Lucky 13: The race for the Wallabies outside centre jersey

Rhys Bosley Roar Rookie

By Rhys Bosley, Rhys Bosley is a Roar Rookie

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    Being nearly halfway through the 2018 Super Rugby season gives us a sense of where players are at in the pecking order for different positions in the Wallabies for the June test series and beyond.

    One position incumbent player who shouldn’t be too comfortable based on his performance this season and the availability of quality competition is the outside centre position. Let’s look at the most likely possibilities for the Wallabies number 13.

    Tevita Kuridrani
    I have been a huge fan of Kuridrani’s rock wall defence and game-breaking try-scoring ability. However, I can’t remember seeing his attacking game at close to its best in the last year. This Super Rugby season he’s making an average of only 50 run metres from seven runs per game.

    His defensive stats aren’t very good either, with Fox Sports Lab giving him a tackle effectiveness rating of 68 per cent. Fox defensive stats are harsher to some stats as the TE rating is calculated using missed tackles and ineffective tackles, while others just use missed tackles, but even so this is a mediocre effort.

    He needs to get his act together, because right now he doesn’t look like he deserves a Wallabies starting spot.

    tevita-kuridrani-rugby-union-australia-wallabies-2016

    (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

    Samu Kerevi
    A competitor with Kuridrani for the Wallabies 13 last year, Kerevi is a blockbuster in attack, leading in key attacking stats for the candidates with an average of 90 run metres from 11.2 runs. However, his defence is terrible, with a tackle efficiency rating of 65 per cent that is explained by watching him defend.

    He constantly makes poor decisions – not running out of the line when he should, running out when he shouldn’t, trying to tackle already marked players, flailing his arms like a helicopter, missing tackles entirely and falling off apparently completed tackles.

    He does a bit better in defence at 12 than 13, but really his defence isn’t even good enough for an international bench player.

    Part of the problem may be that the Reds are overusing him in attack, as evidenced by what I saw from behind the posts in the Suncorp game against the Brumbies. He would hit the ball up on one side of the park and then run the breadth within a phase to do the same on the other.

    I suspect he might just be too knackered to defend when it is time to do so, so the Reds need to better share the attacking load.

    The Reds coaching staff also need to work hard with him to improve his defence. He is getting away with it at Super Rugby level, but if Kerevi starts finding it hard to make the Wallabies, he will become frustrated and become a flight risk to overseas clubs. That would be a tragic loss for all concerned.

    Samu Kerevi

    (Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

    Curtis Rona
    While Rona has played winger early in the season, the Tahs seem to have settled on him playing centre in the last couple of games. I rate Rona as the player most likely to leapfrog Kerevi and to pinch the Wallabies 13 from Kuridrani this year.

    Already capped, Rona has a nose for the line, a hard edge and is rated by Michael Cheika. He defends better than both the blokes ahead of him at 76 per cent and has been doing more in attack than Kuridrani at 76 run metres from eight runs. Watch this space.

    Curtis Rona

    (Gabriel Rossi/Getty Images)

    Chris Feauai-Sautia
    A dark-horse candidate after several years of poor form and injuries, Feiuai-Sautia has shifted into 13 from the wing at the Reds in recent games and is doing a damn good job of it.

    What will be a surprise to many from a bloke with a reputation for not being the most solid defender, CFS has the highest tackle efficiency of the lot at 84 per cent.

    He could do more in attack than his contribution of six runs and 46 metres per game, but what the stats don’t tell is that CFS has a bit of magic in him, with a knack for finding himself in the right place at the right time and working with his teammates to construct spectacular tries.

    Michael Cheika might be tempted to give him a run to throw Ireland a curveball in June, with his ability to cover the wing being a bonus.

    Chris Feauai-Sautia

    (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

    Other candidates include Tom English, Lalakai Foketi, Reece Hodge and Izaia Perese. I would argue that English and Foketi aren’t quite up to the standard of the four above at this stage, though they are good to have available in the case of an injury crisis, while Hodge and Perese have talents that I reckon are better used as a utility back and a winger respectively.

    It is great to have such depth at 13, though, both to motivate the incumbents and to replace them if they don’t step up.

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    The Crowd Says (76)

    • April 14th 2018 @ 3:07am
      Malo said | April 14th 2018 @ 3:07am | ! Report

      I’d have 12-hodge
      13- Maddocks

      • April 14th 2018 @ 4:26pm
        ThugbyFab said | April 14th 2018 @ 4:26pm | ! Report

        G’day Malo, good call on R.Hodge but atm no way would I consider J.Maddocks at OC.

