Can we expect to see changes from the Wallabies?

Scott Allen Columnist

By Scott Allen, Scott Allen is a Roar Expert

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    I hope so but some comments from Michael Cheika this week worry me.

    There are very few successful organisations in history that haven’t had to change at some time. Change isn’t always driven by what has already happened in your environment. Sometimes it’s driven by what may happen in the future.

    Take Apple as an example – they were hugely successful when they first launched but the competition caught up to them. They reacted but the pace of change in the market meant they came back to the pack and they faltered. It took the return of Steve Jobs to introduce the necessary change and today they appear to be a company that knows they must keep changing before their competitors to stay ahead.

    The All Blacks may be the most successful rugby team in history but it’s obvious they keep changing to stay ahead of the chasing pack. They don’t wait to see what England, Australia or South Africa do and then follow.

    The Wallabies victory over the Pumas in Argentina last weekend was positive. It meant they finished second in The Rugby Championship, climbed to third in the world rankings and lifted their tally for 2017 to four wins from nine, which isn’t a pass mark but it’s better than last year.

    However, the performance was again well below the standard we should be expecting of our national team. My article last week showed how some of the Wallabies’ basic skills continue to let them down and I saw too many repeats of the basic errors in the match against the Pumas to get a positive feeling about our chances against the All Blacks in a couple of weeks.

    After the match we learnt that Mario Ledesma is leaving the Wallabies to return to coach the Jaguares in Super Rugby. Ledesma has had a positive impact on the Australian scrum and it is a blow for the Wallabies.

    Cheika says he’s planning on getting a temporary coach in for the end of year tour before making a permanent replacement in 2018.

    Laurie Fisher from the Brumbies has been suggested as one option and I think he’d be fantastic. Nic Stiles has also put his hand up and his work as a forwards coach at both the Force and the Reds was well thought of.

    However, having seen comments from Cheika about a possible replacement I seriously doubt that someone like Fisher will be interested.

    Cheika has been quoted as saying “Whoever we get has to connect into what we’ve been doing. There’s been no change of direction whatsoever. We won’t be changing anything” and “We have a clear guide of not just how we want to scrummage but our forwards to operate, mauls, all the things that Mario does, and we won’t be changing anything.”

    Please don’t tell me Cheika thinks our scrum is the finished product, that our lineout is functioning at the level it should be or that our mauls in attack or defence are up to standard?

    Does Cheika want a ‘Yes Man’ or is he open to the possibility that Ledesma might not be the only coach who knows how to get the best from a forward pack when it comes to set piece work?

    Looking at the Wallabies’ set piece performance against the Pumas last weekend, there is lots of room for improvement. Our scrum was just hanging in there at best, our lineout lifting was ordinary and our maul work was poor.

    I hope Cheika has been misquoted and that he is prepared to find the best forwards coach available and let them coach!

    As a follow up to my thoughts on basic skills last week I’d like to show you some more examples of the little things that could make such a difference to the Wallabies performance.

    The first focuses on support and passing. In just the second minute of the match Israel Folau prepares to run the ball back from a Puma kick. He has Kurtley Beale outside him in support.

    At this point Beale is well positioned to support Folau.

    Folau takes the ball to the line but Beale overruns him. Holding his run just a little here would have given him another couple of metres in depth and then he’d be in great position to accelerate on to the ball.

    Is the pass forward? No doubt the comments section will light up with those arguing both ways but that’s not important as far as I’m concerned. What matters is that it should never have been close enough to force the referee and assistant to make that decision.

    It wasn’t called forward and Beale then took the ball to the next Puma defender before setting up Reece Hodge. Note the depth from Hodge and how Beale’s carrying the ball in two hands to get the defender thinking ‘pass or carry’. That’s what you’d like to see from all players.

    Beale gives the ball some air so Hodge has got time to run on to it.

    Despite coming from a fair way back Hodge gets to the ball at just about the right time. It’s a lesson many support players could learn – give yourself some time.

    Hodge is on the fly when he hits the ball but a great chase from the Pumas cuts him off. Unfortunately the quality of his attempted offload was poor and the ball arrived at Genia’s shins.

    It was a good little passage but it could have been so much better. The Wallabies have got to aim to develop their skills to the point where they can get all the little things here right.

