Play for keeps: Consistent aggression the missing ingredient for our Wallabies

Dan Vickerman Columnist

By Dan Vickerman, Dan Vickerman is a Roar Expert

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    There were 84 points scored in the Wallabies final Test against England. When last did we see an English team score 44 points in a full series, let alone single Test match?

    Sorry, I couldn’t help myself having one slight pot shot at the Poms, who just handed us our first whitewash in years!

    So what went wrong and what do we need to focus on leading into the upcoming Rugby Championship? A fair bit some might say, but I believe that if we tweak a few things the Wallabies can be a serious contender to push even the most well-tuned rugby machine, whether that’s the English or the All Blacks.

    At this time, Test match rugby requires a few things to be successful: accumulate scoreboard pressure, do the basics extremely well and win the mental battle.

    In the most recent series, was it a lack of Test match preparation? It is worth noting that the Northern Hemisphere teams have recently had their Six Nations tournament. Is that why Ireland beat South Africa in the first game, or why Wales kept the All Blacks honest for 60 or so minutes of their opener? Team continuity is extremely important in any environment, and it showed in all three series.

    If I use a single statement to outline my main areas of concern, it would go something along the following lines. Being the most faithful Aussie supporter my Wallabies bashing is generally kept to a minimum, but I will try to be factual to provide an honest appraisal: We did not once have the same team taking the field during the series. Our set piece was inconsistent and our basics, such as team shape, breakdown accuracy and discipline, were not up to Test match standard.

    Let’s look at each of these individually

    Team continuity
    Seven different locking combinations, changing front rowers, losing one of our best players in Kurtley Beale and changing 12 twice is no good for anyone. I think having a 12 that can take the pressure off Bernard Foley, by creating attacking options for the team and causing the defence to make decisions, is vital to our success.

    This is where Kurtley is the master. He provides that much-needed energy to the backline and provides the option for the 10 and 12 to interchange. Most great teams have always had this luxury at their fingertips. Get this right and the likes of Izzy come into the game, forward runners are able to provide both options for the attack and force the defence into making decisions.

    For me, the greatest concern is the locking combination, possibly due to the fact that it is the position closest to my heart. It is pretty basic; we need two jumping locks should you wish to play David Pocock and Michael Hooper together in the back row. Both are brilliant players but not the greatest lineout technicians.

    Good teams will expose us at lineout time, and clean ball from set piece will become extremely difficult.

    Our locks need to be physical and intimidating workhorses. The less you see or hear about these guys the better. Who was the other lock for England partnering the future great Maro Itoje? Tough question? Why, because he was doing his work. He was bashing the breakdown, making tackles and working until he ran out of juice. Then on comes Courtney Lawes, who set up the final try in Melbourne which destroyed our hopes. It was the break from Lawes up the middle.

    That’s impact and that’s what we need. Will Skelton or Dean Mumm can both do this. My picks for the starting team, therefore, are Rob Simmons (he can call a lineout and has the experience) and my other lock is slightly left-field. It is the man who finished the final Test at lock, Adam Coleman. I suggest sticking with him – we need him to develop at this level.

    Forgive me if I now get slightly personal, but going into this Rugby Championship, our forward pack should look at their opponent and desire to physically dominate that player. Not gain parity, but absolutely dominate them. Regardless of the quality of player they come up against, that is irrelevant. Believe in yourself men, back each other up and fly into your opponent. Do this and our backs will repay the piano pushers’ hard work and we will see some magnificent rugby.

    Basics – Shape, set piece and accuracy
    I was lucky enough to be invited to watch the Wallabies train on Friday before the final Test in Sydney against England. What and how we trained was not how we played. We did so in patches, but rugby is an 80-minute game. Under pressure, which Test match rugby is all about, we were unable to revert to type. Reverting to type is being able to perform your game plan no matter what the circumstance.

    We were far too guilty of running one out straight into the teeth of their defence, which resulted in either a turnover or having to utilise more players to recycle the ball. Watch closely the next time we play, which is against the All Blacks.

    Off the set piece, our 6 and 7 play on opposite sides of the field in the 15-metre channel. This way we have ball runners out wide, plus backrowers to help the backs secure the wide channel.

    But this increases the emphasis on the midfield winning the collision and breakdown to generate quick ball. An example of this working is Michael Hooper’s try in the first Test against England in Brisbane. The ball was moved quickly, the clean out was ferocious (have a look at Stephen Moore’s clean out) and the passing was crisp. If we can do it once, then why not on a consistent basis?

    That is what Michael Cheika is working towards. It’s different to Izzies’ try off Bernard. The passing and breakdown work was superb.