        I have always considered that R.Hodge is a long term IC for the WB. Hodge tackles as good as Kerevi at #12 (not as many big hits but more reliable) and is a better playmaker. I just cannot take K.Beale seriously as a WB player with such weak defence, and I would replace him with Hodge. Beale may be brilliant taking the line on and doing the organisation that B.Foley can’t do but he is a liability in defence. With Hodge you lose a bit of attack option (not as badly as having Kerevi there) but now have a very solid defender in midfield.

        J.Maddocks may be the golden boy on the wing atm, but his defence was shown up badly against the Tahs and Hurricanes. He missed a couple of howlers, as well he gets turned over too many times. In addition I have never seen him play at OC, so who knows how good his reading of defence is. Remember #13 is bloke in the headlights in wide defence, he is the organiser. You can’t just put someone there cause he looks good at running with the ball. Maddocks has loads of potential but I would give him another year for him to show us all what he has got.

    • April 14th 2018 @ 3:42am
      Hurles said | April 14th 2018 @ 3:42am | ! Report

      Maybe a little left field but why not Hooper at 13. He is certainly an effective defender, runs the wide channels as well as any 13 and has the rugby brain to adapt quickly. It solves the problem of fitting 2 of our best players (who are both 7’s) into the same back row and maintaning a balanced back row. At the same time i dont think anyone is stamping their name on the 13 jersey. Possible backline would look like this.
      10 foley
      11 hodge
      12 kerevi
      13 hooper
      14 folau
      15 beale

      • April 14th 2018 @ 5:18am
        Ad-O said | April 14th 2018 @ 5:18am | ! Report

        Personally don’t think Kerevi distributes well enough to play 12 at Test level.

        • April 14th 2018 @ 5:50am
          Dave_S said | April 14th 2018 @ 5:50am | ! Report

          Sure, he’s not a 2nd playmaker type, but Kerevi has a passing game, just more as an off-loader.

          Tim Horan wasn’t a noted playmaker/distributor either, but who doesn’t rate him as the best ever WB 12?

          Simply saying ball distribution is great if you have it, but not a deal breaker if you don’t.

          Who are the playmaker 12s in Aus? Beale is the only candidate.

          Probably CLL is the only other candidate there, and he has never been much of a playmaker as far as I’ve seen. The Brums certainly don’t look to him for their tries.

          • April 14th 2018 @ 6:23am
            Fionn said | April 14th 2018 @ 6:23am | ! Report

            Australia is one of the only countries that has been consistently wedded to the second playmaker.

            Seems the Nonu model is the best.

            • April 14th 2018 @ 6:42am
              Hurles said | April 14th 2018 @ 6:42am | ! Report

              I think Kerevi could grow into an outstanding wallaby 12. Give him a good playmaker at 10 and a defensive general/ballrunner at 13 and it could make for a potent backline considering the depth we have in the back 3.

              • April 14th 2018 @ 7:42am
                Fionn said | April 14th 2018 @ 7:42am | ! Report

                Yeah, I think you’re right, mate. As Geoff Parkes said in his article this week he is the form Aussie inside centre currently. Definitely needs to work on his defence and kicking, but I think he’ll be a future star in that position.

              • April 14th 2018 @ 9:03am
                tyrone said | April 14th 2018 @ 9:03am | ! Report

                if he will only be good if others are around him then he is lacking.

                he needs to be good by himself and then become outstanding with others

              • April 14th 2018 @ 4:11pm
                Hurles said | April 14th 2018 @ 4:11pm | ! Report

                Tyrone, are you saying Kerevi isn’t good? Kerevi is an outstanding individual player, but rugby is a team sport and you need the people around you to compliment your skill set. Just because you have your 15 best players on the paddock, it doesn’t mean the best team is out there.

          • April 14th 2018 @ 7:48am
            Ad-O said | April 14th 2018 @ 7:48am | ! Report

            So you put Beale at 10? I’m far from a Foley fan but who kicks goals?

            • April 14th 2018 @ 8:27am
              Dave_S said | April 14th 2018 @ 8:27am | ! Report

              Beale at 10 is an option. I think 12 and 15 are his better positions though.

              I can’t see Foley not being selected by Cheika at 10 so everything else has to be predicated on that, for good or bad.

