Michael Cheika needs Christian Lealiifano at 10 or 12

Fionn Roar Guru

By Fionn, Fionn is a Roar Guru

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    On very few occasions since Stephen Larkham’s retirement after the 2007 Rugby World Cup has the Wallaby backline looked fluid and professional in both attack and defence. Since 2007 Australia has been searching for a world class flyhalf to take Larkham’s place.

    There were periods when the backline has looked great in attack. The best example of this was in 2010 from the tour of South Africa onwards. However, the team’s defence was too weak when running a backline with Quade Cooper at 10, Matt Giteau at 12, James O’Connor at 14 and Kurtley Beale at 15.

    There were periods such as 2011 when the backline was rock solid in defence, but the team lacked a powerful attack at this point.

    During the entire period the Wallabies have lacked a consistent goal-kicker, and have lost many games over the years through an inability kick its goals.

    Aside form a brief interlude during the 2013 End of Year Tour, Australian fans have suffered through watching many talented backs squandered in medicore backlines.

    I have been saying for the better part of a year that the criticisms about Larkham as attack coach have been unfair and overstated. The team’s attack has functioned well over most of 2016 and 2017. I believe the Wallabies’ results in attack have finally started to sway public opinion on this.

    However, Cheika’s Wallabies still suffer from three major problems in the backline: defence, goal-kicking and tactical kicking.

    At first glance Bernard Foley’s kicking statistics are not too bad, at around 75 per cent. Unforatuntely, however, Foley is a very streaky kicker. There are times – often when the team is too far behind for it to matter – when he will kick over 90 per cent of his goals, a good example of this is Bledisloe 1 2017.

    There are other times, however, in which he misses a huge number of straightforward kicks. The world cup match against Scotland, the first match in the England series last year and of course Bledisloe 2 2017 are examples of this. In addition to this, Foley has a limited range and so will not attempt more difficult penalties that other kickers would, thereby boosting his percentage.

    Foley is simply a too-inconsistent kicker for the Wallabies to hope to be able to win the world cup or to beat New Zealand, England or Ireland consistently with him kicking.

    Foley and Kurtley Beale are both poor defenders. Foley had a heroic effort in defence in the Dunedin Bledisloe Test, but since then has fallen back into the old habit of slipping off easy tackles.

    His miss in the first ten minutes of the Argentine Test was very poor and was lucky not to concede a try. Beale also suffers with defence. As a result he has returned to often being hidden in the backline since Dunedin.

    A 10-12 axis of Foley-Beale is simply too much of a liability to be successful consistently.

    Tactical kicking has been the Achilles heel of Cheika’s Wallabies since Giteau departed the team. Foley has a poor clearance kick, often failing to get sufficient distance or accuracy. He often misses touch when kicking penalties.

    Beale is a better clearance kicker than Foley, but does not seem to be as accurate or powerful off the boot as he was in 2010.

    Reece Hodge has a huge boot that is useful for touch-finding. He takes a long time to get ball to boot, which lessens his value in terms of exits and tactical kicking. He is also fairly inaccurate at times off the boot.

    I believe all of these issues can be rectified with coaching, but it simply has not happened yet.

    This brings us to Christian Lealiifano. The Brumbies flyhalf’s comeback is going very successfully with Ulster, continuing the positive form he showed in his cameo for the Brumbies in the quarter-final and club rugby. Assuming his current form continues he simply must be in Cheika’s 23 from next year.

    Lealiifano’s running game is not as dangerous as Foley’s and his passing and playmaking is not as good as Quade Cooper’s. But on the other hand, Lealiifano is by far the most accurate Australian player off the tee, has the best tactical kicking game of any Australian flyhalf and is by far the best defending Australian 10 (perhaps as a result of playing most of his early career at 12, which he is very adept at).

    He is also blessed with a good pass off of both sides and, while he will not set the world on fire like Cooper, decent playmaking skills.

