The Wallabies’ end of year report card: Part 1

Simon Douch Roar Guru

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    At times it was frustrating and disappointing, then, uplifting and encouraging, but that’s just the life of an average Wallabies supporter.

    Australian finished 2017 with a record of seven wins, five losses and two draws, the most recent result, of course, a 53-24 hiding at the hands of a resurgent Scottish side at Murrayfield.

    We were promised a year of growth with the 2019 World Cup in Japan on the radar. Led by Michael Cheika, the Aussies certainly did improve as the year progressed, culminating in a four-game winning streak, including a victory over the All Blacks in Brisbane.

    But this success was short-lived, with consecutive losses to England and Scotland to round out an exasperating season.

    The season has been one of exceptional individual talent, flashes of brilliance, controversial selections and inconsistency. Where there is good, there will always be bad, and so here is the year in review for a number of significant team members, the first of a four-part series.

    Tatafu Polota-Nau

    Average Roar rating: 6.33
    Highest Roar rating: 8.06 (vs Japan – 11/4)
    Lowest Roar rating: 4.84 (vs Scotland – 6/17)

    Taf had an outstanding international season of growth. Publically announcing his desire to be the country’s first-choice hooker, Polota-Nau made the No.2 jumper his own and lived up to his bold pre-season predictions. With Stephen Moore finally succumbing to his age and retiring, the former Western Force hooker eases the transition of talent to the next generation of hookers coming through the ranks.

    Polota-Nau is an outstanding scrummager and excellent in contact, however his lineout throw was a point of concern. A clear signifier of his progression in this area was the early try against Wales from a rolling maul off a good lineout. Polota-Nau played his role to perfection and barged over the line for an easy try. While not perfect by any means, Polota-Nau has improved his throw to the point that it is a reliable aspect of his game.

    Not five minutes later, he made an outstanding cover tackle on the Welsh halfback, who would’ve otherwise trundled over the try line for an easy score, highlighting another clear positive to Polota-Nau’s game – effort. In the back half of the Rugby Championship and then on to the Spring tour, he has thrown his weight around and truly played hard for the country.

    As mentioned above, his early-year lineout struggles continued, culminating in two bad overthrows in the second half of the lost game against Scotland in the June Internationals.

    But the biggest ‘low’ for Polota-Nau is easily the fact that no-one has room for him. Taf played the waiting game, hoping the Force would survive the Super Rugby cut, and ultimately missed the opportunity to sign with another Australian rugby club.

    He has now signed with Leicester for next season, however, he will still be eligible and needed for the World Cup, having passed the 60-Test minimum requirement for overseas-based players.

    World Cup prospects
    Polota-Nau needs to play in Japan. There is a great crop of young hookers coming through the ranks, but the veteran will still own the position come 2019.

    Tatafu Polota-Nau

    (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

    Michael Hooper

    Average Roar rating: 5.99
    Highest Roar rating: 7.30 (vs New Zealand – 10/21)
    Lowest Roar rating: 3.87 (vs New Zealand – 8/19)

    He runs hard, tackles hard and just about does everything on the field at full throttle. Hooper has played a major part in turning the Wallabies’ disastrous start to the season into one that has fans cautiously optimistic for the future.

    He is possibly his own worst enemy though, as Hooper’s consistently impressive performances have created an unfair benchmark of quality for himself.

    An opportunistic try against New Zealand in Dunedin is worth a mention. He almost had a sheepish look on his face as he emerged from the shambled maul, through the bulk of the All Black forward pack, to scamper across the line to give his side a remarkable two-try lead.

    Hooper is easily the most consistent performer in the forward pack, so much so that his impact can be overlooked in favour of the way he communicates with the referees or even the way he wears his socks. You can’t fault the captain for trying to lead his team through his own performance.

    We hope the skipper isn’t lactose intolerant because he has had so much cheese this season. An eighth yellow card of his career against England, the second in as many weeks, is a new record and an incredible achievement.

    With the role that a player of his position is expected to play in a game, Hooper will surely flirt with a few cards over his career, and he is proving to be exceptionally good at converting warnings to ten minutes on the sideline.

    That’s compared to three yellows for Richie McCaw in his entire career – although, let’s be honest, it should’ve been way more – and then six for South Africa’s Schalk Burger.

