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The Wallabies best playmaker was stretchered off the field in the first minute of play against the Lions. The other playmaker gave up a try after a classic example of out-kicking the coverage on a bomb and then, too, was stretchered off in a neck brace.
Without Christian Leali’ifano and Berrick Barnes on the field the Wallabies weren’t able to play with the structure common in a Test match arena.
The nominated playmaker, fly-half James O’Connor, was therefore forced to be the Wallabies true creative force after the removal of Leali’ifano and Barnes. That didn’t work so well.
It may have been the plan to play O’Connor in a limited capacity at fly-half. But we now know for sure he’s not ready to play in a traditional fly-half capacity.
The absence of other creative players at the very least shows he needs the services of players like Leali’ifano around him to be successful.
O’Connor only kicked once and passed nine times after taking the ball at first receiver according to ruckingoodstats.com . That’s a low amount of touches and the creative output of those was minimal.
Jonny Sexton made 16 passes after getting the ball at first receiver. One of the best was the delayed ball to put Alex Cuthbert away for his try.
O’Connor simply must have a greater control over the shape and planned moves of the backline if he is to retain his position at the apex of the Wallabies attack next week in Melbourne.
It seems the rugby media can finally put to rest the lie they’ve been fed by the ARU and continually repeat to the rugby-watching public, that O’Connor “straightens the attack” and brings other runners into the game.
That was exactly what was lacking from O’Connor’s game when he did get touches in the backline. He ran sideways a lot and on numerous occasions hesitated before passing – leading to other runners being cleaned up – and prevented the ball from reaching the fringes of the field when overlaps or space were presented.
So, next time you hear a talking head or read a columnist ignore O’Connor’s Super Rugby and Wallabies performances to date and mention his “straightening of the attack” make a mental note to query the rest of what that person has to say.
What became apparent was Kurtley Beale, while possibly one of the most underdone Wallabies who played during this match, was more able to get the attack going up and down the field.
Of the nine runs O’Connor made all night, some of the best ones were off a Beale pass. Once again demonstrating Beale can play fly-half serviceably well (I still believe he’s more suited to fullback though) and O’Connor is a very speedy ball runner with a better than average short passing game, who is best utilised running into gaps rather than trying to spot them for others.
Sexton showed what a true Test quality fly-half can achieve for his side by standing flat to the line all night, drawing extra men to himself before giving the pass, on time, to the men outside.
Check out the 8min 56second mark of this video, it shows the downfield camera view. You can see Sexton motion to the first man and change the pass to the back man, Cuthbert, when the hole appears one channel over.
Can you see O’Connor making that pass? He may in future, but he can’t now and that’s not even the most difficult one a fly-half needs to make. It’s about the read and the timing.
I think there’s a chance Deans will reconsider who plays fly-half next match as Barnes and Leali’ifano probably won’t be back for that match.
Ben Tapuai has been called into the Wallabies and may end up starting at inside centre. He’s not a playmaker but can pass, while giving the Wallabies a helpful left boot.
I’m not ignoring Quade Cooper or Matt Toomua, I just doubt they’ll be called into the squad.
Beale at 10 and O’Connor at 15 might be a suitable compromise making the best of a bad situation. Beale can clearly pick out runners better than O’Connor.
Being at the back means O’Connor can inject himself into the attack without having to be the focal point.