Michael Cheika’s selection conundrum at halfback

Nicholas Bishop Columnist

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    Suddenly, the summer is nearly here (at least in the UK). The Six Nations has breezed by, the announcement of the British and Irish Lions squad for the tour of New Zealand is due in two days, and there are only another six full rounds of Super Rugby before the international break.

    Time seems to have passed very quickly indeed.

    The political in-fighting over trimming Super Rugby from 18 to 15 teams has obscured Michael Cheika’s selection headaches before the Wallabies’ block of internationals kick off – symbolically enough, with a match against Fiji on June 10 at AAMI Park in Melbourne; the eye of the SANZAAR maelstrom.

    One of Cheika’s most notable off-field successes has been his persuasiveness in tilting the balance of Kurtley Beale’s choice between staying at English club Wasps for another two years and returning home to Australia.

    Beale’s decision helped show that a movement against the prevailing tide of Southern Hemisphere player emigration to the rich clubs in England and France is still possible, even if it is the rugby equivalent of an arduous ‘salmon run’ upstream.

    I strongly suspect Will Genia will follow the same route after his domestic season with Stade Francais is over, so Beale may not be alone.

    The axis of Cheika’s 2017 Wallabies side, from number 9 out to numbers 10 and 12, is one of the areas of greatest interest in selection.

    Number ten will be a straightforward choice between Bernard Foley and Quade Cooper, with Foley the clear favourite. Foley has always been the player Cheika trusts the most and Cooper’s challenge for the job has been hobbled by his three-match Super Rugby suspension. There simply is no-one else anywhere near contention.

    With Fiji, an under-strength Scotland and Italy on the June menu, there is ample room to experiment at both 9 and 12. The systems preferred by both Cheika and his defence coach, Nathan Grey, are likely to rule out the inclusion of both Samu Kerevi and Tevita Kuridrani in the centres, which means that the choice at 12 could boil down to one of Beale, Karmichael Hunt and the incumbent from last year’s Spring Tour, Reece Hodge.

    Hunt has been one of the few shining lights in a series of underwhelming off- and on-field performances by the Reds, and you sense Cheika is itching to find out what he can do on an international field, and in better-quality company.

    Karmichael Hunt Tall

    Beale, like Foley, will probably have the inside track on account of his long-standing relationship with Cheika at the Waratahs. Foley and Beale have a proven track record and worked well as a combination at Super Rugby level at 10 and 12.

    The deal-breaker may well occur on defence. Grey will not want Beale defending in the front line at 12, which means that there is a glaring hole outside Michael Hooper in the defensive 10 channel if all the other backline pieces remain the same as they did in late 2016. Rob Horne used to fill that gap from the left wing, but he is off to Northampton. Hunt is a more-than-decent defender, so it will give him a priceless advantage over Beale in that area.

    Both may get starts somewhere in the June calendar.

    At halfback, there are miles of clear daylight between Genia and everyone else. Nick Phipps has fallen out of favour with Daryl Gibson at the Tahs, and Nick Frisby has fallen out of form and cannot even command a starting spot at the under-achieving Reds.

    That leaves a group of promising youngsters that includes Ryan Louwrens at the Force, the Brumbies’ Joe Powell, Jake Gordon in Sydney and Nick Stirzaker at the Rebels.

    Powell and Stirzaker fought out a head-to-head duel at AAMI Park on Saturday, which gave some strong hints about which way the selection compass is likely to swing in June.

    Stirzaker is a scrum-half in the Phipps mould, and it is probably no surprise Tony McGahan has appointed him club captain on account of his leadership qualities.

    Outside of the positives he brings within the team culture, just like Phipps, Stirzaker has some noticeable deficiencies in basic technique around the base of the breakdown.

    Presence at the base of the breakdown
    The most basic requirement for a halfback is that he is present to clear the ball from the base of the breakdown. In the kind of game Cheika espouses with the Wallabies, involving high-tempo breakdown-to-breakdown and frequently attacking off the second or third pass, this is especially true.

    It is the halfback’s speed to the base, decision-making at it and fast delivery away from it which enables this style to be effective – witness the passing technique and speed-endurance from base-to-base of TJ Perenara in my article a couple of weeks ago.

