Rebels play the bigger back-row hand at AAMI Park

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    Amanaki Mafi goes for a run. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)

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    The Force-fed Rebels are thriving under Dave Wessels down in Melbourne. Despite the eleven-hour flight and a six-day turnaround after their win over the Sunwolves, the Rebels still had more than enough in the tank to dispatch the Brumbies at AAMI Park last Saturday.

    With Brad Thorn’s Reds shoving their season back on track via two characterful, disciplined wins after their first-week disaster – it never harms to win the penalty count in a ratio of 3:1 over two successive games – these could be the two Australian franchises to watch in 2018.

    The Reds will be worth watching primarily because of the young talent beginning to blossom in their ranks. They are too limited in too many key areas to beat the better teams in the competition, but the development work Thorn and his coaches are pumping into the likes of Taniela Tupou, Izaack Rodda, Liam Wright and Filipo Daugunu is an exciting event in Australian rugby per se. They are being taught the right values, and that can only benefit the Wallabies in the long term.

    The Rebels will be worth watching for the more ambitious Australian rugby supporter. They boast the best young coach in Australia in Dave Wessels, they enjoy the deepest talent pool of any of the Australian franchises having gobbled up most of the ex-Force squad, and they have the same grit and determination as Thorn’s Reds.

    That makes them a decent prospect to post a healthy win-loss record, top the Australian Conference and advance further in the knockout stages.

    The game against the Brumbies was one for the breakdown connoisseur. With two of the brightest minds in that area in direct opposition (Wessels and the Ponies’ Laurie Fisher) and one of the master number eights (Amanaki Mafi) matched up against one of the hottest young prospects in Isi Naisarani, we stood to learn more about coaching response to the new breakdown laws, and learn more about the number eight pecking order for the Wallabies later this year.

    In the event, it was a hands-down victory for Rebels. They held all the trump cards in the back-row and on the day, Wessels proved to be the smartest man in the room.

    So first, how did the new ruck laws work out at AAMI Park – in a game where that area was accurately and consistently refereed by Kiwi whistle-blower (and ex-Ospreys number nine) Jamie Nutbrown?

    Answer: there were only three pilfers in 194 total rucks during the game, and those were blotted out by three defensive penalties given away. Both teams won over 98 per cent of their own ball.

    The Brumbies did not win their first steal until the 78th minute, at a time when it looked like the Rebels were going to go through the entire game with a clean, 100 per cent ruck-win record!

    Wessels’ Rebels had prepared to adapt to this new refereeing environment at the breakdown much better than their opponents. A key to their preparation was the selection of big 6’3″ flanker Angus Cottrell at number seven, ahead of renowned on-ballers Colby Fainga’a and injury returnee Richard Hardwick.

    Cottrell is no groundhog compared to those two, but the big and physically imposing back-row he formed with Lopeti Timani and Mafi dominated the contact work off the floor.

    The Rebels’ plan was the same blueprint which has been seen in some of the top Northern Hemisphere sides – keep all the defenders on their feet so that they can push hard off the line on the next phase:

    Cottrell and Ross Haylett-Petty keep the Brumbies ball-carrier high and off the deck, and on next phase they are able to make a tackle ten metres upfield!

    Here is another example in real time:

    After Brumbies’ replacement second-rower Richie Arnold is brought to ground, Cottrell neatly sidesteps the cleanout lunge by his brother, leaving more attackers pinned to the breakdown than defenders – it was not the first or last time in the game that Cottrell managed to pull off this neat trick!

    The defensive pressure the Rebels were able to exert led directly to their second try of the match in the 33rd minute. At first, there is minimal commitment of bodies by Angus Cottrell and his mates at the first two points of contact:

    This in turn creates pressure on the next phase with more people available to rush upfield and force an offloading mistake out of Isi Naisarani:

    From this position, Joe Powell had his relieving kick charged down, and the Rebels were able to convert the counter-attack on a flat pass from Will Genia to Reece Hodge (at 57 seconds on th following reel):

    Ironically, Cottrell’s final act in the match before he was substituted for Colby Fainga’a was to disrupt Naisarani on the deck after the Brumbies’ big man had made a telling break into the Rebels’ 22:

    Naisarani was immediately dispossessed by Fainga’a after the Rebels’ pilfering specialist entered the fray in the 50th minute. After the Rebels’ big men had done the spadework, it was also part of Wessels’ plan to bring on his speed and turnover ability (Fainga’a and Hardwick) in the final half-hour of the game:

    Although the stats indicate quite a level battle on the ball-carrying front between Mafi (15 runs for 82 metres) and Naisarani (17 for 82), in reality there was a world of difference in terms of decision-making, ball retention and impact on the course of the game as a whole.