    Lealiifano’s presence will not return as to the days of Larkham, he is simply nowhere near that good. However, in order to shore up the Wallabies’ issues of defence, tactical kicking and tee kicking Michael Cheika simply must consider Lealiifano at either 10 or 12 in 2018.

    Replacing Foley at ten would likely relegate Foley to the bench, while replacing Beale at 12 would relegate Beale to the backfield.

    That would result in the Australian backline likely resembling one of the following two:

    9. Genia, 10. Lealiifano, 11. Naivalu, 12. Beale, 13. Kuridrani/Kerevi, 14. Hodge, 15. Folau, 21. Louwrens, 22. Hunt, 23. Foley

    9. Genia, 10. Foley, 11. Naivalu, 12. Lealiifano, 13. Kuridrani, 14. Beale, 15. Folau, 21. Louwrens, 22. Kerevi, 23. Hunt.

    Neither of these would by my first-choice backlines, but I believe both fix a lot of the issues currently displayed by Cheika’s Wallabies in 2017. Failing this Lealiifano must at the very least be on the bench in 2018.

    Given the quality of the backs that Cheika currently has available, plus Larkham’s coaching, I believe that if he uses Lealiifano correctly that Cheika can get the backline functioning at its best since at least 2013.

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    The Crowd Says (101)

    • Roar Guru

      September 22nd 2017 @ 9:19am
      Adam said | September 22nd 2017 @ 9:19am | ! Report

      I’m a strong advocate for Lealifano at 10. I think he is a good middle ground between Foley and Cooper and is tackling ability can’t be understated.

      • September 22nd 2017 @ 9:44am
        Fionn said | September 22nd 2017 @ 9:44am | ! Report

        Yep. Rock in defence, solid or better than average at everything else.

        • September 22nd 2017 @ 9:58am
          Terry said | September 22nd 2017 @ 9:58am | ! Report


          Poor bugger he was injury prone before his illness.Broken ankle, shoulder, hamstring and knee injuries and was knocked unconscious in the first 2 minutes when he incorrectly put his head in the wrong position against the BILS in 2013 ( left us a man short for 75 mins ) That aside ..My answer would be ” Possibly ” as Bernard Foley is the most putrid 10 i have ever seen wear the 10 Wallaby jersey, but Fionn it wont happen, as we know who Chuckles will have locked in as his 10 12 up till the 2019.

    • September 22nd 2017 @ 9:30am
      Sir Alfie said | September 22nd 2017 @ 9:30am | ! Report

      What is your first choice backline?

      • September 22nd 2017 @ 9:40am
        Fionn said | September 22nd 2017 @ 9:40am | ! Report

        Unless Quade has a meteoric rise in form (say to like 2013 levels) I would have Lealiifano at 10, I want Folau on the wing as I think he would score more tries, it also opens up the crossfield kick and brings in his intercept more, also means that the fullback can draw in defenders off of kick returns and pass the ball out to an unmarked Izzy, I’d prefer to have a bigger inside centre and an outside centre with a bit more speed—eventually get Hodge there. Ideally, by the June internationals next year (assuming that SR teams play guys in these positions).

        9. Genia, 10. Lealiifano, 11. Naivalu, 12. Kerevi/Kuridrani, 13. Hunt/Hodge, 14. Folau, 15. Beale, 21. Louwrens, 22. Hunt/Hodge/Kerevi, 23. Banks

        The optional positions just depend on who is in the better form. TK and Kerevi are really good players. I think Kerevi’s potential best is better than TKs, but TK is so good in defence and is a very good player. Hodge offers more speed than Hunt, but Hunt offers much better decision making, defence and better distribution.

        • September 22nd 2017 @ 2:28pm
          MitchO said | September 22nd 2017 @ 2:28pm | ! Report

          Fionn I disagree on TK playing 12. TK is a good test level 13 who needs to practice his passing more. Leave him at 13. Let’s not mess that up. Hodge may be capable of developing into a better 13 than TK in which case he can replace him and TK drops out. But if TK develops his passing skills then really he should keep 13. We know he can win test matches and he’s still a young bloke.