    In the Rebels-Brumbies match, Powell arrived at the base of all 71 of the rucks the Brumbies built in the course of the game for a perfect 100 per cent ‘presence at the base’ ratio. In contrast, Stirzaker was absent at 17 of the Rebels’ 96 breakdowns, with an 82 per cent ratio.

    The negative impacts of halfback absence are a lack of continuity, proper co-ordination and decision-making. In the long reel sequence beginning at 38:26, Stirzaker’s hesitation at the third breakdown (38:39) means he has to take the ball into contact on unfavourable terms himself. This, in turn, requires Reece Hodge to step in at the base, and produces a lack of co-ordination at the next breakdown, which could easily have resulted in a winning Brumby counter-ruck at 38:55.

    At 47:09, Stirzaker is caught at the base by Sam Carter, which in turn means that Jack Debreczeni has to step in at 9 on the following phase. Hodge’s exit kick shortens up to only 30 metres on the back of his delivery from the base, giving the Brumbies a prime attacking lineout platform.

    At one point in the second period, Stirzaker was absent at the base for four consecutive attacking phases, and it is hard to envisage Cheika accepting the loss of tempo and continuity that implies for the Wallabies.

    Passing technique from the base
    While not necessarily fatal to a scrum-half’s core role, the tendency to ‘lift’ the ball off the ground does not energise the passing game unless the halfback is an effective runner who can engage the attention of defenders on the fringes.

    Against the Brumbies, Stirzaker only ran on three occasions, without threatening a clean break on any of them. The most effective run from the base was (ironically) made by centre Mitch Inman, arcing off at the first defender in Stirzaker’s place and creating space for Sefa Naivalu to score at 13:45 – see the beginning of the Joe Powell reel below.

    Stirzaker will either tend to run a few steps laterally with his shoulders turned towards the receiver (2:33 with turnover penalty at least 15 metres behind the advantage line after the second pass is made; 7:06 and 22:35), or he ‘rehearses the pass’ by pulling the ball into his chest before getting into his delivery routine (7:05, 22:35, 47:09, 51:23, 56:41).

    All of these scenarios resulted either in turnovers or positions where the defence has obviously won the battle by making contact with the ball-carrier anywhere up to 20 metres behind the advantage line.

    There is a 15-metre tackle-for-loss on the second pass at 2:33, at 56:48 number 8 Amanaki Mafi receives the ball on the Brumbies’ 40-metre line in a sequence beginning at their 22!

    Joe Powell is in many ways the polar opposite to Stirzaker in his approach to the position.

    Compared to Stirzaker, Powell gets a lot lower to the ground and his ‘lift’ is far shorter and quicker, to the point where it appears to the naked eye that he is passing directly off the deck (16:35, 17:30 and 49:27). This applies whether he is delivering the ball right-to-left or left-to-right (19:40).

    When he does take steps away from the base, his shoulders tend to stay square upfield or ‘north-south’ (16:30, 19:51, 43:29 and 49:32) and he performs something much closer to a chassé step, rather turning his body towards the receiver and leading up the defensive line.

    This is most obvious in the score from a five-metre Brumbies’ scrum at 43:32. The simple ‘good basics’ of keeping his shoulders square upfield enable Powell to engage the eyes of the last defender, Marika Koroibete, and prevent him from sliding off prematurely on to Henry Speight.

    Those fractions of a second make all the difference between a score and a fail that close to the goal-line. The combination of Powell’s greater urgency to the base, his north-south body position as he runs away from it, and his quicker and lower delivery may seem like marginal gains, but taken together they have an impact out of all proportion to the individual micro-improvements.

    The average time between the completion of consecutive phases with Powell at the base is just over 4.7 seconds, while with Stirzaker there it is roughly two seconds longer. Defensive line-speed is also influenced for the better with Powell in the ‘boot’.

    The Rebels do not have enough time to reset on defence, let alone get off the line and drive upfield, either in a simple same-way pattern (17:33 and 17:41, 49:27 and 49:32) or when the second pass is made (19:43 and 19:49).