    Although Naisarani had a big hand in the Brumbies’ second try with a strong pick and go (at 1:35 on the highlight reel), Mafi scored one try himself (at 0:45) and was an explosive threat from the base throughout (at 1:45). He also contributed a try assist (at 2:41) with a no-look offload to Jack Maddocks after another handling error by Naisarani about ten seconds earlier.

    The final picture of the clash at number eight was the sight of Mafi fighting over the tackle ball with Naisarani at 70:00 (3:06 on the reel), with Mafi winning enough of the physical battle to paw the ball loose for Hardwick to pick it up and create the final Rebels’ try:

    Summary
    The Melbourne Rebels’ ability to bounce back from a long round trip to Tokyo and ultimately overwhelm the Brumbies on a six-day turnaround marks them out as the class leaders of the Australian Conference.

    Jamie Nutbrown’s refereeing of the new laws at the breakdown showed that pilfers are far harder to produce in quantity on the deck. The game was steal-free at the ruck for the first 50 minutes, and only generated three in the last half-hour. The Brumbies had to wait until two minutes before the end of the match to win their first turnover in that area.

    All this justified Dave Wessels’ selection of Angus Cottrell at number seven despite the quality groundhogs (Colby Fainga’a and Richard Hardwick) sitting on the pine behind him. When the dogs were finally let loose in the final quarter, they both proved their value. Wessels won his philosophical battle with Laurie Fisher in the breakdown battle convincingly.

    Big things are expected from hulking Brumbies’ number eight Isi Naisarani this season, but on this evidence, he still has a ways to go to uproot the Australian Conference king in that position, Amanaki Mafi.

    Naisarani has power and speed to burn, but his decision-making and technique in contact are currently very average. He was held up or dispossessed by the Rebels in these situations far too frequently with June Wallabies selection not too distant on the horizon.

    Michael Cheika’s back-row selection, meanwhile, has more questions than answers. The option of playing two openside flankers like Michael Hooper and David Pocock remains at the mercy of refereeing interpretation, which at present seems to depend too heavily on the luck of the draw.

    It is unlikely that Cheika will change the structure of his back-row completely to the Wessels version, but in any case he will be waiting anxiously for one of Australia’s big men to stand up and be counted – even if it’s only to fit in around ‘the Pooper’.

    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 (234)

    • March 15th 2018 @ 6:25am
      Mzilikazi said | March 15th 2018 @ 6:25am | ! Report

      Good evening, Nic. Clear and cool starlit morning here in Toowoomba, so plenty of time to read and digest your excellent article before sunrise.

      “With Brad Thorn’s Reds shoving their season back on track via two characterful, disciplined wins after their first-week disaster …………….young talent beginning to blossom in their ranks…………They are being taught the right values, and that can only benefit the Wallabies in the long term.”

      Very gratified to see Qld progressing well over the past two weeks, and especially good to see some of the focus shifting away from Brad Thorns brave, if controversial decisions earlier in the piece. He is indeed teaching and developing the right values, and that is always firm ground to stand on.

      Most interesting to read your analysis on the Rebels/Brumbies game. Have not watched it yet, but will do so with added insights, thanks to you.

      • Columnist

        March 15th 2018 @ 6:33am
        Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2018 @ 6:33am | ! Report

        Thanks MZ. As far as BT and the Reds go, I think it has always been a question of whether his inexperience as a coach would overwhelm his long term impact on the culture at the club (as you know Reds admin doesn’t have a great record on this score). But signs are he will do well enough in 2018 to keep his job, at the very least.

        Having said that, the Rebs have an excellent young coach who will instil the right values and has a better talent base to work from…

    • March 15th 2018 @ 6:31am
      Mzilikazi said | March 15th 2018 @ 6:31am | ! Report

      Nic, that ticket my nephew got for Saturday’s game at Twickenham……..he did pay face value for it.

