Chaos reigns off the field, but also in the Wallabies’ back three

Nicholas Bishop Columnist

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    The force appears to have deserted Australian rugby.

    Whether that situation becomes a permanent reality, or happens to be just an uneasy interval before a renewed cycle of success, may depend on the actions of ‘a few good men’ – enlightened management by the ARU in the political sphere and enlightened coaching by Michael Cheika on the playing front.

    Both are facing their nemeses at the same time. The ARU has announced that the Western Force is the Super Rugby franchise they intend to cut in order to meet broadcaster requirements for 15 teams in the 2017-18 season. That story still looks to have a fair road to run.

    Meanwhile, Michael Cheika is looking forward to the annual double-header against the All Blacks which marks the start of the Rugby Championship. Australian performances in those two games could go a long way to deciding the fate of the Wallabies’ season as a whole.

    An important part of that narrative will be the selection and output of the Wallabies’ backfield – the full-back and two wings.

    At the national level, Australia is currently undergoing a philosophic change in that area – and change is nearly always uncomfortable. Particularly since the arrival of Mick Byrne from the All Blacks in the coaching group, Australia has adopted the typical New Zealand selection policy of picking two natural fullbacks and one finisher in the back three.

    New Zealand teams have used this system for well over a decade. At the 2011 World Cup, Israel Dagg and Cory Jane were the two fullbacks and Richard Kahui was the finisher. At the same event in 2015, Ben Smith and Nehe Milner-Skudder were the fullbacks and Julian Savea the finisher.

    On the recent British and Irish Lions tour, New Zealand only began to falter once Ben Smith was lost to injury, and they abandoned the twin fullback theory for the second Test, picking two finishers on the wing in Waisake Naholo and Rieko Ioane.

    Rieko Ioane New Zealand Rugby Union All Blacks 2017

    (AAP Image/SNPA, David Rowland)

    Meanwhile, the British and Irish Lions selected three players with extensive fullback experience in their back three – Liam Williams, Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly – and never paled in comparison with their Kiwi counterparts in this area. Quite the opposite, in fact.

    With its historical emphasis on controlling the ball by keeping it in hand ever since the early 2000s, Australia has tended to pursue a different selection policy. In the Rod Macqueen and Eddie Jones eras, the Wallabies had big wingers; Joe Roff, Lote Tuqiri, Wendell Sailor, Stirling Mortlock, Scott Staniforth. If you were under 6’2″ or 100 kgs, you need not have applied for the position.

    In contrast to New Zealand, there were always two very big men at the back for the Australians, and that size helped them control the ball when play went wide.

    Now the Wallabies (perhaps under the influence of Byrne) are trying to move in the Kiwi direction, regularly selecting Dane Haylett-Petty and Israel Folau plus one finisher (take your pick from Sefa Naivalu, Henry Speight, Taqele Naiyaravoro and Marika Koroibete).

    However, the policy has also been both complicated and hamstrung by the need to pick someone big and strong enough to fill in at 12 on defence (Rob Horne or Reece Hodge) when a small second playmaker is required – think Matt Giteau at the last World Cup and Kurtley Beale for the forthcoming Rugby Championship.

    It is symbolic of the situation in Australia at the present moment in time that two of the players who might fit the bill from the current Force squad, Luke Morahan and Curtis Rona, are in danger of being lost to the Wallabies. Morahan, a complete finisher and fullback package, is off to Bristol in the UK, while Rona, who played the vast majority of his rugby league career as a winger, has only played at outside centre for the Force and may yet follow Morahan and opt for a contract abroad.

    The current situation in the Wallaby back three could best be described as fragile and, in some cases, confused. There is no shortage of talent and some of it is world-leading, like Israel Folau’s ability under the high ball. But defensively, the division of responsibilities is not at all clear to the observer, and you begin to wonder whether it is clear to the players themselves on the field.

    I examined the Wallabies’ last June match against Italy to understand better how their defensive backfield is operating and what the chances of its success against the All Blacks in the forthcoming Rugby Championship might be.

    When returning kicks, the Wallabies are unquestionably at their best when they can position Israel Folau under the high ball. Here are a couple of instances when Italy exited via the box-kick in the first half:

    The ability of the receiver to not just catch the ball securely, but also beat the first chaser and/or make the offload in contact is invaluable in these situations.

    In the first frame, Folau has rotated towards the right sideline to receive the kick, with Dane Haylett-Petty shifting across in support and Will Genia and Sefa Naivalu shielding the receipt. By the third frame, Folau has offloaded to Adam Coleman and Australia were able to work an overlap on the far side when the ball was spun out to the left.

    The second example is almost identical. Folau catches, Genia and Naivalu block and Haylett-Petty shifts across. This time Folau beats the first chaser to set up another promising counter-attack for the Wallabies.

    There were, however, a number of issues associated with Australia’s defensive organisation in the backfield from the set-piece, and most of them are illustrated in the highlight reel containing Italy’s tries:

    Take a look at the first Azzurri score, direct from a scrum in the 35th minute. Aside from the problems associated with the clean break on the line, there is a deeper issue with the second layer of defence.

