The Wallabies leadership gap

Oliver Matthews Roar Guru

By Oliver Matthews, Oliver Matthews is a Roar Guru

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    There has been much written about the improvements within the Wallabies over the past couple of months. Despite only two wins in the Rugby Championship and the terrible showing from their Super Rugby teams, the recent performances do hint that things are on the right path.

    There’s plenty still to be done, for sure, but at least they’re on the right path. However, there is one big area that the Wallabies need to fix, and if they don’t, it will undermine any good work they do on the training paddock: leadership.

    In the past two years there have been a number of times when the Wallabies’ lack of strong and effective leadership has caused them real problems. To be clear this isn’t just about the captain on the day; leadership comes from a number of individuals within a rugby side, and the best teams at their peak had several players that you could point at who were key figureheads within their group.

    Furthermore, leadership doesn’t come from lots of shouting or motivational rants. There are plenty of players who have developed reputations as strong leaders purely down to their performance on the pitch and their ability to inspire those around them to do better.

    Thinking back to the winter of 2016, we saw the Wallabies go down three-nil to England at home. The consistent theme of that series was the lack of plan B from the home side. Of course the coach has to take some responsibility for that, but in the midst of battle, when you’re initial game plan is not getting the results it should, a good leader should be able to pivot and get their team trying something new. Moore was shown up in this series as being out of ideas and out of leaders around him to help deal with the situation.

    In 2017 we’ve seen some up and down performances from the Wallabies, but in general they’ve been getting better as the year has progressed – but, again, in the area of leadership the Wallabies have issues.

    In Mendoza this past weekend we saw Michael Hooper make poor decisions in the first half where, with the game tight and both sides fighting to take control, he dismissed easy three-point opportunities for the more glamorous try. This shows a real lack of understanding for how to win big against Argentina on this day.

    (Image: Paul Kane/Getty Images)

    The Pumas have had a terrible run of form, with no good performances in recent memory. Most of them have also been on the end of a Super Rugby season of being the whipping boys.

    On Sunday the Aussies needed to weather the first 30 minutes of Puma aggression, not concede any, or at least many, points and start getting the scoreboard ticking over. If they’d managed to get to 30 minutes or even half time with a nine-point lead, they would have been able to run over the home side in the second half and rack up a big win. Instead it was 13-all at half time with the Aussies missing out on easy points through bad captain decisions and poor execution.

    This ended up being a far closer game than it needed to be, and it demonstrates how far Hooper has to go when it comes to reading a situation.

    Looking at the rest of the side, Hooper and Michael Cheika are going to need other players to step up and lead as well. The pack is pretty youthful in key positions, which is exciting for the future, but Hooper needs more support. Will Genia is an obvious leader, but sometimes it feels as if he gets lost in the action of the game instead of having an eye on the broader context beyond just this next phase. Adam Coleman has definitely improved, but his best role is more as an enforcer and ensuring solid set pieces and he shouldn’t be distracted from them.

    In the backs you’d expect players like Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale to be senior enough to lead. Beale has been playing well for much of this championship, but again it feels like he is at his best when he’s playing in the moment. Perhaps he needs to step up and take on that leadership role a bit more in the future. It’s tough though when he’s so often dropped back in defence – it’s hard to lead when you’re backing away from the line.

    Interestingly, Moore might be able to add more value as an experienced head in training and a 20-minute man off the bench compared to being the starting hooker and captain.

    As the team head to Brisbane and then look to the cold north they will already have an idea about what is going to be a par set of results. Being on tour after a long Super Rugby season and a tough Rugby Championship is going to require the leaders within the camp to step up and really drive the squad forward.

    The success or failure of 2017 for the Wallabies is on the line over the next couple of months and the end result will come down a lot to whether the squad’s leaders can really improve.

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    The Crowd Says (89)

    • Roar Guru

      October 11th 2017 @ 2:47am
      Harry Jones said | October 11th 2017 @ 2:47am | ! Report

      Thanks for the article.

      I’ve always been curious as to why Genia is not the Wallaby captain.

      He always seems like the most tactical Aussie on the field; and respected by referees, I think.

      • Roar Guru

        October 11th 2017 @ 3:06am
        Oliver Matthews said | October 11th 2017 @ 3:06am | ! Report

        I wonder if that’s it though – is he more tactical than strategic? So in the moment he can make good snap decisions about to shoot blind or box kick etc. But in terms of the broader context of the game – is it a good idea for him to be trying to think about that?

        I reckon it’s better for the Wallabies if they let him focus on the next split second decision and passage of play while having the captain being able to keep a clear view on the match itself. I wonder if this also causes issues for Hooper – is he too caught up in the grit of the game and not best placed to make clear decisions about the overall game plan?

