Why Michael Cheika may have to choose between David Pocock and Michael Hooper in 2018

Nicholas Bishop Columnist

By Nicholas Bishop, Nicholas Bishop is a Roar Expert

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    They say the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. Here’s another, rather more contemporary rugby truth: David Pocock will be welcomed back to Australia with open arms in 2018.

    ‘Poey’s’ broad-mindedness and gravitas off the field and his play on it have both been sorely missed, despite the excellent form of Sean McMahon with the Wallabies.

    It is perhaps a little too typical of the modern era that, just as one returns from his sojourn in Japanese club rugby, the other will offer him a metaphorical wave while passing the other way.

    Although Pocock’s return will be an unqualified blessing for both regional and international rugby in Australia, it will also revive a selection dilemma for Michael Cheika and his coaching group which may not prove as easy to solve as it once was.

    The issue is Australia’s best two forwards both happen to play in the same position, at number seven. In the recent past, that problem has been resolved simply by selecting both of them in the same back-row, with Pocock shifting across to eighth man.

    For much of the time, that arrangement has worked out pretty well, but the experimental law changes currently being trialled in the Northern Hemisphere may have brought with them a dark cloud on the horizon of the ‘Pooper’.

    I first highlighted the trial laws back in September 2016, and recently added a look at their effects on the breakdown in the recent Wales-South Africa match from December.

    The most significant of the revisions are the changes to law at and after the tackle, which now states that:

    • The tackler must get up before playing the ball and then can only play from their own side of the tackle “gate”. (15.4.c)
    • A ruck commences when at least one player is on their feet and over the ball which is on the ground (16).

    Both of these laws favour the attacking side, which can now create an offside line at the tackle immediately without any defender being present. Tacklers who want to compete for the ball on the ground can now no longer do so without retiring first through ‘the gate’ on their side of the tackle area.

    It would mean that this kind of turnover (by David Pocock at the 2015 World Cup) would now be refereed as a clear penalty to the attacking team:

    ‘Poey’ would now have to go the long way round before he could even think of contesting this ball on the deck.

    As indicated in the 2016 article, the effectiveness of Hooper and Pocock defensively has depended on their ability to ‘tackle and jackal’ as a hunting pair. One of them makes a low tackle and cuts the ball-carrier down, the other goes in and competes for the ball.

    With the pair positioned together at scrums, lineouts and restarts, they accounted for the lion’s share of Wallaby turnovers.

    Perhaps the best low forward tackler in the international game, Welsh flanker Dan Lydiate, cannot now get a game for the national side, and the Wales-South Africa match showed how the attitude of the Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards had changed with the trial laws.

    Now it’s less a case of ‘tackle and jackal’ and more one of ‘prop up and fan out’ – hold the ball-carrier up and then drop back into the defensive line while you’re still on your feet.

    This was definitely England’s policy too, in their end of year game against Australia at Twickenham:

    As Will Genia goes to pass (with Maro Itoje in the process of getting up off the ground) everyone in the England defence is on their feet while there are three Australians off theirs, having been consumed at the ruck.

    It would be reasonable to say the odds of the attack succeeding on the next phase have been reduced by anywhere between 13 and 20 per cent as a consequence.

    England also managed to generate more turnovers with their new methods than the Wallabies did with the old. Australia garnered two turnovers, one off a Sean McMahon jackal above Johnny May in the 22nd minute, the other off a dominant tackle by Marika Koroibete and counter-ruck over the top of Owen Farrell. In both cases, both Hooper and McMahon (Pocock’s replacement at number eight) are playing together in the same area:

    While Australia were still trying to win their turnovers on the deck, England won theirs by disrupting the ball while it was still above ground. Their big men up front – Dylan Hartley, Dan Cole, Joe Launchbury, and Nathan Hughes especially – all used high-tackle, ball-rip techniques well-suited to the new laws.

    Hughes used the power of a frontal hit to force a Rob Simmons fumble:

    England captain Hartley looked to have developed a sneaky technique where he pulled the main carrying arm away from the ball before the runner hit the ground – here on Reece Hodge:

    Next on Sean McMahon:

    And finally on Simmons close to the England goal-line:

    Maro Itoje also contributed via a fumble forced out of Kurtley Beale by the same method in the second half:

    All the indications are that the new laws – if they have a successful Super Rugby trial and are introduced permanently thereafter – will change the game radically at the tackle area.

    Gone will be the days of low tackling, particularly in the forwards, and the opportunities for a specialist jackal to fold in over the ball on the ground will be greatly reduced. The movement will be towards the selection of bigger men in the back-row, players who can stay on their feet, hold up the ball-carrier and rip at the ball or the carrying arm.

    The days of the ‘Pooper’ as a defensive weapon may, therefore, be numbered, and Michael Cheika may find himself in a position he does not enjoy in the least – having to make a choice between Australia’s two best forwards, with one probably starting on the bench.

    The trial laws also will impact back-row ball-carrying. If defenders can be expected to be larger, and more powerful in their attempts to hold the runner-up off the ground, it places a premium on ball-carriers who can make yards after contact and keep their momentum going.

    This is, of course, an area in which Sean McMahon excels:

    For all his other virtues, David Pocock does not have this kind of dynamism on the drive, or anything like it.

    Australia have depended in the Michael Cheika era on the inclusion of two number sevens with the ability to compete for the ball on the floor, with an emphasis on low tackling to bring the ball-carrier to earth quickly to create the opportunities for them.

    Primarily it has been Michael Hooper and David Pocock, latterly it has been Hooper and Sean McMahon with Pocock away on sabbatical.

    That may be about to change with the new trial laws at the tackle area in place for Super Rugby 2018.

    The tackler has been largely ruled out as a jackal because he can no longer get up and play at the ball from any angle, so responsibility falls upon the first man in to compete on the ground.

    In the Northern Hemisphere, the trials have led teams at both international and club level to concentrate on picking bigger players in the back-row, defenders who can hold the ball-carrier up and attack the ball while he is still upright.

    Runners who can survive the first contact and maintain their leg drive in high tackle are also becoming premium players.

    The ‘Pooper’ does not fit the bill on either account, so the odds are that Michael Cheika will face the most critical decision of his career to date as an Australian selector in 2018. What will he do?

    Nicholas Bishop
    Nicholas Bishop

    Nick Bishop has worked as a rugby analyst and advisor to Graham Henry (1999-2003), Mike Ruddock (2004-2005) and most recently Stuart Lancaster (2011-2015). He also worked on the 2001 British & Irish Lions tour to Australia and produced his first rugby book with Graham Henry at the end of the tour. Three more rugby books have followed, all of which of have either been nominated for or won national sports book awards. Nick?s latest is a biography of Phil Larder, the first top Rugby League coach to successfully transfer over to Union, entitled ?The Iron Curtain?. He is currently writing articles for The Roar and The Rugby Site, and working as a strategy consultant to Stuart Lancaster and the Leinster coaching staff for their European matches.

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    The Crowd Says (288)

    • January 10th 2018 @ 5:41am
      Ken Catchpole's Other Leg said | January 10th 2018 @ 5:41am | ! Report

      Great question, Nic, regarding ‘what will Cheika do?’
      What need do you think WR were looking to remedy with the law change?

      • Columnist

        January 10th 2018 @ 8:22am
        Nicholas Bishop said | January 10th 2018 @ 8:22am | ! Report

        I think they wanted to get rid of obstruction as the breakdown forms Ken – tackler getting up on the wrong side for example. The ‘one man ruck’ rule was prob designed to avoid the England-Italy game last year being repeated – when Italy just sat on the England 10 because they didn’t commit anyone to the ruck (hence no ruck or offside line….)

