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Modern rugby, more seagulls than Bondi Beach

Wingnut Roar Rookie

By Wingnut, Wingnut is a Roar Rookie New author!


140 Have your say

    This is my first article I’ve written about anything really so before you read, comment and ask what would I know, I thought I’d give a little background.

    I am a New South Welshmen having been bought up on country rugby for the mighty Muswellbrook Heelers as a kid, went off to boarding school in Sydney, I played my first season of senior rugby for Wagga Ag College and now ply my trade in Townsville for the Fish (Brothers). So here it goes, time to open a can of worms!

    I am not personally the most talented rugby player so I try to learn as much as possible, work on my roles within teams, which traditionally has been lineout jumping, higher work rate second rower. With this thinking comes questioning when coaches bring in a new structure to play by.

    A few years back our A-grade coach changed our club’s method of play from an around the corner style to one in which we had designated pods and we all knew very well where we had to be, who should be with us and what we were trying to achieve by where we are standing in the attacking line.

    Reflecting back to that preseason I remember thinking ‘This feels like rugby league’, so I wasn’t a fan initially, but come game one of the season I was very much on board. I remember looking up thinking about the space in front, talking to fly halves, fullbacks and inside centres telling them things like “cuts on”, “play out the back” and my favourite “spread, spread its on”.

    With this in mind I find it very confusing the brush that guys like Mike Hooper and Scott Higginbotham get painted with that they are ‘seagulls’. Having read The Roar on and off for a number of years, I gather it’s got to do with the NSW versus Queensland mindset that seems to run rife through almost all sports. This is also coupled with supporters of teams like the Force also wanting their guys selected.

    The other factor which I will not understand is the Aussie mentality of bagging our players, many of whom are revered around the world for their skill sets and quality. Maybe this is the rooting for the underdog in us.

    Let’s look at Hooper as case study. I have read “he doesn’t do work in tight”, “He is a centre playing flanker” and the real catalyst for this article “he doesn’t turn over ball in tight, its always against outside backs”.


    (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)

    Firstly, how many line breaks or metres in contact does Hooper have within five metres of a line out? I would call that ‘in tight’ in the modern game. Halfbacks and fly halves have amazing passes and most southern hemisphere teams (even A-grade sides in Townsville) try to have forward runners running wide to stretch defences or get big guys running at smaller defenders, just like the Tahs did in 2014 with props and second rowers pounding that area between the posts.

    Hooper being called a centre is purely because of where he is standing at times but have a look at most professional teams. Most of them will have their back row players either running hard lines or supporting outside backs out wide, because those rucks need winning too.

    Just last night Gareth Evans made huge inroads against the Lions playing even wider than we are use to seeing Hooper. Having the bigger body carrying usually allows for post contact metres and if they are used to clean out, they allow for fast clean ball. Makes sense to me, it’s worked for teams I’ve played for and it’s not just Michael Cheika that employing this tactic.

    Lastly, claiming that a pilfer coming out wider than traditionally holds less value than one from a pick and drive is just wrong. If we manage to get a turnover out wide you will usually have wingers, centres and possibly another forward there in support.

    If we can use the space that the opposition was trying to exploit against them we should see our wingers in space and easy metres made. The way that the modern game has progressed in tight we are seeing hookers, props and even halfbacks creating turnovers as we try to improve the overall skill set of all players.

    I know that many people who read these articles have played, watched and are true fanatics of the sport but just because the game was traditionally played a certain way does not mean that coaches aren’t trying to find new ways of scoring points, up skilling players and modernising the game with the elite athletes that we are producing world wide.

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    The Crowd Says (140)

    • Roar Guru

      June 15th 2017 @ 3:33am
      Carlos the Argie said | June 15th 2017 @ 3:33am | ! Report

      Welcome Matthew and thank you for a thoughtful piece.

      I agree with your comments. I remember in 2013 I asked Steve Hansen about using Kieran Read out wide and he was coy. Later, he used Read more in the inside channels and Dane Coles out wide. He was constantly looking for “small” changes to disorient the defense. In 2014 (if I remember) he tended to use J Savea to run as first receiver from line-outs, as a battering ram.

      When Read went to running more on the inside channels, many Roarers thought he had lost his mojo, but I think that they misinterpreted what Hansen was asking him to do.

      I am not sure what Cheika or the Tahs are asking Hooper, but as a “non-Aussie”, I sincerely admire how he plays. He may be smaller for todays back rowers, he may have “issues”, but I think he is an excellent player that does many things well. A good coach will adapt his playing style to the players he has, to the best players he has. Hooper may have a good role the way he plays. The issues then, maybe the sixes and eights that going him in the back row.