    Cards can be an unlucky occurrence, but Hooper needs to find the sweet spot between contesting the ruck and sitting on the sideline. We can’t have a yellow for our captain in any game of the latter stages of the World Cup.

    World Cup prospects
    He is a world-class player, a developing captain, and is assured a spot on the squad headed to Japan in 2019.

    Hooper’s biggest challenge will be to address his leadership skills, not only in relation to his teammates but also to the refs.

    Michael Hooper of Australia

    (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

    Ned Hanigan

    Average Roar rating: 4.16
    Highest Roar rating: 5.76 (vs Fiji – 6/10)
    Lowest Roar rating: 2.80 (vs New Zealand – 8/19)

    Hanigan burst onto the international scene in the June series, with many being impressed by the youngster’s skills, especially with the ball in hand. Thinking it was merely a brief introduction to international rugby, supporters could overlook his lack of physicality and be happy with his overwhelming promise for the future.

    Hanigan tries hard and puts in an admirable effort each time he is on the field. Fast forward past the Rugby Championship for a moment, and he has performed well during the Spring tour. Although his impact in and around the breakdown remains wanting, his presence is beginning to be felt.

    As a fair summation of Hanigan’s lack of physicality, he ran in to defend his teammates during a small scuffle against the Springboks in Perth. The only problem is, he ran into Eben Etzebeth, who made Hanigan look like ragdoll.

    Again, all the effort and intent is there, just don’t go looking for a fight with Etzebeth – it’s a foolish thing to do. If you need any more information on Hanigan’s lows, spend 30 seconds browsing The Roar’s rugby section.

    World Cup prospects
    He will definitely be part of the equation, with a good amount of experience under his belt, Hanigan has the opportunity to really grow in next year’s Super Rugby competition.

    A man with a bright future.

    Ned Hanigan Wallabies

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    Sean McMahon

    Average Roar rating: 6.40
    Highest Roar rating: 8.20 (vs New Zealand – 10/21)
    Lowest Roar rating: 3.76 (vs New Zealand – 8/19)

    McMahon has seemed to play his entire career so far in a second tier behind Hooper and David Pocock. As such, he’s had limited chances to prove himself. With Pocock enjoying an extended paid vacay, McMahon was thrown into the number eight position at the start of the international season. Most were concerned with his lack of size and physicality to play the eight, rather suited to seven, where he has excelled over the past several years. But we were sensationally proved wrong.

    McMahon started the season slowly, with a horrible outing in the first Bledisloe Cup match, but he improved with every game. During the season finale, at Murrayfield, the blockbusting eight was the only forward in a yellow jersey with a hint of physicality and ‘go forward’.

    McMahon’s biggest highlight was definitely during the dead rubber against New Zealand in Brisbane, where he burst through the heart of the All Blacks’ defence for a barnstorming 50-metre run at the death of the Test. It was inspiring, impressive and helped Australia complete a phenomenal victory.

    Good things don’t last forever. Every good performance was marred by the realisation that he is leaving for Japan, just not with the Wallabies in 2019. Each post-match interview involved a sly question about what it will take to keep him here. But, as always, you only appreciate what you’ve got when it’s gone – or going.

    World Cup prospects
    Will he come back? He reckons he is keen to play, but it’s a fairly worrying situation. Quite simply, he is too good not to have. If he wants it, it will be there.

    With rumours that Japanese club rugby will be postponed in 2019, there could be a possibility of his return to the Wallabies.

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    The Crowd Says (24)

    • November 28th 2017 @ 4:42am
      MH01 said | November 28th 2017 @ 4:42am | ! Report

      Why should hanifan be in the 2019 squad? He should not be in the current squad . Madness

      • November 28th 2017 @ 5:30am
        AntsRANT said | November 28th 2017 @ 5:30am | ! Report

        A few reasons:
        1) he is a Waratah
        2) he is another player who plays out of position (a trend Cheika loves) ie: plays Super Rugby at second row but is thrown into blindside at test level)
        3) Dean Mumm 2.0
        4) Cameron Clynes love child
        5) he is a Waratah, so naturally gifted a golden jersey as a development project for the Sydney team

      • Roar Guru

        November 28th 2017 @ 7:50am
        Simon Douch said | November 28th 2017 @ 7:50am | ! Report

        Agree he shouldn’t really be in the current squad. But you’ve got to admit that he has outstanding potential. The guy is only 22. I’m tipping him to improve out of sight over the next year or two.