        • October 11th 2017 @ 7:55am
          Fionn said | October 11th 2017 @ 7:55am | ! Report

          Do you remember Genia’s stint as captain in 2014? He wasn’t in good form. Perhaps he just doesn’t want it and wants to be able to concentrate on his rugby?

          • October 11th 2017 @ 10:43am
            Old Bugger said | October 11th 2017 @ 10:43am | ! Report

            IMO, he was also susceptible to having a tanty, at his own players….not a good sign coming from a leader.

      • Roar Guru

        October 11th 2017 @ 11:15am
        Who Needs Melon said | October 11th 2017 @ 11:15am | ! Report

        I agree with Harry on two points:

        (1) Thanks for the article. We’ve had articles on leadership in the Wallabies before – it’s been a problem for a while. One of the problems anyway. 😉

        (2) I always thought Genia would have made a good captain. I guess he did have a bit of a drop-off in form a while back. He seems to have found it again now and is head-and-shoulders again our best 9. His moves overseas didn’t do him any favours in terms of captaincy.

        • October 11th 2017 @ 11:22am
          Fionn said | October 11th 2017 @ 11:22am | ! Report

          I think so too.

          Dave Wessels on the GAGR podcast said that apparently Genia has really been working on his leadership too.

          • Roar Guru

            October 11th 2017 @ 1:11pm
            The Neutral View From Sweden said | October 11th 2017 @ 1:11pm | ! Report

            Is not Genia the vice-captain for the Wallabies?

            • October 11th 2017 @ 1:39pm
              Fionn said | October 11th 2017 @ 1:39pm | ! Report

              I think you might be right, along with Foley?

              It doesn’t really matter though, as Hooper plays so many minutes.

    • October 11th 2017 @ 3:27am
      Cynical Play said | October 11th 2017 @ 3:27am | ! Report

      Completely disagree. Hoopers decision to go for the line out was reasonsble and is made similarly by K Reid often in identical circumstances. There were several leaders on the field on Sat night, all talking. Hooper managed the difficult ref well and was his usual inspirational self leading from the front. He took penalties at the right time later in the game. He’s proving himself capable.

      Genia is a leader should he be captain? Hooper is growing well into the role.

      • Roar Guru

        October 11th 2017 @ 4:31am
        Oliver Matthews said | October 11th 2017 @ 4:31am | ! Report

        I’d say that the resources Reid has to manage and the context within which he manages them is very different to the Wallabies and Hooper. You can’t look at the way that Reid captains or the way the All Blacks play and say that the Wallabies should copy it. Just because Reid goes for the line out in the early minutes of a game doesn’t mean that any other captain should do the same.

        And this is part of my point – the best leaders are able to adjust to the moment and I have seen several examples of how the Aussie leaders are not as good at that contextual understanding as they need to be if Australia are going to challenge the best teams in the world consistently and avoid silly losses to lesser nations.

        Good communication is key in many areas – especially defence. But just lots of talk isn’t the same as good communication.

        You could look at the game on Sunday and say that Hooper’s leadership and decision making helped have the Aussies 20 all after 60 minutes against a side that is only just inside the top 10 in the world and has won 1 game in their past 12. Now of course there are other factors, but I believe that Hooper made too many decisions with his heart rather than his head especially in the opening 30 mins.

        • October 11th 2017 @ 7:47am
          Cynical Play said | October 11th 2017 @ 7:47am | ! Report

          Fair enough Oliver. How a team, or the kicker, capitalises after the ‘captain’s call’ , is crucial to the perception as to wether it was the right call. If Hooper says go for goal and Hodge or Foley doesn’t bang it over, it is a poor call? There was one long range shot form unsuccessful Hodge on Sat night, which I wished had been a kick for the corner line-out, but.. it was still a reasonable call for the shot.

          Also, you don’t know the Coach’s instruction.

          Hooper seems to be liked by refs so far. Certainly he is not being treated with the distain that Moore ended up attracting. Give it time. The signs are good. It’s a learned art.

      • October 11th 2017 @ 1:06pm
        Jono said | October 11th 2017 @ 1:06pm | ! Report

        I agree with you CP. I think Hooper is going well so far. In fact you could see him communicating with the key personnel in the team before making decisions. Additionally, if you watch closely, you can see he is taking a little longer to make decisions than he used to, looking around and assessing the situation before moving forward. I also thought he handled the ref well last weekend. Hooper knew they could probably put on the afterburners near the end of the game, so was prepared to risk a little at the beginning.
        It is an art which takes a lot of learning, and also a lot of support. I think this is what Hooper lacks mostly, good, clever, reliable support from the other leaders in the team who are still learning to step up.

        • October 11th 2017 @ 6:18pm
          Campbell Watts said | October 11th 2017 @ 6:18pm | ! Report

          The other side of that coin Jono is that if Hooper had been a bit more pragmatic and taken those early shots at goal, the Argies would have found themselves behind on the scoreboard before half-time and dropped their heads earlier than they did, thus increasing the chances of a win for wallabies earlier in the piece.