      Well done. Especially from a lock. (Us forwards are supposed to be dim…).


    • June 15th 2017 @ 5:03am
      London Waratah said | June 15th 2017 @ 5:03am | ! Report

      Well-played Country New South Welshman. Maybe a couple of grammatical errors but hey…you’re on the money with ‘pods’.
      Why is it that Aus teams refuse to use pods properly and/or regularly. All other nations; especially NZ, use pods to smash the single opposition players.

      Hopefully The Ads coaches read this and you’re famous.

      All the best,

      • June 15th 2017 @ 9:20am
        Gatesy said | June 15th 2017 @ 9:20am | ! Report

        When I did my coaches course in 1994, Australia had come through a period where the likes of Dick Marks and others had re-fashioned the coaching system, after the woes of the 60’s and 70’s.

        We were all singing pretty much from the same sheet, and the old ARU coaching manual and the Waratahs Drills book were a great set of documents for a new coach.

        Lately, you get the sense (at least from reading articles here) that it is time we “went around the buoy” and had another go at standardising coaching the Aussie way, given that we have been out of the amateur era for over 20 years. There has been a lot learned in that time and we need to distill it and pass it along.

        Maybe we already have, I wouldn’t know, but you get the sense from the groundswell of comment that the Kiwis and even the NH coaches seem to be more adaptable to new trends.

        • Roar Guru

          June 15th 2017 @ 10:10am
          Wal said | June 15th 2017 @ 10:10am | ! Report

          I think you have hit the problem right on the Head gatesy.
          I am out of the NZ system now so not sure if it has remained this way.
          But playing in the late 80’s Jim Blair was the AB’s conditioning coach, and his programs were making all the way down to the Burnside Under 12s. In particular the skills whilst fatigued drills

      • Roar Guru

        June 15th 2017 @ 11:25am
        jeznez said | June 15th 2017 @ 11:25am | ! Report

        LW – pods are fine at lower level rugby but as the capabilities of the players go up they are quite limiting. What you see when looking at higher grade teams are systems where particular players have particular roles and places to be on the field.

        If you read Nick Bishop’s analysis pieces – particularly when he looks at back row or second rower roles you can get a handle on the types of systems that are employed by all professional teams.

        Your comment that all other nations use pods is not correct, I don’t know a single top tier nation or pro team using pods.

        If you tweak your comment to be that other nations; especially NZ use numbers to smash single opposition players then you might be closer to the mark.

        That isn’t pod play though! It is just players working in concert.

        • Roar Guru

          June 15th 2017 @ 11:34am
          PeterK said | June 15th 2017 @ 11:34am | ! Report

          last year Reds used forward pods a lot

        • Roar Guru

          June 15th 2017 @ 1:49pm
          Joey Johns said | June 15th 2017 @ 1:49pm | ! Report

          In case no body realized, The wallabies used pods for the entirety of 2016…

          Fardy(left) & Hooper were in different pods restricted to opposite touchlines. The front row pod rarely left the middle third of the field and the second rowers/ were generally sticking to their designated sides (backing up Fardy & Hooper in the wide channels respectively). Pocock (our 8) was given the complete rover role.

          For more or less the entire year we played with:
          Fardy/2nd Row on the left, Kepu/Moore/Sio in the middle, Hooper/Coleman on the right, with Pocock being left-right&centre.

          The main reason I remember this, is because literally a week after Chieka drops Higginbotham, he introduces a gameplan that would have suited him to aplomb.

          • Roar Guru

            June 15th 2017 @ 2:45pm
            jeznez said | June 15th 2017 @ 2:45pm | ! Report

            You guys call those pods, I was trying to differentiate those as “particular players have particular roles and places to be on the field“.

            Was trying to highlight how in some of the lowest levels rugby where there is often a fat pod with the front row and heavy lock, and a speed pod with the back row and lighter lock.

            You only operate in your group and you hope the halves are awake to not going wide when your power pod is ready to take the hit up!

            I guess it is a matter of definition and the structures that you are describing can absolutely be called pods a well – just more sophisticated than those used by the low level guys.

    • Roar Guru

      June 15th 2017 @ 5:06am
      Shop said | June 15th 2017 @ 5:06am | ! Report

      Nice piece Matthew and I agree entirely. Many players are slandered horrendously in forums like these for playing a certain way when they have no idea what the game plan is. I came from an era when game plans were very loose and my plan as a no. 7 was just follow the ball all day. That isn’t an option these days in pro rugby.