    No-one lays a hand on the eventual scorer, Italy 13 Michele Campagnaro, after the break is made, and the closest defender to him is the winger Naivalu, who is defending up on the line. Neither Haylett-Petty nor Folau get anywhere near to making a tackle on the Italian outside centre:

    Hit the ‘pause’ button at 34:47 on the reel and it is clear that play is only going in one direction, out to the Italian right. The Azzurri number eight is positioned to pass right and his scrum-half has already moved away to that side. Moreover, the two Italian centres are on ‘straight–to-unders’ lines and the blindside winger, number 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, has already shifted infield to make the extra man.

    So the attack is only going to one place, the area in and around Australian number ten Bernard Foley.

    In the three frames from behind the posts, the two Australian backfield defenders (Haylett-Petty and Folau) are far too slow to identify the area of attack. Folau is too wide (he should be behind, and no wider than Naivalu until the offence tips its hand), and Haylett-Petty does not recognize the movement of his opposite number quickly enough.

    At other times, even the casual observer could be forgiven for wondering whether the constant interchange of positions in the back-line is of any concrete benefit to the Wallabies.

    In the first frame, from an Italy scrum on their right side of the field, left winger Naivalu is defending over on the right, Folau has come up outside him and Haylett-Petty is rotating into fullback.

    In the second (the third phase from a lineout on the Italy left), Naivalu is back in his natural position with Folau alongside him and Haylett-Petty rotating into fullback, leaving the two Wallaby halfbacks closest to the play when the ball is spun back towards the site of the original lineout.

    Not one of the Australian back three is close enough to the point of attack at the crucial moment. It’s little surprise, then, that the Azzurri created a disallowed ‘try’ down this side of the field five phases later.

    Perhaps the most bewildering example of positional interchange came in the second half, with Reece Hodge now on the field for Naivalu.

    Hodge starts out on the right during this long phase sequence (next to Folau), but when play moves to the other side it is he, not Folau, who moves with it.

    In the second frame, Hodge ends up in the strange position of trying to play fullback in front of his own scrum-half, before shifting back to the right and into line underneath Folau in the third. Whatever the Wallabies are attempting to achieve through this process is unclear, but it certainly does not depend on economy of movement!

    The constant positional interchange also cost Australia another try in the second half – at the 64th minute on the reel.

    Here, Hodge and Folau are again stuck out on the right close to the goal-line, with Will Genia playing acting fullback. While it is not unusual for the number nine to play this role on defence, Genia is not near enough to the play to affect the outcome when Italy go to the cross-kick (ideally he needs to be aligned opposite the Azzurri first receiver).

    This time, Haylett-Petty is called upon to play left wing, but he is outnumbered two-to-one by Italian attackers. If a loose ball is created by anything other than a clean catch, Italy must score – and that is the way it turns out.

    Confusion reigns in Australian rugby at all levels. In many cases, the talent is clearly there, but the structure (both on the political and tactical fronts) is not present to frame it to the best advantage.

    Nowhere is this more true than in the Wallaby back three. There is talent to burn in this department, even though some of it is already on its way to the UK, but the Wallaby coaching group are still in the middle of a transition to a New Zealand outlook on selection.

    The situation is complicated by defensive demands which dictate that players constantly swap sides and interchange roles.

    These demands are only likely to increase with the high probability of Kurtley Beale starting at inside centre against the All Blacks. At least Karmichael Hunt provided a point of certainty in that position in June, playing 12 on both attack and defence throughout.

    My old English teacher gave me the best advice I ever received as a writer: If in doubt, “keep it simple, stupid”. That bit of counsel deserves to be applied to Wallaby systems all over the field against New Zealand in the coming weeks.

    Nicholas Bishop
    Nicholas Bishop

    Nick Bishop has worked as a rugby analyst and advisor to Graham Henry (1999-2003), Mike Ruddock (2004-2005) and most recently Stuart Lancaster (2011-2015). He also worked on the 2001 British & Irish Lions tour to Australia and produced his first rugby book with Graham Henry at the end of the tour. Three more rugby books have followed, all of which of have either been nominated for or won national sports book awards. Nick's latest is a biography of Phil Larder, the first top Rugby League coach to successfully transfer over to Union, entitled The Iron Curtain. He is currently writing articles for The Roar and The Rugby Site, and working as a strategy consultant to Stuart Lancaster and the Leinster coaching staff for their European matches.

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    The Crowd Says (316)

    • August 16th 2017 @ 4:18am
      riddler said | August 16th 2017 @ 4:18am | ! Report

      cheers nick.. another quality piece..

      looking forward to the weekend.. i am hoping that we show some ticker and give the kiwis a good run..

      oz by 5!

      • Columnist

        August 16th 2017 @ 4:21am
        Nicholas Bishop said | August 16th 2017 @ 4:21am | ! Report

        Let’s hope so Riddler! If all this work they’ve been doing in camp bears fruit, it could be a close one 🙂

        • August 16th 2017 @ 9:15am
          Ex force fan said | August 16th 2017 @ 9:15am | ! Report

          Nick tried to read it but lost interest… Nothing to do with you, it is like reading an article about Romenia vs Georgia. Just not relevant to me in WA.

