The Wallabies forward pack: A performance to build on or another false dawn?

The Doc Roar Pro

By The Doc, The Doc is a Roar Pro

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    ​The Wallabies put in a gutsy performance on Saturday and I was genuinely proud of the effort they displayed. Most pleasing though was the tenacity and vigour shown by the forward pack.

    It has been a long time since we saw that kind of physicality and it sets a new benchmark for this team.

    For a while now I have bemoaned the failure of the Wallabies to win the collision, and contest the breakdown both when supporting runners and in defence. Couple this with their well renowned scrummaging failures and it makes for tough viewing.

    The failure of the forward pack to get over the gain-line has often left the Wallabies on the backfoot and leaves us running east-west given our preference to avoid midfield kicking at all costs (an issue for another day). Without a platform laid by the forwards in the loose and in the set pieces, the backs are rendered redundant.

    Saturday night was a massive step forward. In world rugby it is all about winning the collision. You need to nail the tackle and where possible drive your opponent back beyond the gainline. With the current ruck laws, pilfering is becoming harder and the best way to slow the ball is with a dominant tackle.

    The other goals, especially against the All Blacks, is to stop the offload. The Wallabies for the most part nailed their tackles, drove hard where possible and prevented dangerous offloads from the likes of Sonny Bill Williams and others.

    This of course was a team effort but lead by the forwards. It helped slow the ball enough for the defence to set themselves and move as one and the line-speed from Australia as a unit was good. There will be talk of the missed tackle count but it was a welcome improvement from the week before.

    Kurtley Beale Wallabies Australia Rugby Union Championship Bledisloe Cup 2017

    (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

    The Wallaby support play at the breakdown was strong and really physical. The lead up to both the Will Genia and Kurtley Beale tries were great examples where cleanout play by Sean McMahon, Lopeti Timani et al helped keep the ball before Genia/Beale found the space to score.

    Neither try would have been possible without the excellent support play and cleanout protection the forwards provided in the lead up phases. When the forwards ran, they ran together ensure that they got over the gainline and cleaned out helping aid continuity. They won 95 per cent (68/71) of rucks when Australia had the ball which is reflective of their good work at the breakdown.

    They all tried hard – Ned Hanigan has undoubted potential but Timani would be a better option at eight with MacMahon shifted to six or vice versa. But this is another issue that has caused much debate.

    Then there is the battle of the gainline and while stats show that Stephen Moore and Hanigan both ran for a combined 0m, both props (16m) and locks (combined 12m) did well. Rory Arnold (8 runs for six m) and Sean MacMahon (14 runs for 31m) were the standouts consistently making it over the gainline to get the WB on the front foot.

    Tatafu Polota-Nau was brilliant and played one his best games for the Wallabies. He was tremendous with ball in hand and brutal in defence.

    The scrums were a distaster in the first half. When the push came the Wallabies folded and it was perhaps good fortune or plain luck that they were able to extricate themselves from some very sticky situations – Genia made a linebreak when the scrum was marching backwards and Hannigan made a good recovery on another.

    It perhaps wasn’t always their fault though, New Zealand loosehead Joe Moody was angling into our tighthead (missed by the referee but he only has one set of eyes) but credit to Moody for excellent loosehead prop play in his ability to disrupt the opposing tighthead prop and in turn create a situation where our scrum was placed under great pressure.

    The screenshot below attempts to highlight the tactics that Moody employed. The entrance of Tatafu Polota-Nau shored up the scrum and while not perfect it was a lot more solid once he was on in place of Moore.

    Lastly the lineout was once again perfect off their own throw. I have been a critic of Tatafu Polota-Naus throwing in the past but his and Moore’s throws were spot on and helped the backline runs their plays.

    Watching Tevita Kuridrani rattle head on and bend the line reminded me of the old days of Stirling Mortlock running through the 12-13 channel. I am an advocate of the maul to provide variety and another way to generate momentum while sucking in forwards. With this in mind I was pleased to see the WB run a maul late in the second half just metres from the tryline.

    (Pic: Tim Anger).

    On a different note, the quality of the New Zealand restarts still amazes me. The restart after the Wallabies try was one for the ages and vintage NZ.

    It appeared that New Zealand was going to their left but at the last minute Liam Sopoaga turned to the other side and hit a peach of a drop kick to a space just beyond the 10m line where the WB pod could not set up in time.