      • Roar Guru

        June 15th 2017 @ 5:11am
        Carlos the Argie said | June 15th 2017 @ 5:11am | ! Report

        Shop, first thing you were told as a number 7: Hit the flyhallf. With or without the ball the first play of the game….

        • June 15th 2017 @ 6:18am
          Fionn said | June 15th 2017 @ 6:18am | ! Report

          That was the most fun thing about being a number 7 – hitting the fly half…

          … even when, like me, you weren’t any good ?

          • Roar Guru

            June 15th 2017 @ 6:39am
            Carlos the Argie said | June 15th 2017 @ 6:39am | ! Report

            It didn’t matter if you were any good or bad. You just had to hit him!

            It was (is!) my favorite position in the field, number 7. In 2012, after the England victory at Twickers, I was at the Press Conference. When Richie was leaving, I wanted to ask him a question. He turned around and looked at me. I froze and after a few seconds I said to him: “I like how you play, I was a 7 too!” And he graciously answered: “Thank you! That’s nice.”

            The end…Now, I am just a “guru” here. I leave the real job to the experts.

            Maybe this is why I am generous to Hooper. I will defend almost any 7 that plays reasonably well.

            • June 15th 2017 @ 7:59am
              Fionn said | June 15th 2017 @ 7:59am | ! Report

              Exactly right. The adrenalin rush/confidence boost when you hit him early in the game was fantastic. Especially if you managed to rattle him and dent his confidence.

              I always hate when I hear stories about Richie being nice, it makes it harder to loathe him for the 12 straight years of losses, of which he was at the helm.

              While I don’t think he is in the class of McCaw, G. Smith or even Pocock, I think Hooper is one of those guys who will be appreciated more when he’s gone. I think he does a fine job for Australia.

              • June 15th 2017 @ 9:26am
                stainlesssteve said | June 15th 2017 @ 9:26am | ! Report

                well Fionn, my brother hates Ritchie because he tried to talk to him once, and Ritchie was grumpy
                hope this helps

              • Roar Guru

                June 15th 2017 @ 11:47am
                PeterK said | June 15th 2017 @ 11:47am | ! Report

                Hooper is a very good player and gets unfairly maligned on the roar, mostly by tah haters

                More important than grafters, or hard workers in an elite team are the players who are real points of difference. Players Hooper is one of those. It is also useful that he has such a high work rate.

          • Roar Guru

            June 15th 2017 @ 11:43am
            PeterK said | June 15th 2017 @ 11:43am | ! Report

            I was mainly a no 6 and I loved it when the inside backs tried a blindside play. Smashing the halfback or flyhalf made my day.

            I wasn’t much of a ball carrier , a grafter but I tackled very hard. Often the no 7 chased the halves with me behind, they stepped the no 7 right back into me.

            • Roar Guru

              June 15th 2017 @ 1:26pm
              Machooka said | June 15th 2017 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

              This is all too funny as everyone here is at 6s and 7s… and so was I.

              It’s got to be the best position to play, although I also played at 8 which I enjoyed. But today’s game is a lot different to when I played way back in the day. And I really don’t know if I could do the ‘pilfer’ thingy like it is today.

              Regardless, to be on the ball as a rugby player is what matters most… and Hooper’s motor/ appetite for this is world class. And like go figure… as haters have gotta hate eh.

              Thanks and congrats Wingnut on your first published piece… enjoyable read! šŸ™‚

              • Roar Rookie

                June 15th 2017 @ 10:00pm
                cinque said | June 15th 2017 @ 10:00pm | ! Report

                Please forgive me for playing it safe at 13 or 15. In my day, we outsiders looked upon a breakdown as “someone else’s problem”. When someone got tackled, we would trot back to our assigned spots and wait while the back row – the only fit guys in the team – got stuck in. They did everything.

              • Roar Guru

                June 16th 2017 @ 6:46am
                Carlos the Argie said | June 16th 2017 @ 6:46am | ! Report

                Seven and 8 were my positions. When I was preselected for a Buenos Aires team as a 17 year old, it was playing 8. Funny, but on the club’s first I was playing 7.

        • Roar Guru

          June 15th 2017 @ 11:28am
          jeznez said | June 15th 2017 @ 11:28am | ! Report

          Indeed Carlos – I’d then keep nudging him late every time getting in his ear that at this low level we were playing, his half back was going to throw a loopy pass sooner or later and I was going to be right there as he caught it above his head!