    Two final images from that passage. As well as Beale did once he had the ball, have a look at how he received the ball.

    As Folau passes the ball, Beale’s hands are open and down at the level of his hips. He’s certainly not providing a target for Folau.

    If you slow the video down to frame by frame, this is the frame where the ball gets to Beale.

    The ball actually hits his chest and bounced forward just a little. It takes him two or three steps to actually get control of the ball. He’s good enough to pull that off but if he’d done the basics better Beale wouldn’t have to rely on a juggling act to get the ball under control.

    Will Genia’s passing has really improved in recent times and he threw some fantastic passes in the match. I want to focus on three, all of which are left to right.

    The first was to Jack Dempsey. In this shot you can see Sean McMahon on the right edge of the screen and Dempsey just to the right of the referee with his hand up.

    Genia sees that McMahon is a good option but that Dempsey is an even better one.

    To make the pass he’s got to see beyond the referee and get the pass across McMahon but keep it flat enough that the opposition doesn’t have time to adjust to Dempsey.

    He does it brilliantly and puts the ball out in front of Dempsey to lead him forward into the hole.

    The second resulted in a try. With the Wallabies pressing hard on the Pumas try line, Genia spots Hodge well outside his defender and throws a great twenty metre pass to put Hodge over untouched. The flatness of the pass was excellent.

    The third pass got Hodge into space to get over the line again but was called back for an earlier infringement.

    Genia has a line of four forward runners to choose from but he sees Hodge outside them with a hole to run into.

    It was really good vision but it needed to be some sort of pass to thread the needle between the Wallaby forwards and the Pumas defence closing in fast.

    There were lots of positives from the match but the step up in opposition in a couple of weeks is really going to test the Wallabies.

    Next week I’ll take you through some of the basic defensive issues the Wallabies had in this match. There were too many to squeeze in today and it’s an area I’m very concerned about.

    Scott Allen
    Scott Allen

    Scott has been a rugby contributor with The Roar since 2013. After taking some time out to pursue other roles in the game, including coaching Premier Grade with University of Queensland and the Wallaroos at the recent World Cup, he's returned to give us his insights. You can follow him on Twitter @ScottA_ to hear more from him.

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    The Crowd Says (125)

    • October 13th 2017 @ 7:30am
      sportstragic said | October 13th 2017 @ 7:30am | ! Report

      Geez i am glad you are back on this site. Quality sports writing. Thank you!

    • October 13th 2017 @ 7:34am
      Hugo said | October 13th 2017 @ 7:34am | ! Report

      Hello again Scott. Good to have your thoughts and your pictures. Beale sinned again in the same game when he unaccountably held up his pass as he was tackled and Kuridrani, I think it was, got ahead of it and was called back. But basically, it came down to one mediocre team playing another mediocre team with flashes of quality and longer periods of ineptitude. One thing that strikes me about the Wallabies is that, even though they’re less than great, the glue that holds them together is Will Genia. Oz has had many fine nines – Bosler, Cox, Hipwell, Catchpole, Farr-Jones, Gregan – but these days, it appears there’s only one nine in all of Oz rugby that’s of international standard.
      Don’t you find that puzzling?

      • October 13th 2017 @ 8:53pm
        Shakes said | October 13th 2017 @ 8:53pm | ! Report

        No there’s actually a number of quality 9’s in Australia. That’s one position where we have some seriously good young talent and plenty of depth. Genia is special, yes, but not irreplaceable.

        • October 14th 2017 @ 10:29am
          Schlongy McWollah said | October 14th 2017 @ 10:29am | ! Report

          I feel like Genia is still in a league of his own though.

          None of Powell, Gordon, Ruru, Louwrens, Frisby, Phipps, Stirzaker or Meehan come close to Genia in terms of many aspects.

      • Roar Rookie

        October 16th 2017 @ 1:57pm
        piru said | October 16th 2017 @ 1:57pm | ! Report

        it appears there’s only one nine in all of Oz rugby that’s of international standard

        I wouldn’t say that at all, there were two just in the Western Force last season, plus several more around the traps

    • October 13th 2017 @ 7:40am
      Fionn said | October 13th 2017 @ 7:40am | ! Report

      Once again, Scott, I am in awe of the little things that you (and Nick Bishop) notice that many of us casual fans overlook – I didn’t notice where Beale’s hands were when catching Folau’s pass, or even think of looking.