          • Columnist

            August 16th 2017 @ 4:43pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | August 16th 2017 @ 4:43pm | ! Report

            I can understand you’re still in a mourning period – but that race is not yet run.

      • August 16th 2017 @ 7:23am
        P2R2 said | August 16th 2017 @ 7:23am | ! Report

        dreamer….based on what…6 weeks of training, taped mouths….their best rugby will be on the training paddock….Hooper will say so…

        • August 16th 2017 @ 8:29pm
          Drongo said | August 16th 2017 @ 8:29pm | ! Report

          You must be very charming and charismatic in person.

    • August 16th 2017 @ 4:58am
      Darwin Stubbie said | August 16th 2017 @ 4:58am | ! Report

      Aren’t you pushing the boundaries a bit by classifying Folau as a natural fullback … from a wallaby perspective aren’t they better served as employing him as the power player and slotting in 2 actually fullbacks around him

      • August 16th 2017 @ 7:39am
        Highlander said | August 16th 2017 @ 7:39am | ! Report

        I reckon that’s a great observation DS, that seems the ‘natural’ Folau role to me.

        You lose nothing from an attack sense and bolster the defence with a single change – who would be the other two back three members if you had the choice.

        • August 16th 2017 @ 7:46am
          Fionn said | August 16th 2017 @ 7:46am | ! Report

          I am fine with Folau being the “second fullback” on one wing with someone like Naivalu on the other wing. I definitely don’t consider Folau a natural or complete fullback, but he has the aerial skills at the very least.

          Pairing him with Naivalu or someone on the other wing and DHP, Hunt or Beale at fullback would be best. The advantage of that means we get to play two finishers (Beale + 1 other) and still function very well in terms of fielding bombs with Folau + another fullback.

        • August 16th 2017 @ 10:27am
          ethan said | August 16th 2017 @ 10:27am | ! Report

          Yep. Pick Beale at 15. Someone who can defend at 12. Allow Izzy to play a roving wing role. Naivalu for the other wing, but as he’s injured, stick with DHP.

          • Roar Guru

            August 16th 2017 @ 12:47pm
            PeterK said | August 16th 2017 @ 12:47pm | ! Report

            It is so obvious that Beale should be at 15 and not 12.

            I would prefer Hodge for DHP who is in poor form.

            • August 16th 2017 @ 2:58pm
              ethan said | August 16th 2017 @ 2:58pm | ! Report

              Obvious to all but those in charge. Sigh.

              I hardly watched any SR after the June internationals, so am not around recent form.

          • Columnist

            August 16th 2017 @ 4:45pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | August 16th 2017 @ 4:45pm | ! Report

            Beale did play at 15 for all of his time at Wasps bar the first couple of games and seemed quite happy there…

            • August 16th 2017 @ 4:58pm
              cuw said | August 16th 2017 @ 4:58pm | ! Report

              true but dude :

              at Wasps Beale played with guys like

              9 Joe Simpson, 10 Danny Cipriani, 11 Willie Le Roux, 12 Jimmy Gopperth, 13 Elliot Daly, 14 Christian Wade and 21 Dan Robson, 22 Alapati Leiua, 23 Josh Bassett

              do u think Beale will have same quality with auzzy team in both attack and defence?

              • August 16th 2017 @ 9:31pm
                Derek Murray said | August 16th 2017 @ 9:31pm | ! Report


              • Columnist

                August 17th 2017 @ 5:11am
                Nicholas Bishop said | August 17th 2017 @ 5:11am | ! Report

                And how many of those Wasps backs would get into the Wallabies right now CUW? Only Daly on current form.

    • Columnist

      August 16th 2017 @ 5:15am
      Nicholas Bishop said | August 16th 2017 @ 5:15am | ! Report

      In most of these instances he’s playing as a wing DS, with DHP playing the full-back role. But you need to make use of his outstanding receiving ability somewhere in the backfield in any case.

      • Roar Guru

        August 16th 2017 @ 9:10am
        PeterK said | August 16th 2017 @ 9:10am | ! Report

        exactly, and that is why all the calls for folau to be picked on the wing would make very little difference other than the number on his back.

        He would still be used to field high kick returns and play like he is now.

        DHP is defending poorly at f/b and his positional play at f/b (partly due to all the swapping around) has been found wanting.

        • August 16th 2017 @ 10:24am
          RahRah said | August 16th 2017 @ 10:24am | ! Report

          So if it makes very little difference, why not have Folau at 14, Beale at 15 and your finisher at 11?

          • August 16th 2017 @ 12:31pm
            Browny said | August 16th 2017 @ 12:31pm | ! Report

            That’s the combo I like, RahRah. Beale, Folau and a ‘strike’ winger in Speight or Naivalu (if fit) or even a Koroibete if Speight and Naivalu both are unavailable.