          In the context of this game, against the way the Argies play, I feel the early kicks would have done more to ensure the victory than the optimistic go-for-the-corner.

          Still we don’t know how much Foley’s kicking yips influenced Hoops decision process! Was he missing them straight at the start? I don’t recall…

    • October 11th 2017 @ 9:11am
      enoughisenough said | October 11th 2017 @ 9:11am | ! Report

      Hooper’s off field indiscretions, his stance in the Patson-Beale saga, his apparent role in the overthrow of Link, and his very very poor record as a captain all point toward him being a poor choice as the Wallabies Captain.

      • October 11th 2017 @ 2:58pm
        Cynical Play said | October 11th 2017 @ 2:58pm | ! Report

        See a doctor

    • Roar Guru

      October 11th 2017 @ 9:49am
      Machooka said | October 11th 2017 @ 9:49am | ! Report

      And all according to one EIEIO eh!

      • October 11th 2017 @ 9:59am
        Ian said | October 11th 2017 @ 9:59am | ! Report

        Good on Hooper for calling out the farce that occurred under Link….shows a real leader.

        • October 11th 2017 @ 10:28am
          enoughisenough said | October 11th 2017 @ 10:28am | ! Report

          Ah yes Ian, you must be pleased with the captaincy record of your man, and your coach. Things are so much better than they were under Link, right? And how dare Link try to enforce some standards, how dare he try to enforce a curfew so that those selected to represent their country are in good shape for the games they are paid to play. And my goodness, how could Link not condone a bit of harmless sexual harassment, its all good fun isn’t it? And of course its alright to start baseless rumours about Links relationship with his assistant. Any means to an end right? As long as we get our men in place, its all ok isn’t it?

          • Roar Guru

            October 11th 2017 @ 10:35am
            PeterK said | October 11th 2017 @ 10:35am | ! Report

            regardless of the moral or ethical considerations the bottom line is Link lost the dressing room, he lost the backing of most of his senior players, HE decided to quit, he wasn’t pushed out.

            • October 11th 2017 @ 10:56am
              Old Bugger said | October 11th 2017 @ 10:56am | ! Report

              Might be so PK however, the knives were being sharpened long before that October loss especially when, there was a winning Aussie SR coach sitting in the back-ground minding his own business but, forever being reported as to why he hasn’t succeeded, as the next WB coach.

              Deja vu with Dingo to Link and then, to Cheiks…….since both Cheik’s predecessors, apparently lost the support of whom they relied upon, to provide it??

              Could this be a reason why Cheik’s selections seem to be pro-Tahs – to keep the knives blunt??

              • October 11th 2017 @ 2:30pm
                marto said | October 11th 2017 @ 2:30pm | ! Report

                Exactly Old Bugger

                .Pick as many TAHS as possible and one Tah as ( C ) and one Tah as your
                ( VC ) and you will have the dressing room for as long as you like…

            • October 11th 2017 @ 8:34pm
              soapit said | October 11th 2017 @ 8:34pm | ! Report

              i think in those circumstances people are entitled to blame the players tho if they want peter

          • October 11th 2017 @ 1:43pm
            Ian said | October 11th 2017 @ 1:43pm | ! Report

            What a load of crap. Find another sport to bag you sook.

        • Roar Guru

          October 11th 2017 @ 1:57pm
          Train Without A Station said | October 11th 2017 @ 1:57pm | ! Report

          The farce?

          You mean daring to expect professionalism from the players?

      • October 11th 2017 @ 10:20am
        enoughisenough said | October 11th 2017 @ 10:20am | ! Report

        Well yes ChickenChoker, it is an opinion site after all….

        • Roar Guru

          October 11th 2017 @ 10:51am
          Machooka said | October 11th 2017 @ 10:51am | ! Report

          Yes… and pretty much that’s all you’ve got eh!

          Just your opinion… and not a single fact within cooee.

          Baseless. Unsubstantiated. Slanderous.

          • October 11th 2017 @ 12:25pm
            enoughisenough said | October 11th 2017 @ 12:25pm | ! Report

            Dear me ChickenChoker, lie down and have a Bex. In addition to an opinion, I have some concern for your welfare..

            • Roar Guru

              October 11th 2017 @ 1:21pm
              Machooka said | October 11th 2017 @ 1:21pm | ! Report

              ‘In addition to an opinion, I have some concern for your welfare..’

              Oh please… you really do struggle with the concept of truth.

              • October 11th 2017 @ 2:34pm
                marto said | October 11th 2017 @ 2:34pm | ! Report

                Machooka will not be swayed by horrendous results and horrendous Tahs in the Wallabies……….He will not Yield…..

