An armchair review of The Rugby Championship: Wallabies

NickG Roar Rookie

By , NickG is a Roar Rookie

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    There is no doubting the Wallabies’ scoring ability, however it is in defence where they will have to look at themselves hardest in the mirror.

    A prime example is Marika Koroibete. He has scored three tries in two Tests, yet miseed two one-on-one defensive situations that directly led to tries.

    The former leaguie is part of a revolving door audition for the ‘finisher’ position in the Aussie back three, where it appears they have adopted the All Black approach of having two comfortable fullbacks plus one finisher.

    At the same time, the Wallabies require one of their fullbacks, usually the wing opposite the ‘finisher’, to appear in the defensive front-line come set-piece. This then pushes Bernard Foley or Kurtley Beale to the wing.

    The setup is believed to allow for stronger defenders in the front line (the dual playmaker system usually lends two small frame defenders to the frontline orthodoxly for Australia), with the bonus of having your main kicking and attacking options in the back three if a counter attack opportunity arises.

    It is just not working. It may not be inconsequential come first phase, but has repercussions come second and third phases. There are just too many opportunities to target inexperienced players in unfamiliar positions.

    The first three phases are second for where most tries originate, turnovers being the first. Michael Cheika backs Nathan Grey – they did, after all, make the World Cup final together. A central component of that was Adam Ashley-Cooper’s ability to play almost all positions in the backline at close to world-class ability, especially defensively. He was an accomplished centre, fullback and wing at Test level. It has made selection and execution not impossible, but incredibly hard.

    Reece Hodge has played flyhalf, centre and fullback at Super Rugby level. He has been fantastic, but is only considered a winger because of this system. Hodge has a future, this system does not.

    The influence of Mick Bryne is apparent. Handling, running lines, back three positioning, and most importantly the kicking game have improved from Test to Test. Beale’s longer kicking game, as opposed to Foley’s, mixed with Will Genia’s intelligent kicking range (against the Pumas he picked up the ball from a ruck in midfield and kicked towards the opposition corner ala Cameron Smith) have improved field position percentages.

    Stephen Larkham has also added direction to a structured attack. They are now attacking defensive transition areas with options and problem solving, slowly but surely.

    His commitment to the Wallabies seems to have allowed him time to better analyse and plan. The Wallabies’ tactics in midfield attack positions have been in disarray since the 2016 summer Test series against England. Not to say it was good prior to then, but after the first Test, there was a disconnect in the team as when best to keep ball in hand, and when to kick for position.

    Their improved kicking game has bypassed somewhat the need for improvement in that area, nonetheless there has been progress.

    Adam Coleman has become integral, calling the lineout and bringing aggression with mobility. The Wallabies’ improvement in their lineout has a direct correlation to his presence, and is improved further with Rory Arnold fit.

    Coleman’s next challenge is to find synchrony with Tatafu Polota-Nau, who has had an up-and-down history in both the throwing and injuries department. Regardless, they are the premier players in their positions and will have to work it out. Polota-Nau’s scrum prowess has made up for the plateauing Scott Sio and the limited Sekope Kepu.

    The grooming of Ned Hanigan and Jack Dempsey for 6 has meant a couple of things. Firstly, Hanigan has started close to all Tests since his debut this year, because he has lineout ability, works hard, and has been injury free. He is looked upon favourably because his lineout qualities complement a backrow containing David Pocock at 8 and Michael Hooper at 7, who both lack height.

    Secondly, Hanigan is listed as three centimetres taller than Demspey, at 1.94m, but Dempsey has better feet into contact and hits with the kitchen sink in defence.

    Lastly, it’s been repeated Hanigan has both aerial and athletic ability (I question his ability to get up quickly), but Cheika knows he wants and needs the kitchen sink. Dempsey will improve his aerial ability under the tutelage of Bryne, if he remains injury free.

    The Wallabies have made slight improvements, and will look to build depth in November. They have found a spine to their team, and are actively searching for solutions to selection dynamics.

    The departure of scrum coach Mario Ledesma will be a big blow. In past times, a weaker Wallaby scrum has always been propped up by strong defence.

    This November will hopefully show some progressive thinking – public displays of penitence can easily wear thin.