What’s your Wallabies selection bias?

Timbo (L) Roar Guru

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    After a couple of controversial, polarising articles about Wallabies selection, it might pay for all of us to take a break and understand why it is such an emotive topic.


    At this point, I leave my own West Coast ‘Royal Blue’ bias at the door and attempt to explain everyone else’s various vested interests.

    At our DNA’s core, we are tribal animals. To misquote the Quran: first my brother, then my cousin, then my village. Religious overtones aside, this is recognition of obvious human nature.

    In rugby speak – my local club, my Super Rugby franchise, my country, my hemisphere. If my Super Rugby team doesn’t make the finals, I will support the next one closest to me or my heart – but never the Waratahs.

    SANZAAR have tapped into this and I believe that this is the thinking behind home finals for conference winners. It keeps us watching, even if it is just for one more game. They have sacrificed a small amount of competition fairness for the sake some extra viewer cash late in the season – after all, this is a business.

    Last year, this tribal debate spilt into our Giteau law ex-pats. It didn’t seem to matter how good the players were or weren’t, there was a rising tide of dissent. Not only were they not from my franchise, they weren’t currently from any of my allied franchises. Older fans remembered them from ‘the good old days’ when they used to play for their franchise and gave them a free pass.

    One-eyed fans will only watch their team. Part timers watch two to three games depending on broadcast time or the perceived level of competition. True patriots will watch every Australian game.

    Die-hards watch every game, wearing a buttock-shaped grove into their couch each weekend, frothy beverage or fruit of the vine in hand salivating at the opportunity to watch one more gladiatorial battle between two teams playing the world’s greatest game.

    They will have an Australian favourite, a Kiwi and a South African franchise that they follow and probably a soft spot for the MoonDogs or Los Catos. They may even be plugged into the Six Nations and European competitions.

    It’s clear that knowledge is power. The more games you see, the better qualified you are to make a rational suggestion. The die-hards will have genuine insight into the Giteau law players and will be able to compare Wallabies selections against their opposite numbers and also predict the style of game the opposition will play in the Rugby Championship.

    If you watch your team only, other than ‘my player is great’, perhaps keep your selection suggestions to yourself.

    Highlights packages can skew opinion, producing more bias, because they tend to show only the glory boys scoring and neglect a lot of the hard work done in the engine room. Red and yellow cards usually get air time.

    Israel Folau Wallabies Australian Rugby Union 2017 tall

    (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

    Many commentators are former players and have allegiances and biases of their own. Their position gives them the power to mould public opinion. There are several that tend to talk up their own favourite players, ignoring their flaws and deficiencies but highlighting their accolades. There is dead air when the opposition do something good by making their favourites look bad.

    ‘Bah, humbug,’ you say. Keep this in mind the next time you watch a game: look for the good and bad performances that get no lip service. You will be surprised.

    Lies, damn lies and statistics
    Many Roarers and others fans love their statistics and cherry pick players’ statistics to put forward an argument as to why their player is better than another.

    Those statistics rarely tell the full story. A coast-to-coast try gives a 98-metre run stat to an outside back, but ten five-metre runs from a lock or loose forward into contact gives half that. Both are great performances but the numbers should be used only in the context of the player’s role when considering them for a position.

    I am also distrusting of stats. I went looking for some after a game and found one missed tackle for certain a player. I saw two undisputable, costly misses in the four-minute highlights package. How many others were missed?

    In the corporate world, key performance indicators (KPIs) are used to determine pay rises and promotions. Many employees only perform duties relating to these KPIs in order to further their careers.

    My inner cynic believes that there is a similar trend in sport, with some players performing only the duties that will gain them positive stats. With statistics in isolation, a failed tackle is a black mark against a player; it is better not to attempt difficult tackles to avoid the negative stats.

    (Image: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

    Bias is fine if you’re a passionate keyboard warrior – hey, it helps keep this website running – but what about the selectors of an international side? There is no room for bias; their responsibility is to pick a team that will not only win the next match but the next 20.

    The selectors’ job isn’t an easy one. They need to find a balance between picking a team of winners and at the same time nurturing depth for inevitable injuries while developing the players of tomorrow.

    What about the ARU’s policy of coach/selector? Opinions vary.

    Here are Timbo’s cold, calculated, emotion-free selection criteria:

    1. Be match fit
    All players need to have demonstrated their current form in recent games and prove that they can last the expected game time at the elite level. There is no room for players still recovering from injury.