        • January 10th 2018 @ 8:44am
          Highlander said | January 10th 2018 @ 8:44am | ! Report

          Did they not cite some safety issues as well, the single tackler going for the ball, on the wrong side and being exposed to a serious clean out without protection seemed to be be one of their concerns?

          Laws by Lawyers

          • Roar Guru

            January 10th 2018 @ 8:47am
            PeterK said | January 10th 2018 @ 8:47am | ! Report

            Interesting though the jackler from his own side with head down and neck exposed to the cleanout is more at risk especially since they are now ignoring the crocodile roll on their neck.

          • Columnist

            January 10th 2018 @ 9:00am
            Nicholas Bishop said | January 10th 2018 @ 9:00am | ! Report

            Sounds like the sort of excuse they usually put forward H’lander 😀

          • January 10th 2018 @ 12:41pm
            Drongo said | January 10th 2018 @ 12:41pm | ! Report

            Yeah, as stupid as medical advice by doctors. Those lawyers have no idea about laws. Plus, they just do whatever they want to and ignore what the client wants. It’s not WR that decides what rules we will have, it’s some random lawyer having their turn at writing a silly rule.

            • January 10th 2018 @ 6:15pm
              Mmmmm..k said | January 10th 2018 @ 6:15pm | ! Report

              Lawyers are on both sides and have different clients.
              World rugby can be obligated to make laws by lawyers serving other clients than World Rugby. Also World rugby may be advised to make laws it doesn’t want to by its own lawyers.
              For example, if World Rugby is at risk of being taken to court by players or fans.
              Just saying.

        • January 11th 2018 @ 6:32pm
          Noodles said | January 11th 2018 @ 6:32pm | ! Report

          I’ve been uncomfortable with the pooper solution for ages but nick raises a very specific concern. I wonder whether it would make a difference to the call if we had a mobile, big driving 8? Like Read.
          My impression is that our improvements recently have been through stronger periormances in the tight five. We’ve great 7s including McMahon. But not a classic 8. I thinking we could keep poooer for their overall talent and either find a Melon at 6 or a Loane at 8?

    • January 10th 2018 @ 5:59am
      mzillikazi said | January 10th 2018 @ 5:59am | ! Report

      An article I had hoped you would write, Nic. Thank you. Will be very interesting set of comments this week.

      Off now to beat the rising sun and another hot day here in Qld. At least it is better here than Melbourne?Sydney, with temps in the 40’s…most days just breaking 30 C here. Saw an interesting stat. the other day…temp in Melbourne dropped from over 40 C by 14 degrees……IN 10 MINS !!. Crazy weather conditions.

      • Columnist

        January 10th 2018 @ 6:00am
        Nicholas Bishop said | January 10th 2018 @ 6:00am | ! Report

        Bluddy hell MZ! Scarcely above freezing over here when I was walking the dog earlier this morning!

      • Roar Guru

        January 10th 2018 @ 6:29am
        Kia Kaha said | January 10th 2018 @ 6:29am | ! Report

        It snowed a little in Madrid today!

        • Columnist

          January 10th 2018 @ 7:01am
          Nicholas Bishop said | January 10th 2018 @ 7:01am | ! Report

          I will move there post-haste!

          • January 10th 2018 @ 1:33pm
            ozinsa said | January 10th 2018 @ 1:33pm | ! Report

            I’m reading this from NY; -20 last week. Bloody hell

            • Columnist

              January 10th 2018 @ 5:44pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | January 10th 2018 @ 5:44pm | ! Report

              Lower than that in New England from what I hear O …

              It’s like the seven biblical plagues in USA atm !

              • January 11th 2018 @ 3:35am
                Lostintokyo said | January 11th 2018 @ 3:35am | ! Report

                Walking my sister’s dog in Sydney these last weeks. And I look forward to walking my dogs upon my return this weekend to Tokyo where 6C is forecast. Think it is due to the dogs not the weather.

                It is certainly difficult to imagine Cheika dropping Hooper, particularly as he is captain. And if Pocock doesn’t get a run there will be plenty of argument on that decision on the Roar. Red meat topic.

                The big question is how good, or more importantly, how effective will Pocock be as compared to the past?? And as you say Nick, McMahon’s leg drive when tackled and general play is so effective. Spoilt for riches at 7. Wish we had the same problem at 10.

                NZ may have a similar selection dilemma at fullback with Ben Smith and Damien McKenzie.

                Personally I always favour the incumbents. If Smith and Pocock have a little rest, they should have to fight for the position when returning. No springboard just a slippery pole as a welcome back.

              • Columnist

                January 11th 2018 @ 8:49am
                Nicholas Bishop said | January 11th 2018 @ 8:49am | ! Report

                Choosing between Ben Smith and Damian McKenzie is a lot easier than picking Hooper or Pocock Lost! (IMO)

              • Roar Guru

                January 11th 2018 @ 4:07am
                Carlos the Argie said | January 11th 2018 @ 4:07am | ! Report

                All the biblical plagues are at the White House right now.

              • Columnist

                January 11th 2018 @ 5:15am
                Nicholas Bishop said | January 11th 2018 @ 5:15am | ! Report

                It does appear that way – west coast fires and mudslides, east coast freezing over…

        • January 12th 2018 @ 11:32am
          Mitch (in Valencia) said | January 12th 2018 @ 11:32am | ! Report

          Mate, you on holidays or living there? The cold snap has been intense, but not nearly as bad here in VLC as everywhere else in Spain ;P

    • January 10th 2018 @ 6:20am
      Rod said | January 10th 2018 @ 6:20am | ! Report

      I have noticed over the last 5-6 years , players have being more often going for a ball strip . I believe SBW has had two massive influences on the game

      The offload . Whilst the offload has always been in the game. He took it to whole new level and a number of players and sides really have devoloped that part of their game.

      The ball strip- SBW worked out a while back that this is a legal tactic with more than one in the tackle( in fact he still managed a number of one on one strips). I noticed prior to his defection back to league he was doing this a lot. I thought to myself why don’t players do this more often . Sure enough it’s now more common. It probably will reduce the offload for fear of having the ball stolen from them I see it as good defensive play and at the same time a great offensive play as the attacking side has to quickly transition from attack to defence .

      Hopefully we don’t see what happened in league where they banned the strip with more than one in the tackle and ban the contest for the ball in the ruck. The more contests you have for possession the better the game in my view. I say this as primarily being a league fan

      • Columnist

        January 10th 2018 @ 6:24am
        Nicholas Bishop said | January 10th 2018 @ 6:24am | ! Report

        Yes, good comment Rod. Offloads are more often than not one-handed, which makes the strip a lot easier.

        Having said that I don’t think any of the examples above occurred when Australian ball-carriers were trying to offload, so it’s a viable technique in any case…

        Hopefully we don’t see what happened in league where they banned the strip with more than one in the tackle and ban the contest for the ball in the ruck.

        Cannot see this ever happening, you cannot ban a contest for the ball in Union! Impossible to ref it.

        • January 10th 2018 @ 7:20am
          Rod said | January 10th 2018 @ 7:20am | ! Report

          I agree it’s not likely to banned . I think the ruck itself is pretty good as it stood, do you feel this new law will further improve the ruck? Will players like Pocock become obsolete over time?

          • Columnist

            January 10th 2018 @ 8:23am
            Nicholas Bishop said | January 10th 2018 @ 8:23am | ! Report

            Last Q we’ll just have to wait and see. A standalone jackal still has value, it’s the low tacklers who are disappearing!