    From there, Kieran Read did what he does best – get to the ball early and flick it back almost basketball jump-ball style to his sides advantage.

    It is an amazing skill and one that helped win New Zealand the game and almost won them the Lions series. There are several crucial differences that make New Zealand the best exponents at both receiving restarts and winning it back.

    When it comes to kicking, unlike the All Blacks kickers, Bernard Foley is very clear which direction he is going and the shot below is the best example of this. The trajectory of the delivery is also crucial – Foley hits it quite high and often deeper than his New Zealand counterparts.

    This has two effects in that the deeper kicks our players less time to reach the ball. The high trajectory gives the pod more time to set up and Sam Whitelock’s ability to get set up and then jump high is probably the best in the world.

    Stopping the ability of the All Blacks to regather and ‘steal’ restarts is easier said than done but nullifying this area of strength can sometimes be the difference between winning and losing.

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    The Crowd Says (64)

    • September 4th 2017 @ 3:06am
      Buddy boy said | September 4th 2017 @ 3:06am | ! Report

      When you’re ahead by 17 – 0 you just can’t let a team like that get back into the game, an almost win such a good effort, looking forward to the springboks match.

      • Roar Pro

        September 4th 2017 @ 5:34pm
        The Doc said | September 4th 2017 @ 5:34pm | ! Report

        Thanks for the comment buddy boy. Yes agreed- disappointing result but think with our now slightly defeatist attitudes, we were just rapt to see a contest

      • September 5th 2017 @ 2:29am
        Taylorman said | September 5th 2017 @ 2:29am | ! Report

        Too much weight is given to thinking the 17-0 equates to some sort of dominance.

        Both tries were against the run of play, certainly the intercept, then Foleys from the oz scrum reeling backwards at a rate of knots. Neither a planned, structured move.

        So suggesting you shouldnt cede that sort of lead is creating a false hope and an innaccurate reflection read of the reality of the situation.

        • September 5th 2017 @ 4:05pm
          PiratesRugby said | September 5th 2017 @ 4:05pm | ! Report

          Since Cheika took over, the Wallabies have played the ABs 8 times for just one win. The first game. The ABs have scored 291 points to the Wallabies 147. Averaging 36.37 to 18.37.
          We have not seen a false dawn. It’s just another day.

    • September 4th 2017 @ 3:37am
      Riddler said | September 4th 2017 @ 3:37am | ! Report

      Cheers for the article. . Not agreeing on all points.. but am glad to see an article.about the piggies. .

      They did well last week overall, credit where it is due.

      Here is hoping we take it to the saffas in Perth! !

      • Roar Pro

        September 4th 2017 @ 5:35pm
        The Doc said | September 4th 2017 @ 5:35pm | ! Report

        Thanks Riddler! Hope the
        Forward pack can maintain and improve on their performance against SA

    • September 4th 2017 @ 6:13am
      Hugo said | September 4th 2017 @ 6:13am | ! Report

      Good post, Doc. Restarts are just something we’re not very good at. The grand slam team wasn’t any good at it either. Nick Farr-Jones said “We practised and practised the restart but never did get it right.” It’ll be tough sledding against the Boks in Perth. Their front row is way better than ours. So is their back row if Cheika sticks with the Bled 2 lineup.

      • Roar Pro

        September 4th 2017 @ 10:14pm
        The Doc said | September 4th 2017 @ 10:14pm | ! Report

        Thanks Hugo. Yep – restarts are a tricky business. unfortunately I wasnt old enough i think to watch NFJ running around to win the grand slam. will be interesting to see how we fare against the SA front row – i think we came up against the best and besides getting bashed in the scrum when TFN was off – we did ok. hopefully we can produce a similar performance with a slightly adjusted front row and back row.

    • September 4th 2017 @ 6:54am
      Riccardo said | September 4th 2017 @ 6:54am | ! Report

      Morning mate.

      Good read and I thought the Wallabies had plenty more to be confident about than Cheika’s initial rants against the officiating suggested.

      Better defense, especially around the ruck is a good point, although set-piece, especially in the first half, was a critical weakness. Plainly speaking, the All Blacks scrum kept them in the game.

      Arnold and McMahon were great I thought, even though I have seen comments made that his success in that game has been over-hyped. Even Simmons had a good game, for all his detractors.

      I thought Genia was brilliant actually and the Wallabies’ kicking game was refreshing too. Best game I’ve seen from Beale in a while. He nullified Williams, who was clearly frustrated at not being able to replicate his Sydney form.