    2. Be best for the position
    I choose my words carefully here. In many cases, especially in the backs, players are proficient in multiple positions and for the greater good may be playing out of position for their side or may be the second-best in their position but still better in a companion position. There can be some allowance for shuffling in the 10-12-15, 12-13, 11-13, 14-15 and 6,7,8 positions.

    3. Have composure, discipline and leadership both on and off the field
    Penalties and referee perception is very important at international level. This is especially important for the captain and vice captains. Wallabies players will be visible in the media for some time and will become role models for junior players. They need to be outstanding citizens in the community as well as being elite athletes.

    4. Perform all the roles associated with the position
    Players must not be asymmetric. They can’t be great at some duties but rely on other players to pick up the slack for the ones they are poor at. Different positions have different criteria – for example, the halves require agility and tend to require smaller, less physical players that may not be able to bring down a charging wildebeest like a lock or an outside centre can.

    There is no room for on-the-job training. That is what club, NRC and Super Rugby are for.

    (Image: AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    Utility considerations
    Many positions, in particular the bench, need to be able to cover multiple roles in case of injury and fatigue. It should be noted that four out of the eight subs are position specialists. A common example is that the six, eight and usually 19 can perform both back row and locking duties.

    The backs and two reserves should be able to perform at least two or three roles, being mindful that the team needs to have a sniper and a cannon on the field at all times to perform the primary kicking duties.

    Captains and other leaders are also considered to be desirable.

    Multiple options
    What many of us forget is that for many positions there are multiple players who are rated equally but bring different proportions of each required skill to the table. Postponing the debate on the Wallaby back row, I use Sam Cane, Matt Todd and Ardie Savea as a case study.

    In my opinion, all are high-quality players worthy of All Blacks selection. Each varies in playing style. I prefer Savea because in Super Rugby games you are guaranteed excitement – but spectator excitement doesn’t win games.

    Cane is better in the grind of a northern hemisphere international, and Todd is somewhere in the middle. I respect all three players but I also recognise that one may be more suitable. Thongs, joggers, work boots – all are great footwear options but not always right for the environment. The same applies to most positions in Australian rugby.

    Our Roaring debates would run better if, collectively, we could appreciate all the players’ talents and discuss strengths and weaknesses rather than whether we think a player is rubbish or not.

    Do you agree with my selection criteria? Do Cheika’s choices make sense? Let the debate begin.

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    The Crowd Says (84)

    • August 10th 2017 @ 4:20am
      Fin said | August 10th 2017 @ 4:20am | ! Report

      Nice Article Timbo I find the agendas pushed on this site quite amusing at times.

      I like your line-

      If you watch your team only, other than ‘my player is great’, perhaps keep your selection suggestions to yourself.

      It’s a true statement that people will always see more “greatness” from their own side purely because they watch them more often. But I think it is another line that hits closer to the heart of the bias problem on the Roar-

      If my Super Rugby team doesn’t make the finals, I will support the next one closest to me or my heart – but never the Waratahs.

      I understand why the Tahs are disliked passionately by other fans and have no problem with it. But it is hard to take the views of many on this site seriously when every comment they make is just straight out Tah bashing. Let’s be honest if Michael Hooper had done everything the same in his career except had never left the Brumbies would he cop the same criticism? Of course not. But I am sure the naysayers will claim he would never had got the same opportunities away from the Tahs.

      • Roar Guru

        August 10th 2017 @ 6:38pm
        Timbo (L) said | August 10th 2017 @ 6:38pm | ! Report

        The Brumbies coaches would have taken the time to teach him how to move bodies in a ruck or kicked him to the curb, there would be no debate at all.

    • August 10th 2017 @ 6:51am
      Canetragic said | August 10th 2017 @ 6:51am | ! Report

      Nice read Timbo, but waaaay too logical for some I expect 🙂

    • August 10th 2017 @ 6:57am
      Rugger said | August 10th 2017 @ 6:57am | ! Report

      How enlightening Timbo

      From now on I will accept that Robertson, Hannigan & Phipps are deserved members of the match day squad and that Hooper’s selection as an open side flanker gives balance to the pack without compromising it’s effectiveness.
      Chieka doesn’t play favourites and gives equal opportunity to players such as Fardy, Higginbotham, Gill & Cooper.
      Poor Dean Mumm, Horne and Palu should have played more tests than they did

      • August 10th 2017 @ 1:39pm
        Charlie Turner said | August 10th 2017 @ 1:39pm | ! Report

        Rugger, I think you missed the point. If you apply Timbo’s criteria the players you mention may not qualify for selection.