            • January 10th 2018 @ 10:03am
              Jerry said | January 10th 2018 @ 10:03am | ! Report

              Which, given the crackdown on high contact, will probably lead to a fair few more inadvertent cards being dished out?

              There’s a pretty slim margin between a tackle to the chest and one to the chin, especially when it doesn’t matter if the ball carrier ducks into contact.

              • January 10th 2018 @ 2:19pm
                soapit said | January 10th 2018 @ 2:19pm | ! Report

                but likely less head injuries given the the low tackler was the main source despite the crackdown on head highs on the tacklee

              • Columnist

                January 10th 2018 @ 5:45pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | January 10th 2018 @ 5:45pm | ! Report

                Not sure Jerry – a lot of the tackles seem to come from about ball height and then travel upwards…

              • January 11th 2018 @ 9:57pm
                FunBus said | January 11th 2018 @ 9:57pm | ! Report

                Good point soapit. I’d love to see statistics for how many HIAs are caused by a tackler hitting hip/knee/backside with his head. My gut reaction is many more than from a high shot.

        • January 10th 2018 @ 11:28pm
          Luke jones said | January 10th 2018 @ 11:28pm | ! Report

          Just a suggestion, but how about training Pocock into a hooker?? I know its a bit left field but he has the perfect body size, is a great tackler and loves to hit rucks hard. With a bit of practise and his strong work ethic and training he can learn to throw straight into a lineout and scrum correctly. This will allow to have both pocock and Hooper in the same team with a proper #8 in the form of Naisarani

      • January 10th 2018 @ 12:09pm
        ads2600 said | January 10th 2018 @ 12:09pm | ! Report

        SBW did not have the influence you suggest. Just because Sydney League centric news papers, dribble out their own agenda, does not make it fact. As, you are primarily a “League” man, I won’t be too harsh on you, suffice to say, lots of players have done both attributes long before SBW was a twinkle in his daddy’s eye. Sione Lauaki, Zinzan Brooke, Troy Flavell, Ron Cribb to name a few.

        • January 10th 2018 @ 6:21pm
          Mmmmm..k said | January 10th 2018 @ 6:21pm | ! Report

          SBW did influence the way the game is played.

          Is he the first to offload or to strip?
          But has he influenced the emphasis on those attributes?
          Is he really good at both?
          Credit where its due.
          And no, I’m not a league man.

          • January 12th 2018 @ 6:48am
            ads2600 said | January 12th 2018 @ 6:48am | ! Report

            Sonny is a great player, no argument there. I will give him credit when it is due, but in this instance it is unfounded. I never said he wasn’t good at both. But the level of awe and excitement and credit he gets for, as you have put it, “emphasis on those attributes”, is purely an Australian Rugby and Australia media outlook and glamorisation of his skills, embedded and taught from kindergarten age. In this age of instant hunger & gratification, many people are quick to forget those who have gone before. Like I said before, just because the media has portrayed SBW as some sort of guru, doesn’t mean it is so.

      • January 10th 2018 @ 12:16pm
        ethan said | January 10th 2018 @ 12:16pm | ! Report

        Looks like Quade Coopers tackling technique is back in fashion. Brisbane club rugby, watch out!

      • January 10th 2018 @ 3:37pm
        Farmer said | January 10th 2018 @ 3:37pm | ! Report

        I’ve heard that the Sydney Roosters RL team are hoping to have SBW back mid year. Apparently he’s been told by NZRU that he’s not in WC plans

        • Roar Guru

          January 10th 2018 @ 4:14pm
          Machpants said | January 10th 2018 @ 4:14pm | ! Report

          Lol farmer, you should change your name to Fisher. Despite the fact SBW was pretty rubbish most of the year the ABs stuck with him to give him maximum test time. By the end of the year he was ABs standard, but a lot of Lee way was given for him to get there after injuries and wasted time in the sevens. He’s here for the RWC

          • January 10th 2018 @ 6:23pm
            Mmmmm..k said | January 10th 2018 @ 6:23pm | ! Report

            SBW was not “rubbish”.

            He was OK most matches but not at his best.
            His defence was excellent.
            He did make some silly mistakes.

    • Roar Guru

      January 10th 2018 @ 6:48am
      Kia Kaha said | January 10th 2018 @ 6:48am | ! Report

      Good focus this week thanks, NB.

      I can’t say these new laws appeal to me. The fanning out at ruck time is approaching the defensive setup of league and ironically the attacking side is favoured at tackle time but hindered in the next phase.

      I much prefer the defensive side afforded a genuine chance to get the ball but for there to be an associated risk with that as you leave gaps in the line if you don’t get the ball.

      I must say I was impressed by McMahon in a few games last year. I think small players who can still compete at this level in the forwards should be encouraged by World Rugby. The Kwagga Smiths and Michael Hoopers present their own problems but they’re good fun to watch.

      The back lines have increased dramatically in size and I see this proposal homogenising pack sizes even more.

      I seem to recall there were potential residency issues with the new 8 propspect for the Wallabies. Perhaps this will give Cheika one last Pooper throw at the dice. But as this is the last full season before the abridged season next year, Cheika is no doubt also conscious of time running out to trial things.

      Stay warm!

      • Columnist

        January 10th 2018 @ 7:04am
        Nicholas Bishop said | January 10th 2018 @ 7:04am | ! Report

        I’m fairly sure Michael Cheika will find it hard to resist the temptation to give the ‘Pooper’ another roll of the dice KK. Maybe the SH sides will some other way to adapt to the new laws – though that alternative isn’t very obvious right now…?

        Australia basically has tow excellent 7’s and one very good six and a half in McMahon. Jack Dempsey will probably fall into that category too. But where is the Willie O, or the Toutai Kefu??

        • Roar Guru

          January 10th 2018 @ 8:29am
          PeterK said | January 10th 2018 @ 8:29am | ! Report

          IMO Pooper will get another go for a number of reasons.

          1) Cheika is slow to adapt to any required changes, he didn’t take the law changes up north into account at all, nor adapt to how the NH teams played the game

          2) Neither Hooper or McMahon are close to Pocock in terms of ruck play. IMO Pocock will still be very effective at the ruck as first man in and being able to hold his feet which neither Hooper or McMahon are able to do.

          3) Cheika will not drop Hooper no matter what.

          • Columnist

            January 10th 2018 @ 8:40am
            Nicholas Bishop said | January 10th 2018 @ 8:40am | ! Report

            Yep I suspect Cheika is of the “I shall not believe thee dead, until I can play football with thy head” school of thinking, so Pooper will get another shot… 🙂

            • Roar Guru

              January 10th 2018 @ 8:43am
              PeterK said | January 10th 2018 @ 8:43am | ! Report

              That said it is true neither McMahon or Hooper are a patch on Poey at the breakdown and I believe he will still be a force at the breakdown.

              If that is the case then IMO Cheika is better off dropping Hooper to the bench which he won’t do.

              • January 10th 2018 @ 9:37am
                hello said | January 10th 2018 @ 9:37am | ! Report

                I agree PeterK

              • Roar Guru

                January 11th 2018 @ 1:11am
                Fox said | January 11th 2018 @ 1:11am | ! Report

                Totally agree peterk and have said so for a while in regards to Pooper issue but he is captain now.

            • Roar Guru

              January 10th 2018 @ 6:24pm
              Fox said | January 10th 2018 @ 6:24pm | ! Report

              He backed himself into a corner naming Hooper as captain as well because only one bloke is going to the bench if he does decide to axe Pooper

              However, Pooper will begin again – if Pocock has good season with the Brumbies, and even then.

