Can we expect to see changes from the Wallabies?

Scott Allen Columnist

By , Scott Allen is a Roar Expert

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    I hope so but some comments from Michael Cheika this week worry me.

    There are very few successful organisations in history that haven’t had to change at some time. Change isn’t always driven by what has already happened in your environment. Sometimes it’s driven by what may happen in the future.

    Take Apple as an example – they were hugely successful when they first launched but the competition caught up to them. They reacted but the pace of change in the market meant they came back to the pack and they faltered. It took the return of Steve Jobs to introduce the necessary change and today they appear to be a company that knows they must keep changing before their competitors to stay ahead.

    The All Blacks may be the most successful rugby team in history but it’s obvious they keep changing to stay ahead of the chasing pack. They don’t wait to see what England, Australia or South Africa do and then follow.

    The Wallabies victory over the Pumas in Argentina last weekend was positive. It meant they finished second in The Rugby Championship, climbed to third in the world rankings and lifted their tally for 2017 to four wins from nine, which isn’t a pass mark but it’s better than last year.

    However, the performance was again well below the standard we should be expecting of our national team. My article last week showed how some of the Wallabies’ basic skills continue to let them down and I saw too many repeats of the basic errors in the match against the Pumas to get a positive feeling about our chances against the All Blacks in a couple of weeks.

    After the match we learnt that Mario Ledesma is leaving the Wallabies to return to coach the Jaguares in Super Rugby. Ledesma has had a positive impact on the Australian scrum and it is a blow for the Wallabies.

    Cheika says he’s planning on getting a temporary coach in for the end of year tour before making a permanent replacement in 2018.

    Laurie Fisher from the Brumbies has been suggested as one option and I think he’d be fantastic. Nic Stiles has also put his hand up and his work as a forwards coach at both the Force and the Reds was well thought of.

    However, having seen comments from Cheika about a possible replacement I seriously doubt that someone like Fisher will be interested.

    Cheika has been quoted as saying “Whoever we get has to connect into what we’ve been doing. There’s been no change of direction whatsoever. We won’t be changing anything” and “We have a clear guide of not just how we want to scrummage but our forwards to operate, mauls, all the things that Mario does, and we won’t be changing anything.”

    Please don’t tell me Cheika thinks our scrum is the finished product, that our lineout is functioning at the level it should be or that our mauls in attack or defence are up to standard?

    Does Cheika want a ‘Yes Man’ or is he open to the possibility that Ledesma might not be the only coach who knows how to get the best from a forward pack when it comes to set piece work?

    Looking at the Wallabies’ set piece performance against the Pumas last weekend, there is lots of room for improvement. Our scrum was just hanging in there at best, our lineout lifting was ordinary and our maul work was poor.

    I hope Cheika has been misquoted and that he is prepared to find the best forwards coach available and let them coach!

    As a follow up to my thoughts on basic skills last week I’d like to show you some more examples of the little things that could make such a difference to the Wallabies performance.

    The first focuses on support and passing. In just the second minute of the match Israel Folau prepares to run the ball back from a Puma kick. He has Kurtley Beale outside him in support.

    At this point Beale is well positioned to support Folau.

    Folau takes the ball to the line but Beale overruns him. Holding his run just a little here would have given him another couple of metres in depth and then he’d be in great position to accelerate on to the ball.

    Is the pass forward? No doubt the comments section will light up with those arguing both ways but that’s not important as far as I’m concerned. What matters is that it should never have been close enough to force the referee and assistant to make that decision.

    It wasn’t called forward and Beale then took the ball to the next Puma defender before setting up Reece Hodge. Note the depth from Hodge and how Beale’s carrying the ball in two hands to get the defender thinking ‘pass or carry’. That’s what you’d like to see from all players.

    Beale gives the ball some air so Hodge has got time to run on to it.

    Despite coming from a fair way back Hodge gets to the ball at just about the right time. It’s a lesson many support players could learn – give yourself some time.

    Hodge is on the fly when he hits the ball but a great chase from the Pumas cuts him off. Unfortunately the quality of his attempted offload was poor and the ball arrived at Genia’s shins.

    It was a good little passage but it could have been so much better. The Wallabies have got to aim to develop their skills to the point where they can get all the little things here right.

    Two final images from that passage. As well as Beale did once he had the ball, have a look at how he received the ball.

    As Folau passes the ball, Beale’s hands are open and down at the level of his hips. He’s certainly not providing a target for Folau.

    If you slow the video down to frame by frame, this is the frame where the ball gets to Beale.

    The ball actually hits his chest and bounced forward just a little. It takes him two or three steps to actually get control of the ball. He’s good enough to pull that off but if he’d done the basics better Beale wouldn’t have to rely on a juggling act to get the ball under control.

    Will Genia’s passing has really improved in recent times and he threw some fantastic passes in the match. I want to focus on three, all of which are left to right.

    The first was to Jack Dempsey. In this shot you can see Sean McMahon on the right edge of the screen and Dempsey just to the right of the referee with his hand up.

    Genia sees that McMahon is a good option but that Dempsey is an even better one.

    To make the pass he’s got to see beyond the referee and get the pass across McMahon but keep it flat enough that the opposition doesn’t have time to adjust to Dempsey.

    He does it brilliantly and puts the ball out in front of Dempsey to lead him forward into the hole.

    The second resulted in a try. With the Wallabies pressing hard on the Pumas try line, Genia spots Hodge well outside his defender and throws a great twenty metre pass to put Hodge over untouched. The flatness of the pass was excellent.

    The third pass got Hodge into space to get over the line again but was called back for an earlier infringement.

    Genia has a line of four forward runners to choose from but he sees Hodge outside them with a hole to run into.

    It was really good vision but it needed to be some sort of pass to thread the needle between the Wallaby forwards and the Pumas defence closing in fast.

    There were lots of positives from the match but the step up in opposition in a couple of weeks is really going to test the Wallabies.

    Next week I’ll take you through some of the basic defensive issues the Wallabies had in this match. There were too many to squeeze in today and it’s an area I’m very concerned about.

    Scott Allen
    Scott Allen

    Scott has been a rugby contributor with The Roar since 2013. After taking some time out to pursue other roles in the game, including coaching Premier Grade with University of Queensland and the Wallaroos at the recent World Cup, he’s returned to give us his insights. You can follow him on Twitter @ScottA_ to hear more from him.

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