          • Columnist

            August 17th 2017 @ 5:13am
            Nicholas Bishop said | August 17th 2017 @ 5:13am | ! Report

            Yes, there is no real reason why Beale cannot start the game with 15 on his back and still play the mixed role on attack and defence…

        • August 16th 2017 @ 10:29am
          ethan said | August 16th 2017 @ 10:29am | ! Report

          Picking Folau at wing would allow us to pick Beale at fullback, and thus improve our midfield defence, with the potential for less positional changes on defence, and therefore less of the problems highlighted in Nicks article.

          It will make little difference to Folaus game, but will make a difference to other aspects.

          • August 16th 2017 @ 11:24am
            Hello said | August 16th 2017 @ 11:24am | ! Report

            By the look of what Nick has shown us it would not matter what number they wear but but I would have Beale in my back 3 not at 12

          • Roar Guru

            August 16th 2017 @ 12:37pm
            PeterK said | August 16th 2017 @ 12:37pm | ! Report

            ethan – you missed my point.

            Folau would play the same as he is now regardless if he is in the 14 or 15 jersey.

            DHP defends (and poorly) at f/b now.

            Just to make everyone happy yes change the no on his back, won’t change how it is played. My preference too is for Beale at 15 , Folau 14 and Naivalu at 11.

          • Columnist

            August 16th 2017 @ 4:47pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | August 16th 2017 @ 4:47pm | ! Report

            IIRC selecting Folau at 14 and Hunt at 15 was an option I highlighted before the June series began. This is similar.

    • Roar Guru

      August 16th 2017 @ 6:10am
      Harry Jones said | August 16th 2017 @ 6:10am | ! Report

      Enjoyed that. Who is the WB organiser back there?

      • Columnist

        August 16th 2017 @ 6:17am
        Nicholas Bishop said | August 16th 2017 @ 6:17am | ! Report

        It’s hard to say H. My guess would be Haylett-Petty as he’s usually the back man with everything in front of him. Against the AB’s it could even conceivably be Beale, as he will likely drop into the backfield on D!

        • Roar Guru

          August 16th 2017 @ 6:48am
          Harry Jones said | August 16th 2017 @ 6:48am | ! Report

          That’s probably key; with so much intermingling/shuffling.

          • Columnist

            August 16th 2017 @ 6:55am
            Nicholas Bishop said | August 16th 2017 @ 6:55am | ! Report

            The WB’s like to defend with a dedicated open-side wing at set-pieces. Problems can arise because not everyone can defend equally well running to their left as they can to their right, whereas League ofc has players defending exclusively on one side of the field the whole game 🙂

    • August 16th 2017 @ 6:12am
      Sherry said | August 16th 2017 @ 6:12am | ! Report

      Nicholas, I have an idea you could run a similar analysis to this next Monday that would amply demonstrate why the ABs scored repeatedly against us, which I believe they will. Yes, we have some talent, but our defence charts are either wrong or aren’t carried out as designed. You inadvertently point out another big difference between The Wallabies 2017 and the Wallabies of yesteryear – Joe Roff scored 15 tries in the Super 12 in ’97, Tuqiri was a tremendous winger, and a success when moved to OC for a few games, while Mortlock consistently broke the first tackle.
      Bottom line: if your defence is poor, make sure you have a fearsome attack. And today’s WB attack is far from fearsome.

      • Columnist

        August 16th 2017 @ 6:20am
        Nicholas Bishop said | August 16th 2017 @ 6:20am | ! Report

        Another aspect is that the Australian back three players of yesteryear were big but also often highly-skilled. Both Chris Latham and Joe Roff were big and physical, but had better kicking games than anyone currently in the team at wing or full-back.

        Tuqiri was massive, a force of nature. I recall him trotting out next to the two Welsh second rows in 2006 – he was bigger than both of them!

        • August 16th 2017 @ 6:24am
          Fionn said | August 16th 2017 @ 6:24am | ! Report

          Part of the reason that the team’s kicking game sucks is that they don’t practice kicking and chasing – Cheika basically admitted at much on TV.

          • Columnist

            August 16th 2017 @ 6:26am
            Nicholas Bishop said | August 16th 2017 @ 6:26am | ! Report

            Yes he did, didn’t he…. At least with Beale and Haylett-Petty back there next weekend, they should have the ability to kick against the AB’s Fionn. Whether kicking will be part of the tactical package is another matter 🙂

          • August 16th 2017 @ 6:35am
            Ed said | August 16th 2017 @ 6:35am | ! Report

            Because he is not a “kicking aficiando”.

            One of the many areas of interest this Saturday will be our kick and chase. It is an area our Australian sides have really dropped off on over the past decade. Watch footage of the 2001 Wallabies with the aforementioned Roff where he and others kicked and chase to place the receiver with several Wallabies in their face.

          • August 16th 2017 @ 6:58am
            John said | August 16th 2017 @ 6:58am | ! Report

            Isn’t it sad that because our players suck at box kicks fans dislike it so much, yet for the premier sides they use it as both an exit strategy and as a 50-50 contest and have thus practiced and fine-tuned the art.

            If I was head coach I would be embarrassed by that. Instead they put it down to the Australian way.