      I can’t claim that I have heard this from Larkham or anything, but Canberra is a small place and rumours are that Larkham has little to no input whatsoever on selections, and, when it comes to devising strategy whenever he and Cheika have different ideas it is Cheika’s way or the highway.

      Again, don’t know if this is true, it could all be nonsense rumours made up and spread, but it is curious, don’t you think, that according to Wayne Smith in the Australian (1) Larkham was desperate to get Tom Banks into the Wallabies squad from June, and yet failed not just in June but for the majority of the RC squad and (2) Larkham was totally blindsided by the fact that Hunt was playing inside centre, and was only informed AFTER Hunt was told.

      That doesn’t give the indication of a very collaborative coaching team, does it? I can’t imagine Wayne Smith (the ABs coach) finding out who was playing 12 after the player.

      As it is, I think Laurie would be a very good coach, but words from Dan McKellar in The Canberra Times makes that sound a little unlikely to me. I’m not quite sure how Dan Palmer and Fisher are going to share the scrum coaching duties this year, but Palmer has been fantastic. Perhaps he would do a good job as a scrum consultant until the end of the year?

      • Roar Guru

        October 13th 2017 @ 9:18am
        PeterK said | October 13th 2017 @ 9:18am | ! Report

        Fionn – I am sure people are exaggerating the Hunt selection at inside centre.

        It has been clear and obvious and public that Cheika has always preferred 2 playmakers with 1 at 12.

        In the June series Beale was not available.

        Hodge had been tried before and found wanting as a 2nd playmaker.

        He really didn’t have many options.

        I am sure discussions around this would have included Hunt as a viable option.

        Sure initially his selection was probably on the bench but after obviously very good performances in training Cheika decided to give him a go at 12. It is not that big a deal that people make out. In other words not blindsided as you characterise since I am sure they have had discussions about that possibility.

        • October 13th 2017 @ 9:28am
          Dave_S said | October 13th 2017 @ 9:28am | ! Report

          Yes it would have been far more surprising and risky to pick Banks over Hunt, especially given Hunts then hot form, proven ability at the top level (in league) and the balance of skills he brought to complement the rest of the rest of the backline.

          That said, Cheika’s other comments clearly indicate he’s not a collaborator.

          • October 13th 2017 @ 9:29am
            Fionn said | October 13th 2017 @ 9:29am | ! Report

            I’m sure that Larkham just wanted Banks in the squad or perhaps on the bench, not starting as fullback.

            • October 13th 2017 @ 9:58am
              Cynical Play said | October 13th 2017 @ 9:58am | ! Report

              You’re “sure”?

            • October 13th 2017 @ 10:19am
              Connor33 said | October 13th 2017 @ 10:19am | ! Report

              Yeah, I reckon the bench. Can Banks play 10-12 at a push? Realize back three is where he’ll be groomed, but bench would be ideal against Japan or someone later I the year. Perhaps barbarians.

              • October 13th 2017 @ 12:05pm
                Fionn said | October 13th 2017 @ 12:05pm | ! Report

                Connor, I’ve got no idea but I suspect it wouldn’t suit him. Maybe he could come in off the bench at 12 or 13, but I probably wouldn’t do it. I would have him wearing the 23 jersey and replacing either Koroibete or Hodge for the last 20-30 minutes.

              • October 13th 2017 @ 11:25pm
                Connor33 said | October 13th 2017 @ 11:25pm | ! Report

                Agree.

        • October 13th 2017 @ 9:29am
          Fionn said | October 13th 2017 @ 9:29am | ! Report

          Not certain you’re right.

          Didn’t Cheika admit something like Hunt played in the second 15 as fullback the entire week, then his performances made him change his mind at the last minute?

          • Roar Guru

            October 13th 2017 @ 9:37am
            PeterK said | October 13th 2017 @ 9:37am | ! Report

            Sure, I agree he was initially considered as a bench player vying with Folau for f/b.