      He tells me ” Actually through a friend who has debentures. He offered me one of those for the game so I am going with him and his parents. His debentures give him first refusal on the seats (which are good seats, middle tier, near the half way line), but he still needs to pay face value.”

      Nice to have well connected friends !

    • March 15th 2018 @ 6:34am
      Galatzo said | March 15th 2018 @ 6:34am | ! Report

      Hi Nicholas. Hope you’ve got your voice back after the English defeat. I’m wondering if any change is in the wind re a player swapping national sides. I don’t want to weaken Japan but it’s so tempting to think of Mafi in a WB jersey. Cottrell’s talent as a seven would seem to further complicate the Hooper/Pocock discussion, unless Cheika is using an Assyrian stone cutter.

      • Columnist

        March 15th 2018 @ 7:01am
        Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2018 @ 7:01am | ! Report

        Hi G.

        Once a player has been capped by another nation, I don’t see him wearing another jersey – ever. But you’re right that Mafi is by far the best number 8 playing in Australia, so it is unfortunate that Eddie nabbed him first!

        Yes the most intriguing aspect of the Rebels is that they are presenting an entirely diff model to the WB version at the breakdown. Whether MC and his coaches will accept that as a real development in the game, and act on it, is another matter…

        Incidentally I doubt the value of a player like David Pocock will be compromised by the new laws. The guys who can compete in that narrower window for the ball on the ground (like Matthieu Bastareaud) will prob see their value increase 🙂

        • March 15th 2018 @ 11:45am
          soapit said | March 15th 2018 @ 11:45am | ! Report

          i do think its a real shame we cant find a way to get these one or two test all blacks / wallabies who havent been called on for yonks to represent another country if they have a genuine claim to it. it locks a lot of worthy talent out of the biggest stage id say

          • Columnist

            March 15th 2018 @ 4:23pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2018 @ 4:23pm | ! Report

            Trouble is Soap, that’s going back to the old amateur days where people could swap international jerseys as they would do clubs – I think Gus Pichot is moving World Rugby in the opposite direction!

            • March 15th 2018 @ 7:35pm
              soapit said | March 15th 2018 @ 7:35pm | ! Report

              yeah dont get me wrong, i definitely dont want that. would definitely have to be a stand down period similar to what it is for changing countries before youve played a test

              • Columnist

                March 15th 2018 @ 8:25pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2018 @ 8:25pm | ! Report

                How long for Soap?

              • March 16th 2018 @ 5:37am
                soapit said | March 16th 2018 @ 5:37am | ! Report

                yeah id do the 5 years same as the residency to keep it neat. definitely at least more than a world cup cycle.

        • March 15th 2018 @ 11:46am
          MitchO said | March 15th 2018 @ 11:46am | ! Report

          Hi Nick,

          Last year when there was a Force, Wessels used Brynard Stander as a big 7 sometimes. Stander was a youngish hardworking saffer who is actually a 6. I don’t think he is as good as Gus Cottrell but the idea is the same as is the shape of the player.

          The other thing Wessells did well last year was having RHP at 6 (and at least once Matt Philip) and going for a super tall lineout with four really big guys.

          I would appreciate your thoughts on RHP as a lock. He’s 122kg but I guess the question mark is on his scrummaging in that position. In terms of shape and skills he’s the most Scott Fardy like player we have.

          • Columnist

            March 15th 2018 @ 4:25pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2018 @ 4:25pm | ! Report

            RHP – good player but I doubt they’d consider him at second row for the WBs, but if he’s good enough he could be a 6 in the Pooper arrangement Mitch (if that continues!)…

            • March 15th 2018 @ 5:38pm
              MitchO said | March 15th 2018 @ 5:38pm | ! Report

              Thanks Nic,

              What issues are there with RHP trying to become a test lock rather than a 6? I am wondering what you guys look at when deciding whether say an Itoje is going to play lock or 6.

              • Columnist

                March 15th 2018 @ 5:44pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2018 @ 5:44pm | ! Report

                First of all, RHP would have to prove himself a first choice at the Rebels Mitch – so is he good enough to get past Coleman and Philip?

              • March 15th 2018 @ 6:10pm
                MitchO said | March 15th 2018 @ 6:10pm | ! Report

                I was not sure if there was something else you were looking at. I would not put him over Coleman. Not sure how a battle would go between RHP and Philip but I think Philip has played more lock so should have an edge in experience in the requirements of the position.

