One short step to power: Samu Kerevi at the centre of attention

Nicholas Bishop Columnist

By Nicholas Bishop, Nicholas Bishop is a Roar Expert

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    There are several positions on the rugby pitch where Australian starting players would struggle to make the squads at New Zealand Super Rugby franchises.

    Happily, the centre or #13 spot is not one of them.

    Rob Horne is solid for the Waratahs (and has been for some seasons), while Tom English has completed a successful conversion from the wing to centre in Melbourne. For newcomer Curtis Rona, the positives have far outweighed the negatives after his transfer from league’s Canterbury Bulldogs to the Western Force.

    The icing on the top of the cake is that Michael Cheika can call on two top-quality operators for the Wallabies, in the shape of established 44-cap international Tevita Kuridrani in Canberra and rising star Samu Kerevi at the Queensland Reds.

    Centre is one position in which the All Blacks’ coaching staff would give serious consideration to selecting a Wallaby – were he available to them – in their forthcoming series against the British and Irish Lions.

    Kuridrani and Kerevi are both very big men, who wield a big stick in terms of physicality and power.

    Both weigh in at well over 100 kgs and are able to threaten the advantage line on first phase from set-piece. This, in turn, gives their teams the option to select a second distributor at #12 – Duncan Paia’aua for the Reds, Kyle Godwin for the Brumbies, potentially Kurtley Beale for the Wallabies.

    The ultimate role model for big men in midfield in the modern game is Ma’a Nonu. After missing out on New Zealand’s disastrous 2007 World Cup campaign, Graham Henry decided to move Nonu from centre to second five-eighth, with Conrad Smith in the #13 jersey, and New Zealand have never looked back.

    AB-France

    AFP PHOTO

    During the 68 games they played together for the All Blacks over an eight-year span, Nonu and Smith were only on the losing side five times.

    The development program Nonu had to undertake in order to become the #12 Henry wanted cannot be underestimated; he had to climb rugby’s equivalent of Mount Everest. Henry always selected a playmaker at second five-eighth previously, until the seismic upheaval of the 2007 World Cup sent shockwaves through his rugby thinking. Luke McAlister and Aaron Mauger (both players with extensive experience in the #10 jersey) were the incumbents up until that ill-fated quarter-final in Cardiff.

    Nonu had to learn the requirements of long passing, a positional kicking game and footwork in heavy traffic in order to succeed at the new spot, and to his eternal credit he managed it all while maintaining the advantages of the ‘big body’ in contact situations.

    Kerevi is built along the same lines as Nonu. Both are listed at 108 kgs, while Kerevi is by four centimetres the taller of the two, at 1.86m.

    So can Kerevi follow Nonu’s path and shift inside?

    At the moment there is precious little evidence of either the deft long-passing or tactical kicking games necessary to implement the transition successfully – but with Mick Byrne (kicking) and Steve Larkham (passing) both entrenched in the Wallaby coaching hierarchy, there is sound reason to believe that those skills can be taught over time.

    There are however, plenty of promising signs that Kerevi has already picked up the third element – footwork in traffic.

    Footwork before contact is what makes a big man a really potent attacking force in tight spaces.

    Although Kuridrani is generally misunderstood as solely a straight-line, crash-ball merchant, he too has the ability to change direction within a couple of strides in order to defeat a defender. On the 2016 end-of-year tour, Kuridrani’s footwork was at the heart of the Wallabies’ final go-ahead score against Scotland in the 76th minute.

    It is first-phase lineout and there is a defender rapidly closing him down. Kuridrani’s objective is that he is trying to build a scenario where he is running through an arm-tackle. That is where he knows that his power and size will be at its most effective, when he is running through an arm, rather than trying to bulldoze an entire body.

    In order to create the arm-tackle scenario, Kuridrani approaches the defender (Scotland’s Peter Horne) square-on, with a ‘bounce’ in the stride before contact, which means that as his feet leave the ground, he can go either way (first screenshot).

    Horne’s centre of gravity is forward and he is aligned on the inside half of Kuridrani’s body. If Kuridrani can change direction within two strides, there will be space in the outside gap (“1” in the first screenshot).

    Kuridrani’s first stride takes him further away from Horne and into the arm-tackle ‘hot zone’ (second screenshot). By the third he is already through the gap and it is too late for the defender to recover.

    Wide receivers and running backs in American football are specifically trained to beat a one-on-one tackle within two steps. Any more than that, and the tackler has time to adjust. The following video gives a flavour of the supple movement, quick feet, and rapid changes of direction of which they are capable:

    In the Rebels-Reds game, from the point of view of offensive statistics, Kerevi had a day to remember. He racked up 150 metres on 15 carries, scoring two tries and making two try assists (one of which was hauled back for a forward pass by George Smith), in addition to four clean breaks, nine defenders beaten, three offloads, and one fumble recovery for good measure.

    Much of his impact was derived from the same ability Kuridrani flashed against Scotland – to change direction within two strides, and expose a defender. Just like Kuridrani, he did it ‘in the clutch’ with the fate of the game on the line:

    The score and the movement which produced it are carbon copies of the Kuridrani version against Scotland. The initial ‘bounce before contact’ versus a defender (the Rebels’ #7 Will Miller) whose momentum is forward and aligned on the inside half of the attacker’s body, the two-step shift outside through an arm-tackle and into space, are all exactly the same.