    Summary
    Both Stirzaker and Powell have some work to do in cover defence – see Powell’s miss on Sefa Naivalu at 13:52 and Stirzaker’s on Henry Speight at 46:11 – but in terms of effectiveness at the base, there is currently only one winner.

    There is plenty of improvement left in both players, though Powell (who is three years younger than Stirzaker) must be in pole position to get a start in June, especially if Will Genia is unavailable due to his club commitments in France.

    The Wallaby selectors will be using New Zealand standards of selection in the halfback position from now on, with the likes of Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara as models, and this will help Powell’s case.

    With the high tempo, big ball-in-hand offence Michael Cheika likes to run, it is easy to see what he likes about Powell. In the June international series at least, the choice may be between Joe Powell and Jake Gordon at halfback, with either Kurtley Beale or Karmichael Hunt potentially in line for starts at 12 outside Bernard Foley.

    It is indeed a brave new world for Australian rugby, on and off the field.

    Nicholas Bishop
    Nicholas Bishop

    Nick Bishop has worked as a rugby analyst and advisor to Graham Henry (1999-2003), Mike Ruddock (2004-2005) and most recently Stuart Lancaster (2011-2015). He also worked on the 2001 British & Irish Lions tour to Australia and produced his first rugby book with Graham Henry at the end of the tour. Three more rugby books have followed, all of which of have either been nominated for or won national sports book awards. Nick’s latest is a biography of Phil Larder, the first top Rugby League coach to successfully transfer over to Union, entitled “The Iron Curtain”. He is currently writing articles for The Roar and The Rugby Site, and working as a strategy consultant to Stuart Lancaster and the Leinster coaching staff for their European matches.

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    The Crowd Says (242)

    • April 19th 2017 @ 4:38am
      Ken Catchpole's Other Leg said | April 19th 2017 @ 4:38am | ! Report

      Another great anaysis Nicholas.
      There is a lot to like about Powell (and Gordon btw).
      One comment intrigued me though-
      “The Wallaby selectors will be using New Zealand standards of selection in the halfback position from now on”.
      Could you explain this comment?
      And are these NZ standards being applied to other poditions as well?

      For mine, I eould like to see any standsrds of selection employed. I hold great respect (and gratitude) for Cheika, but his selection policy in 2015/16 has baffled me.
      It seems IMHO that Cheika’s conservatism, combined with s little favouritism, hobbled our team, especially last year.

      • Columnist

        April 19th 2017 @ 3:40pm
        Nicholas Bishop said | April 19th 2017 @ 3:40pm | ! Report

        Morning Ken

        With Mick Byrne on board I think we have already seen a lot of changes in different areas – I examined some of the changes in forward ball-carrying here http://www.theroar.com.au/2016/12/28/wallabies-attack-improving/

        At scrum-half, you rarely see the Jimmy Cowan types in NZ rugby now – everyone seems to be quick, low to the ground and with a great motor.

        For me it’s interesting to see that Daryl Gibson seems to have lost faith with Nick Phipps at the Tahs, and is sticking with Jake Gordon. Maybe a sign of the times 🙂

        • Roar Rookie

          April 19th 2017 @ 4:16pm
          Paul D said | April 19th 2017 @ 4:16pm | ! Report

          I think we’ve all seen Phipps at his best and he’s far from there at present. Gordon has a lot of growth in him and even as a inexperienced half he’s in better form than Phipps. I hope he can continue to develop confidence as I feel he has a higher ceiling than Phipps.

    • April 19th 2017 @ 5:12am
      Ken Catchpole's Other Leg said | April 19th 2017 @ 5:12am | ! Report

      Good morning? Nicholas.
      Great anslysis of tge two nines.
      Yes there is lot lot to like about Powell (and Gordon btw, whose size adds another criteria?)
      Intrigued by your comment
      “The Wallaby selectors will be using New Zealand standards of selection in the halfback position from now on,”

      Have I missed something?
      Only halfback?
      I hold respect and gratitude for Cheka but feel his ‘conservative’ selections were a blight on his 2015/16 seasons.

      Can you expand on our new ‘standards of selection’?