              I do agree that Pocock may not – in fact probably will not – be as effective at the breakdown with the new laws and especially if teams build a back row that is trained in the art of stripping the ball before it hits the ground and/or holding players up off the ground as NZ and SA seem to do often these days as that cancels out Pocock’s greatest skill.

              Pocock’s season this year could be a defining one if that is the case.

              We should also remember that he wasn’t as effective for the Brumbies or the Wallabies in 2016 as he has been previously either as was commented upon in the SMH and the Courier Mail. He has more presence on the field than Hooper in some ways, but Hooper might become the more “visible’ player because of his wider skill set as a ball runner and support player. But the Tahs fortunes have to be better than last season.

              But you are right Nick- Cheika will certainly have a dilemma if they both have good seasons. However, Pocock’s lack of a wider skill set has been exposed before in the no8 position so I think he should start on the bench for the Wallabies. Cheika has players better suited to the no8 position than Pocock long term IMO but his presence and experience will be hard to resist for Cheika in the short term and because he does play favourite let’s face it.

              or may Pocock can train as prop!!!! ……only kidding 🙂 Interesting times ahead. Will he make Pocock vice Captain?

              • Columnist

                January 10th 2018 @ 6:31pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | January 10th 2018 @ 6:31pm | ! Report

                Pocock could certainly have been a hooker if he’d started earlier Fox – a bit like a faster version of Bismarck!

              • January 11th 2018 @ 12:41am
                Fionn said | January 11th 2018 @ 12:41am | ! Report

                Pocock didn’t have his best season with the Brumbies in 2016, but he was still pretty good.

                In 2017 he was the Wallabies’ best player when uninjured.

              • Roar Guru

                January 11th 2018 @ 1:04am
                Fox said | January 11th 2018 @ 1:04am | ! Report

                Yeah he would have made a very good hooker and Bismark is a good comparison Nick.

                And Fionn no question he was still pretty good just not the dominant force at the breakdown he can be that’s all. He’s a great player so like most most great players an okay season would be a good one one for many other players.

                Nick I think If he had better ball carrying skills and a yard or even half a yard more pace he could have adapted to the no6 role as an enforcer type player like Kaino did for so long and Itoje performs a similar role when he moves to six for England IMO

                But I wonder if this season we might see him becoming a bit one or two dimensional with one dimension being significantly diminished by the new laws. Only time well tell I guess. That isn’t to say he won’t have any impact of course especially with big tackles in the tight – just a reduced one.

                However if he came off the bench and the Wallabies were having lineout issues what then when a taller player might be a better option as he wouldn’t replace the captain one suspects?

                And he doesn’t add much in terms of speeding up the game really unless he gets quick clean outs

                The last game I remember Pocock starting on the bench was against the AB’s at Eden Park and he came on earlier than expected in first half due to an injury if memory serves me correctly, but didn’t make a significant impact except for a couple of good defensive turnovers and why someone like Hooper is arguably the better bench player in terms of his impact off the bench that is – only my opinion of course but I don’t see Pococka as a big impact player with 20 minutes to go from the bench.

                He plays his best games when he starts IMO where there are some players who always deliver off the bench or who are equally good at both roles like Itoje and Barrett. Some may disagree but Pocock doesn’t scream bench player for me. He likes to get into the groove of the game early as well.

                Speaking of Barrett – I have a hunch Jordie Barrett will rise up to near the top of his game this season – if he didn’t before he got injured – giving the AB’s a bit of a headache as well. Though Sopoaga is leaving for Bath at the end of 2018 for huge money so he won’t be in the AB’s this year I wouldn’t think. Rumours are MacKenzie will play 10 for the Chiefs for some of the season.

                Still waiting on your Sunwolves piece 🙂 the Elephant in Australian Conference Room !!

              • Columnist

                January 11th 2018 @ 2:18am
                Nicholas Bishop said | January 11th 2018 @ 2:18am | ! Report

                Still waiting on your Sunwolves piece ? the Elephant in Australian Conference Room !!

                Yep you’ll be hanging on a long time for that one Fox!! Until they improve they can even perform at an adequate level in SR, no point in doing the article.

                Why don’t you have a stab at it if you’re so keen? 😀

              • Roar Guru

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

                Fox you wrote
                Pocock may not – in fact probably will not – be as effective at the breakdown with the new laws and especially if teams build a back row that is trained in the art of stripping the ball before it hits the ground and/or holding players up off the ground as NZ and SA seem to do often these days as that cancels out Pocock’s greatest skill.

                That doesn’t make much sense at all.

                Pocock makes a game difference in defensive rucks i.e stealing / jackaling / slowing rucks down when the opposition have the ball.
                The points you note i.e holding players up and stripping pertain to when the wallabies have the ball. Logical it doesn’t cancel out Pococks greatest skill at all after all wallabies will still be tackling players to the ground.

              • Roar Guru

                January 11th 2018 @ 10:34am
                Fox said | January 11th 2018 @ 10:34am | ! Report

                I didn’t say he wouldn’t be effective peterk – just not as effective as he has been IMO – and your points are valid – but am not as sure as you that he will have the same impact. I hope I am wrong – he is a exceptional player at what he does and a great asset to rugby here.

              • Roar Guru

                January 11th 2018 @ 10:46am
                Fox said | January 11th 2018 @ 10:46am | ! Report

                I’m only revving you up about the Sunwovles Nick 🙂 all good mate

                The other question for Cheika is that with Pocock back who does he leave out of the final squad against Ireland?

                Hard to say right here and now of course, but something has to give – or someone.

                I have a feeling – not the back row necessarily – that some players at the Reds under Thorn might give Cheika something to think about by seasons end – just a wee hunch that’s all.

                I would like to see McMahon develop into a 6 not an 8 and someone like Timani be developed as the Wallaby 8 perhaps – but he needs to get fitter IMO.

                But who knows, someone else may come through this season.

                I also wonder how someone like Coleman would go at 6 – he is aggressive enough, adds that height to the lineout options and can be moved to lock or vice versa. He does not have Itojes all round skill set but he could be used as that kind if player I think.

              • Columnist

                January 11th 2018 @ 6:20pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | January 11th 2018 @ 6:20pm | ! Report

                I’m only revving you up about the Sunwovles Nick ? all good mate

                Aww C’mon Fox don’t back down – I’d be genuinely interested in your article as I don’t know much about the Sunwolves players!

              • Roar Guru

                January 11th 2018 @ 11:04am
                PeterK said | January 11th 2018 @ 11:04am | ! Report

                McMahon is playing in japan this year so his spot will be taken by Pocock

              • Roar Guru

                January 11th 2018 @ 11:16am
                Fox said | January 11th 2018 @ 11:16am | ! Report

                So he is peterk – and in 2 year deal through 2019 and not eligible under the Giteau law. And yes you are right Pocock will fill that gap.

                However, the 2019 WC is in Japan, so will another rule be made I wonder or exception?

                Mind you, he won’t gain much playing in the Japanese league but will have a huge impact one feels. But he will be living in Japan when the Wallabies arrive for the WC which is an interesting dynamic in itself.

              • Roar Guru

                January 11th 2018 @ 11:41am
                PeterK said | January 11th 2018 @ 11:41am | ! Report

                Fox – No new rule needs to be made for mcmahon to play in the rwc 2019.

                All he has to be is signed up for super rugby in 2020. Eligibility requires to be signed for either the year of the cup or the year after.

                The japanese club season now runs from august to december.

                So he will be finished with his japanese contract and thuse free to sign with a super rugby side for 2020.

              • Roar Guru

                January 11th 2018 @ 1:43pm
                Fox said | January 11th 2018 @ 1:43pm | ! Report

                Reply to you here ended up further below peterk sorry about that mate.

