The Wallabies’ season has finally finished, here is the best, the worst and the most contentious from the 2017 international series.
Part 1 of this series looked at four players from the forward pack who have had varying seasons with the National team. Now, we move onto the inside backs:
Average Roar rating: 5.99
Highest Roar rating: 8.43 (vs Wales – 11/12)
Lowest Roar rating: 3.66 (vs Scotland – 6/17)
Australia’s best halfback returned from a stint in Paris to continue his great career and record with the Wallabies, but initially, it seemed like his triumphant return had fallen flat. His poor form played a big part in the Aussies average June Test series, and it had a growing number of people questioning his position within the squad.
Fortunately, he has improved with every game under his belt this season, so much so, that there were times where he looked as good as the running halfback from the Queensland Red’s 2011 Super Rugby Championship-winning season.
Against Wales, Genia fired a perfect pass to put Adam Coleman through a hole to score from close range. In Dunedin his created Australia’s third try from a failing scrum, 60 metres out, he collected the ball and went through a hole which ultimately saw Bernard Foley finish the sequence over the try line.
Genia’s overwhelming value to the side has become obvious throughout the Rugby Championship and Spring tour. His passing, organisation and leadership are all great assets to his game, and these two plays showed that he still has plenty to offer the national side.
Two stolen tries against Scotland, Genia’s poor game directly contributed to Scotland’s commanding start to the test at Allianz Stadium in June. For the visitor’s first try, Genia delivered a bullet behind Tatafu Polota-Nau at knee height. The hooker managed to catch it but pushed a wild pass on which was intercepted to result in a try.
Later in the first half, Genia attempted a clearance kick from a scrum deep in Australia’s half. The kick was charged down and regathered for a try under the posts to the Scots. It was the second kick by Genia that had been charged down in as many weeks. Genia’s form throughout the June series put series question marks on his position in the Wallabies squad.
World Cup prospects
Barring injury, all but assured the number 9 jersey as a “last hurrah”. Despite his age, Genia remains the best halfback in the country, with plenty of space between him and second place. While his spot is virtually guaranteed, the more intriguing (or worrying) question is who will be his backup.
Average Roar rating: 5.20
Highest Roar rating: 7.06 (vs Fiji – 6/10)
Lowest Roar rating: 3.71 (vs NZ – 8/19)
Foley has copped a lot of criticism about his game this year. Whether it is directly from his performances or the frustration of Michael Cheika’s obvious stubborn resistance to properly develop any other option at fly-half, I’m not sure. Either way, it’s no secret that Foley has had a tough year, never being able to assert his authority on a game, nor replicate his great form from the 2015 World Cup.
His kicking remains an issue, although it must be hard to perform with the boot with a smug Reece Hodge lingering over his shoulder, and his passing can still be improved. The good news is that Foley will have a great opportunity to work on the weaknesses of his game with Stephen Larkham on the Wallabies’ coaching staff.
Say what you want about Foley’s game, that guy is one tough unit, he has an outstanding ability to take a hit and get back up, two shots, in particular, come to mind, the first was in the Wallabies’ second test against the Springboks. Foley takes a ball from Genia, and with no thought for his own well being he holds it up at the line and turns it back into Israel Folau who runs through untouched to score the first try, all the while Foley gets absolutely levelled by Springbok inside centre, Jan Serfontein.
The second was against the All Blacks in Brisbane. Foley (in retrospect, very foolishly) attempted to hit a hole close to the ruck off a short ball by Genia, only to be cleaned up by All Blacks reserve prop, Ofa Tu’ungafasi.
Speaking of Tests against the All Blacks, Foley’s goalkicking in Dunedin really hurt the Wallabies prospects of winning the match. It’s unfair to blame the loss on his kicking that night, but in such a close game, it’s hard not to when just two of six attempts went through the uprights.
Furthermore, there were a couple of plays that really made me question Foley’s effort.
When playing under a coach who operates on enthusiasm, effort and hard work (and maybe a little emotion), I can’t understand why his poster boy would jog after a grubber kick through the defensive line even though he is the closest to the ball, or not join a failing maul close to the try line, rather hang behind it. On these occasions, it seemed to me as though Foley simply did not want to be on the field, which is about as low as it comes for a national fly half.
World Cup prospects
Foley is the only reliable fly-half that Australia has at their dispense with a wealth of experience at international level. Although he has shortcomings in his game, he will usually perform a solid, reliable job which is about as good as it gets nowadays. So, come 2019, he will be the answer from the process of deduction.
Average Roar rating: 6.03
Highest Roar rating: 7.69 (vs South Africa – 9/9)
Lowest Roar rating: 3.50 (vs Scotland 11/26)
He missed the June Test series and on his return, quickly proved that he was missed in the June Test series. Beale initially filled in for an injured Karmichael Hunt at inside-centre but he quickly showed the damage that a livewire, opportunistic back can do. He needs to be a mainstay in the Wallabies backline, simple as that. The skills, the natural feel for the attack, it’s everything that Australia needs in their rugby team.
Beale was heavily criticised after his poor defensive effort in the first Bledisloe Cup Test, and he responded perfectly in the follow-up match at Dunedin. Beale was playing opposite Sonny-Bill Williams, a formidable opponent, especially if you have some defensive concerns. He shut Williams out of the game and crossed the line for a last-minute try which could’ve and should’ve been the game-winner for Australia.
A bloodied and bruised Beale celebrating in the in-goal is one of the best photos of the season (although, an argument could be made for his infamous pic with Prince William), it shows just how much the jersey means to him, and the progression he has made to becoming one of the central figures within the team.
On the topic of meaningful jerseys, Beale’s involvement with the Indigenous jersey the Wallabies played in for the Brisbane Test match was brilliant. It was the best night for a rugby fan in recent memory, and it was all spurred on by the outstanding jersey bathed in traditional artwork. It must be the Wallabies’ regular playing jersey.
There have been a few lows following Beale around recently, a couple of blunders and a lack of impact on the game, interestingly since he has moved to fullback in Israel Folau’s absence. Of course, the back-to-back yellow cards in the final two games are a standout, although his card against Scotland did nothing to affect the final outcome.
Not chasing the ball at Twickenham because it might’ve been out. You know what I’m talking about. It’s fresh and it’s painful. I won’t question Beale’s effort and commitment like I did for Foley, but he seems to have fallen into a relaxed, almost nonchalant way of playing, even when the game is in the balance.
World Cup prospects
He’s back and hitting great form, although Beale can most successfully serve his team from inside centre rather than fullback, especially if Michael Cheika is going to stick with Bernard Foley at fly-half. Folau should remain at fullback, which leaves Samu Kerevi and Karmichael Hunt to fight it out for a spot on the bench.
Whatever the backline Michael Cheika settles on for the Cup, there is no doubt that Beale will be there, somewhere.
In part three, we will move onto the outside backs, and go over the best and the worst that the Wallabies’ flyers had to offer.