            I am happy to accept reports (without them being substantiated though) that as a last minute decision on the Thursday after training Cheika realised Hunt was a better option than Hodge at 12.

            Also happy to accede that as part of this he may have informed Hunt before Larkham (since it was days before the match, no time to waste since it probably was at training and he wanted him moved).

            Also happy to accept he is not a collaborator in some areas and it is his way or the highway.

            However none of that means Larkham was blindsided and that Hunt at 12 was not discussed or considered as a viable option before this even if just as an injury replacement off the bench.

            • October 13th 2017 @ 9:40am
              Fionn said | October 13th 2017 @ 9:40am | ! Report

              ‘However none of that means Larkham was blindsided and that Hunt at 12 was not discussed or considered as a viable option before this even if just as an injury replacement off the bench.’

              That’s a very fair point.

              Nevertheless, I don’t think it sets a good precedent if you don’t at least inform (if not ‘discuss’) the selection of your inside centre with your backline/attack coach before you make the decision and inform the player.

              • Roar Guru

                October 13th 2017 @ 9:59am
                PeterK said | October 13th 2017 @ 9:59am | ! Report

                no question

        • October 13th 2017 @ 9:29am
          Fionn said | October 13th 2017 @ 9:29am | ! Report

        • October 13th 2017 @ 10:49pm
          PiratesRugby said | October 13th 2017 @ 10:49pm | ! Report

          Sorry, the “Cheika prefers two playmakers with one of them at 12” comment made me laugh out loud. Two playmakers but neither of them are Bernard Foley. There’s no way Foley could make the kinds of passes that Genia is making. The best thing that can be said about Foley is that Beale plays outside him. Or that he missed fewer tackles than the previous week. Can someone please explain to me what it is that Foley actually contributes to the team?

      • October 13th 2017 @ 9:44am
        Cynical Play said | October 13th 2017 @ 9:44am | ! Report

        You were bagging Wayne Smith earlier in the week when I quoted him, now you’re using him to spread a rumour. I can’t keep up.

        • October 13th 2017 @ 9:47am
          Fionn said | October 13th 2017 @ 9:47am | ! Report

          Typical non sequitur from you, CP.

          Please explain to me how my disagreeing with Wayne Smith that Foley is ‘world class’ means I can’t trust his journalism where he claims that Larkham was blindsided by Hunt playing 12.

          Or does the fact I have a differing opinion on him on one issue mean that I can’t trust anything that he says? I happen to think that it is very possible to trust someone’s journalism, and even agree with them on multiple issues, while not agreeing with them on each and every single subjective opinion.

          Also, I’d be interested to hear as to how disagreeing with Wayne counts as ‘bagging’ him.

    • October 13th 2017 @ 8:02am
      Jigbon said | October 13th 2017 @ 8:02am | ! Report

      Thanks Scott. Great analysis. Keep em coming.

    • October 13th 2017 @ 8:41am
      waxhead said | October 13th 2017 @ 8:41am | ! Report

      No Scott – with Cheika the game plans don’t change but the selections do constantly.
      He can’t decide on the best line up and many of the selections this year have been truly bizarre with no apparent logic or plan. Just change for the sake of it and W’s never get a chance to develop combinations.

      • October 13th 2017 @ 12:45pm
        Marto said | October 13th 2017 @ 12:45pm | ! Report

        waxhead

        But the selection of his 7 10 15 never change, I wonder why.. and why is Phipps there ? He is wasting a bench spot on an extra bruising backrower or hard running outside back….Genia will always play 80 mins, even if on one leg.

        • October 13th 2017 @ 3:51pm
          Markus said | October 13th 2017 @ 3:51pm | ! Report

          Lack of any bruising backrower in Australia (let alone an extra one) aside, I never want to see the Wallabies in a situation where they are forced to play 30+ minutes without a real scrumhalf due to not having selected one in the reserves.

          Of course, that still does not answer your question as to why Phipps is there.

          • October 13th 2017 @ 9:32pm
            waxhead said | October 13th 2017 @ 9:32pm | ! Report

            I agree with both Marto and Markus.
            The reason for the continued Phipps selection lunacy is very clear to me though.
            Straight out blatant Waratah bias.
            Same with Hanigan, Robertson, Foley, Horne, Dempsey, Simmons (now he’s moved) and Hooper as captain. All of these guys except Hooper would not make a NZ provincial squad.

