Every Wallabies fan and his dog has had their say on the Wallabies, it seems, with the grand Australian tradition of naming alternate teams alive and well since Saturday night’s 54-34 dusting in the first Bledisloe of the year.
To be fair, a good portion of All Blacks fans, and indeed, fans of other international teams have had their say on the Wallabies, too. Certainly, there’s been no shortage of opinions, nor of suggested changes for the Wallabies, often accompanied by authoritative statements like, “this is the team they’ll pick if they’re serious.”
Because, obviously, the Wallabies haven’t been serious up to now.
Equally, and with tongue no longer wedged in cheek, it is patently clear that changes do need to be made. I’ve never been an advocate for mass change after a loss, and that remains the case now, however some tweaks appear obvious when the Wallabies name their team.
So, logically, these are the actual changes they’ll make. If they’re serious…
Tatafu Polota-Nau to start
I could see what the reasoning for starting Stephen Moore last weekend was; the All Blacks’ lineout steal threat is never far away, and they tend to swoop when the opposition throw is a bit shaky. But with Stephen Moore having minimal impact, and with the ball really not finding touch that often, the lineout specialisation became a luxury the Wallabies couldn’t afford.
Polota-Nau had a huge impact in the second half, carrying strongly and attacking the breakdown well, and pushing the Wallabies scrum advantage home further. It was so different to what Moore provided into the first half, that I doubt there will even be much debate around the selection table about this one.
Tevita Kuridrani to outside centre
The first half-second half stats splits on the weekend were just mad; like, polar opposite in most categories. What was up in the first half was down in the second, and vice versa.
Now, Kuridrani wasn’t responsible for this, but it was certainly evident that his presence in the midfield after halftime did add an extra dimension to the game. Suddenly, the All Blacks defence had to cater for his angled run, regardless of whether the ball came or not.
The offload threat became real, and indeed, the Wallabies did offload more. Kuridrani became a focal point in attack, and with the ball, the Wallabies just looked better. He has to start.
Samu Kerevi in one spot
Kerevi looked short of a run last start, no doubt, and that shouldn’t really have been a surprise of a guy who hasn’t played a lot of rugby this season. He looked short of a run because he was short of a run.
But I still think he can play an important role in the midfield, and if anything, moving in one spot probably simplifies his game, both in attack and defence. And a lot of these changes are about simplifying things.
Israel Folau to the right wing
Folau defends on the right wing. He does most of his attacking down the right edge, where he can get his right arm freed up for an offload. And he did this quite well in the second half, as the Wallabies got nine of their 12 offloads for the match away after the break. And if the Wallabies want to kick across field to him, he’ll be in the right corner.
In short, he’s doing everything a right winger would do bar wear the no.14 jersey, and the reasons for that diminish with every outing. He can still inject himself as a run from the wing, and even if he hugs the touchline all night in Dunedin, he’ll draw New Zealand defenders out. Plus, he wouldn’t have to worry about going anywhere in defence; he’ll already be there. One less moving part.
It probably means Curtis Rona goes to the bench, with Henry Speight switching over to the left wing, but Rona can still have a good impact covering 11, 13, and 14.
Kurtley Beale to fullback
I had two full paragraphs of explanation written here, and then I started flicking through Nicholas Bishop’s column yesterday and found this comment of his written to regular Roarer Fionn.
“I see no reason why Kurtley cannot go out with a number 15 on his back and still play the same role Fionn. Maybe give Kerevi the 12 shirt and bring Kuridrani into 13,” Nic wrote.
Exactly my sentimonies. And I could’ve saved four pars up higher, too. Beale started at inside centre when he returned for Wasps last season, but was back at fullback before too long and playing well enough to force former Springbok Willie le Roux to the wing. I still think it’s his most dangerous position.
And there is no reason why Beale can’t play exactly the same role in did in Sydney. Furthermore, it’s another moving part in defence eradicated.
Offloads. Support runners. Second phase
This won’t be part of the announcement today, obviously, but it’s something we need to see from the Wallabies. The second half last week showed the value of the offload, and even knowing the All Blacks will defend better this weekend, there is always room in the game for the offload. Indeed, the All Blacks prove this point every Test.
Support the ball carrier though; give him a reason to look for the offload. And then make something of the second phase opportunity. In the current climate, play smarter, not prettier.
Make the most of last weekend’s second forty
Because Australia rugby supporters have suffered enough this year to ignore what happened.
Work out why what worked, worked. Heed the lessons, for our sake.
UPDATE: The Wallabies team has been named for Bledisloe 2.
Israel Folau, Dane Haylett-Petty, Tevita Kuridrani, Kurtley Beale, Henry Speight, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Sean McMahon, Michael Hooper (capt), Ned Hanigan, Adam Coleman, Rob Simmons, Allan Alaalatoa, Stephen Moore, Scott Sio. Reserves: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Tom Robertson, Sekope Kepu, Rory Arnold, Lopeti Timani/Jack Dempsey, Nick Phipps, Reece Hodge, Curtis Rona.