              • Columnist

                March 15th 2018 @ 6:14pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2018 @ 6:14pm | ! Report

                I haven’t seen a huge amount of RHP tbh Mitch, but in comparison to Itoje he doesn’t have the same athleticism or reach in the lineout. If you picked him at second row you would probably need a Scott Fardy type at 6 to compensate…

              • March 15th 2018 @ 7:03pm
                MitchO said | March 15th 2018 @ 7:03pm | ! Report

                cheers

        • Roar Guru

          March 15th 2018 @ 12:08pm
          jeznez said | March 15th 2018 @ 12:08pm | ! Report

          I agree on Pocock Nick, I think there is a little bit of chicken and egg in the selection of non-ruck focussed 7s, coupled with a plan not to contest the breakdown and the evidence that there were few ruck turnovers while this was in play.

          Then later in the game when Faingaa and Hardwick appear we start seeing turnovers.

          The Brumbies went the same way as the Rebels playing a number 8 in Fakaosilea at 7 – they were just not as experienced with him and Naisarani as the direct opponents of the Rebels pair and McCaffrey v Timani is two very different players competing.

          I do think this Brumbies team will be transformed a bit when Pocock comes in and Valetini returns, they’ll have another guy capable of breaking the gain line and the speed of their recycle should improve.

          Naisarani is playing well (although not as well as Mafi) he was potentially just trying to do too much given the team was very reliant on him and Speight to generate any momentum.

          • Columnist

            March 15th 2018 @ 4:30pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2018 @ 4:30pm | ! Report

            Jez, I think the diff was that the Brumbies contested the ruck in a much more conventional way and got no return from it. Josh Mann-Rea and Scott Sio aren’t bad value in that respect in the forwards, nor are Kuridrani and Speight in the backs.

            Atm the rugby world seems to be polarizing at the ruck – either teams swing towards a big B/R or they go in the other direction and pick two 7’s plus other guys (like hookers) well able to compete on the deck – for which read Scotland and Scarlets.

            I’d liked the Rebels plan though – bring on the 7 types at a stage in the match when they were most likely to hurt the opposition via turnovers!

            • Roar Guru

              March 15th 2018 @ 5:02pm
              jeznez said | March 15th 2018 @ 5:02pm | ! Report

              I like the way Scotland play, liked them even as they pulverised my Wallabies last year and even more so as they rolled the English the other week.

              Creates a dilemna for Gibson and the Tahs as he hasn’t the squad to go either way.

              I think the Tahs have to beef their squad up.

              Their pack on the weekend with weight in kg, height cm

              Robertson 107, 180
              Fitzpatric 105, 183
              Ryan 114, 190
              Staniforth 113, 198
              Hanigan 110, 194
              Wells 104, 190
              Hooper 101, 182
              Holloway 118, 195

              Total weight 872 kg

              If Kepu and Simmons are back, I’d much prefer to see a pack like below:

              Johnson-Holmes 111, 186
              Latu 110, 178
              Kepu 118, 188
              Holloway 118, 195
              Simmons 115, 200
              Meafua 116, 190
              Hooper 101, 182
              Wells 104, 190

              Total 893 kg

              Meafua is the only one of the above that I haven’t seen play – he just happens to be the body type we need so naming him in a bit of hope.

              I’d then double down with a bench front row of Sauni, Ryan, Vui and have Staniforth and Hanigan round it out in the absence of anyone else.

              Is the closest approximation the squad can go towards having a bigger abrasive pack given the only other real option is Will Miller 98, 183 to be a second openside.

              • Columnist

                March 15th 2018 @ 5:47pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2018 @ 5:47pm | ! Report

                Jeez that first tight five is a weak one Jez! Holloway at 4 is an interesting pick… might be an effective way of improving his work in the tight (or convincing him of its importance maybe!) 🙂

              • Roar Guru

                March 15th 2018 @ 5:53pm
                jeznez said | March 15th 2018 @ 5:53pm | ! Report

                That first pack did get bullied by the Jaguares.

                Holloway has played plenty of lock at club level (is from my old club in Sydney Southern Districts) and is actually listed on the Tahs website as a lock.