    In real time, Kerevi’s movement can be observed from the end-on angle at the end of the official highlight reel from the match.

    This was not the only occasion in the game where Kerevi’s footwork created an opportunity for the Reds.

    Another step-and-offload is enough to generate space for the scoring pass to Scott Higginbotham in the 49th minute (again viewed from behind the posts in slo-mo at 2:01 on the reel).

    A sequence from early in the game illustrated Kerevi’s ability to step in the opposite direction – back inside and ‘against the grain’ – versus one the Rebels’ most accurate back-line defenders, left wing Marika Koroibete:

    Here Koroibete is in good position to contain the cutback off Kerevi’s left foot, but the bounce-and-step is still sharp enough to draw an arm tackle and create a clean bust down the middle of the field anyway.

    One final example showed how quickly Kerevi reads the play and gets into his two-step evasive manoeuvre:

    In the first couple of screenshots, Kerevi is anticipating Koroibete’s angle, jamming in off the outside edge. He is into his ‘bounce’ early, cutting back inside Koroibete and creating enough space to deliver an offload out of his right hand to Quade Cooper circling around for a second touch in the movement – and that usually spells danger for the defence!

    Summary
    Kurtley Beale and Karmichael Hunt will both be the wrong side of 30 when the 2019 World Cup in Japan swings around, so the long-term selection plans in the centres will make for fascinating viewing.

    Does Cheika envisage ‘double K’, with both Kurtley and Karmichael in the back-line at 12 and 15 respectively? Or will he see it with the two Fijians, Kerevi and Kuridrani, partnering each other at 12 and 13 instead?

    For the latter to occur, it will require a monumental effort in skills development by Kerevi, following the illustrious example of Ma’a Nonu. The good news is that Kerevi already has added razor-sharp footwork and offloading ability to his natural power and size.

    If Mick Byrne can coax a kicking game, and Stephen Larkham some accurate long passing skills, Kerevi will become an all-rounder in the Nonu mould and render the selection of a second playmaker at #12 obsolete.

    The defence will be automatically upgraded with Kerevi and Kuridrani outside Michael Hooper from lineouts, and Australia will finally have a Wallaby of the very highest All Black quality at the centre of their back-line.

    It is a mouth-watering thought, even if there are several bridges yet to be crossed.

    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 (261)

    • Roar Guru

      May 17th 2017 @ 4:48am
      Kia Kaha said | May 17th 2017 @ 4:48am | ! Report

      Thanks Nick. A nice area to analyze.

      Kuridrani seemed to fall out of favour last year with Cheika, though Kerevi certainly looks an exciting player.

      Cheika tried to emulate Ford and Farrell with Cooper and Foley. That meant sticking with Kerevi at 13 but solved the kicking option at 12.

      Many called for Kerevi to make one move inside but who then to put at 13? Folau has hardly set the world alight and Horne is reliable but not exactly an atracking menace.

      I think KK looks appealing as a centre combo but to me the balance is out of whack but more so on defence than attack.

      Nonu was kept in line by Smith and that’s a big responsibility for Kuridrani who I feel is the more assured on defence.

      Nathan Grey had some weird back line shuffling in defence with Cooper, for example, diffusing bombs when you had the star bomb disposal expert put up in the line.

      The question is who will be the starting Wallaby flyhalf? If Cooper gets the nod, then there’s a lot to be said for Kerevi at 12 but does this mean we get more shuffling.

      Karmichael Hunt is getting on but like Ben Smith I love his energy and willingness to get involved. I’d have him at fullback and I’d drop Folau. That ship on the wing has sailed and he needs a loud and clear message to get his game back to scratch.

      But as much as I’d like to see KK to see their attacking worth, I think they’d get shown up on defence and a lot of pressure would go on whoever is at 10 on exits.

      NZ has quite a few options at centre – more so than Australia – but I agree that as it stands the combinations are still to be locked down. I think Crotty will start but is Shag going to put his trust in SBW or does he bring in a rookie like Laumape and move Crotty out or does he give Lienert-Brown a chance to regain form or bring in a bigger man like Moala?

      I think there are a few options to Cheika as well but to me balance is the key and KK looks like a power duo on attack but short on kicking and lacking defensive awareness.

      • Roar Guru

        May 17th 2017 @ 6:36am
        Fox Saker said | May 17th 2017 @ 6:36am | ! Report

        If Charlie Nagtai gets his A-game back he will end up at centre. Before he got injured he was the best centre in the comp with all the skills and some. Dave Renny described him as the best player in the Super Comp before his injury and he wasn’t far from being right at the time.

        I am keen to see him in the Chiefs next game – for a guy being so long out of the game, he was outstanding last weekend.

        SBW ( the AB’s will get him really firing again) will be in the mix with Crotty and right now is there a better defensive centre than Fekitoa anywhere in the world?

        His rush defense is no longer hit and miss but now world class in it accuracy and timing and his match winning try last week reminded us of just how devastating he is in attack.

        The AB’s will not drop Fekitoa right right now with the form he is in. In fact his defense has saved the Highlanders at times this season already.