              • January 11th 2018 @ 10:02pm
                FunBus said | January 11th 2018 @ 10:02pm | ! Report

                I’m a huge Pocock fan, and so never thought I’d say this, but on the basis of Nick’s persuasive analysis I don’t think he should make the Aussie starting backrow. I would have thought Hooper and McMahon would be shoo-ins plus a big ball-carrier/lineout option at either 6 or 8.

                Whether Cheika has it in him to make that tough decision is another matter.

              • January 15th 2018 @ 7:54am
                Fionn said | January 15th 2018 @ 7:54am | ! Report

                Funbus, McMahon isn’t an option.

                I also don’t see what Hooper offers to make him a better option than Pocock. The Wallabies need a breakdown master more than a ball running 7.

          • January 10th 2018 @ 11:44pm
            Crash Ball2 said | January 10th 2018 @ 11:44pm | ! Report

            Agreed PK. Nick’s – very good – article could have begun with the line: “there are only two certainties in Cheika’s Wallabies: Hooper & Foley”.

            Serious injury or death (not taxes) aside, this is the inevitable end point. The backdrop is a chaotic tapestry of options, debate and angst that will changeably slot into place around Cheika’s Teflon Wallabies.

            Despite outplaying all Wallabies backrowers this season, Sean McMahon is aware his preferred openside jersey is effectively ringfenced under the Cheika regime. Forced to play a hybrid role has helped neither his skill set or his body, “The way I’m playing, lasting until I’m over 30 is probably not on the cards.” Any key goals in Japan, Sean? “I’d love to really keep focusing on and working on my over the ball skills so I can get a bit more specific to that No.7 role.”

            Far, far too much currency is being apportioned to potential rule changes which infringe upon only a very narrow subset of a breakdown exponent’s broad portfolio of ruck and maul influence. The tackle / jackal is only one variety of pilfer beast, and is a decidedly poor cousin to the opportunist’s second-man-in snaffle.

            But put singular turnovers aside for one moment. Breakdowns are a two-way contest, and defensive rucks aren’t our only problem. Honestly, can anyone remember two games in a row this season in which the post-match commentary didn’t despair of the Wallabies patent breakdown inadequacies in attack or defence or both? The Wallabies have been generally woeful at both contesting possession, and particularly, securing it.

            Compete for opposition possession, maintain resilience in heavy contact, slow ball presentation, disrupt halfback’s clearance, secure attacking pill, decimate would-be jackals, manfully wrestle away potential counter ruckers: if any rugby player we’re going to select their own Platinum rugby toolkit, expertise in the most frequent and therefore, important, battlefront on the rugby pitch – the breakdown – would be a good start.

            But of course, despite what many would have us believe, the breakdown isn’t David Pocock’s only worthy skillset. He is a good tight runner (not a tram line metre eater but a coal-face basher with great ball security and presentation). He is a good short passer and backline linker. He is an incredibly strong set piece exponent with excellent scrum technique and leverage, a great line out lifter and rolling maul pilot. He is ferociously strong in the tight exchanges and a great cover defender (anyone recall his match saver for the second-string Wallabies in the closing minutes against France on the 2016 EOYT – the only time under Cheika Pocock has worn both the 7 and the C armband?) So, pretty much all of the areas that the Wallabies are continually outgunned.

            And whilst you won’t find David Pocock haring down any sidelines or shimmying through the three quarter channel any time soon, there are three likely, overwhelming reasons for this: 1) he is an openside flanker. 2) the vast majority of “attack” begins at the breakdown. 3) chances are, he dominated the final or penultimate attacking ruck, that prefaced the quick clean ball presentation, that assisted the halfback to expertly deliver the long bullet-like flat ball (read: before Phipps comes on), to a front foot-augmented backline, culminating in a flying centre, winger or (for the Wallabies) openside flanker to score near the corner flag unaccosted, subsequently allowing Bernard Foley to supremely hook the ensuing conversion but still – somehow – keep his Topgun-esque nickname season after unaccountable season. Fanfare / public acclaim / commentator plaudits / Fox Sports-SMH-Rugby.com.au hyperbole / Roar player ratings: fancy footed backline pilots. Blunt shouldered / bloodied / tumbleweed-like anonymity: Wallabies protagonists at the last half dozen breakdowns. In this way, Pocock is not only Australia’s best defender, he is also one of their most important attackers.

            For many seasons, England have lacked a genuinely gifted 7. Eddie Jones continues to skilfully craft his changeable game plans to that which his cattle allow and opposition enable (an attribute M Cheika would do well to copy). Jones appreciates vigorous individual and collaborative ball contest. If he’d had anyone of the rare caliber of David Pocock within English ranks, little doubt he’d be their starting openside flanker. Hell, if the opportunity allowed, Jones would have drafted in his favourite rugby player of all time (2016 Aviva Premiership Players Player / reigning Stan Pilecki medalist) George Smith, as soon as he landed the England gig. In the interim Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland et al don’t seem to be doing too badly with their own – ho hum, soooo early 2000’s – traditional (yawn) world class opensides. And if the defence is constantly fanning, covering the full width, manning up out wide and neglecting the rucks: don’t spin the ball to the flanks ad nauseum, pick and drive and hit big runners with short balls ‘til the buggers get drawn back in (using the many suitably raw boned, coal-face, behometh forward warriors you have intelligently selected for such a task).

            When healthy, David Pocock is Australia’s best openside flanker. He should wear the 7 jersey and probably the Captains armband.

            He’ll do neither under Cheika.

            • Columnist

              January 11th 2018 @ 2:25am
              Nicholas Bishop said | January 11th 2018 @ 2:25am | ! Report

              The tackle / jackal is only one variety of pilfer beast, and is a decidedly poor cousin to the opportunist’s second-man-in snaffle.

              I think the new laws are designed to make both rarer beasts CB (the article covers both). At least that’s the way it’s worked out in Europe so far.

              In a way it suits England down to the ground. They don’t have any of Test class anyhow (despite all the fanfare for Sam Underhill) and would accept any one of Hooper, Pocock or George Smith in a trice.

              The New Zealand SR teams may find a different way to approach the new laws, so it will be interesting to chart their ideas.

              • January 11th 2018 @ 12:15pm
                Crash Ball2 said | January 11th 2018 @ 12:15pm | ! Report

                Thanks Nick. I appreciate that the early iteration of some of the laws – applied to a European backdrop and their players / style / refereeing – may have displayed some initial trends. But as we all know, how a law is written on paper versus the application and interpretation of those laws in real time practice, as well as how they trend across time, are often very different.

                Whilst a black and white read might logically lend itself to a natural, theoretical trajectory (e.g. “the day of the jackal has come and gone”), the opposite outcome may in fact occur. For example, once a second man in enters legally through the gate and legitimately gets two hands on the ball, if he is unable to attain possession because the attacker on the deck does not give up his grip, strictly that should be a holding on penalty (of course, truly great opensides like George Smith will use this situation to repeatedly reef the ball with two hands to emphasise to the ref what is actually happening and force his whistle). However, if an attacking ruck cleaner is within range of a jackal with hands momentarily on the ball and the attacker keeping a steady grip on the pill, the ref often allows that extra second of ground contest to see if the pilferer is strong enough to “survive the cleanout” before deciding upon who has advantage. With the new laws coming into play, it is viable that the subtle leeway an attacker currently enjoys on the ground for holding on will disappear to the advantage of a skilled opportunist with great ball instinct. And there are few with better instinct than David Pocock. His Rainbow Coloured Unicorn skills might actually be enhanced by such a change. My guess is that players, refs and the game will all adapt and that great players will find a way.