        • Roar Guru

          August 11th 2017 @ 7:19am
          Timbo (L) said | August 11th 2017 @ 7:19am | ! Report

          I can’t exactly say outright in this article that Cheika runs a dictatorship and has got it completely wrong.from plan to staffing to people management. I’ll let you join the dots and make that conclusion for yourself.

      • August 10th 2017 @ 3:24pm
        LiamT said | August 10th 2017 @ 3:24pm | ! Report

        Rugger, absolutely spot on!

    • August 10th 2017 @ 7:31am
      Adsa said | August 10th 2017 @ 7:31am | ! Report

      A good read Timbo and I like the 6 selection criteria it is a shame that Clown has another important one – do they play for the Tahs. Between Clown and the Bozos at the ARU they are sucking the life out of enjoying rugby.

      • August 10th 2017 @ 7:56am
        Rebellion said | August 10th 2017 @ 7:56am | ! Report

        Well said Adsa

        A number of Tah fans (EagleJack & Cornet etc) will be happy with the way things are, however I don’t believe the rest of the country will be able to really get behind the Wallabies during this sorry saga until Chieka’s reign has come to an end.

      • Roar Guru

        August 10th 2017 @ 3:49pm
        Timbo (L) said | August 10th 2017 @ 3:49pm | ! Report

        Ned is actually a pretty good pick using my selection criteria.
        Jumps, Runs, Rucks, Mauls, Scrummages, Locks. There are no real gaps in his skills.
        I am one of the few on this site that don’t criticize him. One of the few choices where there isn’t a gaping hole in skills.
        I think it comes down to overall proficiency: 80% proficiency in 100% of the jobs is good, be we need great – closer to 95% to be world beaters.
        He would probably thrive in a G.Smith/Higgers Back row.

        Fards is(was) probably our best and solves the second lineout caller and Captain problems. He is a bit average as injury cover at lock. With Higgers at 8 or RHP at 19 this isn’t a problem.
        But Chieka likes his ultra mobile (light) 7/8 combo forcing a Mumm/Ned choice.

        • Roar Guru

          August 10th 2017 @ 4:13pm
          jeznez said | August 10th 2017 @ 4:13pm | ! Report

          i’m definitely in the anti-Ned group at the moment.

          He just loses too often in close contact and makes too many defensive errors.

          He has some great building blocks and given a few more years he could be great but he isn’t there yet.

        • Roar Guru

          August 10th 2017 @ 7:11pm
          PeterK said | August 10th 2017 @ 7:11pm | ! Report

          That is a clear case then your criteria ned adjusting.

          Everyone runs and tackles. But Ned doesn’t do either well. He fails in physicality and contact.
          Cannot make dominating tackles, cannot make metres in tight over the ad line.

          Anotherlig htweight where a position is wasted on a mediocre player.

          • Roar Guru

            August 11th 2017 @ 6:35am
            Timbo (L) said | August 11th 2017 @ 6:35am | ! Report

            So who is your pick?
            Simmons also ticks all the boxes and is a lineout caller as a bonus but has the same physicality issues as Ned and Mumm.
            I have never seen Dempsey play Lock. I am not saying he can’t, just that with 50 minutes of SR this year it is hard to tell what he can or can’t do.
            Timani isn’t a line out Primary.
            RHP is the mongrel we need but he is 10 mins short of a full game.
            MacMahon doesn’t lock and is leaving,

            The inconvenient truth is we need a Big 8 – Higgers for example and we can go for a lighter more mobile 6 that doesn’t have to lock- Timani, MacMahon for example, But that requires a change of game plan at 7 and we all know that isn’t going to happen.

            • Roar Guru

              August 11th 2017 @ 9:24am
              PeterK said | August 11th 2017 @ 9:24am | ! Report


              Higgs, RHP or Phillips at 6 well ahead of Hanigan

              Hanigan peforms no roles above barely acceptable.