            • Columnist

              August 16th 2017 @ 7:00am
              Nicholas Bishop said | August 16th 2017 @ 7:00am | ! Report

              Regathered box kicks can create some great attacking opportunities against a broken D John – it can be a very economic way of scoring points (if you can kick well and have some outstanding chasers to win the ball back in the air).

              • August 16th 2017 @ 7:19am
                Fionn said | August 16th 2017 @ 7:19am | ! Report

                We have Folau (world’s best rugby player under the high ball and one of the most damaging broken field runners), DHP (pretty good under the high ball too), Naivalu (fastest player in world rugby currently) and Beale (extremely good broken field runner).

                I would have thought we had the chasers and runners to make box kicking a viable strategy if we bothered to practice it.

              • Columnist

                August 16th 2017 @ 7:43am
                Nicholas Bishop said | August 16th 2017 @ 7:43am | ! Report

                The material is there to work with Fionn, simple as that.

              • August 16th 2017 @ 8:00am
                John said | August 16th 2017 @ 8:00am | ! Report

                If we bothered to practice it …..

                If we bothered to practice it …..

              • Columnist

                August 16th 2017 @ 8:02am
                Nicholas Bishop said | August 16th 2017 @ 8:02am | ! Report

                Saracens have built their whole team structure around it. The WB’s don’t need to be Sarries but there is something good you can take from every successful side.

              • August 16th 2017 @ 8:18am
                Ed said | August 16th 2017 @ 8:18am | ! Report

                The Wallabies could look at the strength and conditioning program at Saracens. Skelton was there for a few months and returned to Australia fitter than he had been while under Cheika at the Tahs and Wallabies.

              • Roar Guru

                August 16th 2017 @ 9:16am
                PeterK said | August 16th 2017 @ 9:16am | ! Report

                Fionn – agree, all the ingredients are there for great box kick attack and regather.

                Look at kickoffs they sometimes use Folau to get the ball back, why not use Folau, Naivalu, Beale to chase box kicks (leaving DHP / Hodge at f/b).

              • August 16th 2017 @ 10:14am
                Ruckin Oaf said | August 16th 2017 @ 10:14am | ! Report

                ahh the regathered box kick. We could do it once upon a time

              • August 16th 2017 @ 3:12pm
                Akari said | August 16th 2017 @ 3:12pm | ! Report

                Maybe the constant shuffling or changing of positions during attack and then in defence had buggered the players to the extent that they can’t be bothered chasing the kicks, PK. I don’t really know but there may be some truth in this.

            • Columnist

              August 16th 2017 @ 4:50pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | August 16th 2017 @ 4:50pm | ! Report

              To Ed ( below)

              Skelton is a great example of what can be achieved in a short time with the right conditions in place. I’m sure he will improve further this coming season, and if he does, a Skelton/Itoje combo will be something to savour for the big club games!

          • August 16th 2017 @ 12:31pm
            Charlie Turner said | August 16th 2017 @ 12:31pm | ! Report

            Fion that’s the trouble……the Wallabies only practice things they’re good at, which sadly, isn’t much!

          • August 16th 2017 @ 3:20pm
            Dan in Devon said | August 16th 2017 @ 3:20pm | ! Report

            With Mick Byrne in the set-up it would be difficult to believe this is true. Maybe he was speaking tongue-in-cheek.

        • August 16th 2017 @ 8:49am
          jameswm said | August 16th 2017 @ 8:49am | ! Report

          I think you’re being extremely generous describing Joe Roff ass physical. Big and skilled, yes.

          • Roar Guru

            August 16th 2017 @ 9:14am
            PeterK said | August 16th 2017 @ 9:14am | ! Report

            Roff avoided contact, he was a great hole runner , however he rarely ran hard into contact to except if it was an arm only tackle.
            In defence he was a turnstile, rarely put his shoulder into it.

            • Roar Guru

              August 16th 2017 @ 10:13am
              Hoy said | August 16th 2017 @ 10:13am | ! Report

              He was late to the game. I have seen many late converts to the physicality of rugby or league all gun shy of contact. I think if you are into it around 10, early teens, then you grow up with the contact, and aren’t too fearful of the hits. Coming in late, and it seems a bit too confronting for some.

              • August 16th 2017 @ 10:26am
                RahRah said | August 16th 2017 @ 10:26am | ! Report

                I think he played soccer into his teen years

              • August 16th 2017 @ 10:58am
                Dave_S said | August 16th 2017 @ 10:58am | ! Report

                Hoy, ur right, although I don’t think it’s fear of contact per se, but fear of leading into contact with the shoulder and hence exposing the head. AFL players for eg are hardly contact-shy (they’re often crazy-brave) but they’re usually chest and arm tacklers or hip+shoulder.

              • Roar Guru

                August 17th 2017 @ 1:44pm
                Hoy said | August 17th 2017 @ 1:44pm | ! Report

                Dave, you’re right… we had a huge bloke at school who came from the territory, grew up playing AFL… if he ever hit someone they would be busted, but all he used to do was grab jerseys and sling them. Just didn’t learn the shoulder drive early enough, and it wasn’t natural to him.