                He is also the heaviest of the players who can play the position in the squad – including the 198cm Palmer who is still only 110kg.

                Agree he’d have to shift his focus but I believe it is something he can do.

                Also think that Naiyaravoro has to be in the backline.

                The inability to generate any forward momentum is not letting a very dangerous group in Foley/Beale/Folau/Rona execute as they are coming up against very set defences.

              • Columnist

                March 15th 2018 @ 6:03pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2018 @ 6:03pm | ! Report

                Agreed Jez, I like your thinking about Holloway – and Naiyaravoro too for that matter. They need ad-line power somewhere and you don’t want to be wasting Folau in that role…

    • Roar Guru

      March 15th 2018 @ 7:19am
      Diggercane said | March 15th 2018 @ 7:19am | ! Report

      Thank you Nick, always an education.

      • Columnist

        March 15th 2018 @ 7:53am
        Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2018 @ 7:53am | ! Report

        Cheers Digger, pretty impressed with your Canes against the Crusaders too (the other game I looked at in depth last weekend) though they need their first choice front row back quite urgently 🙂

        • Roar Guru

          March 15th 2018 @ 8:45am
          Diggercane said | March 15th 2018 @ 8:45am | ! Report

          Yes they do, they really do but in fairness we are coping reasonably well on the injury front in comparison to some of our compatriots at this stage!

          It is odd how the majority of injuries tend to be in one area though ie the front row!!

          • Columnist

            March 15th 2018 @ 8:47am
            Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2018 @ 8:47am | ! Report

            Yes and it will be good to see more of Aumua in any case! How far off is JTA?

            • Roar Guru

              March 15th 2018 @ 9:28am
              Diggercane said | March 15th 2018 @ 9:28am | ! Report

              I don’t actually know specifically Nick, I have April in my head for some reason but don’t quote me!

              Aumua is an exciting prospect for sure, looking forward to seeing more of him and was naturally disappointed he didn’t run in a try from 50m on the weekend in his 10 minute cameo! 😉

              • Columnist

                March 15th 2018 @ 9:42am
                Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2018 @ 9:42am | ! Report

                Aumua may become important for 2019 is Coles’ bad run of injuries continues – he’s the only hooker who really matches his skill-set.

              • Roar Guru

                March 15th 2018 @ 10:17am
                Diggercane said | March 15th 2018 @ 10:17am | ! Report

                I suspect so Nick, hence his tour to the UK last year I guess.

              • Roar Guru

                March 15th 2018 @ 10:19am
                Diggercane said | March 15th 2018 @ 10:19am | ! Report

                I see old Eddie has been endearing himself to the wider public and enhancing his Lions coaching ambitions Nick? 😉

              • Columnist

                March 15th 2018 @ 4:32pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2018 @ 4:32pm | ! Report

                To Digger below –

                I would not be surprised if Eddie has cooked his own goose with those comments. It’s the sort of thing which runs and runs and he may never be allowed to forget by the UK press from now on…. He’s his own worst enemy.

            • Roar Guru

              March 15th 2018 @ 11:57am
              Fox said | March 15th 2018 @ 11:57am | ! Report

              Hi nick great piece as always – I bet Cheika is spewing that easily the best 8 in the country plays for Japan. His form also exposes the weaknesses in other candidates when they are up against each other.

              Aumua I would imagine, will get some serious game time against the French but he needs to up his lineout throwing a bit – it is not bad over all but not AB test level just yet.

              The real impressive thing about the Canes for me is Jordies Barrett – 7kg heavier and half a yard quicker his coach is claiming and he is very good goal kicker and tactical kicker and one of the best young rugby brains in world game with ridiculous off-load skills.

              Many are thinking the AB’s will want him in the 15 in NZ moving Ben Smith to the right wing, arguing he is the best right winger in NZ as well best fullback, and especially since Dagg, NMS, and Neholo are all injury prone especially Dagg and NMS.

              As one article in NZ has already stated – ” If you right down the 15 best footballers in NZ, Jordie Barrett is already among them”

              And picking Jordie for the Bench is problematic as he has no international experience in any other position except fullback but NMS and Dagg can perform Dual roles. What to with Jordie huh Nick? I suspect he will start at 15 at some point with Smith on the wing. He is just too gifted to leave out really.