                Regardless, my key point is that – whilst it is the most widely celebrated / highlight reel-making / easily digestible stats-friendly aspect of a “traditional” openside flanker’s play, singular defensive turnovers are merely the thin edge of a vast array of a breakdown exponent’s valuable skills. The combination of the less Fox Sports friendly skills are just as – indeed, more – important to this Wallabies side. And further, Pocock offers much more than simply the singular ruck monkey skills many attempt to purport.

                On a different note, I still have high hopes for Underhill. At just 21 he’s still got a lot of potential improvement in him and fairly impressive physical dimensions for position. Fingers crossed that injury doesn’t curtail what is undoubtedly a bright international future.

              • Columnist

                January 11th 2018 @ 6:27pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | January 11th 2018 @ 6:27pm | ! Report

                Regardless, my key point is that – whilst it is the most widely celebrated / highlight reel-making / easily digestible stats-friendly aspect of a “traditional” openside flanker’s play, singular defensive turnovers are merely the thin edge of a vast array of a breakdown exponent’s valuable skills. The combination of the less Fox Sports friendly skills are just as – indeed, more – important to this Wallabies side. And further, Pocock offers much more than simply the singular ruck monkey skills many attempt to purport.

                I’d agree that it would be a great pity if the need for the number 7’s specialist skills (I’m not talking just about turnovers either) are diluted, but dilution is sadly the direction in which we’re heading in nearly every position on the field – dilution or expansion, depending on your viewpoint!

                As I’ve said elsewhere in this thread, I think Pocock may thrive under the new rules – in the sense that the very best turnover exponents will become like gold dust to teams. So we may have a situation where the value of the top-drawer 7’s goes up, but there are far fewer journeyman imitations.

                Sam Underhill may well make it to the top, but the culture is all against the production of good 7s. EPL coaches don’t need much persuading to push in six and a half type, and it’s the most conservative league in the world from that standpoint.

              • January 11th 2018 @ 10:08pm
                FunBus said | January 11th 2018 @ 10:08pm | ! Report

                Here’s an interesting thought, Nick. Does Robshaw now become a viable international ‘7’? He’s big, a great tackler, with an engine that can go all day. What he lacked was pace and jackling ability. Eddie would have to eat some serious humble pie, but a backrow of Lawes, Vunipola and Robshaw has its attractions.

              • Columnist

                January 11th 2018 @ 10:27pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | January 11th 2018 @ 10:27pm | ! Report

                I do indeed believe that B/R combination is the way the tide is flowing, unless Sam Underhill shows something exceptional FB.

            • January 11th 2018 @ 9:30am
              savant said | January 11th 2018 @ 9:30am | ! Report

              You speak the truth Crash Ball.

          • Roar Guru

            January 11th 2018 @ 1:04pm
            Fox said | January 11th 2018 @ 1:04pm | ! Report

            Good point peterk but will he be ready for the 2019 WC playing in the Japanese league?

            Most, if not all players , even one’s like Kaino and others, take a while to step back up to the physicality and pace of Super Rugby let alone WC test rugby, so Cheika would be picking him on past performances at that level and hope he can get back into it quickly – but no matter how good you are as a player – or how young or old you are – and McMahon is good player – it is not that easy to do without real game time and regular match fitness at that level of intensity – and that means game time as well as training.

            His Japanese club would have to release him from pre- season training to play in the June window but nearly 3 months later to the start of the WC would be a big gap and even then would he even be ready for WC test intensity rugby?

            It would be a risk IMO to select him for the 2019 WC – a calculated one for sure – but still a risk at a WC unless he uses him as a bench player only, but even then it can be tough.

            This is all assuming McMahon will come back to Australia in 2020 which no matter what he says now, is never a dead cert when money does a lot of talking and even with the recent Australian pay rise announcement – it cannot match European and some of the Japanese clubs who will be willing and able to approach players with the WC coming there and the promotion of the game that will run into the next season.

            Will it come down to him getting a regular starting spot perhaps? Which by 2019 is not a certainty by any stretch. As we are more and more finding out , not many players want to miss out on big contracts to warm an international bench for too long.

            The Japanese club season, as you rightly say,runs from August till December – The WC runs from 22nd of September to the 2nd of November in the same year 2019 so one assumes that will continue is they are signing players for that season.

            So McMahon may not be able to get a release for pretty much the entire season to play in the WC and perhaps why papers like the Australian have said, after he signed with the Japanese league, that he probably won’t be in 2019 WC squad.I doubt his Japanese club would not have figured out that the WC clashed with their season, nor signed McMahon if he didn’t say would play in 2019.

        • January 10th 2018 @ 11:35am
          Fin said | January 10th 2018 @ 11:35am | ! Report

          Hi Nick,
          Could Scott Higginbotham play like a Toutai Kefu?
          Kefu was given a licence to roam by Eddie Jones. If he was playing today Kefu would probably be criticised for being too ‘loose’ or ‘lazy’. The same criticisms that SH receives.

          • Roar Guru

            January 10th 2018 @ 12:55pm
            Hoy said | January 10th 2018 @ 12:55pm | ! Report

            Yet Hooper is lauded for his wide running…

            This is what I don’t understand… Higgers has great aspects that we need… yet will not get another shot… alternatively, Hanigan is given start after start… offering a lot less.

            • January 10th 2018 @ 2:22pm
              soapit said | January 10th 2018 @ 2:22pm | ! Report

              why wont he get another shot? he only dropped out due to injury last year didnt he?

            • January 10th 2018 @ 2:35pm
              savant said | January 10th 2018 @ 2:35pm | ! Report

              I think the point is you cant have both Higgers at 8 and Hooper at 7 in the same side unless one of them plays a hell of a lot tighter. We cant have two loose wide runners, even tho they are different. Higgers creates space for others by committing defenders and offloading, Hooper is more a finisher. You could play Higgers at 6 and tell him to tackle his guts out and that might work with Hooper and a McMahon or bullocking tight number 8. But Cheika has told the world that Higgers is not a 6, so barring a lot of injures I cant see Higgers ever playing for Australia again.

              • Roar Guru

                January 10th 2018 @ 3:30pm
                PeterK said | January 10th 2018 @ 3:30pm | ! Report

                The best balanced oz 6,7,8 would be Higgs, Pocock and Naisarani.

                Higgs and Naisarani are interchangable at 6/8.

                Issue is Naisarani now won’t be eligible until March 2019 so until then

                6 Tui 7 Pocock 8 Higgs

          • Columnist

            January 10th 2018 @ 5:47pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | January 10th 2018 @ 5:47pm | ! Report

            I felt SH was dropped too quickly last season, so the Q is probably whether he’s even in Michael Cheika’s plans at all?

            • Roar Guru

              January 10th 2018 @ 7:08pm
              jeznez said | January 10th 2018 @ 7:08pm | ! Report

              Was apparently injured Nick – although that wasn’t communicated to the fans.

              Although – I guess we don’t know if it was the situation where he was playing injured, got dropped and so went for surgery?

              • January 11th 2018 @ 9:33am
                savant said | January 11th 2018 @ 9:33am | ! Report

                No the injury came later. He was dropped along with Cooper. Cheika said publicly that he wasn’t providing the ‘impact they wanted from him’.

              • Roar Guru

                January 11th 2018 @ 11:59am
                PeterK said | January 11th 2018 @ 11:59am | ! Report

                no Higgs was injured in the game against scotland, nerve damage to his shoulder.

                He did not play any games after that, not super rugby, or nrc.

                A report specifically stated he was injured in that test.