      • April 19th 2017 @ 1:48pm
        Ken Catchpole's Other Leg said | April 19th 2017 @ 1:48pm | ! Report

        Apologies to Roarers for the double post. There is delay for some reason between posting and appearance. Is anyone else having the same problem?

      • Columnist

        April 19th 2017 @ 3:41pm
        Nicholas Bishop said | April 19th 2017 @ 3:41pm | ! Report

        As above Ken!

    • April 19th 2017 @ 5:55am
      Adsa said | April 19th 2017 @ 5:55am | ! Report

      The Ponies half does look sharp, however Cheika likes to feel comfortable with players so I think we will see Phipps starting and Powell or Gordon on the bench.

      • Columnist

        April 19th 2017 @ 6:19am
        Nicholas Bishop said | April 19th 2017 @ 6:19am | ! Report

        I have to say I am far less certain of Nick Phipps’ return than you!

        • Columnist

          April 19th 2017 @ 7:51am
          Geoff Parkes said | April 19th 2017 @ 7:51am | ! Report

          Hi Nick, great piece thanks, love the salmon analogy!

          I agree with Adsa, I think Phipps will stay in favour with Cheika due to his ability to get to the breakdown quickly and his defensive energy.

          Powell was introduced to the squad last year and certainly hasn’t got any worse so you’d expect him to be included as well. The thing is with him, the way I look at halfback, the best ones need to be able to do two things;

          – be unobtrusively efficient, ie get to every breakdown and move the ball quickly and accurately, straight off the ground, without fuss
          – have a strong presence/authority about them, have a tactical influence on the game, able to keep defences honest by varying their game, by run or kick

          Those two things might seem at cross purposes, but the best halfbacks today, Smith, Perenara, Murray, Webb, Genia can, to varying degrees, do both.

          Powell has shown he can do the first, but not yet the second – maybe because he is still young and still gaining experience and confidence (but Baptiste Serin is also young and already has a multi-faceted game)

          • April 19th 2017 @ 8:09am
            Cynical Play said | April 19th 2017 @ 8:09am | ! Report

            I beg to differ GP re Phipps. Phipps has proven a good defender in open play and I can recall several try saving efforts in recent years, but his service and delayed decisions are well highlighted when compared to Genia and Powell. I think Cheika should see this now that he’s on the outer at the Tahs. He might picked on the WB bench at best.

            Nick, I suppose it’s s bit early to see some analysis of Gordon?

            If Cheika would only play Folau on the wing he could use Hunt at 12 while utilising Beale at 15 where plays so well. Imagine a backline of Foley Hunt Kerevi Folau, Hodge, Beale …. weapons a plenty.

            • Columnist

              April 19th 2017 @ 8:24am
              Geoff Parkes said | April 19th 2017 @ 8:24am | ! Report

              I never said that Phipps’ service is good CP – everyone knows that his pass can be erratic – just that he gets to the breakdowns quickly.

              When the Wallabies are firing, eg the opening of the first test against England, and against Wales last year, which is the high pace style of ‘perfect game’ Cheika seems to be striving for, Phipps fits this type of game really well.

              • April 19th 2017 @ 9:53am
                Cynical Play said | April 19th 2017 @ 9:53am | ! Report

                Yes, I remember those glorious opening passages of play, and yes Phipps was on the spot.

              • Columnist

                April 19th 2017 @ 3:50pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | April 19th 2017 @ 3:50pm | ! Report

                I think the speed-endurance of Phipps to the breakdown is outweighed by his uncertainty and technical issues when he gets there Geoff! Tbf to him there is evidence that he has been trying to iron some of those out.

            • April 19th 2017 @ 9:59am
              Jimbo81 said | April 19th 2017 @ 9:59am | ! Report

              yes

            • April 19th 2017 @ 10:15am
              Paul said | April 19th 2017 @ 10:15am | ! Report

              Pfffffffft !! Foley at 10 will again not get our backline moving. The bloke is a failure at test level.,,.9 losses in 2016 and Foley was in every team as starting 10 or starting 12.. He is useless..

              • April 19th 2017 @ 11:15am
                Cynical Play said | April 19th 2017 @ 11:15am | ! Report

                Paul, you are an intellectual GIANT. Give Cheika a call mate…enlighten him.