        But NZ is blessed with world class players in this area – George Moala – The Hurricanes paring and the list goes on. Some great [players will miss out unfortunately and then European scouts will come a knocking!

        • Columnist

          May 17th 2017 @ 8:34am
          Nicholas Bishop said | May 17th 2017 @ 8:34am | ! Report

          I’d agree Ngatai is the best long-term solution at 12 Fox, but I also think time is far too short for him to be considered for the start of the Lions series – Crotty/ALB prob the likeliest combo there…

          I’d be surprised if Fekitoa gets the nod at 13 over Lienert-Brown, he still lacks composure in critical situations…

          • May 17th 2017 @ 9:40am
            Neil said | May 17th 2017 @ 9:40am | ! Report

            Good article, Nick. Probably Lienert-Brown at 13, but would not be surprised to see a wild card like Vince Aso in the mix.

            • Roar Guru

              May 17th 2017 @ 9:51am
              Diggercane said | May 17th 2017 @ 9:51am | ! Report

              You think so Neil?

              Would certainly be a wildcard for sure, if not for Procters injury Aso would be floating around I think.

              • May 17th 2017 @ 9:59am
                Neil said | May 17th 2017 @ 9:59am | ! Report

                I see Aso more in the Nonu mold at 13, Digger. Currently second highest SR try scorer behind Lauampe.

            • Columnist

              May 17th 2017 @ 3:27pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | May 17th 2017 @ 3:27pm | ! Report

              Wasn’t Aso being considered as a wing before Proctor’s injury Neil?

              • Roar Rookie

                May 17th 2017 @ 3:50pm
                Shane D said | May 17th 2017 @ 3:50pm | ! Report

                Aso has been a centre for most of his career Nick. He pushed out to the wing early in the season when Jane picked up an injury.

              • Columnist

                May 17th 2017 @ 4:26pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | May 17th 2017 @ 4:26pm | ! Report

                Would he be seen as a potential 13 by the AB’s Shane?

            • Roar Rookie

              May 17th 2017 @ 3:52pm
              Shane D said | May 17th 2017 @ 3:52pm | ! Report

              Aso has defensive issues to sort out I believe Neil. He gets out of alignment to regularly for mine to see him put in the AB’s.

          • May 17th 2017 @ 10:33am
            ethan said | May 17th 2017 @ 10:33am | ! Report

            You don’t see SBW facing up against the Lions Nick? He was next preferred behind Nonu and Smith before his Sevens stint. Seems to me if he shows some form between now and the Lions series, he will be first one picked.

            • Columnist

              May 17th 2017 @ 3:29pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | May 17th 2017 @ 3:29pm | ! Report

              He may have a role off the bench but it’s hard to say where he fits in with Shag’s thinking Ethan…. I do recall that when Barrett was selected against Wales in 2014, the 10/12 combination between he and SBW didn’t work out too well then. It only improved when Colin Slade came on to replace SBW – who is basically a non-kicker.

          • May 17th 2017 @ 2:20pm
            Ryan said | May 17th 2017 @ 2:20pm | ! Report

            Fekitoa has scored a number of clutch last-minute tries both at international and super level. He is composed when needed.

            • Columnist

              May 17th 2017 @ 3:31pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | May 17th 2017 @ 3:31pm | ! Report

              Although MF is still a very good player, I still see him snatching at opportunities when they arise, so there is still an impulsive streak there.

          • Roar Guru

            May 18th 2017 @ 1:40am
            Fox Saker said | May 18th 2017 @ 1:40am | ! Report

            Yes I tend to agree Nick, Lienert-Brown had a great AB season last year – but I don’t think they will drop MF from the squad.

            But I did forget to mention a bloke called Reiko Ioane who has been outstanding and can play wing. Hansen is huge fan as well. He described Reiko and Nagtai as very special players last season. The former may not be risked against the LIons though but that being said Hansen is a very big fan of both Iaone brothers and I think they both might get the nod for the squad just quietly.

            • Columnist

              May 18th 2017 @ 1:55am
              Nicholas Bishop said | May 18th 2017 @ 1:55am | ! Report

              Both the Ioanes are fearsome prospects Fox, along with Melani Nanai…. but the Lions tour has come too early for all of them.

        • May 19th 2017 @ 3:15pm
          Centreman said | May 19th 2017 @ 3:15pm | ! Report

          I think the Hurricanes centre pairing have scored more tries between them than the whole Rebels team.
          Anyone got the stats?

          • Columnist

            May 19th 2017 @ 4:52pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | May 19th 2017 @ 4:52pm | ! Report

            I think the Hurricanes centre pairing have scored more tries between them than the whole Rebels team.

            That is just the kind of stat which could well be true this season… 🙂

            • May 19th 2017 @ 10:01pm
              Centreman said | May 19th 2017 @ 10:01pm | ! Report

              Looked up the top try scorers so far and Lauampe is top with 11 and Aso second with 10. Smith and Nonu now a distant memory for the Hurricanes.
              How can we compete with the NZ production line.

      • May 17th 2017 @ 7:26am
        Fionn said | May 17th 2017 @ 7:26am | ! Report

        Why do you think KK centres would be average on defence?

