Surely the biggest lesson learnt by the Wallabies from the debacle of Bledisloe 1 this year was that simplicity is supreme.
The All Blacks tore Australia to shreds, piling on eight tries in about 50 minutes as they bolted to a 54-6 lead in Sydney.
A large part of the defensive embarrassment was due to the constant changes in the defensive line at set pieces, with the Wallabies backs lining up in different positions depending on-field position.
It was ludicrous. And it was ruthlessly exposed.
The term “defensive strategies” – commonly used by defence coaches these days – is ridiculous. Of course, there are nuances at the elite level. But the terminology sounds as if it’s been devised with the help of army generals and NASA scientists.
Even for professional athletes, when under fatigue and under pressure, it’s best to not get funky. Keep it simple sweetheart.
Which brings me to the Wallabies’ five-eighth selection for this Saturday’s Test against Japan in Yokohama.
In such a key position, it’s madness that Reece Hodge got the nod at No.10.
With both Bernard Foley (virus) and Karmichael Hunt (neck) unavailable, coach Michael Cheika had some tricky calls to make.
But Hodge, a winger most recently at Test level who has played in the centres for the Wallabies, is a sizeable risk as a playmaker.
With Israel Folau missing the tour, surely Hunt – who would’ve started at fullback against Japan – should’ve had another back-up at No.15.
The balance of the squad is a bit messy. Brumbies fullback Tom Banks, also a winger, would’ve been an excellent utility addition. Izaia Perese is on tour, but it’s too big a gamble to throw a 20-year-old fullback into the Test arena.
After Quade Cooper wasn’t part of the Rugby Championship squad, Cheika told Hodge in August that he should prepare as a back-up five-eighth to Foley and Kurtley Beale.
Three months ago.
So wasn’t the best chance to prepare Hodge for that role last weekend when the Wallabies played the Barbarians?
Hodge played five-eighth in his junior days. He’s started a few games at No.10 for the Melbourne Rebels. And Cheika said he’s trained in the position against the match-day team in opposed Wallabies sessions.
Surely the chance to test Hodge was against the BaaBaas. Instead, Duncan Paia’aua – usually a centre – got the playmaking duties at fly-half.
And we’ve been told the Wallabies aren’t taking Japan lightly.
Beale, who has been shifted to fullback, would be best at five-eighth.
He’s the more experienced and proven playmaker. By a long way.
Beale is lethal running the ball from the backfield, but he’s also got the full bag of tricks a top-notch frontline playmaker needs. He kicks and passes with class but short and long. He can accelerate into gaps. He knows how to break down a defensive line. And he’s classy at feeling the rhythm of a Test match – when to take the heat out of the contest and when to step it up.
Beale could run the show from No.10 and he would link well with centres Samu Kerevi and Tevita Kuridrani.
Hodge doesn’t seem to possess the subtlety needed at five-eighth.
He would be best suited at fullback for this Test in a straight swap with Beale.
Admittedly fullback is a crucial position too, a ‘spine’ position if you want to borrow some rugby league terminology.
But Hodge has a massive boot – one department in which he would trump Folau.
Having played a fair bit on the wing for the Wallabies, he’s had to defuse some high balls.
Defensively, it’s a bit risky, but again with experience as a winger he’s accustomed to sweeping and tracking from depth.
Of course, Japan aren’t going to throw as much at the Wallabies as the All Blacks – or South Africa and Argentina. But they’re a dangerous and passionate side. The Springboks found that out. They’ve pushed Scotland, Wales and Ireland over the past 18 months.
Perhaps Cheika will have them interchanging between five-eighth and fullback despite the numbers on their back. Oh no – remember simple is sweet. Remember Sydney.