          CLL at 10 with TK at 13 makes it easier to carry KB at 12 but I much prefer KB at fullback with Folau on a wing. CLL is a better 10 than Foley so Foley should be thanked for efforts and installed to his rightful position at number 24 or 30.

          We have options at 12 which don’t have a 10. Lets not have Foley at 10 and drop a guy who is or has the potential to make a difference in a test match. Like Hunt or Kerevi – or Hodge for that matter. and Like I said above, TK is fine at 13. He is back in form, he is good enough, lets not push him or Hodge out of the squad just to accommodate Foley.

          The starting 12 should be Hunt (when fit) with Kerevi as his apprentice. They can start that now by playing Kerevi at 12 since Hunt is injured. Ultimately Kerevi if properly handled should be able to leapfrog Hunt for the starting spot. Kerevi is the big unit plus soft hands and some footwork we want for 12. He can tackle he just doesn’t have the positional defence of a good test 13.

          Folau gets one wing and the other wing goes to a speedster like Naivalu or a wing full back type (DHP, Hodge, Banks etc). But if it is Hodge or DHP then hopefully they work on their speed. Both have enough pace but neither is as fast as I like. Folau is not super fast either but he is the best finisher in the team so he gets to keep his spot.

    • September 22nd 2017 @ 9:37am
      Dave_S said | September 22nd 2017 @ 9:37am | ! Report

      Good piece, mate!

      What’s your first choice – presumably Cooper at 10 and CLL at 12?

      Assuming Cooper is no chance, I’m inclined towards 10. CLL 12. Hunt 13. Kuridrani 14. Folau 15. Beale, with Kerevi and Hodge/DHP in reserve.

      Not sure I see any point in Foley on the bench if he is not starting, especially as CLL, Beale, Hunt, DHP and Hodge collectively provide adequate backup cover for 10 – 15, and Beale and Hodge can place kick.

      • September 22nd 2017 @ 9:42am
        Fionn said | September 22nd 2017 @ 9:42am | ! Report

        Cheers mate 🙂

        I don’t want to rush Lealiifano’s international comeback, so I wouldn’t play him until the June internationals next year. Let him build some confidence with Ulster.

        9. Genia, 10. Lealiifano, 11. Naivalu, 12. Kerevi/Kuridarni, 13. Hunt/Hodge, 14. Folau, 15. Beale, 21. Louwrens, 22. Hunt/Hodge, 23. Banks

        Quade off the bench offers more than Foley as he can really spark the attack in a way that Foley can not if Lealiifano is struggling, so I guess he could potentially have the 22 jersey. But failing injury Lealiifano would play the full 80 anyway. Obviously all considerations change if Quade finds his 2013 form, but that seems very unlikely at this point.

        • September 22nd 2017 @ 10:18pm
          PiratesRugby said | September 22nd 2017 @ 10:18pm | ! Report

          Wallabies cannot win Bled, RWC or number one rank with Foley at 10.

    • September 22nd 2017 @ 9:45am
      Dave_S said | September 22nd 2017 @ 9:45am | ! Report

      Further to the above, the WB selectors have been a little too relaxed with defence of late – talking but not walking. Every try conceded is one that has to be scored. Imagine a WB backline that only concedes 1 try per game and that is a lot of losses converted to wins over the last few years.

      A CLL / Hunt / Kuridrani wall would stop the All Blacks and maybe even the white walkers! Hunt has got that John Snow hairdo coming along.