        • Roar Guru

          November 28th 2017 @ 10:23am
          Timbo (L) said | November 28th 2017 @ 10:23am | ! Report

          Yeah, I don’t like Hanagan in a gold Jersey but even though I have been labelled a “Tah’s Hater” i could still see his talent and potential in this years SR performing the in close Loose forward roles.

          1 or 2 more seasons of maturity needed, until then MacCalman and Dempsey, RHP waiting in the Wings Naiasarani if by some miracle Cheika manages to can keep his job and persists with his failed Pooper Scooper experiment,

        • November 28th 2017 @ 10:31am
          Fionn said | November 28th 2017 @ 10:31am | ! Report

          How does he have outstanding potential?

          Because he takes most of his line outs? He’s inferior to Naisarani and Ross Haylett-Petty in the line out.

          Because he makes most of his tackles? So does Naisarani and Haylett-Petty, the difference being that they make dominant hits. Hanigan does not.

          In addition to this, he is low work-rate, usually inspecting/guarding rucks like Mumm, and when he does go into clear out he is usually ineffective.

          Australians have a real problem where they try and make players into saviours and like to tout their potential, but we like to see potential that isn’t there. Hanigan may one day be of international standard if he bulks up and improves his breakdown technique, along with getting a bit more ferocity in his attitude, but how about we wait for him to actually demonstrate something before we prematurely hype him?

          Prematurely hyping him either sets him up for failure by putting pressure on him, or will lead to more nonsense like we’ve experienced this year with him playing about 10 Tests or whatever it was (over better players) because of his ‘potential’ and because he is ‘building for the RWC’.

          • November 28th 2017 @ 10:47am
            Charlie Turner said | November 28th 2017 @ 10:47am | ! Report

            This! Take a look at how someone like Shalk Burger was travelling at the same age! There’s too much talent coming though with the players you mention for Haningan to come into consideration.

          • Roar Guru

            November 28th 2017 @ 11:12am
            PeterK said | November 28th 2017 @ 11:12am | ! Report

            fionn – agree.

            A player has potential for intl level when I see them standing out at super rugby, not NRC BTW.
            NRC gives you the step up to prove it at super rugby level.

            A player like Kerevi, jones and Timani in 2014 and 2015. It was tragic they didn’t get a chance in 2015

            Naisarani in 2017 in super rugby is a case in point.

            Of course there are exceptions like Fardy who never stood out at super rugby level, however he never looked out of his depth or class regardless of the opposition.

            Hanigan IMO is currently NRC level. He is IMO probably the worst oz backrower in super rugby in 2018, if not the worst close to it. He will probably play lock for the tahs due to their very poor recruitment.

          • Roar Guru

            November 28th 2017 @ 11:45am
            Simon Douch said | November 28th 2017 @ 11:45am | ! Report

            You note that Hannigan “may one day be of international standard if he bulks up and improves his breakdown technique, along with getting a bit more ferocity in his attitude” but also think he doesn’t have potential??

            • November 28th 2017 @ 11:52am
              Fionn said | November 28th 2017 @ 11:52am | ! Report

              He has potential in the sense that anyone has potential. I’d certainly say he has exhibited less potential than Dempsey, Timani, Haylett-Petty, Valetini, Timu, Korczyk and Hardwick.

              In my mind he has shown less potential than every other Australian back-rower.

            • Roar Guru

              November 28th 2017 @ 6:55pm
              Timbo (L) said | November 28th 2017 @ 6:55pm | ! Report

              Basically saying he needs to get better at playing rugby to be selected…..
              That could be said about most players without and some with a gold jersey.

    • November 28th 2017 @ 6:06am
      mz.ilikazi said | November 28th 2017 @ 6:06am | ! Report

      Great piece, Simon. Very balanced and valid observations. Will no doubt stimulate a lot of very interesting discussion.

      Don’t have time now to comment further, but will read your article again over breakfast.

