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What to make of the Wallabies backline?

Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau are two Western Sydney Wallabies. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
Roar Pro
12th August, 2014
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I literally spat out my snack when I read the Wallabies team that was announced yesterday.

This was at first because I finally read a Wallaby team-sheet with Adam Ashley-Cooper’s name rightly next to the number 13. Finally some sanity! His selection is an important part of the only way we can beat them. We have to attack with ball in hand.

But then, after another quick glance, I noticed Bernard Foley’s name was out of place.

Hang on a minute, could McKenzie have done the unthinkable and dropped the man of the moment, the brilliant ball-in-hand general that has led the Waratahs to success in 2014, the incumbent Wallabies No. 10 to the bench?

Too right he did. Surely this is a misprint I thought.

No, no. Kurtley Beale, the Waratahs’ No. 12 had been named at fly-half and what a surprise that was. I still can’t believe it.

Having argued for some time that Beale should be the Wallaby No. 12 ahead of Matt Toomua, I immediately didn’t know how to take this selection.

Ideally the Phipps, Foley, Beale, Ashley-Cooper, Folau and Horne combination is what I truly think is the best option for the Wallabies right now, with of course Pat McCabe, but I didn’t think the Waratahs halves would be completely ignored.

I certainly didn’t think Beale would be selected at No. 10. He hasn’t played with a No. 10 on his back for quite a while after all, whereas Toomua has played there all season. So why hasn’t McKenzie simply picked Toomua at fly-half and Beale at inside centre?

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I think it is partly because Foley had a relatively quiet series against France, partly because Beale was in superb form against the French, and partly because McKenzie won’t budge on Toomua as a defensive No. 12.

He won’t budge because he likes Toomua’s defence and although that is understandable, I can’t help but think that a Foley-Beale combination is still the superior option. After-all, with McCabe and Horne on the wings either could easily defend at 12 and both are stronger defenders than Toomua.

It seems McKenzie has opted for simplicity. There will be no shuffling of positional play while he is the coach it seems.

The problem, as I see it, is a lot of Beale’s superlative play has come from the fact that he has been defending as a second fullback for the Waratahs. This season Folau has relied heavily on Beale to link with him at the back when nothing has been on, mainly because Beale has better traditional fullback traits, i.e. a better kicking game and a better link game.

Folau of course is the superior leaper and off-loader in traffic. I think between them they are the perfect full-back. But if Beale is to stay in the front line, his talents won’t be fully utilised and Folau may be exposed for the outside centre that he really is.

Folau being an outside centre playing at fullback is not a criticism. It is a good thing because Ashley-Cooper plays a role on the left side in phase-ball attack while Folau hovers on his preferred right side. Both play their best rugby at outside centre in attack, left and right respectively, and between them I think they give us the perfect outside centre.

So really, all three need to be on the field for us to have an advantage. The only missing cog is Bernard Foley. Between his flat attack and calmness under pressure, combined with Beale’s creativity from a bit deeper, they are the perfect no 10. Well, not quite, but as close as we’ve seen for a while.

But Foley isn’t there, so hopefully McKenzie will allow part of the Waratah structure to filter through. For this to work Toomua needs to attack and defend at No. 10.

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This will allow either Horne or McCabe to defend at 12 in order to allow Beale to partner up with Folau at the back in defence. Also, it will allow Beale to be the second receiver in structured and phase play attack where he has always played his best rugby.

I must say it could work and I hope that McKenzie is planning to do it.

The other thing that needs to happen is for the All Blacks to get off to a flyer. This will be a blessing in disguise because the conservative nature of McKenzie’s game plan will have to be put to bed. The quicker the All Black’s get ascendancy the quicker McKenzie will be forced to sub on Phipps for White and Foley for Toomua.

This article is about the back-line but I might add that we also need Skelton on for Simmons and McCalman or Higginbotham on for Fardy as quick as possible. For me this is the key because these guys are our only realistic chance of us getting on top of them up front.

If we can get these four or five benchies on the field for the majority of the second half we could actually play enough rugby to win. Hopefully this will result in McKenzie picking a team that better reflects the way things have gone in 2014 for Bledisloe 2.

For me the surprising thing was that he seems to have already started to change his tune by picking Ashley-Cooper at 13 and Horne and McCabe on the wings (at least until Speight is fit), as well as Beale in the starting line-up.

He just wasn’t completely bold enough. He needs to send White and Toomua packing for Phipps and Foley. I’ll add Skelton and McCalman or Higginbotham for Simmons and Fardy to that list also thank you very much. Baby steps though it seems.

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