      • September 22nd 2017 @ 9:48am
        Fionn said | September 22nd 2017 @ 9:48am | ! Report

        Yeah I’d be happy with a 10-12-13 of Lealiifano, Hunt, TK too. I just feel that I’d rather a big powerful runner at 12 to get some forward momentum (like when Mortlock was moved to 12) for Lealiifano, and a better distributor at 13, who can more consistently get the ball out to Naivalu, Folau, Beale and Banks, as all of them can be devastating in attack. Hunt is very good at passing in front of the man, is a good defender and defensive organiser, so I would love him at 12.

        • September 22nd 2017 @ 10:01am
          Dave_S said | September 22nd 2017 @ 10:01am | ! Report

          Yeah that makes sense too.

          Ultimately, as a default position, I prefer to pick our best players in their best positions and then design the style around them, rather than vice versa. (Obviously there are some limits to that approach)

          • September 22nd 2017 @ 10:06am
            Fionn said | September 22nd 2017 @ 10:06am | ! Report

            I mean I’d like Hunt at 13.

            To me, Hunt looks more like a 13 and Kerevi more like a 12. I feel like they’re being forced into positions that don’t suit them as well.

            Hodge definitely looks like a 13/14 to me.

            • Roar Guru

              September 22nd 2017 @ 10:12am
              PeterK said | September 22nd 2017 @ 10:12am | ! Report

              Then Hunt would be more like Conrad Smith for the AB’.s

              Sure he would organise the defence well from there and tackle well, but he would need to learn that position which is too late for him. Also a waste of his boot and passing abilities at 13.

              So at his age I disagree with Hunt as an option at 13.

              • September 22nd 2017 @ 10:16am
                Fionn said | September 22nd 2017 @ 10:16am | ! Report

                He’d not played much 12 either, and did an okay job of that in June.

              • Roar Guru

                September 22nd 2017 @ 10:46am
                PeterK said | September 22nd 2017 @ 10:46am | ! Report

                13 is the hardest position to learn defensively , besides his other skills are wasted.

            • Roar Guru

              September 22nd 2017 @ 11:10am
              John R said | September 22nd 2017 @ 11:10am | ! Report

              Yeah if Cheik really wants to make the numbers work the Karmichael at 13 would seem a fair fit.

              • September 22nd 2017 @ 2:36pm
                MitchO said | September 22nd 2017 @ 2:36pm | ! Report

                Hunt played some games at 13 in France. I think before he went AFL footy. But TK is a good 13 and I have a concern about Hunt’s pace out wide.

                TK’s passing will improve with Mick Byrne around as will Hodge’s kicking. Clearly Hodge has the raw material to be a good kicker. Huge boot but slow and inaccurate. That means he just needs to be trained and polished. I figure Foley already gets as much as he can out of his natural kicking ability so he doesn’t have much room for improvement.

                Aus really needs to plan on the basis that KB will get a concussion or other injury at the beginning of a game and work out what happens next. At least with CLL at 10 we still have a backline

    • September 22nd 2017 @ 9:53am
      Ray said | September 22nd 2017 @ 9:53am | ! Report

      I think Foley has had all the opportunity that any individual player can expect, but just doesn’t meet the full requirement even at Super Rugby level. I would like to see Beale tried at 5/8 again, as he looks a lot better player since returning from the UK. The 5/8 has to be somewhat predictable to his teammates to allow them to support the tactical kicking, and maybe Beale wasn’t that sort of player in the past, but he has been making more strategic decisions recently.
      That would allow Hunt to play at 12 and let Hodge do all the set place kicking.
      I do like Christian as a very dependable player, but there is a long way back from where he was at this year mid season, before building a game plan on him.

      • September 22nd 2017 @ 9:56am
        Fionn said | September 22nd 2017 @ 9:56am | ! Report

        I get what you’re saying, but he has been good Ulster thus far, and no Aussie 10 is setting the world alight.

        I also think that Beale’s greatest asset is his running lines and taking the ball in space (this is why I like him at 15 and not 12, more space to run, and he likes to move sideways).

        Rather like Giteau at 10 in 2008-09 I think Beale would do an okay job, but I think it robs him of his best asset and wouldn’t be good for the Wallabies unless there is no one better, and at this point I hope Lealiifano is that man.

