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Are the Wallabies overemphasising attack off the lineout?

Rhys Bosley Roar Rookie

By Rhys Bosley, Rhys Bosley is a Roar Rookie

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    If there is a signature characteristic of the Wallabies that has developed since the 2015 World Cup, it is the variety of attacking moves off the lineout that we see them converting into tries.

    I take that to be Stephen Larkham’s influence as attack coach, as that was what the Brumbies started doing after Jake White left that club, though in 2017 we didn’t see it so much. I put this down to the Brumbies best playmakers, Matt Toomua and Christian Leiliifano, having left and their replacements not being quite up to it.

    Some of the Australian commentators of Larkham’s era have also spoken about how the team in the 1990s and 2000s had dozens of attacking moves off the lineout, which suggests to me that it might be Larkham’s influence. One comment, I think by Greg Martin, stood out for me. After a particularly spectacular try off the lineout, the commentator enthused that “in training you spend hours and hours on these moves”.

    Reflecting on the inconsistent and disappointing year for the Wallabies, I wonder if too much time is being invested in practising these moves at the expense of things like honing defence, breakdown and set piece skills, kicking, handling, restarts and exits.

    The midyear Scotland test in particular demonstrated how a well-drilled team of players who would generally be considered less talented in the attacking sense can embarrass the Wallabies by just making fewer mistakes and having individuals good enough to capitalise on Wallabies errors. The theme was repeated on a number of occasions throughout the season, with the Wallabies showing plenty of talent in attack but letting themselves down with errors and ill-discipline.

    (AAP Image/David Moir)

    There are a couple of points to consider here. Firstly, adding set piece running attacks from the set piece to the Brumbies repertoire worked reasonably well for Larkham at the Brumbies, and I happen to think that during 2016 he was very unlucky with injuries to key players and should have done better in the competition.

    However, it has to be remembered that the Brumbies had the unfairly maligned ‘Jakeball’ drilled into their DNA by that stage, so their defence, kicking and forward work was already rock solid. Larkham could most likely afford to spend more time on lineout moves because the platform was there, while this is not the case with the Wallabies.

    Secondly, I understand that Michael Cheika was hamstrung by receiving a team of players out of underperforming Super Rugby franchises last year, hence skills that he might expect to be up to scratch by the time June came around weren’t there.

    However, that probably gives even more reason to focus on the basics instead of lineout moves. He certainly emphasised improving the Wallabies’ fitness prior to June, and I suspect that had he insisted the team spend as much time developing bulletproof basics, the Wallabies would have had a much better season.

    Thirdly, I know that the Wallabies have been under pressure from the Rugby Australia suits to play an ‘entertaining Australian brand’ of running rugby, but I would suggest that Australians find nothing less entertaining than losing.

    (Jason O’Brien/Getty Images)

    Moreover, Australian rugby players already have the skills to instinctively play entertaining rugby, probably due to the emphasis on running football in rugby union as well as in rugby league and touch football, with all of our players playing one or more of these games from a young age.

    Spending less time on set-piece attack isn’t going to stop Will Genia running 40 metres off the base of the scrum to set up a try or Reece Hodge or Israel Folau scoring off an intercept or Kurtley Beale finding space where there is none to put one of his teammates away. The list of entertaining but instinctive Wallabies attacking plays goes on. I don’t think that stepping back on the set-piece plays would undermine the entertainment value of the game whatsoever.

    Finally, the benchmark for entertaining running rugby, the All Blacks, don’t seem to emphasise lineout attacks at all, with their attack seeming entirely instinctive and based on micro skills.

    I remember another comment in a slightly derisive tone by a Kiwi commentator about the Brumbies along the lines of, “Here is another one of their big flash lineout moves”, which is perhaps an indication the value given to these sorts of tactics across the ditch. It seems to me that the time the Kiwis spend practising stealing lineouts to ensure that the Australian lineout move never happens is better spent than what the Wallabies are doing with their lineout attacks.

    I hope that Michael Cheika inherits better prepared players come June this year than last, but I also hope he emphasises basics over complex attacking moves from the start.

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    The Crowd Says (37)

    • January 7th 2018 @ 5:37am
      TT said | January 7th 2018 @ 5:37am | ! Report

      Thanks Rhys, good article.

      I agree with the general theme of your piece.

      Cheers

      • January 7th 2018 @ 12:17pm
        Rhys Bosley said | January 7th 2018 @ 12:17pm | ! Report

        Thanks TT.

    • January 7th 2018 @ 7:00am
      Ken Catchpole's Other Leg said | January 7th 2018 @ 7:00am | ! Report

      (Writing from downtown Auckland today)
      Very good piece Rhys. I agree that our priorities need address. This forum questions Wallaby coaching priorities by the hour (and at times by the minute and second) and articles like this (Bishopesque’ in its detail) provide us with evidence to think with.
      I agree that we need more universal micro skills, most essentially in alertness, for counter attack and defence of it.

      • January 7th 2018 @ 12:18pm
        Rhys Bosley said | January 7th 2018 @ 12:18pm | ! Report

        Thanks KCOL, hope you are enjoying my old stomping ground.