    The set piece is the lifeblood of any rugby team and is how you get our potent backs the ball in their hands on a consistent basis. If you can do it well in one game, there is no reason why you cannot do it again in the next game.

    Cast your mind back to the first Test in Brisbane. A lineout move was called cleverly as Itoje was trying to read the middle and back of the lineout defensively. Hooper was called at the tail and the drill was excellent.

    What does this do? It opens up the lineout for the rest of the game because they have to worry about it. That is smart rugby, but not an option you want to rely on. It is making the defence make decisions. That is key.

    Simmons, Coleman, Fardy, Hooper, Pocock: That is our best lineout at present while the players I believe are best suited to the back five, Mumm and Skelton, would sit on the bench.

    The scrum is ever-evolving. We have the players to be successful, that’s for sure. All we need to do is take referee perception out of the game and be consistent. The key is consistency for Australia. On our day, we can go with any pack, but if our concentration is off it is a multiplier effect in reverse for some reason.

    We need to be the most consistent pack of scrummagers in the game. We should only ever get beaten by a better scrum, not by our own poor concentration and execution.

    Breakdown accuracy for me was the next issue. We are giving away far too many penalties and are having to commit far too many players to recycle the ball. How do we change this? We need to have the will to want to bash each and every breakdown and target the threat. Call his name, let him know you are coming and legally whack him.

    A clean out is the only legal opportunity you get to physically move a body without the ball. Let’s get excited about winning the breakdown and getting quick ball. It basically lets us do what we train to do, which is play with continuity and win the gain line.

    So what now?
    So where does this leave us? It leaves us in a position where we have to come home like a freight train out of control in the Super season and believe in what we are doing. Our physicality needs to be consistent, our shape needs to be brilliant and we should be able to do it without thinking. This will allow us to convert any form of pressure into points. This is done by being patient and not panicking. We have the cattle but we just need the consistent mindset now to compliment this. It is key!

    Come the Rugby Championship, let’s focus on ourselves, get the basics right, get our mindset superior and go out to play for our mates. The coaches, the players and the strategy are there. Let’s take what we do on the training field and make sure the hours on the paddock relate to some backline or forward magic.

    Us supporters should be excited about the Rugby Championship. Our Wallabies have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Australian rugby will always have my support and so too the players, but I dearly want them to be able to deliver what they are capable of, and be able to sit in that locker room having a laugh about the battle they have just endured after walking in victorious.

    Dan Vickerman
    Dan Vickerman

    Dan Vickerman played 78 Super Rugby games for the Brumbies and Waratahs and 63 for the Wallabies as a lock between 2002 and 2011.

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    The Crowd Says (110)

    • July 7th 2016 @ 10:02am
      jameswm said | July 7th 2016 @ 10:02am | ! Report

      Thanks Dan.

      I do like your focus on the lock pairing, and I agree that is possibly our biggest issue to sort out – and I also agree with your selections. I don’t get Cheika’s reluctance with Coleman – he calls the Force lineout, has some speed, presumably can scrum (or can be taught too), but really loves the physical confrontation and as you say, looks to dominate his opponent.

      I would also be looking to get Timani into the back row as an alternative to Fardy. Not quite as good in the lineout, not the same game smarts, but a much more physical player.

      • Roar Guru

        July 7th 2016 @ 1:24pm
        Lano said | July 7th 2016 @ 1:24pm | ! Report

        I saw Skelton actually jump for a ball against the Sunwolves on the weekend, from the front of the lineout.

        It was a Tah’s lineout.

        He failed to catch the ball.

        QED

        • July 7th 2016 @ 6:36pm
          Mr Hollywood said | July 7th 2016 @ 6:36pm | ! Report

          Too many imbalances, Lano. When you have players who can’t quite vacuum yet and others that lack the height to reach those high places in need, then you don’t have the harmony and equilibrium, unless you have a guru who knows how to turn it into gold…but Cheiker is no alchemist.

      • July 7th 2016 @ 4:04pm
        Mr Hollywood said | July 7th 2016 @ 4:04pm | ! Report

        It’s very funny how some of the Australian players can’t do some of the fundamentals. Skelton can’t jump in the air; I’ve been able to do that since I was two. Cooper couldn’t tackle and was sent away in defence to try and hide him as he simply did not know how to defend. Then we had players who could only pass one way! I could pass both ways competently by the time I was six. I could tackle correctly at all times by the time I was seven.

        It would be like me not being able to do all my household chores – I can vacume, wash the shower, I can cook! But I dont know how to wash my clothes. It’s too difficult sorry.

        Nick Phipps probably can’t vacume but is efficient in all other household chores.

        I’m sure after Australian rugby practise Cooper and Skelton head home one heading out for take always as he doesn’t know how to cook yet, while the other heads to the laundry bar certain that one day he’ll learn how to wash his own clothes.