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              April 14th 2018 @ 10:06am
              Paulo said | April 14th 2018 @ 10:06am | ! Report

              Hodge can kick can’t he? Atleast I remember him slotting some kind distance ones.

              Hooper at 13 is interesting. That’s just crazy enough to work.

              • April 14th 2018 @ 4:36pm
                ThugbyFab said | April 14th 2018 @ 4:36pm | ! Report

                Am not sold on Hooper at #13, but would be nice to have someone good in rucks out wide.

                Its why R.Crotty is so valued for the AB, he is first into wide rucks and protects/attacks the ball, both in defence and attack, so keeps that continuity going for the AB with ball.

        • April 14th 2018 @ 11:54am
          Gepetto said | April 14th 2018 @ 11:54am | ! Report

          We need a really tough #12 with Foley at #10 for 80 minutes every game.

      • April 14th 2018 @ 10:49am
        Noodles said | April 14th 2018 @ 10:49am | ! Report

        Kerevi will get a run when he fixes his defence. Until then he’s not a test player

        • April 14th 2018 @ 6:25pm
          Fionn said | April 14th 2018 @ 6:25pm | ! Report

          Funny how that doesn’t apply to so many other Wallabies. Including our current inside centre, who he has a better defensive record than.

    • April 14th 2018 @ 5:31am
      Ad-O said | April 14th 2018 @ 5:31am | ! Report

      I’m so over having week defenders in crucial backline positions at test level. It’s only really Beale that’s ever provided enough upside with the ball in hand to justify it. It’s a shame JOC had lost it as he actually defended his channel really well.

      I’d much rather the Wallabies respect the basics of the game, keep a solid shape, and show a little more tactical awareness. X-factor be damned.

      So I’d probably go for Rona on form, or Kurindrani on having been there and done it. Kerevi has the best upside right now, but he needs to be less of a liability before I’d put him back in.

    • April 14th 2018 @ 6:03am
      Dave_S said | April 14th 2018 @ 6:03am | ! Report

      Rhys, this isn’t a criticism at all, but I don’t think the question can be answered in isolation. Like picking a back row, I think picking 10, 12, 13 and 15 needs to be done with balance in mind. Maybe even considering 11 and 14 at the same time too.

      Part of TK’s problem is that he doesn’t get a lot of good ball from inside him. He’s often left to crash it up (which he does fairly well) or distribute (which he doesn’t). But the WBs don’t have good distribution from the inside backs, regardless.

      In any event I don’t see him in my team.

      Foley or Lance at 10. Kerevi has to be in the team, for his running game, best at 12. Beale at 15 with licence to roam in attack (Folau to wing) and Hodge or CFS at 13.

      • April 14th 2018 @ 10:12am
        Rhys Bosley said | April 14th 2018 @ 10:12am | ! Report

        Dave, irrespective of who is inside him TK has never been much for running lines that create opportunities for those outside, like an outside centre is supposed to. For me the defining trick which has made him such a valuable attacker has always been to be able to get himself into a good spot to receive the ball when his team are in a good attacking position, demand it and the crash over for a critical try. I haven’t seen him do that for a looong, long time. His other defining feature is his outstanding defence, which also seems to have come off the boil. What he is good at seems to have fallen away and that isn’t anybody elses fault.

        • April 14th 2018 @ 10:33am
          Dave_S said | April 14th 2018 @ 10:33am | ! Report

          I don’t disagree that TK’s peak was some time ago. He also has a limited game such that if he’s not put into a gap and he has a decent defender is in front of him, it pretty much dies there.

          I guess it’s a bit chicken and egg – runners go to where they think they’ll get the ball, distributors pass to where they think the runner will/should be. The blame has to be shared to some extent.

          Fact is, Foley and TK have not combined well for some time, and whoever is to blame for that is probably beside the point if Foley is a definite starter.

          So we have to find someone who either combines well with Foley or plays well regardless of Foley.

          As usual, we are faced with suboptimal options …

        • April 14th 2018 @ 12:48pm
          elvis said | April 14th 2018 @ 12:48pm | ! Report

          Have you considered TK for a wing spot? Runs hard and can find the tryline one on one, can’t pass. Surely he would be better than some of the wing options put forward…?

          • April 14th 2018 @ 12:55pm
            Dave_S said | April 14th 2018 @ 12:55pm | ! Report

            I think he was originally, but does he have the pace? Otherwise a fairly 1D ball runner. Probably low in the pecking order given our wing stocks are decent ATM.

