Wallabies’ 2017 report card

AlsBoyce Roar Guru

By AlsBoyce, AlsBoyce is a Roar Guru

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    It was one match too many probably for the Wallabies in 2017, but the interesting thing in Test rugby is the closeness of standards of the teams in the top 10.

    Any team except the All Blacks or perhaps England seem to be beatable week-to-week, and the performance of Scotland against Australia highlighted that I think.

    So, are Scotland now world-beaters, right up there with the best? I don’t think so, but let’s see how they go in the Six Nations coming up. Their scrum looks vulnerable and injuries will hurt them, but they have a quality attack if they can get the essential go-forward and quick ball. An interesting comparison would be through Wales, who I rather fancy to win that one.

    What makes the difference week-to-week is the intensity of the defence, the percentage of penetration on the gain-line, the quality of own set-piece ball, the speed of the delivery of the ball, and minimum turnovers.

    The variation in quality of these elements is due to the quality of the players, the quality of the preparation that week (both physical and mental), and the suitability of the strategies employed.

    The bottom-line is that Scotland were up for the match, but the Wallabies weren’t. In fact, the Wallabies really started edging downhill after beating New Zealand in Brisbane. They tried one last big effort against England, but the luck was not with them that day.

    Michael Cheika lets Eddie Jones get under his skin, and this seems to transfer to the players as well. This “wearing of the heart on the sleeve” style of behaviour by Cheika doesn’t do either himself or his team any good.

    Michael Cheika Wallabies

    (Photo by Jason O’Brien/Getty Images)

    It is one thing to gee the players up for a big performance, but it is quite another to show the effects of outcomes and decisions so openly. Much better to play the cards close to the chest and make opponents speculate instead.

    Eddie Jones acts like a teenager at school – the smart arse who always wants to niggle and cause trouble. Cheika needs to just dismiss him as the adolescent that he is by barely acknowledging his existence.

    The Wallabies have some vulnerabilities in forward power, and getting over the gain-line seemed a lot more difficult without Adam Coleman and Jack Dempsey. Luchan Tui looked very impressive when he came off the bench against the New Zealand in Brisbane, and Izack Rodda had been showing some promising form as well.

    So, depth is an issue, but prior to the rash of important injuries mentioned above there seemed to have been a big improvement in that area for the Wallabies. The effort they put in up to the 71st minute mark against England, with 13 and 14 men for a period, and tries disallowed, was exemplary.

    But that was the end of their ability to cope with the pressure. For the season, really, as it turned out against Scotland, because beating England was the goal. To get one back over Eddie Jones.

    Injuries occur, so depth is important. Actually, it’s crucial. The English have by far the most rugby players of any country from which to choose, and New Zealand have significant numbers of rugby players and no Winter sports competition from rugby league (NRL), or Aussie Rules (AFL).

    So, it is logical that those two countries depth is greater, allowing their “B” teams to be up there with other countries “A” teams.

    A third area to look at for the Wallabies was the strategy to replace Folau with Kerevi at 12, moving Beale to 15. Did it work? In retrospect, and notwithstanding some good performances by Kerevi, it almost certainly didn’t.

    The option of Hunt at 12 instead of Kerevi, or Hunt at 15 with Beale at 12 looked more in tune with the style the Wallabies had succeeded with against NZ. Good to see Kerevi have a go, I suppose, and experimentation is necessary to properly assess the possibilities, but Hunt at 15 would have been the least disruptive and best option.

    The end-of-season Northern hemisphere tours are getting harder and harder. They come off the back of the extended Rugby Championship with Argentina included, as well as an extended Super Rugby season.

    There is also much greater commitment from the European opposition because of the world rankings table and World Cup preparation generally. No longer are they just warming up for the main game – the Six Nations.

    So, the matches are more contested, and the long Southern Hemisphere season means that depth is more crucial than ever, to be able to put a relatively fresh and enthusiastic team on the field.

    It may have been an opportunity for Michael Cheika to make mass replacements to the run-on side against Scotland to re-energise the team. Hooper could definitely have used a good rest, so with Simmons, the front-row, Genia, and Kerevi all off the run-on side, the team would have looked livelier and fresher.

    The result would also not have been so important, but the outcome could even have been different, such is the small gap between teams. The team that is up for it on the day is very hard to beat.

    Michael Cheika Wallabies

    (Photo by Jason O’Brien/Getty Images)

    I think it is a fair summation of the Wallabies 2017 season to have them at No.3 in the world behind New Zealand and England. The beating of New Zealand in Brisbane was a fantastic performance, and that can’t be glossed over.

    I think player management and rotation, even at the expense of quality, is going to be an essential part of the process leading up and in the 2019 World Cup. The Wallaby coaching squad have made good progress in this area, only to be undone by a lot of injuries at the end of the season.

    The depth is better, but still not good enough. Players still don’t seamlessly replace another player, while Michael Cheika often shows a lack of courage in selections as well as in strategy. He really needs to surprise his opponents from time to time at least, and perhaps even often. And, keep a poker face at all times.