        • July 7th 2016 @ 5:34pm
          RubberLegs said | July 7th 2016 @ 5:34pm | ! Report

          Cooper’s tackling stats are the same as Foley’s. His performance in reading play and fielding opposition’s tactical kicking is superior.

          If QC had played #10 against England their out of hand kicking would not have been as effective.

          • July 7th 2016 @ 6:17pm
            Mr Hollywood said | July 7th 2016 @ 6:17pm | ! Report

            QC could be brilliant. But could fall off tackles and had a few tests where he played like one of those kids in your team when you were 11 who couldnt actually tackle. Period.

            Australia do need to be tougher without being niggly or nasty as that’s false power and gets them nowhere in the long sense (can work for you on the odd game).

            Continuity is needed in selection. Cheiker kept picking the wrong team, and then changing.

            More solidity in set piece. Of late the All Blacks always get easy points there. If not the scrum, then it’s the lineout.

            But at the moment there are a few issues so they are plodding along looking similar to the feel to the pre-Dean’s era where they lacked some real clear distinction. But time will tell if I’m right when they meet the mighty All Blacks. I’m feeling 3-0 and if the All Blacks win comfortably in the first test in Australia then it will be a very tough season. Cheiker has to say the ‘All Blacks’ stop pretending…you have to be at one with your power or your weakness just sidestepping it is sweeping it away where the weakness can gain more power. He is feeding the All Blacks and their fans.

          • August 6th 2016 @ 6:43pm
            EELBOY said | August 6th 2016 @ 6:43pm | ! Report

            QC is gutless. That’s his main problem. He also doesn’t tackle. He’d have been a passenger v England after he’d been monstered by Haskell, Itoje et al.

      • July 8th 2016 @ 9:49am
        Franky said | July 8th 2016 @ 9:49am | ! Report

        Cast your mind back to Hooper’s first try. The cleanout was excellent – where was Hooper? Seagulling as per usual
        Breakdown accuracy? or lack of bodies willing to win the ball. Again Hooper is the culprit. He steals a ball if someone happens to run near him, he doesn’t do the work
        10 and 12. Why do you need a second 5/8? If our first one was good enough and we had crash ball we make the gain line, Hooper again – if we had a decent #7 then they secure the ball at that breakdown and wait for the troops
        Pocock leaves, we crumble.
        Remember the Lions way back when Nathan Grey took out Richard Hill. He did that hard work, no nonsense stuff that people don’t appreciate. George Smith then had free reign over the breakdown and we won. Hooper is not fit to tie Pocock’s shoes

    • July 7th 2016 @ 10:12am
      Brumbies fan said | July 7th 2016 @ 10:12am | ! Report

      How can the focus of your piece be the lineout and you suggest skelton as a viable option?

      I thought Arnold had a great game in game 2. Where does he need to improve to be a first choice, or is it just a case of not yet?

      • Editor

        July 7th 2016 @ 10:43am
        Patrick Effeney said | July 7th 2016 @ 10:43am | ! Report

        Dan says he’s a viable option off the bench, right?

        • July 7th 2016 @ 11:03am
          Dave_S said | July 7th 2016 @ 11:03am | ! Report

          Indeed so Patrick, but what happens to the line out in the last 20 min when Skelton is on? How often recently have the WBs failed to close out a game because of bad line out execution – reasonably often from memory. We rely on good luck rather than good management.

          On the current set-up (ie with non-jumpers at 7 and 8), if Skelton is on then at best we have one lock and Fardy jumping.

          I like Skelton as a weapon on the ground (attack and D) but unless we find an 8 who is also a genuine jumper then Skelton is a bit of a luxury at lock, whether or not on the bench.

          • Roar Rookie

            July 7th 2016 @ 11:41am
            Shane D said | July 7th 2016 @ 11:41am | ! Report

            My concern is what happens if a starting lock goes down early (eg Douglas in the RWC final)? Is the reward of having Skelton there as a impact player worth that risk?

            • July 8th 2016 @ 7:44am
              Neil Back said | July 8th 2016 @ 7:44am | ! Report

              Absolutely agree with the sentiments. This fascination with the size of the bloke has to end. He’s not even that good at the stuff he’s supposed to be there for.

              Adam Coleman. Now he looks worth working on.

    • July 7th 2016 @ 10:17am
      RubberLegs said | July 7th 2016 @ 10:17am | ! Report

      Just when Simmons starts to get some support on this site, he does a shoulder. What’s the news? I would be surprised if he recovers to play another test this year.