              • Roar Guru

                March 15th 2018 @ 1:30pm
                Diggercane said | March 15th 2018 @ 1:30pm | ! Report

                Hey Fox,

                I am biased here but having observed Jordie on a number of occasions I would be staggered if he was not included, right now he, along with Smith and Ioane would make up our strongest back 3 with Macca on the bench. Add in his long range boot and it is a no brainer for me.

              • Roar Guru

                March 15th 2018 @ 1:57pm
                Fox said | March 15th 2018 @ 1:57pm | ! Report

                Hi Digger – I agree completely. I just can’t see how they can leave him out of the 15 and he has only just come back from a long lay off – how good will he be by seasons end ?

                Hope you are tipping the Blues this week mate 😉

                I think the Canes and Blues have the best backlines in the comp. But how good is Akira Ioane looking this season playing at 8?

                He was a monster against the Lions. At last a back up to Read!

              • March 15th 2018 @ 3:05pm
                moaman said | March 15th 2018 @ 3:05pm | ! Report

                @ Fox Saker
                “As one article in NZ has already stated – ” If you right down the 15 best footballers in NZ, Jordie Barrett is already among them”

                Fox; I know journalistic standards in NZ have been slipping in line with the general ignorance currently prevalent (;-) ) but which mup-pet professing to be a journo spelt ‘write’ r i g h t???

              • Roar Guru

                March 15th 2018 @ 3:22pm
                Fox said | March 15th 2018 @ 3:22pm | ! Report

                Hi Moaman – well spotted -that was my dumb typo and and word misappropriation. This happens when you are in an office and people keep coming in to chat when you are doing the real work 😉 It happens to everyone including people who should know much better like me. I didn’t cut and paste it but should have.

                But if your insinuation ( an I am not saying it is but…) is that I am making it up then here is the link the article by Paul Cully

                https://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/rugby/opinion/102248001/what-do-the-all-blacks-do-with-the-brilliant-jordie-barrett

                Enjoy !

              • Roar Guru

                March 15th 2018 @ 4:00pm
                Diggercane said | March 15th 2018 @ 4:00pm | ! Report

                He is looking really good Fox, hope he can continue but I still really want to see him dominate defensively more.

                The Highlanders would have a bit to say about that I reckon Fox, they are pretty lethal themselves and Thompson is going very well too.

              • Columnist

                March 15th 2018 @ 4:34pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2018 @ 4:34pm | ! Report

                I’d keep Jordie at 15 rather than have him learn another position Fox, they need him more in that position. Did you see Eddie Jones’ latest foot-in-mouth moment?

                https://www.theguardian.com/sport/video/2018/mar/14/eddie-jones-scummy-irish-wales-little-shit-place-video

              • Columnist

                March 15th 2018 @ 4:36pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2018 @ 4:36pm | ! Report

                Look at it another way you three (Moa, Fox and Digger below) –

                Who would you want as your full-back at the WC against Ireland or England in the later stages of the comp, Jordie or D Mac, or maybe Ben Smith plus Naholo and Ioane??

              • Roar Guru

                March 15th 2018 @ 5:49pm
                Fox said | March 15th 2018 @ 5:49pm | ! Report

                OUCH Nick – EJ’s tongue-in-cheek – which I am sure it was – has left itself open to the PC warriors attacks.

                That being said, it was a bit tasteless – in jest or not – was it in jest? A head coach should best not be saying those statements in the public arena about opposition nations.

                I mean personally I don’t find it a sacking offence just rap around the knuckles affair. Mind you,I thought the comment about ” are there any Welsh a still there? was pretty funny 🙂

                He will have to very careful now for a while I would think in his pre and post match comments – not the best timing by Eddies after the Six Nations either.

                Man Ireland will be fired up now – England needs to win more than ever me thinks!

              • Columnist

                March 15th 2018 @ 5:56pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2018 @ 5:56pm | ! Report

                It’s a ready-made team-talk for the Irish to be know as ‘scummy’!

                It’s simple – you can’t go around talking about role models, having respect and integrity etc.. and not have some yourself. It’s a poor profile for Eddie 🙂

              • Roar Guru

                March 15th 2018 @ 6:09pm
                Fox said | March 15th 2018 @ 6:09pm | ! Report

                To Digger and Nick

                Agree Digger Tomo has been excellent for the Highlanders but where does he fit and who would you drop?