        • May 17th 2017 @ 8:29am
          jameswm said | May 17th 2017 @ 8:29am | ! Report

          Kuridrani is clearly our best defender at 13. He is very good there. Kerevi is a bit suspect there, but should be fine at 12. A really strong defensive presence is the third thing he has to add to his game. His footwork and short pass/offload are very good

          • Columnist

            May 17th 2017 @ 8:36am
            Nicholas Bishop said | May 17th 2017 @ 8:36am | ! Report

            Yes I don’t really see the defensive weakness Kia mentions with TK running the defence from #13…

          • May 17th 2017 @ 8:37am
            Fionn said | May 17th 2017 @ 8:37am | ! Report

            Agreed, James. I think the upside Kerevi offers at 12—like Nonu—make it an idea worth trying to develop though.

          • May 18th 2017 @ 9:03am
            Harty said | May 18th 2017 @ 9:03am | ! Report

            I disagree James. TK is a good tackler but he makes a lot of bad reads where he’s not in the position to make a tackle. Definitely not the defensive linchpin we need in the mould of Conrad Smith.
            Kerevi has the same issue at 13.
            I think in Australia we put too much emphasis on attacking prowess when its only half the game.

            • Columnist

              May 18th 2017 @ 5:44pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | May 18th 2017 @ 5:44pm | ! Report

              I think in Australia we put too much emphasis on attacking prowess when its only half the game.

              I think this comment has a lot of mileage in it – while possession of the ball can be an enormous help to your D (obv while you have it you don’t have to worry about defending at all!) you don’t see the great defensive minds being bred in the modern game in Australia like they used to be. Australia won the 1999 WC on the back of only conceding one try in the tournament.

      • Columnist

        May 17th 2017 @ 8:31am
        Nicholas Bishop said | May 17th 2017 @ 8:31am | ! Report

        Yes Kia, the Cooper/Foley idea never really clicked, and the two seemed to duplicate roles more than complement each other.

        If Cheika did go for double K again he would need a second kicker at 15 (Hunt or Beale) and maybe even Hodge on one of the wings. Foley/Beale/Kerevi is probably the likeliest summer combo until Kerevi’s kicking game and distribution can be brought up to scratch.

        • Roar Guru

          May 17th 2017 @ 9:16am
          PeterK said | May 17th 2017 @ 9:16am | ! Report

          agree

          My preference would be Kerevi at 12 (a lot better defender there than at 13), Kuridrani at 13, Beale at 15, Folau on the wing. Thta leaves 1 wing spot open between DHP, Naivalu, Hodge, Speight.

          No need to shuffle players around in defence.

          Better than Beale at 12, Kerevi at 13 and Folau at 15 and Kuridrani on the bench.

          • May 17th 2017 @ 1:19pm
            jameswm said | May 17th 2017 @ 1:19pm | ! Report

            No Hunt Peter? Close to the best Aussie back this season. I’d start him at 15 and Beale either on the bench or at 12. Hunt could also play 12, but I’d keep him at 15 with Folau/Hodge on one wing and Speight/Naivalu on the other.

            • Roar Guru

              May 17th 2017 @ 1:21pm
              Fionn said | May 17th 2017 @ 1:21pm | ! Report

              Hunt played at 12 last year right? Any point at trialling him at 12 in June?

            • Roar Guru

              May 17th 2017 @ 1:57pm
              PeterK said | May 17th 2017 @ 1:57pm | ! Report

              IMO is better than Hunt at 15.

              Hunt would be ideal for the bench.

              Hunt is a better choice than Beale for 12 though.

              So if Kerevi is at 13 then Hunt at 12 , Beale at 15 and Folau on the wing, Kuridrani on the bench.

            • Roar Rookie

              May 17th 2017 @ 3:55pm
              Shane D said | May 17th 2017 @ 3:55pm | ! Report

              Prefer Beale at 15 as the 2nd playmaker to take pressure of the 10. With Foley / Cooper & Beale at 10/12 the defense needs too much shuffling.

              • May 17th 2017 @ 6:11pm
                Bring Back...? said | May 17th 2017 @ 6:11pm | ! Report

                I think you’re being harsh on DHP – injury permitting. I’d like to see Hunt at 12 with Kerevi at 13. Folau and Perese on wings and DHP at the back. Beale from the bench. Gives you best defender at 12 (and great on field communicator) with kicking options at 10, 12 and 15. If Kerevi isn’t a good defender then, sorry, he doesn’t get picked at this level.

              • Roar Guru

                May 18th 2017 @ 7:34am
                Fionn said | May 18th 2017 @ 7:34am | ! Report

                I’d be pretty happy with that, Bring Back.

                Beale can’t make a tackle to save himself, I have late nights thinking about him playing at 12..

          • Columnist

            May 17th 2017 @ 3:34pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | May 17th 2017 @ 3:34pm | ! Report

            I do believe Hunt deserves a shot at 15 somewhere along the (June) line Peter…

            • Roar Guru

              May 17th 2017 @ 5:00pm
              PeterK said | May 17th 2017 @ 5:00pm | ! Report

              Depends.

              He has to show significant impact from the bench first to deserve a starting spot.

              Also if the incumbent (Folau or Beale) was playing well then that is unfair on them.

