Wallabies video analysis: perception versus reality

Scott Allen Columnist

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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 has been writing in depth analysis and opinion pieces on the game since 2009. He is an experienced coach who coaches Premier Grade with University of Queensland. You can follow him on Twitter @ScottA_.
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