          • Roar Guru

            June 15th 2017 @ 11:43am
            Carlos the Argie said | June 15th 2017 @ 11:43am | ! Report

            Exactly! I see that 7s around the world think and behave alike. We are all a bit grubby basta$$s!

            • Roar Pro

              June 15th 2017 @ 12:53pm
              Clash said | June 15th 2017 @ 12:53pm | ! Report

              Completely agree Carlos, you’re all a nasty shower of bullies. You’ll love this bit of info from an wee innocent 70 kilo scrum half. One of you buggers knocked me out completely for half an hour or so and I on,y came to my senses in the hospital afterwards. Another one of you lowlifes got me one other time but only for a minute or so.

              Shows you how good I was but that was in 40 years off and on of rugby playing. Hopefully you’ve all got arthritis in your arms big time. Good to have it underlined so well that us backs were full of beauty, skill and intelligence….. while you wing forwards all have arms down to here and brains too small to fit into an egg cup.

              Good article though Wingnut even although I hope you are thoroughly ashamed of yourself. You big bully.

              • Roar Guru

                June 15th 2017 @ 2:38pm
                jeznez said | June 15th 2017 @ 2:38pm | ! Report

                Clash, both shoulders, ankles and my hips are gone, have had one operation on the schnozz to repair the nine times it was broken and looks like I’ll need another since it still isn’t right (not worried about the look – just the ability to smell).

                Have had to work out a method of lying in bed that is chest to mattress but left shoulder elevated otherwise I wake up throughout the night having to roll over because lying on one shoulder for too long hurts too much.

                Would do it all again in a heart beat though!

                Indeed my bucks weekend is up later this year and am going to align it with a 10s tournament and pull together a vets team with my mates. Although annoyingly in 10s, the lack of flankers really does impede the ability to get in the 10s face.

                Will park myself at the back of the lineout to have a crack anyway!

              • Roar Guru

                June 16th 2017 @ 6:47am
                Carlos the Argie said | June 16th 2017 @ 6:47am | ! Report

                Yeah, whatever!

                If you don’t hurt, you are dead.

                I’d rather hurt.

                Maybe this is why I can ride the bike well, I tolerate pain better than the other lycra wussies.

      • Roar Guru

        June 15th 2017 @ 5:12am
        Carlos the Argie said | June 15th 2017 @ 5:12am | ! Report

        By the way, Shop, what is the talk in Mendoza about Argie rugby? I am depressed, but I was depressed when I saw the structure. So being depressed in my mind was realistic. I usually tend to hear PorteƱos views, which as you know, are “always right”.

      • Roar Guru

        June 15th 2017 @ 11:40am
        PeterK said | June 15th 2017 @ 11:40am | ! Report

        shop I agree.

        Wingnut – A very good thoughtful first article.

        One of the worst things about so called wallaby supporters is the whining about selections that is state based of emotion rather than of logic.

        Most people slate a player for how they play because it is not in their traditional method in their mind, and ignore the game plan that has been devised for elite professional players.

        They state that such and such should do this when in fact it is a team and someone or multiple people have to do whatever.
        A no 7 does not have be the main turnover exponent, not if the frontrow are good at it for example, the 10 doesn’t have to do tactical kicking if the 12 is better at it and so on. It is the balance of skills that is required to meet a game plan.

    • Roar Guru

      June 15th 2017 @ 6:25am
      Shop said | June 15th 2017 @ 6:25am | ! Report

      Hola Carlos, local rugby is strong and I’d guess that it is the no.2 team sport here (obviously football no.1). I don’t think the Jaguares lack of success has had much of an effect on your average fan, although many watch Super rugby it is more for entertainment than really wanting to get behind the Jags. As you know the provinces don’t always have the highest affection for los porteƱos so rugby here is happy to keep to itself (include San Juan and San Rafael as it is the Cuyo comp). Of course when a Mendocino makes it as a Puma it is well reported, I think Bertrenaud is the most recent. The Pumas are well followed but last year they went to London, ridiculous move, the year before the cost was extremely high so hopefully this year prices will be more reasonable and the get a decent showing to Malvinas Staduim.

      I hope Super rugby here doesn’t have the same disastrous effect that it has had in Australia!!

      • Roar Guru

        June 15th 2017 @ 6:32am
        Carlos the Argie said | June 15th 2017 @ 6:32am | ! Report

        One of my team mates from Pueyrredon, a former Puma, lives in Mendoza. I think I old you this once. I have one of his Pumas shirt!

        I am aware of the $ issues regarding Pumas/Jaguares. I was more concerned about how they are seen in the “interior” compared to how PorteƱos do.