              • April 19th 2017 @ 11:29am
                Paul said | April 19th 2017 @ 11:29am | ! Report

                I know that mate, Pity Cheika doesn’t…

                Should i call Waratah headquarters or ARU headquarters to get a hold of him ?

              • Columnist

                April 19th 2017 @ 3:51pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | April 19th 2017 @ 3:51pm | ! Report

                I’d agree that Cooper should’ve stayed at 10 midway through 2016 season when Cheika had the choice Paul.

              • April 19th 2017 @ 9:22pm
                mzilikazi said | April 19th 2017 @ 9:22pm | ! Report

                That is too tough….remember him against England in the World Cup ??

              • Columnist

                April 19th 2017 @ 9:50pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | April 19th 2017 @ 9:50pm | ! Report

                Cooper was playing well and had the force with him at that point MZ, have to take advantage of the prevailing winds 🙂

            • Columnist

              April 19th 2017 @ 3:48pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | April 19th 2017 @ 3:48pm | ! Report

              I beg to differ GP re Phipps. Phipps has proven a good defender in open play and I can recall several try saving efforts in recent years, but his service and delayed decisions are well highlighted when compared to Genia and Powell. I think Cheika should see this now that he’s on the outer at the Tahs. He might picked on the WB bench at best.

              Agree completely CP.

              I took a brief look at Gordon last week and I like what I see. He is more of a threat as a runner than anyone else in Australia and that means the interior D always has to respect that ability and cannot push out so fast from guard.

              I very much doubt we’ll see Beale and Hunt in the same Wallaby team though. Prob an either/or choice there…

          • Columnist

            April 19th 2017 @ 3:44pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | April 19th 2017 @ 3:44pm | ! Report

            The problem with Phipps is that he is so indecisive at the base Geoff, and we’ve seen in this article and the one on Perenara how a second lost there translates to maybe 5 metres of extra line-speed for the defence. I find it hard to credit that MC would go with Phipps when he cannot displace Jake Gordon, though he’ll be in the squad somewhere.

            • Columnist

              April 19th 2017 @ 4:38pm
              Geoff Parkes said | April 19th 2017 @ 4:38pm | ! Report

              Just to be clear, I’m not No 1 card carrying member of the Phipps fan club, just trying to explain/understand why Cheika stays with him and might do so again.

              That said, I do think a lot of the criticism of him has been way over the top.

              • Columnist

                April 19th 2017 @ 4:45pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | April 19th 2017 @ 4:45pm | ! Report

                It would be interesting to see where he would end up in the pecking order if he was a New Zealander Geoff!

              • Columnist

                April 19th 2017 @ 5:16pm
                Geoff Parkes said | April 19th 2017 @ 5:16pm | ! Report

                Yes, i guess that’s a telling measurement isn’t it? Let’s just say it’s unlikely he’d have got to 51 tests… 🙂

                Btw, glad you’re on the Jake Gordon bandwagon. He still needs more experience at top level, but you’re point about his incisive running is spot on.

                Of course the ten of us who watched him through the NRC knew that already…
                Credit Daryl Gibson too for giving him an opportunity.

              • Columnist

                April 19th 2017 @ 5:18pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | April 19th 2017 @ 5:18pm | ! Report

                Of course the ten of us who watched him through the NRC knew that already…

                That is one place where you have my measure Geoff!

              • April 19th 2017 @ 5:55pm
                Cynical Play said | April 19th 2017 @ 5:55pm | ! Report

                When I saw Jake run in 4 tries in that NRC game towards the end of the comp GP, I knew we were seeing a special attacking No 9

              • Columnist

                April 19th 2017 @ 5:59pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | April 19th 2017 @ 5:59pm | ! Report

                Reminds me a little of a faster version of Terry Holmes, the old Welsh half-back…

            • April 19th 2017 @ 7:06pm
              Noodles said | April 19th 2017 @ 7:06pm | ! Report

              Indecision is the big one Nick. I’ve found NP a constant frustration on that score. Genia on the other hand rarely seems to take any time to shift own it and move it to good effect.

