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Who wins the John Eales Medal?

Israel Folau tries to break a tackle. (Tim Anger)
Roar Guru
25th October, 2017
51

As I cast back my mind over the last 12 months of internationals, quite aptly, the phrase “nobody is perfect” comes to mind. That phrase, of course, is synonymous with John Eales and for good reason. This then makes me think of the upcoming John Eales medal award.

There is not one player who played consistently well over the last 12 months, so it seems the John Eales Medal should be quite an open contest.

Based on my scoring over the last 12 months, what does the outcome of the John Eales Medal should look like?

Will players who missed significant portions but played superbly like David Pocock, Karmichael Hunt and Kurtley Beale be in with a chance?

Or will it again come down to players who played the most games like Israel Folau, Michael Hooper and Bernard Foley?

How do you see it? Will it be distinctly different to how the players themselves voted?

Will it reflect the media handing out of man of the match awards regularly to Beale and Foley?

I have compiled and analysed all the ratings of the players for games where they played at least 40 minutes. Players making an impact for only 20 minutes is not a fair comparison and thus I left these cameo performances out.

Players are awarded 3-2-1, similar to how votes are scored in the John Eales medal. Players are rewarded for top performances but poor performances are not held against them and treated the same as good performances.

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Since votes are given to multiple players and many players get a similar number of votes, I simulated this by giving one vote to players whose score was very close to the third-best score.

So multiple players received one point in games. Only the top two are given three and two votes with this method.

The European Spring Tour

It seems such a long time ago now.

Wales 8 – Australia 32
This was the Wallabies best game since England in the Rugby World Cup, and arguably the best game ever under Michael Cheika.

Bernard Foley had his best ever game with creative playmaking and deft kicking setting up tries, all behind the powerful trio of Adam Coleman, Rory Arnold and Lopeti Timani dominating the breakdown and collisions in general.

The two best forwards were the locks Adam Coleman and Rory Arnold. The two best backs were Bernard Foley and Dane Haylett-Petty.

Scotland 22 – Australia 23
A very close game, with a Tevita Kuridrani try in the 74th minute bringing the game within one point and a Foley conversion giving Australia the final one-point lead.

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Scotland played a smaller back row than the Wallabies and they won the battle of the breakdown despite herculean efforts of David Pocock, who was almost the Lone Ranger without Tonto.

Scotland were in this game the whole time and were better for significant parts of it. If Foley had missed the last kick and Scotland won by one point it would not have been undeserved.

Coleman suffered a season-ending injury in the fourth minute and his absence would be notable for the subsequent lack of physicality and dominance by the Wallaby forwards.

The two best forwards were David Pocock and Stephen Moore. The two best backs were the outside backs Israel Folau and Dane Haylett-Petty.

France 23 – Australia 25
Another very close game however, unlike the game against Scotland, Australia seemed to always have it well in hand.

This game can be best remembered by a brave move by Cheika with a slam in mind, the selection of many second choice players and by the dominance of Pocock.

Rarely does one player stand out as a class above everyone else and almost single-handedly take the game away from France the way he did.

The two best forwards were the backrowers David Pocock and Sean McMahon. The two best backs were the Will Genia and Tevita Kuridrani.

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David Pocock

David Pocock was unstoppable against France (Photo: AFP)

Ireland 27 – Australia 24
Another very close game, however, this time the Wallabies were on the losing side. The Wallabies under a different referee could have won this game with more than the three penalties awarded against Ireland.

The Irish were very clever with their tactics at killing the breakdown and the use of choke tackles. Nothing which should have been unexpected since Ireland use them often and previously against Australia.

However, the Wallabies were unable to counter them and Cheika was outcoached by Joe Schmidt.

The Wallaby backs, due to individual brilliance, made many breaks and scored some great tries, however, the Irish backs were below their usual quality due to a large number of injuries.

The two best forwards were the backrowers David Pocock and Michael Hooper. The two best backs were the Dane Haylett-Petty and Tevita Kuridrani.

England 37 – Australia 21
England won well. Australia stayed in the contest until the 50th minute. It was clear Australia missed Coleman and Genia – due to the Test match being outside the Test window – and their replacements were not close to their quality.

England went even further ahead once the bench players came on. Australia’s bench was no longer in any shape or form finishers, or even impact players but by and large second best. England was better in all facets of the game.

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The two best forwards were the backrowers David Pocock and Lopeti Timani. The two best backs were the outside backs Dane Haylett-Petty and Israel Folau.

The European Spring Tour – John Eales Medal Outcome
By average score across all the games, the best-performed players, in order, were David Pocock, Dane Haylett-Petty, Lopeti Timani and Tevita Kuridrani.