            • Roar Guru

              January 11th 2018 @ 11:42am
              Fox said | January 11th 2018 @ 11:42am | ! Report

              Yeah I was sort of surprised at Higgs being dropped as well – I think he needs to have a blinder this season to be in the reckoning – but he is only 31 not 36 but will be 33 come WC time so I wonder if that is a factor in Cheika’s reasoning.

              It would be different is he was a genuine superstar player that was close to irreplaceable, but Higgs is not in that category for the Wallabies and his performances can be a bit up and down as well and why i think Cheika was right, that he wasn’t having the impact they wanted.

              I think is a tough nut, with nous and adds physicality, but can appear sluggish at times as well and a has lost a yard of pace in the carry as well.

              • Roar Guru

                January 11th 2018 @ 12:00pm
                PeterK said | January 11th 2018 @ 12:00pm | ! Report

                Higgs was injured, sure cheika may have dropped him anyway but the fact was he was injured in his last test.

    • January 10th 2018 @ 7:16am
      Galatzo said | January 10th 2018 @ 7:16am | ! Report

      Hi Nicholas. Even with the old laws we had the discomfort of playing one of the world’s premier 7s at 8, and as DP doesn’t run the ball, as does Read and Vunipola for example, we lost quite a bit of go forward. I’m afraid Cheika is going to have to find a real eightman then ask himself who’s the best seven. Hoops can bench it, come on in the last 20 and fly with the backs. As for ball ripping, can it be long before rugby players will protect the ball with both arms NFL style?

      • Columnist

        January 10th 2018 @ 7:35am
        Nicholas Bishop said | January 10th 2018 @ 7:35am | ! Report

        As for ball ripping, can it be long before rugby players will protect the ball with both arms NFL style?

        They’re already doing it up north G! I’ve seen a number of ball-carriers covering the ball up like an NFL running back when going into heavy contact this season 🙂

        • Roar Guru

          January 10th 2018 @ 8:31am
          PeterK said | January 10th 2018 @ 8:31am | ! Report

          The main drawback of that it means the defence knows the ball is not going to offloaded or passed which means there is no deception or putting the defence in 2minds and all they have to do is focus on tackling the ball carrier.

          • Columnist

            January 10th 2018 @ 8:37am
            Nicholas Bishop said | January 10th 2018 @ 8:37am | ! Report

            True Peter.

          • January 10th 2018 @ 1:46pm
            Wobblies said | January 10th 2018 @ 1:46pm | ! Report

            Spot the obvious

          • January 10th 2018 @ 2:24pm
            soapit said | January 10th 2018 @ 2:24pm | ! Report

            dont see it as a massive drawback. you can still hold in two hands and then just secure prior to contact when decisions have been made by the defence.

            • Roar Guru

              January 10th 2018 @ 2:47pm
              PeterK said | January 10th 2018 @ 2:47pm | ! Report

              not if held nfl style

              • January 11th 2018 @ 12:35pm
                soapit said | January 11th 2018 @ 12:35pm | ! Report

                not too familiar with nfl style but you can change ur grip pretty quickly when you need to.

              • Roar Rookie

                January 11th 2018 @ 1:05pm
                piru said | January 11th 2018 @ 1:05pm | ! Report

                When going into contact an American football back, holds the ball horizontally low on the chest, one arm along the length of the ball at the bottom, hand grasping the point, the other along the length of the ball at the top, hand grasping the other point.

                The best image I could find is here, this RB is about to place his top hand over the ball.


                TBH I can’t see how this is being used in rugby, the ball being bigger and rounder, and the lack of a helmet and pads to initiate contact would seem to me to make the grip a liability – I’ve tried it with a rugby ball before and they just don’t sit in the cradle as nicely – unless you have gigantic long arms I suppose which is a possibility,

          • Roar Pro

            January 10th 2018 @ 2:39pm
            PapanuiPirate said | January 10th 2018 @ 2:39pm | ! Report

            Depends on the approach to carry PK.

            Most New Zealand forwards enter the tackle with the ball wrapped in two hands these days as it’s an easier approach to contact if you already had the ball in two hands shaping to pass.

            tucking the ball under your arm is more likely to mean you aren’t going to pass, as you are freeing up the fending hand to disrupt the tackle on the carry.

            • Roar Guru

              January 10th 2018 @ 2:47pm
              PeterK said | January 10th 2018 @ 2:47pm | ! Report

              I specifically replied to covering the ball with 2 hands NFL style.

              The way they do it there is zero chance of an offload or pass.

              • Roar Rookie

                January 10th 2018 @ 3:10pm
                piru said | January 10th 2018 @ 3:10pm | ! Report

                Can you please clarify, when you say “NFL style” are you referring to holding the ball horizontally against the stomach/lower chest?

              • Roar Guru

                January 10th 2018 @ 3:27pm
                PeterK said | January 10th 2018 @ 3:27pm | ! Report


              • Roar Pro

                January 11th 2018 @ 12:24pm
                PapanuiPirate said | January 11th 2018 @ 12:24pm | ! Report

                But again, a lot of players bring the ball into the chest and cover with both arms as they make contact. This maintains the threat of a pass right up until contact where they protect the ball rather than keeping a free hand for a fend. Better ball security, less chance of a strip and greater control in the tackle. The downside is that it impacts your ability to make a long place, making the ball more contestable to sharp rucking sides.

                I’m guessing what you are very specifically referring to is never having the ball in the hands, catching the ball, holding in to the chest immediately and running up into contact. The body and ball position is the same on contact, just the windup is different.

            • Columnist

              January 10th 2018 @ 5:50pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | January 10th 2018 @ 5:50pm | ! Report

              Most of Hartley’s turnovers above seemed to occur with the ball tucked PP…

              • Roar Pro

                January 11th 2018 @ 12:28pm
                PapanuiPirate said | January 11th 2018 @ 12:28pm | ! Report

                It’s an issue with tucking under one arm NB and one something I have always felt wasn’t recognised as a weakness.

                Ball under one arm is how carries have been made for generations, and in wider channels having a free hand to fend is often worth the reduction in ball security. The problem is, like many issues these days, is that tackles are targeted at the torso, which can knock the ball loose, and there are more gang tackles. You can only fend one man at a time, leaving the carry open to a strip.

          • January 11th 2018 @ 10:12pm
            FunBus said | January 11th 2018 @ 10:12pm | ! Report

            You know the pass before contact isn’t coming. It doesn’t rule out winning the contact, getting your arms through and then off-loading though.

        • January 10th 2018 @ 11:37am
          Fin said | January 10th 2018 @ 11:37am | ! Report

          That’s exactly what Itoje does when taking the ball into contact isn’t it Nick? Ball held tightly into his chest with two hands.

          • Roar Rookie

            January 10th 2018 @ 12:09pm
            piru said | January 10th 2018 @ 12:09pm | ! Report

            Covering the ball NFL style is asking for a fumble, a rugby ball is bigger and rounder, and you don’t have a helmet to cover the top of it.

          • Columnist

            January 10th 2018 @ 5:50pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | January 10th 2018 @ 5:50pm | ! Report

            Aye Fin.

    • Columnist

      January 10th 2018 @ 7:20am
      Geoff Parkes said | January 10th 2018 @ 7:20am | ! Report

      Thanks Nick, really interesting stuff!

      I might be naive but I’m hopeful the lawmakers will correct any progression where rugby becomes even more of a “one size”, barge and bash game with fewer possibilities for genuine contest for the ball. Surely there are too many important people in the game who don’t want this evolution to continue??

      Given the current situation however, do you think we can expect attacks, rather than continue to try to bash holes in a crowded midfield, to focus more on dynamic play in and around the breakdown? Like the AB’s did in the first Lions test?