              • Columnist

                April 19th 2017 @ 7:36pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | April 19th 2017 @ 7:36pm | ! Report

                Indecision often gets masked by ‘organizing’ at 9, but it’s often an excuse for the 9 not being able to play at the tempo required.

        • April 19th 2017 @ 10:02am
          Paul said | April 19th 2017 @ 10:02am | ! Report

          Nick you`ll find Quade has played the same amount of games as ” Blow me over with a feather Foley ‘

          • April 19th 2017 @ 1:17pm
            Gepetto said | April 19th 2017 @ 1:17pm | ! Report

            If It is raining or heavy conditions Debraczini should play #10 so the ball can be kicked more than 20 metres

            • April 19th 2017 @ 1:43pm
              AJ said | April 19th 2017 @ 1:43pm | ! Report

              Thumbs up

        • April 19th 2017 @ 11:38am
          Rebellion said | April 19th 2017 @ 11:38am | ! Report

          Great article Nicholas

          I would start with Powell unless:

          – there are injuries to key players in the forwards and if
          – the first test is against the AB’s

          I’m a bit disappointed that Reece Hodge hasn’t tightened up his game this season as he was looking to be a Jason Little in the making and I have reservations about Kerevi’s defends at 13. The other player who I was hoping to see step up is the Waratahs blindside (now injured).
          Chieka’s choice of 6,8,9,10,12 & 13 will be critical. On form you would look at:

          6: Fardy
          8. Higginbotham
          9. Powell
          10. Foley
          12. Hunt? (Presuming Folau is 15)
          13. Kerevi

          • Columnist

            April 19th 2017 @ 3:54pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | April 19th 2017 @ 3:54pm | ! Report

            Thanks Reb. I think the choice will prob boil down to Powell of Gordon if Genia isn’t there.

            What to do with Reece Hodge is an intriguing one. I see he’s already being moved around by the Rebels and that may not be good for his Wallaby career when he’s trying to cement the 12 spot.

            At 8, for me if Timani’s fit, he plays.

    • April 19th 2017 @ 6:10am
      mzilikazi said | April 19th 2017 @ 6:10am | ! Report

      Most interesting article, Nic. Really enjoy your “micro analysis” bits.

      “The combination of Powell’s greater urgency to the base, his north-south body position as he runs away from it, and his quicker and lower delivery may seem like marginal gains, but taken together they have an impact out of all proportion to the individual micro-improvements.”

      This to me, sums up the key aspects of what is essential in a good scrumhalf…one who gives the backline outside him that critical extra seconds over the fast closing defensive line, and the ability to create scoring opportunities.

      Powells presence at the base stats are hugely impressive. One worry I would have is that in some games he has tended to let the ball sit too long after it is available to him…gives the defence time to get more organised.

      One question…how do you rate Nic White ? I know he is overseas, has only played 22 games for the Wallabies….but he still only 26, and should he return, I would wonder if for the next World Cup, he might not be a better bet than anyone else. He is also a very good goal kicker.

      • Columnist

        April 19th 2017 @ 6:23am
        Nicholas Bishop said | April 19th 2017 @ 6:23am | ! Report

        Thx MZ, I like to give out a little taste of the real world of analysis! – keeps it real…

        All of the half-backs mentioned have a long way to go, and they are not as accomplished in all-round terms as their NZ counterparts.

        Nic White has always had that USP, in terms of being the main tactical kicker out of the 9 and 10. But when I’ve looked at his game for Montpellier and the Wallabies, I’ve always been impressed. He is a rugged competitor with good skiil set, and I hop he comes to Australia soon. He was on Leinster’s radar a while back…

        • April 19th 2017 @ 11:35pm
          ethan said | April 19th 2017 @ 11:35pm | ! Report

          Nic White had a good skill set, but I had two main problems with him which ultimately meant I was not sad to see him go.

          Firstly, the time between arrival at the breakdown and clearance of the ball could often be painfully slow, as if afraid to play with structure slightly out of order.