        • January 7th 2018 @ 6:20pm
          Ken Catchpole's Other Leg said | January 7th 2018 @ 6:20pm | ! Report

          Thanks Rhys, yes Auckland was good today. Very quiet. No T’man, J”man, Moa,or Muzzo (which was disappointing -No one booing either, even at my ‘Bring Back Quade’ T-shirt).

          • January 7th 2018 @ 7:50pm
            Rhys Bosley said | January 7th 2018 @ 7:50pm | ! Report

            Lol, you are a brave man.

    • Roar Guru

      January 7th 2018 @ 8:12am
      PeterK said | January 7th 2018 @ 8:12am | ! Report

      Good question.

      However what you seem to not have considered is that the wallabies have a very good attacking base to work from, in your words the platform has been laid.

      So adding set moves from the line out may not take up much time at all.

      In fact even back in 2016 they had a very good set piece attack, so just minor tweeks were added in 2017. More work has been added to adlib / instinctive attack. The skills work of the forwards passing, the backs passing at pace in front of the man and so on.

      I see more improvements / work from Byrne evident than from Larkham in set piece attack since the base was not there.

    • Roar Guru

      January 7th 2018 @ 8:15am
      PeterK said | January 7th 2018 @ 8:15am | ! Report

      Obviously the 2 areas that need the most work are defence and a kicking game especially exits from the 22.

      Whilst Grey continues with the musical chairs pattern the defence won’t improve.
      Whilst Cheika continues to literally (and I mean literally as per his response in an interview) ignore the kicking game aspect I don’t expect that area to improve.

      • January 7th 2018 @ 11:14am
        Rhys Bosley said | January 7th 2018 @ 11:14am | ! Report

        I agree that the kicking game is underemphasised, but I noticed this year that both Foley and Hodge were attempting more contested up and unders in attack than was previously the caae. Perhaps that is something that they are trying to integrate into their game, though I think any team needs the full range of kicking options.

        In particular for Foley a flat kick on the diagonal into touch would be a useful addition for a player without a long kick, as it doesn’t require a massive amount of power and is hard to stop. A number of other fly halves do it to good effect, Barrett, Ford, Toomua and Cooper all spring to mind.?

        • Roar Guru

          January 8th 2018 @ 11:46am
          Hoy said | January 8th 2018 @ 11:46am | ! Report

          Only the up and under kicking games were used at strange times in games, and overused then… I can’t remember which Northern Tour game it was now, but they were in control of the game, then Foley switched to the up and unders, from his 22 no less, and the momentum shifted pretty quickly to the opposition. He didn’t let up though, he kept plugging away with the up and unders…

        • January 8th 2018 @ 5:04pm
          Gepetto said | January 8th 2018 @ 5:04pm | ! Report

          Bernard is not an instinctive player. He needs a great halfback and structure in attack. Bernard’s first instinct is to run hard at unlikely gaps in the defence and his second is to kick the ball as hard as he can. Being forced to play 80+ minutes every game must wear him down.

          • January 8th 2018 @ 11:15pm
            Rhys Bosley said | January 8th 2018 @ 11:15pm | ! Report

            True Gepetto, though Foley’s hard gap running does create space for Beale and pays off in it’s own right in many instances. Foley is also an impeccable support runner. Between those two and Genia I am not that worried about the ability of the inside backs being able to instinctively create opportunities in lieu of structured attacking moves. That is why I would like to see a bit less time spent on structured attack and more on other basics.

    • January 7th 2018 @ 8:42am
      Cynical Play said | January 7th 2018 @ 8:42am | ! Report

      Good read. Thanks. An attacking line out in the opposition 1/3 is still a gift in my view. Every team should have 3 or 4 moves honed to instinct. Micro skills should be taught at all levels and consistently improved of course. But planned moves can only be taught in team training so I imagine the WBs would dedicate some time to this.

      • January 7th 2018 @ 12:15pm
        Rhys Bosley said | January 7th 2018 @ 12:15pm | ! Report

        Thanks CP.

        I agree that lineout moves do represent an opportunity CP, but I question whether they need to be so heavily emphasised early in the season. In June the Wallabies had clearly practiced rolling mauls, the cross field kick to Folau, the one where Kuridrani played at first receiver and a couple of moves using Hunt and Foley as playmakers, by the time of the first match.

        Did they really need all that? It isn’t like the opposition will work their moves out over the course of a couple of games, so they could introduce them incrementally – maybe a new move every game or two. I would also note that even if the Wallabies don’t have a set move to work with, they can still use their skills to ad lib from an advantageous position.

    • January 7th 2018 @ 11:21am
      ethan said | January 7th 2018 @ 11:21am | ! Report

      This is superb Rhys. I’ve often noted during games how good our lineout moves are, but as you ask, at what cost? If the lineout doesn’t function well enough to start with then the opposition can disrupt it – something the ABs do with predictable regularity – and one of your big weapons has been negated before you could even utilise it.

      I would much prefer to see us master the basics of some of our weaknesses (defence, kicking, ruck security) before we spend all our time on tricky set piece moves, but then if doesn’t take too much time in practice I’m for them.

      But the Cheika way of recent times seems to be attack at all costs – something which can make us look both wonderful and awful. Inconsistency will continue to plague us so long as those basics are given little emphasis.

      • January 7th 2018 @ 12:16pm
        Rhys Bosley said | January 7th 2018 @ 12:16pm | ! Report

        Thanks Ethan.

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