                Checka Checka Checka CheckaChooka Chooka Checka Checka Checka Checka CheCka Checka Checka Chooka Chooka Chooka Checka Cheka Checka Chooka Chooka Checka Chooka Chooka Checka Chooka Chooka Checka

                is his war cry…. and so it goes…. Urrrrrrrrrrrrrgh !!

              • October 11th 2017 @ 3:02pm
                Cynical Play said | October 11th 2017 @ 3:02pm | ! Report

                I know Marto, I know. …. tell me about your childhood. ..?!..

    • Roar Guru

      October 11th 2017 @ 10:16am
      PeterK said | October 11th 2017 @ 10:16am | ! Report

      Biggest issue with Hooper being captain he in most likelihood won’t be the best 7 available.

      This necessitates either player 2 open sides i.e Pooper and all its flaws or benching the better player in Pocock.

      Pocock should be made captain next year and Hooper moved to the bench as a great impact player. This does have the drawback of then ending the game with 2 opensides or the captain being replaced neither of which is ideal.

      If not Pocock then which forwards are certain of their starting position over the next 2 years.
      Only Coleman.

      I could see Ulese overtaking TPN by then
      The props are interchanged often.
      The partner to Coleman is on rotation.

      The only other option is Genia.

      • October 11th 2017 @ 11:04am
        Fionn said | October 11th 2017 @ 11:04am | ! Report

        I think it is time for to simply accept that Hooper will forever be selected in the back-row.

        Thus, the question becomes do we gain more out of playing a traditional 6 and 8 to go with Hooper, or do we gain more from selecting Pocock in the back-row?

        I happen to think that Pocock is so good that we basically have to select him. Therefore, I guess I am—in a really twisted way—supportive of the Pooper combo.

        • October 11th 2017 @ 3:12pm
          bigbaz said | October 11th 2017 @ 3:12pm | ! Report

          from my observations and the whispers I hear, maybe Pocock is not the guy our mob are going to follow over the top, when you express your politcal opinions forcefully you are always going to have a 50/50 split or thereabouts.

          • October 11th 2017 @ 3:21pm
            Fionn said | October 11th 2017 @ 3:21pm | ! Report

            I’ve heard other people say similar things, no way to tell if it is true. But if that’s the case then there is still the problem that Hooper isn’t the best 7 in Aus.

            So the question becomes is he a better option at 6 or 8 than the other options given what it does to our back-row balance?

            Genia, TPN and Higginbotham are all quality options as captain (as Fardy would have been). Coleman will be there soon too I believe.

            • October 11th 2017 @ 3:56pm
              bigbaz said | October 11th 2017 @ 3:56pm | ! Report

              Yep while Cheika is there Hooper is no7, but I have to admitt, in recent times he has been very good and at times has played a more traditional 7s role.

              • October 11th 2017 @ 3:57pm
                Fionn said | October 11th 2017 @ 3:57pm | ! Report

                I wouldn’t disagree with that. Some of his cover defence in particular has been outstanding.

                However, he isn’t Pocock, and I don’t think he ever will be.

          • October 11th 2017 @ 8:37pm
            soapit said | October 11th 2017 @ 8:37pm | ! Report

            normally leadership is about more than being buddies but this setup was founded on players first everything else second

      • October 11th 2017 @ 11:05pm
        Cassandra said | October 11th 2017 @ 11:05pm | ! Report

        Once he learns self control, I think Coleman is long term captain.

    • October 11th 2017 @ 10:21am
      puff said | October 11th 2017 @ 10:21am | ! Report

      Where other nations groom captains and work hard at preparing their senior support group. We pick captains and struggle to have an integrated senior support base around him. We have journalists and articles on different sites denigrating the coache’s choice as captain. As if the coach and all support staff were buffoons. The fact is, although Hooper may have made past indecisions and perhaps in some eyes is not captain material. The man is inspirational on the paddock, leads from the front and in my opinion is growing in confidence. The Wallabies are not spoiled for choice. He will never be a Richie McCaw but who is.

      • October 11th 2017 @ 10:59am
        Old Bugger said | October 11th 2017 @ 10:59am | ! Report

        Fair comments puff but as PK says above, is he the best No7??

        • October 11th 2017 @ 7:43pm
          Ed said | October 11th 2017 @ 7:43pm | ! Report

          OB,
          I agree with many on this site who believe Pocock is our best 7 but in the eyes of the coach Hooper is it and we haven’t seen anything to change this, no matter how well David plays.

          • October 12th 2017 @ 10:15am
            Old Bugger said | October 12th 2017 @ 10:15am | ! Report

            Actually, I wasn’t even thinking of Pocock. Personally, I think DP may struggle to recapture any of his past form. I was really thinking more of a current No6/No8 becoming a better No7, than both of them – just a damn pity he’s off overseas soon, for a couple of seasons. Another good one, let loose……

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