              Now if it was because Folau / Beale needed a rest having played a lot more rugby this year then sure but then you could ask why doesn’t DHP get a shot at 15 before Hunt.

              • Columnist

                May 18th 2017 @ 5:45pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | May 18th 2017 @ 5:45pm | ! Report

                Why is Beale already ‘the incumbent’ Peter?

        • Roar Guru

          May 17th 2017 @ 10:43am
          Hoy said | May 17th 2017 @ 10:43am | ! Report

          Aus is terribly short sighted… I doubt that too many people see developing Kerevi as a top flight 12 on their list of high priorities… and so we bumble along. He has all the aspects we need at 12 really. Good footwork, pace (enough) power, soft hands… the rest can be trained (if we put the work in).

          • Roar Guru

            May 17th 2017 @ 11:24am
            PeterK said | May 17th 2017 @ 11:24am | ! Report

            very true

          • May 17th 2017 @ 12:54pm
            stubs said | May 17th 2017 @ 12:54pm | ! Report

            This.

          • May 17th 2017 @ 1:05pm
            ethan said | May 17th 2017 @ 1:05pm | ! Report

            Cheika has been glued to the idea of Folau as fullback. Therefore he has to pick a second play maker at 12. Sometimes they cannot defend, therefore he must use a rotational defensive system. Therefore he must pick his bigger body for go forward in the 13 channel.

            But all of that could be reversed if he moves Folau to wing and picks his second playmaker at 15. Beale or Hunt, possibly even DHP, although he’s not quite noted as a ball player as much. Lets hope he is open to ‘experimenting’ with these ideas in the upcoming tests. I don’t hold my breath though.

            • Roar Guru

              May 17th 2017 @ 2:00pm
              PeterK said | May 17th 2017 @ 2:00pm | ! Report

              agree, but let’s be fair every aust coach since Horan played has used a second playmaker at 12 except for Deans at the end when he chose McCabe as a crash test.

              Cheika did try Kerevi at 12 against England first test and it worked very well until injuries put Lealifano at 12 and Kerevi moved out.

              • May 17th 2017 @ 7:36pm
                ethan said | May 17th 2017 @ 7:36pm | ! Report

                True, and in theory I have nothing against second play maker at 12. But in recent times it has made us defensively weaker, with all the rotations and Kerevi at 13. I also didn’t mind Folau at fullback, even if he doesn’t quite master the full skill set, he is still very good. I just think with the cattle we have available at the moment, we have other options that are worth trying.

              • Columnist

                May 17th 2017 @ 7:49pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | May 17th 2017 @ 7:49pm | ! Report

                The options are definitely there Ethan, though the likes of Byrne/Larkham will have to do the work with Kerevi to achieve that ideal solution.

            • Columnist

              May 17th 2017 @ 3:36pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | May 17th 2017 @ 3:36pm | ! Report

              Well MC has the breathing space to do just that – experiment – in June Ethan. Only Scotland among Australia’s three opponents will present a significant challenge, so there is plenty of scope to find out how best to put the back-line jigsaw together in a creative new way…

        • May 17th 2017 @ 7:12pm
          MA said | May 17th 2017 @ 7:12pm | ! Report

          Double

        • May 17th 2017 @ 7:14pm
          MA said | May 17th 2017 @ 7:14pm | ! Report

          The Cooper Foley combination was never a combination. The sole purpose of Cheika’s move was for Foley to learn Cooper’s passing game. Cheika is a poor coach but he is not stupid enough to believe that Foley would ever be a 12 nor did Cheika ever have any intention of moving forward with Cooper at 10. Cheika will always persist with Foley no matter how much the Wallabies lose.

          • Columnist

            May 17th 2017 @ 7:51pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | May 17th 2017 @ 7:51pm | ! Report

            The sole purpose of Cheika’s move was for Foley to learn Cooper’s passing game. Doubt this would even be possible! The two are very different types of player.

            • May 18th 2017 @ 7:01am
              MA said | May 18th 2017 @ 7:01am | ! Report

              Not much Cheika has done has been successful or rational. This experiment was no different which doesn’t mean it wasn’t the purpose. Can you come up with another reason Cheika put Foley at 12 outside Cooper? The only other reason I can think of was to hamstring Cooper with a 12 that he could do nothing with and would only get in the way of him accessing the outside backs and therefore further damage Cooper rating as a test 10.

              • May 18th 2017 @ 10:25am
                Gepetto said | May 18th 2017 @ 10:25am | ! Report

                Tell it like it is MA!

    • May 17th 2017 @ 4:50am
      Rhys Bosley said | May 17th 2017 @ 4:50am | ! Report

      Thanks Nick, good read. I agree that Kerevi has done work to do if they want to make him the “universal soldier” a la Nonu at 12, but the foundations are there. He is already an unselfish player who uses his line breaking ability to get into space and then pass or offload.

      Also, Kerevi does actually have a useful kicking game. Usually it will entail a 20 or so metre kick chase when he sees space, which has gotten him into a threatening position on s number of occasions. And if you watch early in the game against the Pumas in Australia last year, you can see an example of a lovely attacking kick for the corner, which pinned the defend against the line with a lousy angle and forced a kick out that set up a lineout near the Argentine tryline, from which the Wallabies scored.