          Secondly, whenever the pressure really came on he lost his cool, made poor decisions and more errors. This made him a bit of a fair weather player – one who could look good when things we’re in favour, but fell apart when they weren’t. Ruggedness is all well and good, but he really lacked composure. Usually I agree with you Nic, but this time I’d say there were very limited times I was impressed when he put on the green and gold. If we’re dropping to four teams, much prefer to see Powell, Louwrens, Gordon and Genia/Tuttle. He’d certainly be a handy bench option though 😉

          • Columnist

            April 19th 2017 @ 11:38pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | April 19th 2017 @ 11:38pm | ! Report

            Firstly, the time between arrival at the breakdown and clearance of the ball could often be painfully slow, as if afraid to play with structure slightly out of order.

            Nic White only really suits a specific kind of offence. If you play off 9 and like to kick off 9, as the Brumbies of the Jake White era liked to do, White is your man. That’s why Jake took him to Montpellier with him, I’ve no doubt. If you want to play off 10 or 12 and your main tactical kicker is elsewhere, he becomes a bit of a misfit.

            • April 19th 2017 @ 11:44pm
              ethan said | April 19th 2017 @ 11:44pm | ! Report

              Ah, thanks Nick! Definitely doesn’t sound the type suited to the attacking Ewen McKenzie game plan then, no wonder I wasn’t enamoured!

              • Columnist

                April 19th 2017 @ 11:45pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | April 19th 2017 @ 11:45pm | ! Report

                Yep Link and White would not have seen eye to eye tactically!!

      • April 19th 2017 @ 9:05am
        Hello said | April 19th 2017 @ 9:05am | ! Report

        I did not realize that White was so young.
        It would be great to get him back

        • April 19th 2017 @ 10:21am
          Marto said | April 19th 2017 @ 10:21am | ! Report

          He wont be back. Cheika banished White forever in 2015 like he did Horwill Higgers Jones and co. Luckily Higgers is back,but i highly doubt Cheika will pick him as they don’t get on at all..

          • April 19th 2017 @ 11:16am
            Cynical Play said | April 19th 2017 @ 11:16am | ! Report

            He wont pick Higgers as there are better No 8’s in Oz on form and going forward to 2019. Not saying Higgers aint a good player

            • April 19th 2017 @ 11:32am
              Marto said | April 19th 2017 @ 11:32am | ! Report

              Who are they…?? Mafi Holloway Mumm ??

              • Columnist

                April 19th 2017 @ 3:57pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | April 19th 2017 @ 3:57pm | ! Report

                I’ve heard this a few times now from diff sources, Marto – Mafi is a Japanese international, so not eligible!

              • April 19th 2017 @ 7:42pm
                Pedro said | April 19th 2017 @ 7:42pm | ! Report

                Timani?

        • Columnist

          April 19th 2017 @ 3:55pm
          Nicholas Bishop said | April 19th 2017 @ 3:55pm | ! Report

          I’m sure he’d find a starting spot in the SR set-up H.

    • Roar Rookie

      April 19th 2017 @ 6:26am
      Dave_S said | April 19th 2017 @ 6:26am | ! Report

      Thanks Nic.

      I haven’t seen enough of Stirzaker to rule him out for sure, but I was immediately impressed by Powell when I first saw him. A long sequence of his early attendance at the ruck base and crisp and decisive passes caused me to comment as much in a game blog.

      Call it confirmation bias maybe, but I prefer “great minds think alike” 😉

      • Columnist

        April 19th 2017 @ 6:56am
        Nicholas Bishop said | April 19th 2017 @ 6:56am | ! Report

        Powell still has a lot of learning to do, but the basics are really very good and that will enable him to progress much more quickly than his rivals Dave.

        • April 19th 2017 @ 10:01am
          PiratesRugby said | April 19th 2017 @ 10:01am | ! Report

          I was at the game on Saturday and did notice that Stirzaker was absent from the ruck. We wondered whether he had been injured. It certainly wasn’t a typical performance from him. Your analysis is very sound but I don’t know whether you can extrapolate from that one game.
          Powell was good but not great. Larkham likes him and that means a lot. He still has time.
          As far as Phipps goes, when did playing badly preclude his selection? He’s a tremendous player who just can’t pass or kick.
          Don’t knock Beale’s defence. He learned to tackle for the last RWC. He just shouldn’t represent the country again for other reasons.
          It’s fascinating how so many options for national selection are Tahs even though they are terrible and have been for a few years now. But the analysis of Non-Tah selections is in minute detail. There’s always a reason not to pick a Tah. Eh?