                With the WC Nick,I think in a big game we will find Smith at the back but this may depend upon how far his game progresses until the WC. He is certainly the Heir Apparent one suspects.

                I agree FB is Jordies best position but he likes playing centre apparently as well.

                D Mac for all his brilliance has now made himself versatile – the kiss of death for a starting birth in the backs poor sod 😉

                Dagg I think is out of the picture now – but who knows, come WC where his experience and massive boot, and exceptional aerial skills may be deemed too valuable.

                The real question, is has Neholo usurped NMS ? I think he has now unless NMS has blinder in the second half of the season but another big injury could cost him badly and Neholo is on fire at the moment.

                But then there is that ridiculous NMS step in the tight that cause defences all sorts of problems but he has lost half a yard of pace with injuries and that could be telling if he doesn’t get it back.

                Jack Goodhue is looming large at 13 this season as well. Very large. Superb defence and very quick with excellent vision to set up players around him. Will be the AB 13 sooner rather than later usurping even ALB perhaps as Crotty back up.

              • Columnist

                March 15th 2018 @ 6:11pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2018 @ 6:11pm | ! Report

                D Mac for all his brilliance has now made himself versatile – the kiss of death for a starting birth in the backs poor sod 😉

                😀

              • March 15th 2018 @ 6:12pm
                Diggercane said | March 15th 2018 @ 6:12pm | ! Report

                Hi Nick,

                For mine, having Jordie and Smith at the back would be the way to go and having his boot from 50 out is a pretty handy plus for a knock out. Plus both can come in at first receiver while Mac from the bench can add plenty.

                Don’t get me wrong, nothing wrong with Waisake either, back three certainly looks an area of strength regardless but with another year under his belt, it looks the go for me.

                Yes, old Eddie certainly has some work to do. Sure seems the kind of bloke people tend to get sick of over time.

              • Columnist

                March 15th 2018 @ 6:16pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2018 @ 6:16pm | ! Report

                Jordie, Ben Smith and Ioane looks like an excellent combo to me Digger…

                Agree about Eddie, he constantly seems to either attract turbulence, or create it. Not a good long-term outlook for that feature!

              • March 15th 2018 @ 6:22pm
                Diggercane said | March 15th 2018 @ 6:22pm | ! Report

                Not following you there Fox re Thompson, unless you are suggesting ABs? Was more a comment about how well he is travelling for the Highlanders, think they have a fair claim to best NZ backline in Super.

              • Roar Guru

                March 16th 2018 @ 12:36am
                Fox said | March 16th 2018 @ 12:36am | ! Report

                Yeah Digger i meaning the AB’s and the Highlanders backs are firing – Aron Smith is back to his very best. I think they will beat the Saders this weekend at home.

            • March 16th 2018 @ 5:20am
              Diggercane said | March 16th 2018 @ 5:20am | ! Report

              Hi Nick,

              I note this morning that JTA is having a run for the development side this Saturday so maybe a lot closer to a return.

              • Columnist

                March 16th 2018 @ 5:50pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | March 16th 2018 @ 5:50pm | ! Report

                Good news, the Canes need him Digger!

    • March 15th 2018 @ 7:28am
      Cynical Play said | March 15th 2018 @ 7:28am | ! Report

      I fear the Rebels will improve and prove to be unstoppable against local Oz teams. I see the Reds as having the only pack to contain some of it. Mafi attacking off the base of a scrum is a weapon. Hooper, on Sunday, will need to cut him down as he ran 4 times off the scrum base last week and Genia runs off him. I’ve been saying that if the Rebels had a more decent 10 they would go to another level, but Genia seems to have assumed much of the playmaking so it’s not a real problem. On current form the Rebels should prove too much for Oz and compete well with over half the NZers.

      • Columnist

        March 15th 2018 @ 7:51am
        Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2018 @ 7:51am | ! Report

        A reasonable summary CP… Will Genia calls the shots and takes most of the pressure off Debreczeni in the halves, so it’s workable against most of the opposition in the tournament.

        Also remember that the Rebs achieved what they did against the Brumbies without Coleman and a top-class front row!

        • March 15th 2018 @ 8:58am
          Cynical Play said | March 15th 2018 @ 8:58am | ! Report

          Gulp !!