        • Roar Guru

          September 22nd 2017 @ 10:08am
          PeterK said | September 22nd 2017 @ 10:08am | ! Report

          at 10 Beale would crab a lot sideways like Gits did

          Beale would be wasted at 10, IMO little improvement on Foley and a poorer goal kicker as well.

          Beale best at 15 or roving wing and after that at 12.

    • September 22nd 2017 @ 9:54am
      Daz said | September 22nd 2017 @ 9:54am | ! Report

      Fionn from where I sit the problem is obvious. Why would you bust a gut to get up off the ground and run hard in support of a player who you know probably won’t pass the ball to you, even if you are in a better position to score. Foley runs for himself, to a lesser extent so does Folau. Beale is a lot better at reading the game and setting up supports.

      I watch highlights of Larkham and when he made a break, against no matter whom, even the darkness, there was usually an overwhelming number of Wallaby supporters following him because they knew he would pass it unselfishly to a player in a better position if he couldn’t score himself.

      It’s the old story, there is no “I” in team.

      • Roar Guru

        September 22nd 2017 @ 10:10am
        PeterK said | September 22nd 2017 @ 10:10am | ! Report

        Disagree strongly about Folau.

        Folau has the highest number off offloads for the wallabies, often twice as many as the next, he also passes the ball a lot.
        He is not a selfish player in the least. Kuridrani is more the epitomy of a selfish player in fact.

        Agree about Foley but that is because he lacks vision and plays by the numbers.

        • September 22nd 2017 @ 10:42am
          Daz said | September 22nd 2017 @ 10:42am | ! Report

          Folau on the wing is where he belongs. He can just put his head down, go for it and score tries. Many better judges in league picked this out as his best position.

          • Roar Guru

            September 22nd 2017 @ 11:07am
            PeterK said | September 22nd 2017 @ 11:07am | ! Report

            don’t disagree with that but you paint Folau as a selfish player who won’t pass which just isn’t true, Folau doesn’t just run for himself.

            Agree Beale has better vision and is a better playmaker , the best in the team currently.

      • September 22nd 2017 @ 10:29am
        Fionn said | September 22nd 2017 @ 10:29am | ! Report

        No one in Australian rugby has Larkham’s vision for support players except for perhaps Quade on occasion, no one other than Quade has Larkham’s pass.

        Quade doesn’t have Larkham’s running game and ability to make breaks, unfortunately. Nor his clear head and excellent decision making.

      • September 22nd 2017 @ 10:44am
        Daz said | September 22nd 2017 @ 10:44am | ! Report

        PS you will also notice the number of passes beautifully floated or put in front of the receiver allowing him to accelerate onto it at speed. When did this skill die off?

      • September 22nd 2017 @ 11:51am
        Phil said | September 22nd 2017 @ 11:51am | ! Report

        “Foley only runs for himself” – well,I have seen many criticisms of Foley but I think this is a new one!Folau must have got the shock of his life when Foley passed the ball to him for his first try last week.Not to mention all the others he has been involved in.
        Mate,Foley certainly has some weak points in his game but I don’t think this is one of them.

        • September 22nd 2017 @ 1:08pm
          Daz said | September 22nd 2017 @ 1:08pm | ! Report

          Phil it was meant as a more general critique of attitude and how the Wallabies play now. They used to outplay the darkness at catch pass and support, now they seem to have lost those skills they used to have, gained by simply loving to play touch footie and throw a footie around in the playground at little lunch, at big lunch and when the clock struck three.

          Terry Curley, oft described as the shooting star of Australian rugby, who tackled anything that moved from his precocious postilion as fullback, used to play touch footie for an hour, then go for a swim at the beach, then come back and play touch footie for another hour.

          “Blood makes the grass grow”. Has anyone ever heard a more emphatic statement of intent?

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