    • Roar Guru

      November 28th 2017 @ 8:51am
      PeterK said | November 28th 2017 @ 8:51am | ! Report

      Coleman is far more important to the forwards than Hooper. They missed Coleman in their last 2 games.
      Coleman has also been a more consistent forward than Hooper.

      Pocock is more important for the rwc than Hooper , or he should be if Cheika would start him.

      Also very few people have noticed but TPN ‘s lineout throwing improved about 3-4 years ago, to the same level as Moore’s at least, and has been about the same ever since. Of course only acknowledged once he left the tahs.

      • Roar Guru

        November 28th 2017 @ 6:56pm
        Timbo (L) said | November 28th 2017 @ 6:56pm | ! Report

        Not my observation. He was throwing pies last year and at the start of the Force season too.

    • November 28th 2017 @ 10:15am
      Hunters said | November 28th 2017 @ 10:15am | ! Report

      Posted this elsewhere as well…
      I get that there were injuries and fatigue after so many games. We especially missed second row power and options.

      Before I make my next comment, 2 things. (1) Scotland played well. I thought their execution and coaching were excellent. (2) I’ve been a fan of Michael Cheika. Not always impressed but not going after him either. BUT I don’t think we lost that Scotland game the way we did because of the red card, injuries or exhaustion. I think we lost that game because of coaching. The team has not been coached to reliably play the way they should be playing, for the circumstances. It was mostly coaching that led to us gifting tries to Scotland, and to a degree England. And i mean coaching the attack and the defence. Against Rugby Championship teams we were good in defence (mostly) because of commitment and accuracy (fewer missed tackles and heart saved us multiple times). But we were found out up north. The score lines could have been worse if not for the good scramble after other teams easily created overlaps.

      On offence, easy turnovers and poor options must have led to at least 7 tries to the other teams. That’s coaching, not just skill. If a perfectly reasonable pass is thrown to no-one, if a pass is pushed to another player only 2 feet away and in no better position.. these are because of coaching.

      Something needs to change. If not the coaching personnel, then how they work with the team and the amount of time they spend on the different elements of the game.

      What happened in the last 10 of the England game and for most of the Scotland game is painful. We know they are capable of better.

    • Roar Guru

      November 28th 2017 @ 10:30am
      Timbo (L) said | November 28th 2017 @ 10:30am | ! Report

      Taf cops a lot of flack for his wayward line out throws.

      Everyone thinks Hoops has a big engine but you should watch Taf once in a while. He covers a lot of ground bends a lot of lines and moves a lot of bodies. For a man of his size and weight this is a very taxing pursuit and by 55 minutes the guy has left it all on the field. His throws start to wander as fatigue sets in.

      The solution is simple. Have another world class hooker on the bench and bring them on at 50 minutes. Problem solved, Job done.

      This is a reserves management problem and it lies squarely at the feet of the coach,
      The alternative is to ask Taf to “Take it easy” during the game.

      • Roar Guru

        November 28th 2017 @ 11:41am
        Simon Douch said | November 28th 2017 @ 11:41am | ! Report

        “Everyone thinks Hoops has a big engine but you should watch Taf once in a while”… agreed, yes, I mentioned this in the article…

    • November 28th 2017 @ 11:27am
      Vic rugby said | November 28th 2017 @ 11:27am | ! Report

      It seems impossible to mention hoopers record haul of yc without bringing up richie mcaw.
      Ritchie got 3 over his entire career whether you want it to be more or not that is a fact

      • Roar Rookie

        November 28th 2017 @ 12:01pm
        piru said | November 28th 2017 @ 12:01pm | ! Report

        Come on now Vic – you know that Richie never got carded because he was paying off all the refs or something

      • Roar Guru

        November 28th 2017 @ 12:23pm
        PeterK said | November 28th 2017 @ 12:23pm | ! Report

        not every australian rugby discussion has to be polluted by referencing ab’s or nz rugby.

        • November 28th 2017 @ 12:45pm
          rebel said | November 28th 2017 @ 12:45pm | ! Report

          I think that was Vic rugby’s point in referencing the contents of this article.

        • Roar Rookie

          November 28th 2017 @ 12:46pm
          piru said | November 28th 2017 @ 12:46pm | ! Report

          While Australia measures itself against the All Blacks, ever shall they be included in the discussion.

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