Solving the Wallabies’ playmaking conundrum

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    Of all the problems plaguing the Wallabies’ backline, one of the most important is the lack of a settled second playmaker.


    All teams that look to play attacking, enterprising rugby require a second playmaker.

    The All Blacks side of 2013-15 attacked more effectively than anyone because they had three playmakers, all of whom also possessed a running game.

    Dan Carter at 10
    Ma’a Nonu at 12
    Ben Smith at 15

    Likewise, Rod Maqueen’s Wallabies possessed the same.

    Stephen Larkham at 10
    Tim Horan at 12
    Matt Burke at 15

    For a team looking to play enterprising rugby the following positions are key.

    The number ten (or flyhalf) is generally the team’s primary playmaker. They usually operates as first receiver and should possess a good short and long passing game as well as a kicking game. A running game is an important added bonus.

    The number 12, or inside centre, usually serves as a second playmaker and receiver. They, too, must have a good long and short passing game, but absolutely must possess a strong running game.

    This means the 12 can be put through holes by the 10, and also allows the 12 to draw defenders in effectively, thereby opening up holes for their outside backs. The 12, along with 13, is one of the most difficult defensive positions on the field.

    The number 15, or fullback, must be strong under the high ball, absolutely must have a strong running game, and, preferably, should have good attacking vision and possess a strong long pass in order to most effectively counterattack against unset defences off of poor kicks form the opposition.

    The 15, as one of the outside backs, has more freedom than the 12, and can choose when to inject themselves. This is the role that Ben Smith does so effectively, waiting until they see an attacking opportunity and then moving in as second receiver to set up the attacking play.

    It should also be noted that the 2013-15 All Blacks had strong attacking kicking options at 10, 12 and 15 also. If an attacking kick finds the grass and is well chased then it can lead to four common positive outcomes:

    a) the defending team gathers the ball, tries to kick, and is charged down
    b) the defending player gathers the ball, does not have time to kick, and is forced to run the ball into touch, thereby setting up an attacking lineout for the team that kicked
    c) the defending team gathers the ball, is tackled, and either has the ball stolen, or fails to release and concedes a penalty
    d) the attacking team gathers the ball behind the defensive line and is provided with an excellent attacking opportunity

    Although this play requires strong chasers, it clearly requires players capable of attacking kicking also.

    At number ten Australia currently plays Bernard Foley. Foley has a great running game, but he does not possess a strong long passing or kicking game.

    Bernard Foley Wallabies Australia Rugby Union Test Championship 2016

    (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)

    Our 15, Israel Folau, is one of the world’s best ball-runners, the best in the world under the high ball and a prolific off loader. However, he has a poor kick that is slow and highly inaccurate, and rarely does he throw a cut out or effective long pass.

    The conundrum that Australia faces is that if they choose to play Folau at 15 then they need a second playmaker at 12; however, Australia lacks an experienced second playmaker to play at 12.

    I am of the opinion that Samu Kerevi exhibits a lot of the talent that young Ma’a Nonu did. I see one of the most devastating running games in the world in Kerevi, soft hands capable of pop passes and a willingness to kick when an opportunity presents itself.

    Although Kerevi’s long pass and kicking execution need work, I would think that trying to develop him into at 12, as Graham Henry did with Nonu, is likely to be the best long-term strategy for Kerevi and the Wallabies.

    Kerevi is a solid tackler, but is prone to some poor defensive reads at 13. Thus, I think he would do better in the relatively simpler 12 channel.

    Kurtley Beale lacks the defence to be an international 12. Although he can defend on the wing in structured play, he is too much of a defensive liability off of quick turnover ball to play for the Wallabies.

    As Kerevi is not yet a sufficient playmaker this requires playing a second playmaker at 15.

    Beale is the best playmaker in the Wallabies squad, has attacking vision and is exceedingly dangerous when running the ball back in open play. Thus, I think he should play 15.

    This would also mean when counterattacking Beale can draw in defenders and then pass the ball out to Folau, where there will be fewer defenders to tackle him.

    Folau on the wing, finally, also both defuses the opposition’s box kick and also makes the Wallabies’ box kicks and up and unders – especially in the red zone – a far more threatening proposition.

    In summary, I believe that in preparation for the 2019 Rugby World Cup Cheika needs to convert Kerevi to 12, make Beale 15 and move Folau to the wing.

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