        • August 16th 2017 @ 4:46pm
          Uncle Eric said | August 16th 2017 @ 4:46pm | ! Report

          Tuqiri, 191cm and 102kgs. Those Welsh locks must have been quite small Nick.

          • Columnist

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

            Well he certainly looked a lot bigger in reality than he did on paper. Pretty sure he was closer to 1.94 than 1.91 for a start (maybe it was the hairstyle!)…

            • August 16th 2017 @ 4:56pm
              Uncle Eric said | August 16th 2017 @ 4:56pm | ! Report

              I don’t doubt it was the hairstyle Nick. Had to put at least four to five cms on the man!!

        • August 16th 2017 @ 5:41pm
          elvis said | August 16th 2017 @ 5:41pm | ! Report

          Lote Tuquiri 191 cm 102 kg

          Ian Gough 196 cm 119 kg
          Adam Jones 201 cm 115 kg


          • Columnist

            August 16th 2017 @ 6:00pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | August 16th 2017 @ 6:00pm | ! Report

            There is nothing a surprise in real life to shake you up (better than just reading stuff)!

    • August 16th 2017 @ 6:27am
      Fionn said | August 16th 2017 @ 6:27am | ! Report

      Nick, after this saturday’s match can you please write an article on the Wallabies’ defensive chaos with Beale at 12? It will be cathartic after the horror we are about to experience.

      Cheers for the article. That Reece Hodge play is truly baffling. No wonder the defensive system doesn’t work with things like that going on, and no wonder the players get so exhausted.

      • Columnist

        August 16th 2017 @ 6:49am
        Nicholas Bishop said | August 16th 2017 @ 6:49am | ! Report

        It will be interesting to see who they select on the wing Fionn, assuming DHP and Folau are nailed on to start. He will have to defend at 12 at set-piece, because they cannot afford to have SBW running at Kurtley all evening, that’s for sure!

        • August 16th 2017 @ 6:59am
          John said | August 16th 2017 @ 6:59am | ! Report

          Wouldn’t that be fun to watch though?

          • Columnist

            August 16th 2017 @ 7:01am
            Nicholas Bishop said | August 16th 2017 @ 7:01am | ! Report

            I’m sure Nathan Grey would be tickled pink at the prospect John!

            • August 16th 2017 @ 7:21am
              Fionn said | August 16th 2017 @ 7:21am | ! Report

              To be fair I do feel for Nathan Grey somewhat. From what I can gather neither Larkham nor Grey have any say in selections (I know that Larkham doesn’t, so I assume Grey does not either).

              I mean, Grey’s defensive systems are horrible and are failing at SR and international level, but when Cheika gives him teams like 10-12 of Foley-Beale you don’t exactly have a lot to work with.

              • August 16th 2017 @ 7:45am
                Bring Back...? said | August 16th 2017 @ 7:45am | ! Report

                It’s a real shame Hunt is not available as I’m assuming he’d be picked at 12 and therefore avoid the need for musical chairs.

                The lack of kicking ability is astonishing but can’t all be laid at the feet of Cheika. Surely these skills are developed over years and years, not just through 6 weeks of training camp.

                Nick – I have no idea about defensive patterns for the back 3 but your KISS recommendation is right on the money and applies to all facets of the team.

              • Columnist

                August 16th 2017 @ 7:47am
                Nicholas Bishop said | August 16th 2017 @ 7:47am | ! Report

                It’s a real shame Hunt is not available as I’m assuming he’d be picked at 12 and therefore avoid the need for musical chairs.

                I think that would have proved a very interesting test case BB. I suspect Cheika feels committed to KB even if Hunt was not injured.

              • August 16th 2017 @ 8:01am
                Bring Back...? said | August 16th 2017 @ 8:01am | ! Report

                Yes, I understand. Comment was made in hope rather than with confidence.

              • August 16th 2017 @ 2:22pm
                Adrian Denyer said | August 16th 2017 @ 2:22pm | ! Report

                Hi Nick
                Yes agree that Cheika sees Beale as 12, and Hunt elsewhere.
                However, if he was wavering slightly on this, perhaps DHP’s possible injury gives and excuse to have Beale take his place.
                That would require someone to fill-in at 12 until Hunt gets fit. Meakes?

                But yes, Beale will probably be 12. If he is, I’d have him defend there too, so he is closer to the action for first phase turnover ball. His tackling has improved over last couple of years I think

              • August 16th 2017 @ 7:48am
                Fionn said | August 16th 2017 @ 7:48am | ! Report

                DHP can kick decently for the Force, Lealiifano is a good kicker, Quade is a decent kicker, Nic White was a good kicker, Hunt is a pretty decent kicker.

                Cheika ignored Lealiifano and White (in favour of Phipps, ugh).

                Quade hasn’t really been given enough time.

                DHP and Hunt are seemingly banned from kicking. I don’t know this for a fact, but is the only assumption I can make given they don’t kick for touch (and they should) and kick far less in open play for the Wallabies than they do for their SR teams.

              • Columnist

                August 16th 2017 @ 7:50am
                Nicholas Bishop said | August 16th 2017 @ 7:50am | ! Report

                Yes it is a blind spot, but it looks like MC feels he is ahead of the the game’s development curve by keeping more ball in hand. I do not believe that to be the case.