            • October 14th 2017 @ 10:32am
              Schlongy McWollah said | October 14th 2017 @ 10:32am | ! Report

              Agree on all except Horne and Simmons

            • October 14th 2017 @ 10:33am
              Schlongy McWollah said | October 14th 2017 @ 10:33am | ! Report

              Agree on all except Horne and Simmons

        • October 14th 2017 @ 2:53pm
          double agent said | October 14th 2017 @ 2:53pm | ! Report

          You have to have a back up 9.

    • Roar Guru

      October 13th 2017 @ 9:06am
      PeterK said | October 13th 2017 @ 9:06am | ! Report

      Scott another very good article.

      I do want to make 1 point, perfection is the enemy of great.

      If they have to get something right every single time they will rarely go for it except when it is safe and easy to execute.

      The passing in front and running onto the ball has improved a lot.

      If Beale not being deep enough has now become the exception rather than the rule I would not harp on it but focus on areas that need greater attention.

      I believe Cheika is saying that the ethos or thought behind their scrumaging and mauling is not going to change not that it is perfect. He has never claimed the execution is spot on so of course you will find scrum and mauls that need work. Also within the context I believe this statement applies to the spring tour when a temporary scrum coach takes over before the appointment of the full time one next year.

      IMO whether he wants to or not the new scrum coach will be left alone to coach it. Cheika has no one else in the team to know otherwise, he has noted himself that he is not a technical coach especially of the scrum.

      • Roar Rookie

        October 13th 2017 @ 10:07am
        Don said | October 13th 2017 @ 10:07am | ! Report

        Nice quote Peter.

        One I prefer is the Vince Lombardi quote which backs up Scott’s thought; “perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence”

        • October 13th 2017 @ 10:23am
          Connor33 said | October 13th 2017 @ 10:23am | ! Report

          Brilliant quote.

        • Roar Guru

          October 13th 2017 @ 10:24am
          PeterK said | October 13th 2017 @ 10:24am | ! Report

          Don’t agree

          Good is the enemy of great as well BTW.

          I have been in many environments that chase perfection and in most cases end up mediocre.

          You are not allowed to take any risks since any failure is punished, any mistake is punished. This leads to a very conservative risk averse environment. The defensive mechanism comes into place , I followed orders, followed the plan and followed the process, so you can’t blame me when as a group we failed.

          Perfection of no mistakes leads to safe little passes and trucking the ball up, one off stuff.

          Chasing great though means taking calculated risks, accepting some mistakes as long as the right intent is there i.e risk / reward.

          I much prefer Kaisen where everyone looks for small improvements in everything you do which is a positive way at looking at it instead of having to be perfect or aim at it but instead look for ever improvement which then allows for mistakes.

          • Roar Rookie

            October 13th 2017 @ 12:56pm
            Don said | October 13th 2017 @ 12:56pm | ! Report

            Yeah but Pete the real lesson used in management is “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of good.”

            And you tie it in with “a good plan executed now is better than a perfect plan next week.”

            You always have the goal to be perfect but accept and celebrate the good and excellent that can be achieved on the way.

            Good managers do not let striving for perfection slow business down.

            Anyway… enough business speak.
            Back to Rugby.

        • October 13th 2017 @ 11:16am
          Akari said | October 13th 2017 @ 11:16am | ! Report

          I like that quote, Don.

          Isn’t looking for small improvements as per Kaisen another means of catching excellence, PK? ?

          • Roar Guru

            October 13th 2017 @ 11:20am
            PeterK said | October 13th 2017 @ 11:20am | ! Report

            yes However the important aspect is that you are never aiming at perfection instead the ethos is it is never perfect and you can always improve , which also means you are expected to make mistakes since perfection is never the aim

      • October 13th 2017 @ 10:22am
        Connor33 said | October 13th 2017 @ 10:22am | ! Report

        Good point PK. To be fair to Cheika, he’s the first one to say improvement after every game this year. But he was working from a low baseline when the players came to him from SR. Hard to execute skills when you’re not fit enough, ever more the heightened skills that Byrne is putting on the forwards.

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