The turnover: Positives from the last week of rugby

Simon Roar Pro

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    The Wallabies and the British and Irish Lions were big winners this weekend. (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

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    My high school coach had a favourite half time one-liner: “tough day at the office?” More often than not, it was a tough day. But he’d always follow it up with a strangely calm “that’s alright, what can we do? We can look at what went right”.

    This would be a very brief search for positives. Generally, there weren’t any.

    It’s fair to say it’s been a tough year at the office for Australian rugby, with not much to smile about.

    Maybe it’s my second grade coach rubbing off on me, or maybe I’m just scraping the bottom of the barrel for positives, but I’ll be looking at the brighter side of rugby in this article. That isn’t to say there isn’t issues with Aussie rugby – I’m just a bit tired of talking about them.

    Proactive Cheika
    Michael Cheika seems to never sit still.

    Like any coach, he obviously has his flaws. Some see more flaws in him than others. Despite that, he seems to have really stepped up to fill something of a leadership void at the ARU recently.

    (Image: AAP)

    In 2015, Cheika played a large role in negotiating ‘Giteau’s law’, which no doubt helped us progress to the World Cup final that year. More recently, he has convinced a number of players to return to Australian rugby, such as Kurtley Beale, Sekope Kepu, Will Genia and Leroy Houston (for better or worse).

    Recently, he was instrumental in getting a national coaching panel off the ground, and I was impressed to see all give Super Rugby coaches, and our two national Sevens coaches, brought together at Wallabies camp this week. Furthermore, it was great to see George Smith brought into camp too, in an advisory and development role.

    We spend lots of time talking about development players, but very rarely do we see a development coach. Hopefully, this is part of a growing recognition that coaches are just like players: they don’t just wake up one day as a great coach.

    If anything, the intricacies of coaching are harder to pick up than the skills of playing – they too need to be taught and coached. Most players start catching and passing at age five, and are tackling by eight. I don’t know many eight-year-olds who are drawing up defensive patterns or devising a plan to contain Kieran Read.

    So, it was promising to see initiative taken on the corroboration and development of coaching skills at the top level. It’s just a shame so much of this high performance initiative, over the last two years, seems to have come from the national team’s head coach, instead of the ARU’s management.

    It’s pleasing to see a willingness to try new things at the top level of our game, and it’s pleasing to see Michael Cheika doing what he can to remedy some of rugby’s issues.

    The Wallabies are learning… or maybe they’re reading The Roar
    Very rarely do we as fans receive the gratification of having our calls answered, or our predictions validated. There’s a certain satisfaction in saying something will go wrong, and then seeing it go wrong on a Saturday night. It’s like betting on New Zealand against the Wallabies – it almost softens the blow of a thumping.

    But it looks like we may not get that satisfaction this year, as the Wallabies unveiled a few tricks straight from the comment sections of last year’s spring tour.

    The obvious one is Bernard Foley’s cross-field kick to Israel Folau for the Australians’ first try. The Wallabies’ fullback had used his dominance in the air throughout is league days to great effect, and these skills were only sharpened by his tenure in the AFL. It seems madness that (correct me if I’m wrong) this is the first time we’ve seen the Australians capitalise upon his ability in the air.

    Another promising improvement from last year’s performances was the penalty count – six! Only six penalties in a full eighty minutes of rugby! That’s the lowest number since the World Cup quarter final against Scotland in 2015.

    Last year we averaged somewhere between twelve and thirteen penalties per game. In all, an improved effort which shows a really pleasing intent from the players and coaching team to improve on their weakness areas from last year.

    Now we just need to keep Tolu Latu away from a rugby field.

    Let’s not get too carried away, though, after just one match. There’s room to improve, lots of it. We can only hope that these developments are a sign of growing pragmatism in the Wallabies camp over the next year.

    Israel Folau Wallabies Australian Rugby Union 2017 tall

    (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

    Aussie U20s
    The Australian under-20s side took a commanding victory of Italy late on Tuesday night. If they can go on and defeat Scotland, it will be their most complete tournament in years.

    Red’s flyer Perese looks the real deal. A hat-trick against Italy showed off all the raw pace and evasiveness that make him such a promising prospect.

    Outside-centre seems a position tailor-made for his abrasive defence, blistering pace, slick agility and support play. Though it seems he’ll have a tough time cracking the centres at the Reds, where he’s only played on the wings.

    Still, his presence on the flanks will have Reds fans flashing back to Digby Ioane days, for the long term, too, as Perese inked a new two-year deal earlier this week.

    Harrison Goddard is a really exciting player. What’s more, he’ll be around next year for the U20s. The Rebels have done well to secure him, as well as teammate and former World Sevens rookie of the year Henry Hutchinson.

    Hamish Stewart has grown on me as the tournament has gone on. He certainly looks more abrasive than Jake McIntyre, and plays a better running game. Though, this running game comes off a little shy at times. Stewart seems to possess a strong mix of knowing when to pass, knowing when to go into contact, and knowing when to give the ball a nudge.

    An apprenticeship under Quade Cooper can only do him good, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him and James Tuttle running around as a starting combination in a few years.

    Simon Cron has impressed in his first year as U20s coach. The Norths man should have a strong squad next year to work with, including the promising Goddard, as well as other impressive performers such as Lachlan Swinton.

    Super sides invest in youth
    I was happy to see a young Waratahs side making international connections with Suntory over in Japan, and coming away with a win. It was also great to hear the Tahs have picked up promising young lock Tom Staniforth from the Brumbies, where he’s been stuck behind Sam Carter and Rory Arnold.

    The Brumbies head to Singapore with a young squad, too, to play the Asia Pacific Dragons in an exhibition match.

    The Reds, too, look to have an eye to the future, letting go of Rob Simmons and Leroy Houston, while securing the signatures of youngsters Stewart, Perese and Paia’aua for the next few years, while the Rebels secured Harrison Goddard for two.

    That’s all for this week’s Turnover. What’s been making you smile about Australian rugby?