      So I don’t see why he couldn’t already be used in a 12/13 combo with Kuridrani, though his big weakness is defence which this year has been quite poor. I remember the game against the Crusaders when he just dropped off a tackle where he had the opposing back wrapped up around the chest, inexplicable for a man of his size.

      IKerevi’s poor defence would definitely play against his Wallabies selection at 13 at the moment, because Kuridrani is such s defensive asset there and while he doesn’t have the range of skills in attack, he is a cool headed game winner when they get him close enough to the line to crash over.

      I don’t think we should place too much emphasis on Hunt and Beale being over 30 in 2019 though, it certainly didn’t hold Nonu and Smith back. In fact in rugby I reckon 30 is the new 25, the age when many players are at their best.

      • May 17th 2017 @ 7:18am
        Fionn said | May 17th 2017 @ 7:18am | ! Report

        Tennis went through a similar thing. For years people raved about how great Federer played at ’28’ ’30!’ ’32!’ ’34!’ ’35!’ (you get the drift).

        When they actually analysed the top 100, rather than the peak age being 24/25 like the commentators always told you, 28/29 was the most common age for a top 100 player. Tennis has more chronic injuries that are harder to recover from than rugby as they are repetitive stress rather than Impact based. If a rugby player stays injury free I don’t see why they can’t play well until 32/34 given modern strength and conditioning.

        • May 17th 2017 @ 8:18am
          mzilikazi said | May 17th 2017 @ 8:18am | ! Report

          And attention to good nutrition.

        • Columnist

          May 17th 2017 @ 8:41am
          Nicholas Bishop said | May 17th 2017 @ 8:41am | ! Report

          Lesson of George Smith in the forwards, and Brian O’Driscoll (who played for Ireland til age 35) in the backs…

          • May 17th 2017 @ 9:51am
            dontcallmeshirley said | May 17th 2017 @ 9:51am | ! Report

            McCaw was the ultimate. He played every minute of all of those tests. In terms of minutes played he mist be miles ahead of second place.
            He must of managed his health brilliantly as he was playing great rugby right to the end.

          • May 17th 2017 @ 1:13pm
            Browny said | May 17th 2017 @ 1:13pm | ! Report

            …and Brad Thorn, Donncha O’Callaghan, Peter Stringer, Mario Ledesman, Victor Matfield…

        • Roar Guru

          May 17th 2017 @ 9:21am
          PeterK said | May 17th 2017 @ 9:21am | ! Report

          Except for backs who rely on pace as their major weapon, there is no doubt most lose a fair bit of pace by 34.

          Look at Usain Bolt , his world record time was in 2009 when he was 22/23. He is now 30.

          • May 17th 2017 @ 9:39am
            aussikiwi said | May 17th 2017 @ 9:39am | ! Report

            Male sprinters will generally peak in their mid 20s, but with luck and good management they can stay close to their best well into their 30s. Linford Christie won 100m olympic gold at 32.

            A really fascinating statistical outlier is Merlene Ottey, who competed as a sprinter at olympic games from 1980 to 2004 and was still making the finals well into her 40s. Won two medals at Sydney aged 40 and was still competing in open 100m international events into her 50s (albeit only relay heats).

            • May 17th 2017 @ 1:29pm
              jameswm said | May 17th 2017 @ 1:29pm | ! Report

              You guys need to look up a guy called Kim Collins. Now aged 41 and still competing at the top level. Last year aged 40 he made the Olympic 100 semis and even ran 9.93 during the year!

              Ottey you’ve mentioned, and Christie (I was there).

              I think in athletics you can still be very close to your best up to 30-31. Felix Sanchez won two Olympic gold medals in the 400 hurdles 8 years apart, aged 27 and 35. You can stay competitive into your 30s if you look after yourself.

              • Roar Guru

                May 17th 2017 @ 2:02pm
                PeterK said | May 17th 2017 @ 2:02pm | ! Report

                thing is constant impact injuries have had their toll on the pacey backs.

                Also from observation the top speed is not affected so much as the initial acceleration by 30 and this is even more important since that gives the speed over the first 20 metres to hit gaps and beat players on the outside.

              • May 17th 2017 @ 6:29pm
                Bring Back...? said | May 17th 2017 @ 6:29pm | ! Report

                Wasn’t Christie a drug cheat? And major suspicions around Ottey as well!

              • May 17th 2017 @ 10:55pm
                Jameswm said | May 17th 2017 @ 10:55pm | ! Report

                Same for all of them.

          • Columnist

            May 17th 2017 @ 3:40pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | May 17th 2017 @ 3:40pm | ! Report

            BOD replaced his (undoubted) pace from his youthful days with rugby nous, and he kept abreast of what was at the time a fast-developing position (outside centre) in the game. As the requirements changed, he changed, and so did Conrad Smith. That’s why those two were the by far the best two players in that spot for over a decade.

            • Roar Rookie

              May 17th 2017 @ 3:59pm
              Shane D said | May 17th 2017 @ 3:59pm | ! Report

              What’s the saying Nick- when you lose speed in your legs you need to replace it with speed between the ears.