      • March 15th 2018 @ 9:44am
        jameswm said | March 15th 2018 @ 9:44am | ! Report

        I think Debre is improving and is a pretty good attacking 10. He has a good short and long passing game and can put people into space, plus a massive boot.

        My only issue is strength in contact – he’s a big unit, so it has to be attitude. He’s improved a bit maybe. He has to own it at this level.

        • Columnist

          March 15th 2018 @ 9:48am
          Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2018 @ 9:48am | ! Report

          Yes Genia is the ideal foil for JD James because he takes care of most of the tactical thinking, allowing Debreczeni to focus on running the attack with ball in hand. It looks like quite a nice arrangement from what I’ve seen so far 🙂

          • March 15th 2018 @ 10:19am
            jameswm said | March 15th 2018 @ 10:19am | ! Report

            Yeah 10 and prop were the big questions marks for the Rebels. I think Debre at 10 can work, but I would like to see Maddocks given game time there where possible, for example if they are well ahead (or behind).

            • Columnist

              March 15th 2018 @ 4:38pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2018 @ 4:38pm | ! Report

              One good aspect of moving Maddocks to 10 is that it creates room for both Koroibete and Naivalu to play in the same run-on side, though one of them at least will have to learn to play full-back 😀

          • Roar Guru

            March 15th 2018 @ 1:06pm
            Who Needs Melon said | March 15th 2018 @ 1:06pm | ! Report

            Debreczeni is one I’ve always had my eye on and still do. It seems to me he’s just a few nudges in a few areas away from being a really good player. No disrespect to his current coaches but I do wonder if he’d come up through the NZ system and had a bit more guidance from quality mentors through the last 10 years what sort of player he’d have become.

            • March 15th 2018 @ 1:27pm
              Ralph said | March 15th 2018 @ 1:27pm | ! Report

              Some players are just late developers, maybe he is one of them?

            • Columnist

              March 15th 2018 @ 4:38pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2018 @ 4:38pm | ! Report

              Played well when he was moved to full-back last year too WNM…

      • Roar Guru

        March 15th 2018 @ 12:02pm
        PeterK said | March 15th 2018 @ 12:02pm | ! Report

        CP – You called my surety that the Rebels would beat the tahs as arrogant, well you now seem to be showing the same surety!

        • March 15th 2018 @ 4:20pm
          Cynical Play said | March 15th 2018 @ 4:20pm | ! Report

          who mentioned surety?

          … game on this Sunday PK. Don’t miss it. Hooper to take down the big No 8.

          And you arrogant? Did I really use that word?

          • Roar Guru

            March 15th 2018 @ 5:02pm
            PeterK said | March 15th 2018 @ 5:02pm | ! Report

            This is your post in case you forgot

            Cynical Play said | March 10th 2018 @ 11:33pm | ! Report

            Your surety is arrogant.

            Wait and see. Kepu is starting. Simmons is starting. Mugs? Holloway and Hooper, Wells.

            This team can manage physicality.

            Mafi is a maniac and Timani seems to feed of that, sure, but the Tahs backline is the best the young Rebels would have faced. So back off with your foregone conclusions PK as they show you up as an wisher rather than a true analyst.

            • March 15th 2018 @ 8:16pm
              Cynical Play said | March 15th 2018 @ 8:16pm | ! Report

              Oooh. You get a point. Nice one.

    • March 15th 2018 @ 7:45am
      Galatzo said | March 15th 2018 @ 7:45am | ! Report

      Cynical – “if the Rebels had a more decent 10 they would go to another level.” So would the WBs. So would England now that Ford’s in the doghouse. So would France now that Trinh-Duc’s back in. The ABs and Ireland have got it kicked at ten, just one of the reasons why those teams are now ranked number one and two. Any idea who could/maybe/perhaps be our 10 in Tokyo?

      • March 15th 2018 @ 10:27am
        Cynical Play said | March 15th 2018 @ 10:27am | ! Report

        Obviously if Foley stays fit and his game improves he is in the mix. Lance is getting better all the time and might be tempted to play SR next year making him eligible. He would not be phased at that level. I’d love to see Toomua come home at get a crack at 10 to see how he compares. He’s a better player than when he left I feel. Otherwise, if Jack D grows some balls he would grand.

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