        Enjoy the good Malbecs! By the way, I am a club member of a winery in Paso Robles (California) that is a venture between Achaval Ferrer and one of his classmates from Stanford. Great wines! American grown grapes, Argentine winemaker.

    • Roar Guru

      June 15th 2017 @ 6:25am
      peeeko said | June 15th 2017 @ 6:25am | ! Report

      i saw the heading and thought this sounds rubbish. However i thought it was great and i think you really nail the final paragraph

    • June 15th 2017 @ 6:29am
      Bakkies said | June 15th 2017 @ 6:29am | ! Report

      Worth a watch from Nick Mallet

      • Roar Guru

        June 15th 2017 @ 6:45am
        Carlos the Argie said | June 15th 2017 @ 6:45am | ! Report

        This is excellent. You do realize that the ABs have variations of this player distribution. Sometimes Coles appears in the middle and in the last RWC, it was clear that Kaino/Coles were appearing many times the way Mallet describes it.

        I think the point is that some team implement a player distribution like it is described in the video but with different number on the backs of their shirts.

        • June 15th 2017 @ 8:48am
          Bakkies said | June 15th 2017 @ 8:48am | ! Report

          Mallett talks of teams using a 1-3-3-1 system wouldn’t use it as you run the risk of getting isolated when going wide.

      • June 15th 2017 @ 2:14pm
        rock said | June 15th 2017 @ 2:14pm | ! Report

        That’s a great video Bakkies, I’ve shared this with my team whom a lot of them are still learning how to play Rugby (a fair few league converts having a crack) and they’re struggling getting the concept of playing in pods.

      • Roar Guru

        June 15th 2017 @ 7:42pm
        Diggercane said | June 15th 2017 @ 7:42pm | ! Report

        Excellent, thank you bakkies.

        Great first piece wingnut, cheers.

      • Columnist

        June 16th 2017 @ 4:54pm
        Nicholas Bishop said | June 16th 2017 @ 4:54pm | ! Report

        That is a great illustration Bakkies. In answer to some of the Q’s above (and discussed by Nick Mallett in the video) a player is ‘in pod’ when he is playing in the same channel, and with the same group of players around him, all the way up and down the field. In other words, he doesn’t move laterally and chase the ball.

        • Roar Guru

          June 16th 2017 @ 5:11pm
          PeterK said | June 16th 2017 @ 5:11pm | ! Report

          which obviously means he 7 is not chasing the ruck and hence can’t be at most of them

          • Columnist

            June 16th 2017 @ 5:32pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | June 16th 2017 @ 5:32pm | ! Report

            It depends on the 7’s role in the system Peter. Typically he would not be playing in a three-man pod.

            • Roar Guru

              June 16th 2017 @ 5:39pm
              PeterK said | June 16th 2017 @ 5:39pm | ! Report

              but he would be in 1 man pod on 1 side of the field, when play went to the other side the no 6 in the other 1 man pod would be involved

              I see each would be involved in the ones on their side of the field.

              • Columnist

                June 16th 2017 @ 5:54pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | June 16th 2017 @ 5:54pm | ! Report

                There are many more variables than that Peter…

                To give a couple of examples – the Wallabies do not play 1-3-3-1 in the last third of the field (the opposition red zone) so Hooper is not playing wide there. He will often play short off 9 or 10.

                It takes some time (at least three or four phases) to resolve into that 1-3-3-1 formation from a set-piece. What is Hooper doing in those three or four phases? Cleaning out or carrying the ball.

              • Roar Guru

                June 16th 2017 @ 6:14pm
                PeterK said | June 16th 2017 @ 6:14pm | ! Report

                thanks, good info,

              • Roar Guru

                June 16th 2017 @ 6:48pm
                Timbo (L) said | June 16th 2017 @ 6:48pm | ! Report

                Nick, I have seen Hoops standing outside Phipps on the try line a lot for the tahs when they are up against it. I have also seen Higgers Hunt and others Blast through him there as well, so I don’t think it works very well.
                I posted below that it looks like the Tah’s play 3-1-3 + 1. Ned backs up both pods if they get overloaded or ball carries up the middle. This is why I got the impression that he was all over the field and “Into Everything” in the last few Tah’s Games.
                I am pretty sure I saw it again against Fiji but I was enjoying Coleman, Taf’s and Hunt’s performances up front and I stopped paying attention.

                I challenge you on your assertion that Hooper did any clean outs. There were some Meercats at the top of the mound but I saw no bodies being moved or removed other than his. I just don’t believe it is in his skill set nor his assignment in Cheik’s plan.