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    The Crowd Says (25)

    • November 30th 2017 @ 9:39am
      Gepetto said | November 30th 2017 @ 9:39am | ! Report

      When discussing Simmons need for a rest, consider Nick Bishop’s observations:

      “On the highlight reel, no.4 Rob Simmons is labouring almost comically in his bid to raise to gallop and catch Maitland.

      But let’s remember that it was Simmons’ ball-four carries and three cleanouts that were such massive factors in the build-up to Beale’s try on the previous sequence of play.”

      • Roar Guru

        November 30th 2017 @ 10:46am
        AlsBoyce said | November 30th 2017 @ 10:46am | ! Report

        Good point about Simmons positive contribution capabilities.
        I actually think he is a good buy for the Waratahs, as he’s very reliable at set-piece particularly. It’s always been his ball-carries and defense as weaknesses, but these are intermittent. 2018 could see him improving quite a lot too.
        I put him on the list for a rest as a part of the way to inject that freshness and energy in the pack that the Wallabies really needed.

        • November 30th 2017 @ 8:53pm
          Noodles said | November 30th 2017 @ 8:53pm | ! Report

          Agree. I think Simmons is now a part of the consistency equation. The one that worries me is Foley. I have been a fan of his willingness to take the ball to the line. But this series has caused a rethink. He’s simply not improving. Sometimes it’s dumb attempts in heavy traffic (ABs) other times it’s really poor execution in a space (first Scotland tray from his awful pass).
          We need more depth at 9, 10 and 12!

    • November 30th 2017 @ 10:54am
      Old Bugger said | November 30th 2017 @ 10:54am | ! Report

      Funnily enough, Jones and Cheika are like chalk and cheese. One is a small man with big ideas, while the other, is a big man with small ideas. Unfortunately, they are “two peas in a pod” but, I’ll let you decide how come.

    • Roar Guru

      November 30th 2017 @ 11:07am
      PeterK said | November 30th 2017 @ 11:07am | ! Report

      wallabies finished the year ranked 4 not 3

      • Roar Guru

        November 30th 2017 @ 11:36am
        AlsBoyce said | November 30th 2017 @ 11:36am | ! Report

        I wasn’t claiming the official ranking of 3 for the Wallabies, but saying that they had a strong claim on being 3rd best due to the Brisbane win over NZ.

        • November 30th 2017 @ 1:27pm
          Ruckin' Oaf said | November 30th 2017 @ 1:27pm | ! Report

          Would 2 losses to Scotland outweigh 1 win against the AB’s ??

        • November 30th 2017 @ 4:55pm
          Realist271 said | November 30th 2017 @ 4:55pm | ! Report

          At best 4. Ireland deserve 3

          • Roar Guru

            December 2nd 2017 @ 12:09pm
            AlsBoyce said | December 2nd 2017 @ 12:09pm | ! Report

            The Wallabies started poorly in mid-year off the back of a terrible Super Rugby season for all Australian teams, and a reported underlying lack of fitness. They got fit enough to play their 1st Rugby Championship match against NZ only to be blown away in the 1st half. NZ notably had had a warm-up match locally beforehand, so they were pumped and ready to go.
            The 2nd half of Bled 1, Bled 2 (fell off at the end but kept fighting back to regain the lead in the 2nd half .. ok should have really won it, but still pretty good), and Bled 3 showed the Wallabies scoring more points than NZ. The one moment which for me showed the murmurings of a phsychological turnaround in the players belief was their try by Folau just before half-time. The Wallabies did to NZ what NZ so often do to their opponents – deliver a crushing blow when thoughts had drifted to oranges. And, it wasn’t just the scoring of the try, but the manner of the scoring that was most impressive. Fast ball, a Hooper major gain-line dent, fast ball and Beale creating defensive havoc to deliver to Folau in space 2-on-1 and on the angle to the corner. Naholo bamboozled.
            The Wallabies dropped back in Perth after Bled 2 against the Boks, but put in a stirring performance to draw in South Africa in the return match. Up-and-down form but the ups are starting to look promising.
            Ireland are a terrific team and maybe deserve a 3 ranking, but I like the Wallaby momentum at the moment when they have their major players playing. Depth is critical because players get injured, and the Wallabies can get exposed in that area as we have seen.
            After Bled 3 it was flat to downhill for the Wallabies, with an ok performance against Wales, but not so good against England and terrible against Scotland. Up until the 71st minute they endured magnificently against England, but they still did not play that well.

        • November 30th 2017 @ 7:28pm
          waxhead said | November 30th 2017 @ 7:28pm | ! Report

          Absurd Als – 7 wins out of 14 and you think No 3 is fair?
          Take the rose coloured glasses off.
          They should come in somewhere ranked 5-8 imo in 2017.

          You also make some crazy observations like ….
          “Michael Cheika often shows a lack of courage in selections”

          I believe the exact opposite……..picking and persisting with duds like Hanigan, Phipps, Robertson, Simmons takes lots of courage cause they are all obvious examples of selection bias not based on performance.

