown to win the game.
        Good news is – it can be coached – so get crackin’ Ewen !!
        Protecting the ball and cleaning out in attacking rucks – and slowing down or stealing the ball in defensive rucks – can all be simulated at training.
        The All Blacks are like human wrecking-balls in
        cleaning out both defensive and attacking rucks – that’s where we need to be !!!
        Now to pick the 3 back-rowers with the grit and steel to own the ball and compete…

    • August 20th 2013 @ 7:41am
      Jeff said | August 20th 2013 @ 7:41am | ! Report

      Absolutely brilliant Scott.More more more please.

    • August 20th 2013 @ 7:44am
      nickoldschool said | August 20th 2013 @ 7:44am | ! Report

      Great stuff Scott.

      I still don’t think we should only look at numbers but they do help balance the perception we have. Very interesting.

    • Columnist

      August 20th 2013 @ 7:52am
      Elisha Pearce said | August 20th 2013 @ 7:52am | ! Report

      Good stuff mate. Some very interesting data there.
      Would you suggest O’Connor should be a wing still, or maybe move to fullback where he can pick his involvements a bit more?

      And for our backrow – do you have numbers for Palu’s involvements during the Lions series? Hes the missing man this series and might have made up for some of that disparity.

      • August 20th 2013 @ 8:05am
        Scott Allen said | August 20th 2013 @ 8:05am | ! Report

        I think JOC should stay on the wing and Folau at fullback. Mogg would be the one to miss out for me with Cummins in.

        • Roar Guru

          August 20th 2013 @ 8:22am
          stillmissit said | August 20th 2013 @ 8:22am | ! Report

          +1

          • August 21st 2013 @ 12:59am
            Rank said | August 21st 2013 @ 12:59am | ! Report

            +2

        • August 20th 2013 @ 8:45am
          Elisha Pearce said | August 20th 2013 @ 8:45am | ! Report

          I’m happy with that arrangement too. In my column I said Mogg was the one guy to drop if you were going to change anything.

        • August 20th 2013 @ 7:21pm
          Tane Mahuta said | August 20th 2013 @ 7:21pm | ! Report

          Folau at FB will be targeted big time.

      • August 20th 2013 @ 8:16am
        moaman said | August 20th 2013 @ 8:16am | ! Report

        Elisha–I think you miss Higgenbotham too.

        • August 20th 2013 @ 8:39am
          Zakkaz said | August 20th 2013 @ 8:39am | ! Report

          Yes please bring back Poe and Higgers.

          JOC will do well supporting Izzy on attack. I thought JOC had a good game, defending over laps is hard for any player.

          Thanks Scott, very interesting. What would you say to a hard working lock like Pyle

          • August 20th 2013 @ 9:27am
            Shop said | August 20th 2013 @ 9:27am | ! Report

            I also thought JOC played well overall but a 2 v 2 isn’t an overlap. Him coming off the wing is unforgiveable at this level. Not sure who’d be more annoyed, Link or AAC.

          • August 20th 2013 @ 1:39pm
            Scott Allen said | August 20th 2013 @ 1:39pm | ! Report

            I don’t think a lock can play so wide in test rugby. Super Rugby is a different level altogether.

            Not sure how he’ll go if he has to change his natural game to play tight to suit test rugby. If there’s two injuries in the squad we may find out – alternatively we should find out on EOYT.

            Definitely worth a look but wouldn’t bring him into the team ahead of Simmons or Douglas.

        • Columnist

          August 20th 2013 @ 1:29pm
          Elisha Pearce said | August 20th 2013 @ 1:29pm | ! Report

          You are right about Higgers moaman. I just asked for Palu because Higgers hasnt played this year for the Wallabies but Palu was in a more well balanced (to my eye) back-row just recently.

    • August 20th 2013 @ 7:56am
      Jamie said | August 20th 2013 @ 7:56am | ! Report

      Not the game I watched, hooper was outstanding, hooper is the top tackler and running metres in almost every game he plays, his work rate is unmatched, this looks like a grubby attempt to take some gloss of an outstanding young player. I wonder what your motivation is?.His 2 missed tackles were covering other people’s jobs and trying to save a try, if that’s a negative players should stop trying so they don’t register missed tackles and damage their stats.

      • Roar Guru

        August 20th 2013 @ 8:16am
        stillmissit said | August 20th 2013 @ 8:16am | ! Report

        Jamie – NO he’s not a negative player but he needs to do his own job and not play like a back.

        • August 20th 2013 @ 11:43am
          Die_Hard_Rugby_Fan said | August 20th 2013 @ 11:43am | ! Report

          Agreed. Lets not forget he plays a FORWARDS position so should be focusing on the things he was picked for -> Preying on the ball, following it, and trying to grab it any chance he gets, NOT hanging off the ruck waiting for a run that is not a job description for a number 7.

          The running and attacking rugby comes as rewards off the back of that sort hard working of play, were the ball is expertly secured by the back row, defenses then scramble to get their line in order, and it is then when they should be lining up to crash the ball and punch the line when the defense is out of shape, not persistently standing off and waiting for the ball.

          Agree with Scott Allen too, Pocock is soooo much better at the 7 jersey, as his focus is following the ball, and securing the attacking ball or disrupting the oppositions rucks at defense and occasionally stealing their ball.

          If that work around the rucks is worked on this week, pretty sure Genia will get quick ball, the backs on the front foot denting the All Blacks defense, breaking the advantage line, with them constantly turning around and persistent pressure = tries!!!