              • August 16th 2017 @ 8:10am
                Bring Back...? said | August 16th 2017 @ 8:10am | ! Report

                Whether those guys can kick is one thing but I don’t think Kerevi, Kuridrani, Naivalu, Koriebete etc have any natural kicking ability and they have been and are in the mix. The fact Folau is not a good kicker even after playing AFL maybe says something about his hand-eye coordination.

                Every back in “my” team would be required to learn how to kick well off their strong foot and well enough off their other foot to get out of a jam.

              • August 16th 2017 @ 7:54am
                Fionn said | August 16th 2017 @ 7:54am | ! Report

                ‘MC feels he is ahead of the the game’s development curve by keeping more ball in hand. I do not believe that to be the case.’

                I spent a lazy afternoon going through the stats on whether having more possession and territory is currently the winning strategy, because I suspected it wasn’t.

                There was of course a spread, it wasn’t a massive majority but in a majority of the matches I looked at (about 20 SR games, the 6N and a lot of the internationals from 2016) the team that had less possession and territory was actually winning more. I suspect it has to do with the fact that it is so hard to break down structured defences, but when a team is committed to a structured attack and a quick turnover ball is achieved the previously defending team has an excellent opportunity to counterattack against an unset and unready defence.

              • Columnist

                August 16th 2017 @ 7:57am
                Nicholas Bishop said | August 16th 2017 @ 7:57am | ! Report

                The game is often easier and simpler to play without the ball… and you require fewer phases to score a try from a turnover or kick return than you do executing a phase pattern.If teams can load up knowing you cannot vary with use of the kicking game then life quickly becomes impossible 🙂

              • August 16th 2017 @ 8:14am
                Bring Back...? said | August 16th 2017 @ 8:14am | ! Report

                The game plan this Saturday should also be simple….whenever in our own 40 and on set piece, kick the hell out of it and try to find touch. Pick a tall back row and take on their line out.

              • August 16th 2017 @ 8:51am
                jameswm said | August 16th 2017 @ 8:51am | ! Report

                Fionn I remember someone saying Mick Byrne had said it takes less effort to defend than attack. Many (like me) assumed it was the other way around.

                It would be interesting to see what the AB numbers are. Maybe they kick and defend to save that little bit of extra energy for the last 20 mins.

              • August 16th 2017 @ 10:41am
                Jibba Jabba said | August 16th 2017 @ 10:41am | ! Report

                What defensive systems ? 🙂

              • August 16th 2017 @ 11:36am
                Fionn said | August 16th 2017 @ 11:36am | ! Report

                I can see that, James. Plus, it is mentally deflating to be attacking again and again and failing to break the line (e.g. Aus vs England in G2 last June or vs Scotland this year).

                This mental fatigue leaves one open to quick counterattacks.

              • August 16th 2017 @ 12:19pm
                Ruckin' Oaf said | August 16th 2017 @ 12:19pm | ! Report

                I think that there was a time that Eddie Jones thought he was ahead of the curve placing emphasis on lighter more mobile forwards than those who could scrummage.

                It’s good to have a coach thinking ahead but when they guess wrong it can be problematic.

              • August 16th 2017 @ 12:57pm
                Charlie Turner said | August 16th 2017 @ 12:57pm | ! Report

                Fionn, I cannot believe Larkham has no say in back selections. He is too strong a personality (despite his softly spoken demeanour) and would not have taken the job if he wasn’t getting his preferred players. I remember Larkham on a GAGR pod cast stating he was against moving backs to accomodate defensive weaknesses. This was answering a question about Quade Cooper whom it seemed Larkham had little time for.

                It must be driving him crazy to be left with Foley and now Beale adding to the defensive complexity. Reading over what I’ve just written maybe he doesn’t have any say as a guy like Jono Lance fits Larkhams game better but was not on Cheikas list. I don’t know much but I do know one thing, the All Blacks will be coming and coming like a multi headed terminator Saturday and Grey better have his chaos organised.

                Thanks Nick Bishop for another quality article.

              • August 16th 2017 @ 1:09pm
                Fionn said | August 16th 2017 @ 1:09pm | ! Report

                You can not believe it, Charlie, but I trust my sources on this. Even think about what we know for a fact, publicly:

                – Larkham wanted Lealiifano in the WC squad and he wasn’t included
                – Larkham wanted Tom Banks in the June Test squad, he missed out. Ditto again with Banks in the current Wallaby squad
                – Larkham wasn’t even informed that Hunt was playing 12 in June until AFTER Hunt was informed.

                I’m not commenting on whether Larkham was right or wrong on any of these points, but it sort of demonstrates that Cheika selects the team and then Larkham is told to developing an attacking game-plan around them.

                Do we really think that Larkham would have supported overlooking Nic White either? I do not know, but I think it is pretty unlikely.

                ‘ … and would not have taken the job if he wasn’t getting his preferred players’

                Or maybe he just wanted the assistant job as he suspected (knew?) that it was the pathway to the head coach role, and he could put up with not having so much authority under Cheika.