      The game needs forwards to be kept honest in and around the breakdown rather than filling the width of the field. The turnover law examples you cite hopefully lessens the risk of a ‘holding on’ penalty for ball carriers who go up the middle. Who are the coaches brave enough to develop a game plan that not only works for them but does the game a favour at the same time?

      • Columnist

        January 10th 2018 @ 7:39am
        Nicholas Bishop said | January 10th 2018 @ 7:39am | ! Report

        I might be naive but I’m hopeful the lawmakers will correct any progression where rugby becomes even more of a “one size”, barge and bash game with fewer possibilities for genuine contest for the ball. Surely there are too many important people in the game who don’t want this evolution to continue??

        Tbh Geoff, I suspect the broadcasting interests will dictate an ever quicker game, which prob means creating more advantages for the attack by law and few stop points for the D. The breakdown has been principal among those for the last few seasons but that may now change….

        Coaches love continuity and they being able to predict play, so I think they may vote for the guaranteed rucks that the new laws can deliver.. Hope I’m wrong.

        • Roar Guru

          January 10th 2018 @ 8:14am
          Carlos the Argie said | January 10th 2018 @ 8:14am | ! Report

          Hi Geoff and Nick,

          This article, though it is very helpful, left me with a little bitter taste. I am not so sure I understand the new laws very well to what they intend to achieve. All these players just fanning out and not competing makes the game very different to the rugby of even a few years ago. If you are actually reducing the amount of competition for the ball at ruck time, I think you are actually hurting the “spirit” of rugby. Or what I understood of it, a game of constant competition for the ball and for all sizes.

          The changes you suggest, also would seem to imply that speed for forwards is now not so important, that just bulk and power are what maters most. A little like linemen in American Football, where they rarely sprint or even run for more than 10 yards.

          Maybe in the spirit of broadcasters, the game is being transformed too much. I watched a little of NH rugby this weekend, and it looked very static to me.

          By the way, Geoff and Nick, I left two very interesting links for you both in Harry’s piece dealing with Montpellier. Well, I hope you find them interesting…

          • Columnist

            January 10th 2018 @ 8:25am
            Nicholas Bishop said | January 10th 2018 @ 8:25am | ! Report

            Hi Carlos.

            The one man ruck law is intended to create an offside line and avoid the fate of the England-Italy 6N game – see here…

            But it also has other repercussions ofc…

            Thanks for the links I’ll look them up tomorrow morning 🙂

        • Columnist

          January 10th 2018 @ 8:22am
          Geoff Parkes said | January 10th 2018 @ 8:22am | ! Report

          Yes and how many times do we hear commentators trumpet “this is the 19th phase” as if that is something wondrous, when 17 of those “phases” may have been forwards running one out, a yard or two into double tackles?

          Continuity maybe, but not the same as a period of continuous broken play originating from the backfield, or continuous play where possession is swapped 3-4 times.

          Telling point about coaches and broadcasters wanting predictability. I too hope you’re wrong!!

          • Columnist

            January 10th 2018 @ 8:26am
            Nicholas Bishop said | January 10th 2018 @ 8:26am | ! Report

            Coaches love nothing better than to be able to plan what to do on the 35th phase of an attack Geoff!

            • Roar Guru

              January 10th 2018 @ 8:30am
              Carlos the Argie said | January 10th 2018 @ 8:30am | ! Report

              I thought they only planned to the 34th phase. How silly of me!

              • Columnist

                January 10th 2018 @ 8:35am
                Geoff Parkes said | January 10th 2018 @ 8:35am | ! Report

                Thanks Carlos, just read that piece about the origin of pro players. No real surprise but very interesting to have it so graphically displayed like that.

                It’s hard to imagine how professional rugby cannot avoid continuing to go further down the same path.

              • Columnist

                January 10th 2018 @ 8:36am
                Nicholas Bishop said | January 10th 2018 @ 8:36am | ! Report

                When certain Australian coaches first came to the UK, local coaches were left slack-jawed at how precise they were in anticipating what would happen, way, way down the line in attack Carlos 😀

              • Roar Guru

                January 10th 2018 @ 12:57pm
                Hoy said | January 10th 2018 @ 12:57pm | ! Report

                This is why sometimes the Wallabies attack stalled… we were waiting until phase 35 to unleash the planned move that requires 35 phases, but someone fumbled.

          • Roar Guru

            January 10th 2018 @ 8:58am
            Wal said | January 10th 2018 @ 8:58am | ! Report

            I suspect this is going to see a return to the Eddie Jones Rugby circa 2000’s, both the Brumbies and WB’s would play endless phases safe in the knowledge the attacking team had all of the advantages.

            Matches between the Crusaders and Brumbies would become a battle of wills, Cru happy to defend and strike off turnovers and Brumbies banging away phase after phase.

            • Columnist

              January 10th 2018 @ 9:49am
              Geoff Parkes said | January 10th 2018 @ 9:49am | ! Report

              Yes Wal, as effective as it was there was a sameness to the play that grew stale before too long.

              At least then there were still reasonable numbers of forwards committed to the breakdown so there was space for the Brumbies backline. But now, the defensive forwards are spread and evenly spaced across the field, are fitter and are better tacklers, so the backline opportunities are potentially fewer.

              • Roar Guru

                January 10th 2018 @ 10:06am
                Wal said | January 10th 2018 @ 10:06am | ! Report

                I hate to say it but at least in League you hand it over to the other team to have a go if you can’t do anything with the ball.

                As with all law changes it the unexpected outcomes that often change the game the most. Will be interesting to see how these new ones pan out.

            • January 10th 2018 @ 10:31am
              Ralph said | January 10th 2018 @ 10:31am | ! Report

              Blackadders men, written off by bookies, hold off wave after wave of Brumbies attack with heroic defence and kick their way to an “away win” Super 12 title at Bruce Stadium in Canberra.

              Ah, great days..

              • Columnist

                January 10th 2018 @ 5:52pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | January 10th 2018 @ 5:52pm | ! Report

                Showing your age now R!

          • January 10th 2018 @ 10:39am
            Cynical Play said | January 10th 2018 @ 10:39am | ! Report

            Geoff, what about a trial of automatic turnover vis a short arm penalty after 20 phases. Oh yeah… that’s league

            • Columnist

              January 10th 2018 @ 5:52pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | January 10th 2018 @ 5:52pm | ! Report

              Yeah, but you see the kind of the thinking the new laws have already engaged CP 🙂

          • January 10th 2018 @ 11:51am
            Fin said | January 10th 2018 @ 11:51am | ! Report

            It gets worse than that Geoff. Have you noticed on the stats sheet at half time or full time the commentators bring up the number of times a team has held the ball for 7 plus phases. Why is 7 phases used as some type of bench mark I wonder?

            • Columnist

              January 10th 2018 @ 4:14pm
              Geoff Parkes said | January 10th 2018 @ 4:14pm | ! Report

              I agree Fin, it’s a stat for stat’s sake and meaningless without any context.

              The completion rate used in league is relevant because with the defence back 10m at every tackle, completed tackles in possession closely equates to distance gained. But in rugby, to count phases in isolation, where there is no distinction between a forward losing ground behind the advantage line, or a 90m break, is a bit of a nonsense.

              There is some relevance perhaps with respect to patience, and ball control, and efficiency (not conceding offensive tackle/breakdown penalties), but no doubt coaches (and fans) are more interested in actual outcomes (eg line breaks leading to tries).

              It makes you wonder whose job it is to sit there and count those phases and what sort of job satisfaction they get from it…??

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