      • August 20th 2013 @ 8:44am
        formeropenside said | August 20th 2013 @ 8:44am | ! Report

        he only attemped 7 tackles, so I dont know what you mean

        Flashy does not equal effective, although at least there were some turnovers this time.

      • August 20th 2013 @ 8:51am
        Shop said | August 20th 2013 @ 8:51am | ! Report

        Not sure it is a ‘grubby attempt’ but I agree I don’t think Hooper was a bad as he made out. As a no.7, I always try to get to every ruck but whether I go in or not, is a decision made on the spot. Sometimes it is pointless joinng a ruck where there is no chance of making an impact and it is better to be ready for the next one. What I think Scott is trying to explain is that there are many rucks where Hooper could be a nuisance at but doesn’t join because he knows he won’t win a turnover. Saying that, it is also up to the 6, 8 and other forwards to make enough impact to assist in this area.

        • August 20th 2013 @ 8:54am
          Shop said | August 20th 2013 @ 8:54am | ! Report

          Hooper and Horwill were definitely lethatgic which was the cause of the McCaw try, but I don’t think JOC should have come out of the line either. Defence as a whole is a huge issue for EM to rectify this weekend.

        • August 20th 2013 @ 11:36am
          Scott Allen said | August 20th 2013 @ 11:36am | ! Report

          As I said in the article Hooper would be in my top three Wallabies for the match – wouldn’t say that if I thought he had played badly. That doesn’t mean he can’t make improvements to be even better.

          Your point on making a decision on going into rucks is a really good one worth discussing more.

          I agree completely that you should make these decisions at defensive rucks – if the opposition has already won the ball, don’t waste your effort going in – re-align and get ready to defend the next phase. Hooper went into 12 of 65 defensive rucks = 18%. I think that percentage is about right.

          However, on attacking rucks the most important thing is to protect your own ball and remove any threats. The Wallabies ball was disrupted far too much so clean, quick ball wasn’t available. Hooper only went into 12 of 102 attacking rucks (12%) and that, in my opinion, is far too low.

          If he can get to attacking rucks his role should be to get in and help protect our ball which will help speed up delivery. From going through every attacking ruck I see very few where Hooper got there but decided not to go in based on what was happening.

          Don’t get me wrong, he’s not on his own with this issue – Mowen and McMeniman needed more involvement as well.

          • Roar Rookie

            August 20th 2013 @ 5:00pm
            Wilson Flatley said | August 20th 2013 @ 5:00pm | ! Report

            Hi Scott i liked the article, on the premise you raise here however; do you not believe this may be the coaches instructions, rather than decision making by the player? If the coaching staff are telling him to stay out and wait for the attacking chances because of his quick footwork and smaller frame (better running and less effective cleaning out or locking in) then the analysis regarding his involvements is redundant really, his performance should be judged on how he carried out the coaches instructions.

            I guess the same can be said for most analysis done by us fans and pundits however, without being at training and in the dressing room it is hard to tell how much is coach and how much is player. Enjoyed the read mate.

        • August 20th 2013 @ 9:44pm
          GotHim Yeah said | August 20th 2013 @ 9:44pm | ! Report

          Agreed Shop !
          There is a fine line in committing too many numbers and not enough numbers to a ruck. If a defensive ruck is well and truly ‘won’ by the opposition – then you are better off committing only a couple of players – and the rest can get into the defensive line and swamp their next attack. All Blacks and Springboks are champions of this – but Wallabies are getting better.
          Vice Versa – there were plenty of times on the weekend when we could have committed 6 players into a defensive ruck – shifted some AllBlack bodies – and won a turnover !!
          Rucking is a science and an art-form. So to speak.

      • August 20th 2013 @ 9:01am
        Justin3 said | August 20th 2013 @ 9:01am | ! Report

        Jamie I think you summed up Scott’s theme beautifully – Perception vs Reality 😉

      • August 20th 2013 @ 9:14am
        mania said | August 20th 2013 @ 9:14am | ! Report

        agree Jamie. in this case I don’t think the stats actually encapsulate how effective hooper was. sure he only got so many turn overs but they were incredibly effective and stopped the AB’s momentum.
        one pick up (which doesn’t even count as a turn over ) was hooper swooping onto to loose lineout ball , drawing tacklers then off loading to genia for a try. statistically this is 2 positive actions (pick up and off load) but should really be worth 10 or more as WBs scored a try from this action.
        hoopers contribution shouldn’t be scoffed at. he was the difference that kept the WBs forwards in the game. hooper owned the first half and imo was ahead of mccaw in contributing to the team.
        everything changed in the 2nd half tho when the AB’s forwards upped the tempo and accuracy.
        horwill was a passenger outplayed by simmons.
        unless folau learns how to go looking for work vs the big boys then he needs to be dropped.

      • August 20th 2013 @ 10:05am
        Stin said | August 20th 2013 @ 10:05am | ! Report

        Jamie, I’d be careful suggesting any of Scott’s work is grubby or cynical or any such accusation. He’s been provided some of the best objective analysis around for years now.

    • August 20th 2013 @ 7:59am
      moaman said | August 20th 2013 @ 7:59am | ! Report

      Loving the analysis; went to watch 1st video and got a “This video is private” message.How to get around that?

      • August 20th 2013 @ 8:01am
        Scott Allen said | August 20th 2013 @ 8:01am | ! Report

        Yes, video is unlocked now

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