    • April 14th 2018 @ 6:20am
      Fionn said | April 14th 2018 @ 6:20am | ! Report

      Good article, and reminds me of the one you wrote on inside centres a few years back – and all the same problems remain there also!

      One thing I will say though is that your 13 is usually your defensive lynchpin and often does a lot of defensive work even when they aren’t making tackles by being the defensive general. Missed tackle stats are often misleading, also, and I think you need to analyse the misses themselves.

      What I will say is that if we go for 10. Foley, 12. Beale, 13. Rona then I can’t see us beating Ireland. The Waratahs are conceding far too many points and those guys are not doing it in defence. They get away with it in SR as they are attacking so efficiently, but I don’t imagine th Wallabies will be able to score enough points to make up for it vs Ireland.

      All out rugby has Kerevi’s tackle success at 80% for the season, however, and that includes those matches at 13 where he will miss more. Beale is more than 10% lower.

      • April 14th 2018 @ 1:36pm
        Rhys Bosley said | April 14th 2018 @ 1:36pm | ! Report

        Thanks Fionn.

        I actually reckon the Tahs problems is defence has more to do with defensive coaching, than the players in question. Foley and Beale may not have been known for defense in the past, but they showed that they could do a damn good job during the Dunedin Bledisloe last year. The coaches just need to stick to the plan and keep them defending in the line, so that they can make it a habit.

        And if Beale isn’t at 12 I’m afraid that some of the lousy defence I have seen from Kerevi this season has degraded my confidence in him at the international level. How could you justify picking him ahead of, for example, Hodge who is a good defender and dangerous in attack?

        And can Kerevi really expect to get selected very often, when he can only play one position where he isn’t even the best player? It is in his interest for him to do the extra work and learn to defend well, he would be a no brainer for selection if he did that.

        • April 15th 2018 @ 10:50am
          Fionn said | April 15th 2018 @ 10:50am | ! Report

          I know that Foley and Beale defended well in Dunedin, but we’ve had another 9 months of matches since. Beale’s defence has never matched that night (that being said, Foley’s defence seems vastly improved this year, as has his kicking out of hand and off the tee, which is excellent to see).

          At present though the Foley-Beale-Rona axis looks likely to continue at international level, I would have thought.

          One thing I’ve found really interesting about the Tahs is that the lack of Folau seems to have made them more creative with their attack. As opposed to just defaulting to ‘give it to Folau’ Foley, Beale and Rona are doing an excellent job at creating space for their outside backs.

    • April 14th 2018 @ 6:31am
      Dave_S said | April 14th 2018 @ 6:31am | ! Report

      Four paras and you didn’t pick a 13 – unlike you to to be without an opinion, Fionn 😉 So …?

      • April 14th 2018 @ 6:41am
        Fionn said | April 14th 2018 @ 6:41am | ! Report

        No good answers. What do we do? TK is woefully out of form, the Rebels aren’t sure who their outside centre is, CFS isn’t offering much on attack and Rona doesn’t look experienced enough at 13 to run the defence.

        I think we’ve got to hope one of the four really puts their hand up from here. I think they’re all capable of doing it.

        • April 14th 2018 @ 7:47am
          Dave_S said | April 14th 2018 @ 7:47am | ! Report

          Agree. Long term I’m still thinking Hodge.

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            April 14th 2018 @ 9:09am
            PeterK said | April 14th 2018 @ 9:09am | ! Report

            I watched Hodge at 13 for the rebels with anticipation. I was very underwelmed.

            He showed nothing in attack or defense at 13 to warrant any consideration for the wallabies at 13.

            • April 14th 2018 @ 9:37am
              Dave_S said | April 14th 2018 @ 9:37am | ! Report

              Agree he’s not a clear choice for 13 atm, I’m hoping he will develop there long term. I foresee a WB backline built around Kerevi and Hodge as the future.

              • April 14th 2018 @ 9:52am
                Connor33 said | April 14th 2018 @ 9:52am | ! Report

                It’s Beale and TK for the foreseeable future. Crazy stuff otherwise. True, though, that Hodge is playing the 12 role at the moment, save for Bled 2 last year.

        • April 14th 2018 @ 1:54pm
          StuM said | April 14th 2018 @ 1:54pm | ! Report

          Pocock to 7 and captain, permanently. Hooper to 13.

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