      The All Blacks were trying to play too fast at the gain-line and made several errors which the Wallabies capitalised on, getting out to 17-0 inside 20 minutes.

      And that would have been good enough to put most sides away; they were very close to beating the All Blacks in New Zealand and have something they can build on.

      But addressing restarts and the scrum will be essential if they want to keep improving. Perth is shaping as an interesting contest for a number of reasons.

      • September 4th 2017 @ 4:47pm
        Markus said | September 4th 2017 @ 4:47pm | ! Report

        Not sure I agree on defence around the ruck. Two of the ABs tries came through very poor defensive attempts on the try line one out from the ruck.

    • September 4th 2017 @ 7:18am
      Ben said | September 4th 2017 @ 7:18am | ! Report

      Winning collisions ….yep both with ball in hand and at tackle time.
      Thats where Hooper and Hannigan are not your loose forward combo as there are a lack of collision winners in the pack.
      I have always seen Hooper as the Ardie Savea type open play ball runner subbing on when it starts to open up.
      Thats what a lot of people do not understand…that collision area and why Sam Cane gets unjustified criticism because he is not the ball runner that Ardie or Hooper are or even Matt Todd.
      But he dominates collisions and sets the necesary platform.

    • September 4th 2017 @ 7:32am
      Fionn said | September 4th 2017 @ 7:32am | ! Report

      The Wallabies will never be able to consistently compete with tier 1 forward packs when playing two opensiders + Ned Flanders at blindside, as well as Moore.

      We couldn’t do it with Pocock, we definitely can’t do it without him.

      That being said we have built a decent Skelton of a forward pack, if Cheika gets over how stubborn he is and picks a proper 8 at 8 and someone good enough to play 6 internationally + drops Moore I think we will be doing okay.

      • September 4th 2017 @ 9:41am
        jameswm said | September 4th 2017 @ 9:41am | ! Report

        Ha – I just used the word stubborn.

        Our starting pack must have TPN, Coleman, Arnold and Timani in it, for starters.

        Cheika loves physicality, so why is he picking the other guys? 3 of those 4 must-starters have been benched in the last test or 2.

        • September 4th 2017 @ 12:58pm
          The Slow Eater said | September 4th 2017 @ 12:58pm | ! Report

          What do you think of

          Sio
          TPN
          Kepu
          Arnold
          Coleman
          McMahon
          Hooper
          Timani

          Not sure how we’d go in the lineouts with the back 3 though

          • Roar Guru

            September 4th 2017 @ 1:05pm
            PeterK said | September 4th 2017 @ 1:05pm | ! Report

            Not like Hanigan took that many lineouts anyway.

            Still prefer Higgs to McMahon but that won’t happen.

            Trouble is there are no other 6/lock utilities in the squad so Hanigan is guaranteed a spot in the 23.

            • September 4th 2017 @ 6:22pm
              The Slow Eater said | September 4th 2017 @ 6:22pm | ! Report

              Yeah. I didn’t pick Higgs because he won’t be chosen. I also really like him at Super level but I’m not sure he’s really ever performed that well at test level – maybe he hasn’t been given enough opportunities. That is, he has an average game and he gets pulled straight away – the same rules don’t apply to others though.

      • Roar Pro

        September 4th 2017 @ 10:29pm
        The Doc said | September 4th 2017 @ 10:29pm | ! Report

        Hi Fionn, been a burning issue for weeks now. We are in a bit of trouble there. Fardy aint coming back any time soon, hanigan is too young, Pocock is on sabatical and not sure the pocock/hooper combo at 6/7 provides the right balance and mcmahon is off to Japan. not sure why higginbotham doesnt get a run. must be frustrating – believe you wrote an excellent article on this topic. timani/hooper/higginbotham perhaps?

        • September 5th 2017 @ 10:18am
          PiratesRugby said | September 5th 2017 @ 10:18am | ! Report

          You have to wonder why so many good forwards are heading overseas? Could it be that they see opportunities disappearing under Cheika who prefers Hooper, Hanigan, Simmons and other tah lightweights and nonperformers?
          Timani, Higginbotham, Fardy, Gill all trounce Hanigan (and his predecessor Mumm) and yet are marginalised. Luke Jones led the stats in super rugby and barely made a Wallaby camp. Hanigan is a nobody who has done nothing and walks into the starting side.

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