      • July 7th 2016 @ 10:54am
        Markus said | July 7th 2016 @ 10:54am | ! Report

        Simmons will actually get more support on this site in the event of a long term shoulder injury than he would if he plays every Test this year. It will give constant critics time to realise that all the other Australian locks that are so much better than him really aren’t.

        • July 7th 2016 @ 12:20pm
          Browny said | July 7th 2016 @ 12:20pm | ! Report

          Absence makes the heart grow fonder…

        • July 7th 2016 @ 1:26pm
          A.O.Tear Rower said | July 7th 2016 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

          Sadly the other locks are not much better but thats not because Simmons is an outstanding lock, he maybe the safest bet.
          I dont blame them looking for a better 1 because although B.Alexander and Simmons have clocked up a lot of tests in Aus, it is more of an indication that there may have been a lack of ‘solid’ competition for their spots than those guys being too good to lose their spots.

          • Roar Guru

            July 8th 2016 @ 8:27am
            Train Without A Station said | July 8th 2016 @ 8:27am | ! Report

            Well lets just keep trial those guys that can’t even provide ‘solid’ competition in the hope one magically becomes great.

        • Roar Guru

          July 8th 2016 @ 8:28am
          Train Without A Station said | July 8th 2016 @ 8:28am | ! Report

          Nah it’s not that.

          Playing just ruins your reputation because you can fail. If you aren’t there to fail your reputation stays in tact.

          • July 8th 2016 @ 9:13am
            Browny said | July 8th 2016 @ 9:13am | ! Report

            grass is always greener, eh TWAS.

      • Roar Rookie

        July 7th 2016 @ 11:42am
        Shane D said | July 7th 2016 @ 11:42am | ! Report

        It was an AC sprain wasn’t it? He should be back in plenty of time for the RC.

    • July 7th 2016 @ 10:25am
      Lostintokyo said | July 7th 2016 @ 10:25am | ! Report

      Great article Dan, insight from a former great ‘piano pusher’. We could certainly do with some of your aggression in the pack now. Agree Simmons is a must for the lineout and Adam Coleman looks to be a great prospect. Many Roarers would be surprised I would guess by your bench locks, Mumm and Skelton.

      Skelton did not have a big game in the third test, although he did play well in Tokyo last week (different opposition). No mention of Arnold, I guess you see things that we miss. I would be intrigued to hear your reasons for your back row bench, Mumm over Arnold for example. The locks have been a headache for Cheika, as have the props. And as you say, the Wallabies need settled combinations.

      • July 7th 2016 @ 10:56am
        Markus said | July 7th 2016 @ 10:56am | ! Report

        For Mumm I fear it is the broken logic that he is able to cover both lock and flanker, despite not really doing well at either.

        • July 7th 2016 @ 1:27pm
          A.O.Tear Rower said | July 7th 2016 @ 1:27pm | ! Report

          Since when?
          He had a pretty handy 2015.

          • July 7th 2016 @ 3:10pm
            Markus said | July 7th 2016 @ 3:10pm | ! Report

            Take out one sideline run against Argentina, and Mumm was a passenger in 2015, as he has been in 2016 for the Wallabies and the Tahs.

          • Roar Guru

            July 8th 2016 @ 8:29am
            Train Without A Station said | July 8th 2016 @ 8:29am | ! Report

            How was he in fact handy?

            He was weak in the RWC final and the line out fell apart every time he replaced Simmons.

            He did very little for the Waratahs in his short time too.

    • Roar Guru

      July 7th 2016 @ 10:39am
      pformagg said | July 7th 2016 @ 10:39am | ! Report

      Good read. A lot comes down to our players mental ability to cope with the pressures of test match rugby. The All blacks do this the best, believing in themselves, and rising to whatever challenge comes during the game. England from last year could not do this, but the 2016 England have been able to do this.

    • July 7th 2016 @ 10:42am
      Red Block said | July 7th 2016 @ 10:42am | ! Report

      i’m not sure how long Lopeti Timani is out for but if you want impact, i’d be thinking he might out-rank Mumm.

      • July 7th 2016 @ 12:26pm
        Browny said | July 7th 2016 @ 12:26pm | ! Report

        I’m one of the bigger Timani fans going around but if we have to run two jumping locks, Timani isn’t your man. He’s not a primary target in the air, more of a secondary or tertiary target, similar to your McMahon, McCalman, etc.

        Maybe something like Simmons, Coleman, Fardy, Pocock, Timani with Arnold, Hooper and McMahon off the bench to make it really frantic at the back end. Arnold and Hooper for Coleman and Timani if you’re doing it with a 5:2 split.

        • July 8th 2016 @ 12:10am
          Gilbert said | July 8th 2016 @ 12:10am | ! Report

          Timani has the attributes to be a good 6. The Finegan type. Cheika should build him up towards 2019.

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