          • Columnist

            April 19th 2017 @ 4:00pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | April 19th 2017 @ 4:00pm | ! Report

            I’d agree with you that Powell has been ‘good but not great’ all season. There is still a ways to go there… Stirzaker is well capable of coming back into the equation but there are issues to be addressed.

            I think Phipps not having game time will count more heavily against him than being out of form Pirates. Right now, like Frisby he’s not getting on the field enough.

    • April 19th 2017 @ 6:42am
      Karl Knuth said | April 19th 2017 @ 6:42am | ! Report

      Hi Nic,

      Would be interested to hear your thoughts on James Tuttle? Obviously very young but also seems to lead from the front. His pass also seems very quick and accurate in most cases.

      • Columnist

        April 19th 2017 @ 6:55am
        Nicholas Bishop said | April 19th 2017 @ 6:55am | ! Report

        Some similarities to Powell, in that he’s pass-first and can maintain the same kind of tempo ruck-to-ruck. But not as accomplished and I’d expect Frisby to be back in the saddle by the end of the season…

        • April 19th 2017 @ 10:24am
          DOUBLES said | April 19th 2017 @ 10:24am | ! Report

          Frisbee ?? hahahaha You obviously have not seen any Reds games this year Nick.. I`m a reds man and he is horrendous.

          Worse than Nick Phipps ..How`s that for ya !!

          • Columnist

            April 19th 2017 @ 4:02pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | April 19th 2017 @ 4:02pm | ! Report

            Worse than Nick Phipps ..How`s that for ya !!

            Whoa! Steady there, steady as she goes!

            Frisby is out of form, that’s all.

            • April 19th 2017 @ 5:11pm
              Karl Knuth said | April 19th 2017 @ 5:11pm | ! Report

              I agree. Frisby is not with it at the moment – but one does not simply lose class overnight. He will come back to form imo- I am glad that Tuttle is pushing him though. Can only be good for both of them long term.

              • Columnist

                April 19th 2017 @ 5:15pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | April 19th 2017 @ 5:15pm | ! Report

                Yes Karl, would love to see Frisby make it back to his 2016 form and develop again…

        • April 19th 2017 @ 1:25pm
          Red menace said | April 19th 2017 @ 1:25pm | ! Report

          Frisby, seriously Frisby??? Using a quote from GoT, “You know nothing Nicholas Bishop”.

          • April 19th 2017 @ 11:42pm
            ethan said | April 19th 2017 @ 11:42pm | ! Report

            Incredible, I’m disagreeing with Nic twice in one day! Much as Frisby has shown promising upside, he hasn’t ever shown consistency or mastery of the basics.

            I remember when he first came on to the scene and often picked the ball up from the base of the ruck before knowing who he was going to pass to. Looked around for a second or two and put his team under all sorts. Thankfully has improved since those days, but if we’d had any sort of depth in that position I couldn’t see him ever being international level. A Kiwi at 9 for the Force, an Argie at 9 for the Brumbies, and Stirzaker being injured/out of form basically gifted him a spot. Thank God for the 60 cap rule so Genia could play.

            • Columnist

              April 19th 2017 @ 11:44pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | April 19th 2017 @ 11:44pm | ! Report

              I do believe that if Frisby had been given a real go when he was in good form in 2016, he would be in a very different place to where he is right now 🙂

              • April 19th 2017 @ 11:48pm
                ethan said | April 19th 2017 @ 11:48pm | ! Report

                Aye, possibly. With Phipps being the other contender I wouldn’t have minded seeing him receive more WB game time either. The good thing is that he’s a learner. Has shown real improvement over the years, so certainly one to keep an eye on.

              • Columnist

                April 19th 2017 @ 11:49pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | April 19th 2017 @ 11:49pm | ! Report

                Definitely one of the thinkers at 9 rather than the all-action types, but there’s room both (when they’re good) in the game…

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