In terms of the John Eales Medal, the best performed are;

David Pocock – 10 Votes
Dane Haylett-Petty -7 Votes
Bernard Foley – 6 Votes

The June Series

If only it was a long time ago.

With a series against Fiji, Scotland and Italy it would be a chance to take risks, rest key players, build depth, trial new defensive systems and play creative, enterprising rugby.

Alas it was not to be, with lessons not learned, and it was clear Cheika had a long, hard road ahead of him.

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In hindsight, the Wallabies were not fit and Cheika spent a lot of time improving their fitness – and this bore fruit in the Rugby Championship. However, it left them sluggish in the June series.

Australia 37 – Fiji 14
Australia won this game well. They had it won by half time.

Contrary to a popular myth that forwards win games and backs determine by how much, the Australian backs won this game. Fiji dominated both possession and territory by 60 per cent to 40 per cent, yet the backs cut loose with what possession they had, often making breaks from within their quarter.

The best player in the game was probably the Fijian lock Leone Nakarawa.

The two best (Australian) forwards were tight forwards Adam Coleman and Tatafu Polota-Nau. The two best backs were the outside backs Israel Folau and Karmichael Hunt.

Sam Carter Wallabies Australia Rugby Union 2017

The Wallabies ran riot against Fiji. (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

Australia 19 – Scotland 24
Scotland won this close game. The most disappointing aspect was Scotland played precisely the same as they did last year, yet Australia had no answers.

It seems Cheika does little opposition analysis, ignores opposition selections and tactics but then bemoans expected spoiling tactics instead of coaching and selecting a team to counteract them.

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Once again, Cheika was outcoached, strangely enough by similar tactics employed by Ireland and Scotland last year.

David Pocock was missing and the difference he made compared to the game against Scotland on the spring tour was palpable. It should be noted the Wallaby scrum was quite poor.

The two best forwards were Adam Coleman and Michael Hooper. The two best backs were the outside backs Israel Folau and Karmichael Hunt once again.

Australia 40 – Italy 27
Despite an easy expected win, the Wallabies would have been quite unhappy about leaking three tries to a very limited Italian attack.

This was another game where the backs won it for Australia. In fact, by the 29th minute – when Folau had already scored twice – the game was as good as over.

Considering they were leading by 15 points at that time and only won by 13, the Wallabies clearly took their foot off the pedal and lacked a killer instinct.

The heavy fitness training may have contributed, but it was still not excusable. The scrum was well beaten again and that would have been raising alarm bells.

The two best forwards were Adam Coleman and Michael Hooper once again. The two best backs were the outside backs Israel Folau and Karmichael Hunt, completing the trifecta.

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The June Tour – John Eales Medal Outcome
By average score across all the games, the best-performed players, in order, were Israel Folau, Karmichel Hunt, Adam Coleman and Michael Hooper.

These are totally at odds with the media man of the match awards to Bernard Foley and Will Genia.

In terms of the John Eales Medal, the best performed are;

Israel Folau – 8 Votes
Karmichael Hunt – 5 Votes
Adam Coleman – 2 votes
Michael Hooper – 2 votes

The Rugby Championship

Unsurprisingly a similar story to last year. New Zealand undefeated, Australia second with Argentina last.

The main talking points were New Zealand having to work for a couple of wins, Argentina not getting a single competition point, and the two draws between Australia and South Africa.

Australia 34 – New Zealand 54
The Wallabies’ defensive issues came home to roost. There was the perfect storm of New Zealand’s attack being sublime and running through the highways – not cracks – in the Wallaby defence.

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The Wallabies acted like traffic cops waiving them through.

The result was 54-6 at the 48-minute mark before New Zealand put on the bench and the Wallabies scored points with the game well and truly over.

The two best forwards were tight forwards Adam Coleman and Tatafu Polota-Nau. The two best backs were the Kurtley Beale and Tevita Kuridrani.

New Zealand 35 – Australia 29
This was the best Test of the series with the score going backwards and forwards.

The Wallabies snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. They shot out to a 17-point lead early, and still lead with four minutes to go – all they had to do was win the restart and play for time.

The referee missed a probable knock-on and a forward pass and New Zealand won, however, the Wallabies only had themselves to blame for not winning the restart.

It was obvious Kieran Read would be contesting the ball with a jump aimed at knocking the ball loose, exactly as he did against the Lions. The Wallabies should have had tactics to stop that like obstructing with a screen of players further out preventing the jump.

The two best forwards were Sean McMahon and Tatafu Polota-Nau. The two best backs were Kurtley Beale and Will Genia.

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Australia 23 – South Africa 23
This was a typical game between the Wallabies and Springboks. Australian creative flair meets South African power and forward technique.