              • August 16th 2017 @ 1:57pm
                Charlie Turner said | August 16th 2017 @ 1:57pm | ! Report

                That makes sense and I’m sure you’re right Fionn but it’s a painful way to climb to the top. Now that Pulver is going and more board members are likely to follow I’d say Larkhams ascendency is tenuous.

              • Roar Rookie

                August 16th 2017 @ 2:19pm
                Paul D said | August 16th 2017 @ 2:19pm | ! Report

                When was the last time a Wallaby coach was selected from an Assistant Coach? In fact, has the Wallaby head coach ever been selected from an assistant role? As far back as I can recall they have always come from outside the existing coaching team.

                If Larkham’s aim is to become the Wallaby coach there is a far easier path than submitting to a supposedly dysfunctional environment. If Cheika doesn’t turn things around, Larkham owns those results too as an assistant.

                If it truly is a environment he’s not comfortable in, he could have stayed with the Brumbies and proved himself there as the best next option, if he is indeed capable. He even had the opportunity to “work experience” with Cheika before he decided to come on full time. So he knew well enough what he was getting into.

                I just don’t buy the poor downtrodden assistant coach suffering in silence theory.

              • August 16th 2017 @ 3:20pm
                Fionn said | August 16th 2017 @ 3:20pm | ! Report

                You don’t buy it, great. Care to address any of the points I made about Larkham not being involved in the decision making process?

              • August 16th 2017 @ 3:26pm
                Akari said | August 16th 2017 @ 3:26pm | ! Report

                BringB said, The lack of kicking ability is astonishing but can’t all be laid at the feet of Cheika. Surely these skills are developed over years and years, not just through 6 weeks of training camp.

                This is a little misleading as Cheika has had the bulk of these WBs players since the 2014 EOYT. That is significantly more than the 6 week camp to get his message to all aspiring wannabes.

              • August 16th 2017 @ 5:17pm
                Bring Back...? said | August 16th 2017 @ 5:17pm | ! Report

                No intent to mislead Akari. It just happens to be my view that players in contention for national selection should have a certain skill set and in the backs, that includes the ability to kick. It’s an absurd proposition to suggest the national coach is responsible for teaching players the basic skills necessary for top level.

                As to selection of players without the basic skills, that’s a different issue but raises the broad question of cattle quality.

              • August 16th 2017 @ 4:36pm
                Adrian Denyer said | August 16th 2017 @ 4:36pm | ! Report

                Larkham got the gig when he said “yes” to Cheika’s request for SR coaches to become his assistant coaches.

                Simple as that. They have no history together and aren’t close, but it’s part of the deal that was done when Cheika got the gig.

                Sometimes it works, but mostly not, since WC.

                I have a feeling ( no proof) that both tactics and selections will reflect more of Cheika from now on, even though Larkham is now full time

        • Roar Guru

          August 16th 2017 @ 9:04am
          Timbo (L) said | August 16th 2017 @ 9:04am | ! Report

          I have a sneaky suspicion that DHP won’t start. The media are being primed with talk of an arm injury.

          A logical outcome is to move Izzy to a more natural 14 spot (With a roving mandate) Freeing up the 15 Jersey for Beale. This makes room at 12 for a solid defender – Hodge, Kerevi or Meakes all good options with differing traits, Rona to 13 if it is Samu.
          Might just be wistful thinking, logic doesn’t appear to be popular in the Wallaby game plan.

          • Columnist

            August 16th 2017 @ 4:58pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | August 16th 2017 @ 4:58pm | ! Report

            This could well be the outcome Timbo – and thanks for your recent article btw… Enjoyed it but didn’t have time to contribute!

            • Roar Guru

              August 16th 2017 @ 7:15pm
              Timbo (L) said | August 16th 2017 @ 7:15pm | ! Report

              Thanks Nick
              I assume you mean “Selection Bias”

              I wrote “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” that the eds delayed by a couple of days and it drowned under other submissions, sinking to the bottom like it had a brick tied to it.

              • Columnist

                August 16th 2017 @ 9:45pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | August 16th 2017 @ 9:45pm | ! Report

                That can happen and it’s amazing how easily people can miss some very good stuff!

        • August 16th 2017 @ 10:33am
          RahRah said | August 16th 2017 @ 10:33am | ! Report

          Hi Nic, great article again.
          This is why Beale should not play at 12. Ive said it over and over but in attack he is too lateral and compresses his outside backs towards the sideline making a drift defense simple, and he simply runs away in attack. He does however play his best rugby from 15.
          The Nathan Grey “barn dance” has proven to be too complicated and simply does not work. Most of us don’t have your analytical skills but we all know and have felt for some time now, if it walks like a duck……………..?

          • Columnist

            August 16th 2017 @ 5:00pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | August 16th 2017 @ 5:00pm | ! Report

            I think Beale/Foley works best in attack (they complement each other well) but they need to find some simple systems on D which do not require so much movement and thought on the part of the players. Simplify, simplify.

        • August 16th 2017 @ 12:52pm
          Perthstayer said | August 16th 2017 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

          Team song should be Hokey Kokey

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