              • Columnist

                May 17th 2017 @ 4:25pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | May 17th 2017 @ 4:25pm | ! Report

                Couldn’t have put it better myself Shane…

            • Roar Guru

              May 17th 2017 @ 10:26pm
              Fionn said | May 17th 2017 @ 10:26pm | ! Report

              Just coming on here to poke the beast, Nick it burns my ears as a Mortlock fan to hear that 😛

              • Columnist

                May 17th 2017 @ 10:29pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | May 17th 2017 @ 10:29pm | ! Report

              • Roar Guru

                May 17th 2017 @ 10:33pm
                Fionn said | May 17th 2017 @ 10:33pm | ! Report

                No, I admit nick, BOD and Smith are two of the all-time greats. Still think Gatland was wrong to drop him in 2013, BOD deserved the send off.

              • Columnist

                May 17th 2017 @ 10:56pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | May 17th 2017 @ 10:56pm | ! Report

                Mortlock was a bit different to the other two wasn’t he? Longevity is a big factor in greatness, and I have to tip my hat to the way both BOD managed to sustain their level of performance through different eras in the professional game.

            • May 18th 2017 @ 9:13am
              Harty said | May 18th 2017 @ 9:13am | ! Report

              Don’t forget Dan Herbert before them.

      • May 17th 2017 @ 8:15am
        mzilikazi said | May 17th 2017 @ 8:15am | ! Report

        Yes, players over 30 have still been a great force in the game…….usually forwards though. Hugo Porta of Argentina is a real standout. Captained Argentina in the “87 World Cup at 36 years of age…..and even returned for a few more games in 1990.

      • Columnist

        May 17th 2017 @ 8:39am
        Nicholas Bishop said | May 17th 2017 @ 8:39am | ! Report

        Yes Rhys I did have to suppress a rather awkward tackle miss by SK from the Rebels match! He doesn’t appear to adjust that well when people change direction on him…

        The kicking game I’m waiting to be convinced of… Nonu became an excellent tactical kicker who could do the job the game-plan required of him and I don’t see Kerevi in that class (yet). It will be fascinating to see what Mick Byrne can do with him on that front!

        • Roar Guru

          May 17th 2017 @ 9:23am
          PeterK said | May 17th 2017 @ 9:23am | ! Report

          I have seen SK show a good short kicking game.

          The biggest issue is does not have the experience to pick whether it is better to kick than run, and even more so at 13 than 12.

          • Columnist

            May 17th 2017 @ 3:45pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | May 17th 2017 @ 3:45pm | ! Report

            A lot of the kicking done from 12 is actually decision-making, and relieving pressure off 10. The mind-set is very different from 13, so the transition for Kerevi (should he choose to make it) is also mental. Does he want to become a second on-field general and acquire the range of skills needed to do play that role – or is he happy being a potent attacking force ball in hand?

        • May 17th 2017 @ 11:54am
          Phil said | May 17th 2017 @ 11:54am | ! Report

          Good stuff,as usual,Nick.Nonu had virtually no kicking game in his early days at centre,if I recall.In fact,I thought he was a one trick pony ie crash ball runner.He sure turned that around(obviously with a bit of help)and became the great 12.I am sure Kerevi has at least the same skills as Nonu had early on,probably more,so it should not be too big a task to turn him into a very effective 12.Just what the Wallabies need(apart from a decent tight 5,that is!).

          • Columnist

            May 17th 2017 @ 3:45pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | May 17th 2017 @ 3:45pm | ! Report

            They need the will and persistence within the coaching group to do it too Phil!

          • May 17th 2017 @ 11:20pm
            dontcallmeshirley said | May 17th 2017 @ 11:20pm | ! Report

            As good as he is SK does not have Nonu’s skills yet. His passing is very poor. I am sure it will improve with time

        • May 17th 2017 @ 7:40pm
          Fin said | May 17th 2017 @ 7:40pm | ! Report

          Nick,
          I would love to see Kerevi evolve into a triple threat player. As he gets older he will need to rely on additional skills to be as effective won’t he. Tana Umanga developed a very good short kicking game at the back end of his career didn’t he?

          • Columnist

            May 17th 2017 @ 7:48pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | May 17th 2017 @ 7:48pm | ! Report

            Yes Umaga did develop his short kicking game, though he never evolved into a Nonu – I think he was prob best at 13 rather than 12.

    • May 17th 2017 @ 5:11am
      P2R2 said | May 17th 2017 @ 5:11am | ! Report

      …and you missed commenting on Ngani Laumape….he is as big as they get…and he can run….what if he is factored into the AB line-up…would be a ding-dong battle between him and Kerevi

    • May 17th 2017 @ 5:35am
      John said | May 17th 2017 @ 5:35am | ! Report

      Thanks – I enjoyed reading this.

    • May 17th 2017 @ 5:50am
      mzilikazi said | May 17th 2017 @ 5:50am | ! Report

      Thanks for another great analysis, Nic. As a big believer in both Kuridrani and Kerevi, it is great to see such a clear headed and incisive assessment of the options available to the Wallabies. And, very heartening too, in these days of doom and gloom in Australia.

      I think what I really like in reading your work, is that you have a very positive mindset always, while taking a realistic view.