The Boks dominated the breakdown with Jesse Kriel like a hawk stealing the sausage from under the squawking Wallaby seagulls. Beale, on the other hand, was toying with Springbok backs like a cat with a mouse.

The Wallaby forwards demonstrated the skills work that Mick Brynes has instilled, with deft passes and offloads by the Wallaby tight forwards to keep the ball alive.

The Wallabies had a good lead but the stronger Bok bench brought them back into the game. A draw was a fair result.

The two best forwards were Adam Coleman and Michael Hooper once again. The two best backs were the Kurtley Beale and Reece Hodge.

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Australia 45 – Argentina 20
Australia scored more points than in any other game. Also, it was the second least points scored against them. It was a surprisingly easy win.

Argentina were suffering from not playing their European based players, however, they performed better against New Zealand.

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The handling skills by Wallaby forwards and backs were very pleasing and lead to entertaining tries.

The two best forwards were Sekope Kepu and Sean McMahon. The two best backs were Israel Folau and Reece Hodge.

South Africa 27 – Australia 27
Déjà vu. How often have two teams had two draws in consecutive matches? Don’t know, but it must be rare.

This was a good result for the Wallabies considering it was at altitude in South Africa.

Bernard Foley displayed, rarely seen from him, very good creative play setting up multiple tries. South Africa would rue poor handling that prevented them from taking some try-scoring opportunities.

The two best forwards were Michael Hooper and Tatafu Polota-Nau. The two best backs were the Marika Koroibete and Will Genia.

Argentina 20 – Australia 37
The Wallabies unexpectedly scored a big win.

Many critics predicted a loss since they were playing away from home and had to overcome a significant travel schedule. The Pumas showed more fight than in their previous encounter but only an off night by Foley prevented a larger blowout.

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It was 20-all at the 60th minute but, surprisingly, when the travel weary Wallabies were set to fade, instead they were the ones that accelerated ahead.

Overall a very good team effort with not one player having a poor game.

The two best forwards were Jack Dempsey and Tatafu Polota-Nau. The two best backs were Bernard Foley and Reece Hodge.

Australia 23 – New Zealand 18
Technically the third Bledisloe and not part of the Rugby Championship, but the Wallabies finally overcame the All Blacks.

Australia looked in charge most of the game and New Zealand were uncharacteristically rattled. The Wallabies played very well, in particular, their defence was excellent and the difference between the teams.

New Zealand were disjointed, unorganised and did not handle the pressure well.

The two best forwards were the backrowers Jack Dempsey and Sean McMahon. The two best backs were outside backs Israel Folau and Reece Hodge.

The Rugby Championship – John Eales Medal Outcome
By average score across all the games, the best-performed players, in order, were Kurtley Beale, Adam Coleman, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Will Genia.

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In terms of the John Eales Medal the best performed are;

Kurtley Beale – 8 Votes
Reece Hodge – 8 Votes
Will Genia – 6 Votes
Sean McMahon – 6 Votes
Adam Coleman – 5 votes
Israel Folau – 5 Votes
Michael Hooper – 5 Votes

The Washup

By average scores across the last 12 months the best performed players, a minimum of five games, in order were;

David Pocock
Adam Coleman
Israel Folau
Reece Hodge
Sean McMahon
Michael Hooper
Kurtley Beale
Tatafu Polota-Nau
Dane Haylett-Petty
Sekope Kepu
Will Genia
Tevita Kuridrani

The John Eales Medal
How closely will the John Eales Leaderboard reflect the best performed averages?

Two major aspects are different.

The most important is the John Eales Medal is cumulative, so the more games a player plays, the more chance they have to score votes.

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The second aspect is poor games bring a player’s average down, but do not affect the number of John Eales Medal votes.

In effect, the John Eales Medal reflects the number of top games a player has in the last 12 months.

On a per game basis, they should correlate better to their average scores, the order of the John Eales Medal would be;

David Pocock
Israel Folau
Kurtley Beale
Reece Hodge
Adam Coleman
Sean McMahon
Dane Haylett-Petty
Michael Hooper
Will Genia
Bernard Foley

However it is not on a per game basis.

My John Eales Medal Result is;

Israel Folau – 16 Votes
David Pocock – 10 Votes
Michael Hooper – 10 Votes
Reece Hodge – 9 Votes
Adam Coleman – 9 Votes
Will Genia – 9 Votes
Bernard Foley – 9 Votes
Kurtley Beale – 8 Votes
Sean McMahon – 7 Votes
Dane Haylett-Petty – 7 Votes

I expect the players’ John Eales Medal result to be different for some players.

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I think the team focuses on positives so vote based on the big plays and would rate very good goal kicking highly, especially when it means a drawn or won game.

I believe most would not reflect on mistakes made by players even when they lead to tries.