          • Roar Guru

            December 2nd 2017 @ 11:52am
            AlsBoyce said | December 2nd 2017 @ 11:52am | ! Report

            You’ve misunderstood my point, Waxhead.
            The lack of courage comment works both ways. Sticking with players too long and not selecting potential replacements are two sides of the same coin.
            I was nevertheless really directing the comment toward the backs in this instance, and particularly about a fascination MK has with the “big” 12 crash-ball option, but also with his propensity to move players from positions where they had been performing well (e.g. Beale at 12) to shore up other positions where they could possibly play (e.g. Beale replacing Folau at 15). I think doing that is doubly disruptive, and Hunt should have played 15, leaving Beale at 12.
            With Folau missing, Beale became the major focus of the defence attacking from 15, but with him still at 12, who knows what is going to happen? Will he run, will he grubber to Korabeti, will he offload to Hunt/Hodge/Korabeti/Kuradrani or to Foley on the wraparound. Both Beale and Foley feature more deceptively in that combination, giving opportunities to the ball-runners, and creating more for the defence to attempt to cover.

        • Roar Guru

          December 1st 2017 @ 9:10am
          Mark Richmond said | December 1st 2017 @ 9:10am | ! Report

          Like the 2015 RWC run, that victory in Brisbane is papering over the cracks. Dead rubber against an under strength NZ side.

          • Roar Guru

            December 1st 2017 @ 9:22am
            Fionn said | December 1st 2017 @ 9:22am | ! Report

            Mark, spot on, as usual.

    • Roar Guru

      November 30th 2017 @ 11:11am
      PeterK said | November 30th 2017 @ 11:11am | ! Report

      Beale at 15 was the bigger error. He dropped a lot of highballs, was found out positionally and so on.

      Kerevi suffered due to Foley’s limitations.

      IMO Kerevi played better than TK in the games he played 12 and TK 13.

      If Foley is at 10 it is obvious Beale needs to be at 15.
      When Kerevi was replaced by Hunt at 12 the attack didn’t improve at all.

      Also obvious Folau needs to be at 15 to defuse the highball attack.

      • Roar Guru

        November 30th 2017 @ 11:33am
        AlsBoyce said | November 30th 2017 @ 11:33am | ! Report

        I was really trying to put across the idea that the 2 ball-players (Foley 10 and Beale 12) were the better option for the fluidity, spontaneity and directness of the back-line attack, and the crash-ball option (Kerevi) was not.
        Kerevi versus TK as the “big” centre option is tough for Kerevi on defensive comparisons, particularly at outside-centre if it was one or the other.
        Hunt at fullback has shown good highball capability in 2017 and there was a chance to give him more game-time there.
        Obviously also, Haylett-Petty was injured, and I’d have him at 15 as the option if Folau was unavailable.

        • November 30th 2017 @ 1:31pm
          Ruckin' Oaf said | November 30th 2017 @ 1:31pm | ! Report

          Beale played at first receiver quite a bit during the games against England and Scotland. And I didn’t see a great deal of the “fluidity, spontaneity and directness” that are thus supposedly engendered.

        • Roar Guru

          November 30th 2017 @ 2:44pm
          PeterK said | November 30th 2017 @ 2:44pm | ! Report

          I had a typo

          I wrote
          If Foley is at 10 it is obvious Beale needs to be at 15.

          it should have been

          If Foley is at 10 it is obvious Beale needs to be at 12

          I agree with most of what you wrote here.

          Hodge would be a better option at 15 than DHP. DHP has been found out under the highball at intl level.

      • November 30th 2017 @ 10:52pm
        Who said | November 30th 2017 @ 10:52pm | ! Report

        I agree – Foley’s a major issue. If we’re complaining that Kerevi replacing Folau didn’t work because we needed Hunt – another ball playing back – then how bad is Foley? That we need a THIRD supposed playmaking option..?

        • December 1st 2017 @ 12:33am
          Bfc said | December 1st 2017 @ 12:33am | ! Report

          Picking a player in order to mitigate the flaws in another’s game…? Hardly uncommon under this coach…
          Don’t even mention the defensive shuffle under Grey’s system…

      • Roar Guru

        December 1st 2017 @ 9:24am
        Fionn said | December 1st 2017 @ 9:24am | ! Report

        Tom Banks should have been brought and played at fullback. Even though no one could truly have replaced Folau Banks would have been the most like-for-like option.

        Failing that, after Beale struggled with the high ball in the first match or two (if it wasn’t clear in training he hadn’t improved enough) Hodge should have been put at 15.

    • November 30th 2017 @ 11:15am
      MitchO said | November 30th 2017 @ 11:15am | ! Report

      Hi Als, I agree that experimenting with Beale at full back did not work. That is unfortunate for Kerevi who shows promise as an inside centre. The problem was that Beale demonstrated that he is still not good enough under the high ball.

    • November 30th 2017 @ 1:45pm
      Perthstayer said | November 30th 2017 @ 1:45pm | ! Report

      Scotland’s front row consisted of one 4th choice prop (who a few months ago was unemployed) and one 2nd choice.

      WP Nel and the other 1st or 2nd choice prop (names escape me) would have given them ascendancy.

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