              • August 11th 2017 @ 11:05am
                Neil said | August 11th 2017 @ 11:05am | ! Report

                PeterK, While it is questionable whether Hannigan will or should make it on to the match day bench, I don’t have any problem with him being in the current squad. He is very young, needs to bulk up and learn a few clean out skills, but with the RWC two years away, I don’t think we can ignore what could be a good talent. Higgers started the SR season with a bang and I was personally really impressed, but he faded to nothing during towards the end of the season. There is no role for him at his age, if he can’t maintain the standard. Don’t have a view on RHP yet, but I think Philips has the makings of a great lock and certainly should have been in the squad before Douglas and certainly Simmons for exactly the same reason as Hannigan, ie building talent for the RWC.

              • August 11th 2017 @ 11:09am
                Fionn said | August 11th 2017 @ 11:09am | ! Report

                ‘Higgers started the SR season with a bang and I was personally really impressed, but he faded to nothing during towards the end of the season.’

                Neil, he was injured towards the end of the season.

              • Roar Guru

                August 11th 2017 @ 5:29pm
                Timbo (L) said | August 11th 2017 @ 5:29pm | ! Report

                If you read my response carefuly, I don’t think Ned is our best 6.

                Matt Phillip is a Lock (A good one) but not Mobile enough to play 6.
                I have Higgers at 8 in my side and can’t play him in both positions. Not sure he is agile enough to play 6.

                RHP is my pick too but I must stand by my own criteria – he will struggle to make 80 minutes at international level and will need a sub.

              • Roar Guru

                August 12th 2017 @ 11:17am
                jeznez said | August 12th 2017 @ 11:17am | ! Report

                Higgs at 8, Timani at 6 and we look at a few of the guys mentioned above for the bench.

                We have plenty of options. The persistence with Hanigan will soon have him selected just because he has experience

            • August 11th 2017 @ 10:15am
              Old10 said | August 11th 2017 @ 10:15am | ! Report

              Timbo – it’s a tad ironic that your first reply and then this one would seem to indicate a fairly strong bias against the newly appointed skipper. As has been discussed previously on this site and other FB blogs, it’s astounding how much flak he receives from a number of fans when stats of varying types are thrown up. Working on your analysis of ground gained by a fwd vs a winger, which I strongly agree with, I would assume you are basing your selection bias against him on something else other than stats? And so placing you and other detractors at odds with both state and wallaby peers on their judgement of his ongoing performance, besides widespread global praise on numerous occasions. Obviously I am a supporter and it astounds me we see the tall poppy syndrome so prevalent in use against a player who has consistently been one of our rocks since he first burst into the squad. I totally agree the coach has had some bizarre selection choices and will no doubt continue to be consistent in that. But Hooper being there is one thing he has consistently been proven correct on – according to peers and opponents. He is not Po, nor Gill nor Smith. But thankfully he has been himself and bugger me, if he hadn’t been around in last years, I fear our performances would have been more concerning. I trust some detractors will get behind him as his peers do. He and they need all the positives they can get. Imho.

              • Roar Guru

                August 11th 2017 @ 5:14pm
                Timbo (L) said | August 11th 2017 @ 5:14pm | ! Report

                Hoops does not and cannot move bodies in a ruck and provides limited resistance when protecting one.

                He fails Rule 4. Perform all the roles associated with the position

                If your criteria for an open side doesn’t have ruck capabilities, fine, Have him in your side.
                I, and most selectors worldwide do require it.
                Find me another international level player like this and we can have a conversation.
                Kwagga Smith is close but he can Jump and knows how to clean out.

                Ragdoll, Pushed back on his Scooter. Not phrases you hear about G. Smith, Alcock, Pocock, Gill, Hardwick.

                Hoops leaves a gap in the forwards that Chieka blames all the other players for, but never Hoops. Hanigan is copping it on this site for not doing his job properly. Perhaps if Hoops helped him out once in a while, he wouldn’t look so bad.

    • Roar Guru

      August 10th 2017 @ 7:49am
      Sam Taulelei said | August 10th 2017 @ 7:49am | ! Report

      Enjoyed reading this. Thank you, some keen observations about all our conscious and subconscious prejudices.

      • Roar Rookie

        August 10th 2017 @ 3:39pm
        ChrisG said | August 10th 2017 @ 3:39pm | ! Report

        I agree. Great objectivity.

    • August 10th 2017 @ 8:06am
      krasnoff of noosa said | August 10th 2017 @ 8:06am | ! Report

      This is good stuff. Two things should be added. OBJECTIVITY and the removal of VESTED INTERESTS. Until such time as the blazer brigade are removed from ARU governance along with the coach who is Waratahs influenced, nothing constructive will happen.

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