      • Columnist

        May 17th 2017 @ 8:45am
        Nicholas Bishop said | May 17th 2017 @ 8:45am | ! Report

        I believe it will become a genuine choice for Cheika even if it isn’t seen as one for the June series MZ – and the thought of Kerevi progressing further with the right coaching is a very enticing one. Good test for the Wallaby coaching group this, because up until now it is the AB’s who have been masters of upskilling players already in the top tier….

    • May 17th 2017 @ 6:33am
      Lostintokyo said | May 17th 2017 @ 6:33am | ! Report

      Kerevi is one of the bright points of a dark Super season for Aussies, agree Nick. When he develops his long pass and tactical kicking game he will be a handful for any opposition, ala Nonu as you say.

      To add to his list of current attributes:,
      # he is smart, Stiles would not have made him captain if he wasn’t.
      # He has soft hands. His short passing game is a big asset to have for an inside centre.
      # He has passion. Just before his selection for the Wallabies for the first time he injured himself and as he walked to the sidelines with the knowledge that his selection just went out the window, the tears poured down his face. A man who appreciates the honour of the gold jumper.

      Note to Messrs Byrne and Larkham; focus on Kerevi’s strategical kicking and long passing. I hope they read your articles Nick. Crazy if they don’t.

      • May 17th 2017 @ 8:37am
        jameswm said | May 17th 2017 @ 8:37am | ! Report

        And his defence.

        There are other bright points this rugby season though.

        Both Brumby props, plus Tyrell Lomax’s development.

        The starch TPN has added to the Force, even scrumming well without him now.

        The Arnold brothers.

        Hooper remains a machine.

        Hunt becoming one of our best backs – consistently very good.

        The continued development of young guys like Hanigan, Naisarani, Powell, Gordon, Philip, LTui, Rodda etc.

        But overall it has been tough going as an Australian rugby supporter.

        • May 17th 2017 @ 8:38am
          Fionn said | May 17th 2017 @ 8:38am | ! Report

          Ben Alexander should legitimately be in with a good shot at starting at loosehead.

          I’ve long thought that props mature later (look at Greg Holmes), and Alexander’s scrum weaknesses have largely dissipated.

          • Columnist

            May 17th 2017 @ 8:48am
            Nicholas Bishop said | May 17th 2017 @ 8:48am | ! Report

            Ben Alexander should legitimately be in with a good shot at starting at loosehead.

            I will gladly bet twenty bucks this doesn’t come near happening Fionn 😀

            • May 17th 2017 @ 8:52am
              Fionn said | May 17th 2017 @ 8:52am | ! Report

              I think you’re right, but on form he deserves to be in the squad, if not the 23 or even 15!

              • Columnist

                May 17th 2017 @ 9:03am
                Nicholas Bishop said | May 17th 2017 @ 9:03am | ! Report

                Show me the moneeeeey!!

              • May 17th 2017 @ 9:10am
                Fionn said | May 17th 2017 @ 9:10am | ! Report

                Just wait until BAs scrummaging wins us the 2019 WC, Nick. The ultimate tale of redemption. 😛

              • May 17th 2017 @ 9:41pm
                Mitcho said | May 17th 2017 @ 9:41pm | ! Report

                They need to invite alalatoas bro over to play with his brother then we’d have them plus sio and kepu and ainsley (kiwi though) and Faulkner. Lati and another at 2. That’s a competitive bunch. One of the alatoas to move back to loose head for the tests.

          • May 17th 2017 @ 10:42am
            ethan said | May 17th 2017 @ 10:42am | ! Report

            BA even looked good scrummaging a couple of years ago at SR level, but was still dominated at international level. That shows he’s improved enough now to be able to better many younger and less experienced heads, but still has issues against the very best, which is what you get against international sides. A handy player to have for depth though.

            • Columnist

              May 18th 2017 @ 5:48pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | May 18th 2017 @ 5:48pm | ! Report

              He’s been a trojan warrior for Australian rugby over the years, at both SR and Wallaby level – and nowhere near as bad as he’s often been painted. A decent player.

          • May 17th 2017 @ 11:24am
            jameswm said | May 17th 2017 @ 11:24am | ! Report

            He seems to have improved – but – when under pressure, he still locks his knees (feet back), which makes him prone to collapses. He is doing it less, but let’s see what happens when under real pressure.

            He has improved this season though, I agree Fionn.

      • Columnist

        May 17th 2017 @ 8:47am
        Nicholas Bishop said | May 17th 2017 @ 8:47am | ! Report

        Yes I’d agree that he shows good touch on the short pass or offload Lost – and he is clearly a very smart player who is eager to think and learn about rugby. Those players invariably find a way to succeed in my experience.

      • May 17th 2017 @ 11:09am
        ClarkeG said | May 17th 2017 @ 11:09am | ! Report

        And of course another attribute is his ability to quickly switch the ball from one arm to the other (not all players have this) allowing him to deal with defensive threats from either side in quick succession.

        This is demonstrated in that play that Nicholas has highlighted in his article where he steps inside Koroibete early in the match.

        Pity about his pass to Nabuli however (passed behind him) which was probably just enough to mean the difference between Nabuli scoring in the corner and not scoring.

        • May 17th 2017 @ 1:35pm
          jameswm said | May 17th 2017 @ 1:35pm | ! Report

          How often do you see guys running down the wing with the ball in the wrong hand? Drives me nuts…

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