Wallabies’ 2017 report card

AlsBoyce Roar Guru

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    It was one match too many probably for the Wallabies in 2017, but the interesting thing in Test rugby is the closeness of standards of the teams in the top 10.

    Any team except the All Blacks or perhaps England seem to be beatable week-to-week, and the performance of Scotland against Australia highlighted that I think.

    So, are Scotland now world-beaters, right up there with the best? I don’t think so, but let’s see how they go in the Six Nations coming up. Their scrum looks vulnerable and injuries will hurt them, but they have a quality attack if they can get the essential go-forward and quick ball. An interesting comparison would be through Wales, who I rather fancy to win that one.

    What makes the difference week-to-week is the intensity of the defence, the percentage of penetration on the gain-line, the quality of own set-piece ball, the speed of the delivery of the ball, and minimum turnovers.

    The variation in quality of these elements is due to the quality of the players, the quality of the preparation that week (both physical and mental), and the suitability of the strategies employed.

    The bottom-line is that Scotland were up for the match, but the Wallabies weren’t. In fact, the Wallabies really started edging downhill after beating New Zealand in Brisbane. They tried one last big effort against England, but the luck was not with them that day.

    Michael Cheika lets Eddie Jones get under his skin, and this seems to transfer to the players as well. This “wearing of the heart on the sleeve” style of behaviour by Cheika doesn’t do either himself or his team any good.

    Michael Cheika Wallabies

    (Photo by Jason O’Brien/Getty Images)

    It is one thing to gee the players up for a big performance, but it is quite another to show the effects of outcomes and decisions so openly. Much better to play the cards close to the chest and make opponents speculate instead.

    Eddie Jones acts like a teenager at school – the smart arse who always wants to niggle and cause trouble. Cheika needs to just dismiss him as the adolescent that he is by barely acknowledging his existence.

    The Wallabies have some vulnerabilities in forward power, and getting over the gain-line seemed a lot more difficult without Adam Coleman and Jack Dempsey. Luchan Tui looked very impressive when he came off the bench against the New Zealand in Brisbane, and Izack Rodda had been showing some promising form as well.

    So, depth is an issue, but prior to the rash of important injuries mentioned above there seemed to have been a big improvement in that area for the Wallabies. The effort they put in up to the 71st minute mark against England, with 13 and 14 men for a period, and tries disallowed, was exemplary.

    But that was the end of their ability to cope with the pressure. For the season, really, as it turned out against Scotland, because beating England was the goal. To get one back over Eddie Jones.

    Injuries occur, so depth is important. Actually, it’s crucial. The English have by far the most rugby players of any country from which to choose, and New Zealand have significant numbers of rugby players and no Winter sports competition from rugby league (NRL), or Aussie Rules (AFL).

    So, it is logical that those two countries depth is greater, allowing their “B” teams to be up there with other countries “A” teams.

    A third area to look at for the Wallabies was the strategy to replace Folau with Kerevi at 12, moving Beale to 15. Did it work? In retrospect, and notwithstanding some good performances by Kerevi, it almost certainly didn’t.

    The option of Hunt at 12 instead of Kerevi, or Hunt at 15 with Beale at 12 looked more in tune with the style the Wallabies had succeeded with against NZ. Good to see Kerevi have a go, I suppose, and experimentation is necessary to properly assess the possibilities, but Hunt at 15 would have been the least disruptive and best option.

    The end-of-season Northern hemisphere tours are getting harder and harder. They come off the back of the extended Rugby Championship with Argentina included, as well as an extended Super Rugby season.

    There is also much greater commitment from the European opposition because of the world rankings table and World Cup preparation generally. No longer are they just warming up for the main game – the Six Nations.

    So, the matches are more contested, and the long Southern Hemisphere season means that depth is more crucial than ever, to be able to put a relatively fresh and enthusiastic team on the field.

    It may have been an opportunity for Michael Cheika to make mass replacements to the run-on side against Scotland to re-energise the team. Hooper could definitely have used a good rest, so with Simmons, the front-row, Genia, and Kerevi all off the run-on side, the team would have looked livelier and fresher.

    The result would also not have been so important, but the outcome could even have been different, such is the small gap between teams. The team that is up for it on the day is very hard to beat.

    Michael Cheika Wallabies

    (Photo by Jason O’Brien/Getty Images)

    I think it is a fair summation of the Wallabies 2017 season to have them at No.3 in the world behind New Zealand and England. The beating of New Zealand in Brisbane was a fantastic performance, and that can’t be glossed over.

    I think player management and rotation, even at the expense of quality, is going to be an essential part of the process leading up and in the 2019 World Cup. The Wallaby coaching squad have made good progress in this area, only to be undone by a lot of injuries at the end of the season.

    The depth is better, but still not good enough. Players still don’t seamlessly replace another player, while Michael Cheika often shows a lack of courage in selections as well as in strategy. He really needs to surprise his opponents from time to time at least, and perhaps even often. And, keep a poker face at all times.