Second-half fade outs holding back Australian teams

Brett McKay Columnist

By Brett McKay, Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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    After highlighting the closeness of the mid-table teams last week, the Round 9 results over the weekend brought an interesting addendum to those observations.

    But three of the four Australian sides won’t need to worry about being in the mid-table group if they can’t address one significant issue.

    Where after Round 8 five teams between seventh and eleventh were separated by just one point, a bunch of surprise results in Round 9 has seen the group of teams grow further down the table.

    Now, seven teams between eighth and fourteenth are separated by just two points. All seven teams are hovering around the three-win mark, with some teams sitting in this grouping with just two wins, but with a healthy bonus points haul as we near the halfway point of the season. These could prove invaluable, should the Sharks and Blues start stringing some wins together through the back half of the season.

    Similarly, the Bulls, Brumbies, Reds, and Blues also have something of an advantage up their sleeve, having played one game fewer than the Sharks, Stormers, and Jaguares among this collection of teams.

    It all just underlines the points made last week. The top seven teams may be somewhat settled already, but even if you’re not thrilled about the prospect of eight teams playing finals in a 15-team competition, having a large bunch of teams still eyeing off the final wildcard position is actually a healthy thing for the competition.

    But this is all secondary to a more important issue that has somewhat consistently plagued the Rebels, Brumbies, and Reds this season.

    If all three sides don’t quickly address this becoming-alarming trend of second-half fade-outs, then finishing in a wildcard position won’t be something that concerns them.

    The Rebels have lost three games in 2017 – to the Waratahs in Round 5, the Hurricanes at home in Round 7, and most recently to the Jaguares in Melbourne on Saturday afternoon.

    There’s a pattern to all three losses, too. Against both the ‘Tahs and the Jags, the Rebels led at halftime, 20-10 and 14-3 respectively, and though they didn’t lead at halftime against the ‘Canes, they did lead 19-7 just before the break. Against the Jaguares, they even led 19-6 after 50 minutes, and 22-18 fifteen minutes later.

    Three games in which the led comfortably, only to fade badly in the second half.

    The Brumbies’ four losses have come against the Reds in Brisbane in Round 3, the Rebels in Melbourne in Round 4, then to the Waratahs at home in Round 7 and away to the Highlanders on Saturday evening.

    The difference for the Brumbies is they didn’t lead any of the four games at half time, though they were right in them. The Rebels game was the only one of the four in which they trailed by more than two points at the break.

    The final results? Losses by eight, 23, seven, and 26 points respectively. The Highlanders loss is made worse by the fact they only trailed by five with twenty to play. A Waisake Naholo intercept and a Ben Smith counter-attacking try within seven minutes of each other and the Brumbies were out of it. Their worst, and fastest fade-out.

    David Pocock

    (AAP Image/Rohan Thomson)

    The Reds have also lost four games: to the Rebels away in Round 3, to the Stormers in Cape Town in Round 5, another heavy loss to the Brumbies in Round 8, and then to the Waratahs at the SCG on Saturday night.

    The Reds have also trailed at halftime in three of their four losses – by 12 against the Rebels, 11 against the Stormers, and seven against the Tahs. They led the Brumbies – coincidentally enough – by six at the break in Canberra ten days ago.

    Their second half fade-outs are just as worrying: losing by 26 to the Rebels, six to the Stormers, 24 to the Brumbies, and 21 to the Waratahs.

    The common denominator for all three sides has been a fatal loss of momentum, which responding to and recovering from has proven too much for all three sides in varying state of rebuild. The Rebels are a completely different side this year; the Reds are incredibly raw as a playing group at this level. The Brumbies have more time together as a group, but are now rebuilding combinations with key players who didn’t play last season.

    It’s effectively been back to the drawing board for all three sides, and that comes through in their frustratingly inconsistent results. One week they win well; the next they’re ordinary.

    But all three sides can play for eighty minutes, because they’ve done just that in wins this year. When they’ve been able to control the game and play the way they want to, they can do it. It’s only when they’re unable to stem the momentum swing that games get away on them.

    Brad Thorn

    (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

    And, funnily enough, the blueprint for what they need to do to address this might just come in the form of the Waratahs, who in 2017 seemed to find new ways of losing games in the second half, most notably in those cruel losses to the Kings, and even the Jaguares at home – the latter a game in which they managed to lose momentum swings in both halves.

    Interestingly, in 2018, the Waratahs’ wins have come in games in which they’ve trailed, been level, or led at halftime. Some margins have been narrow, others comfortable. But they’ve been able to gain momentum – extend it in some cases – and go on with the job in the second half. In their five wins, their average second half has been 21 points to nine in their favour.

    There’s no simple solution for the Rebels, Brumbies, and Reds, but one must be found. It’s not just handling errors, or missed tackles, or ordinary kicking, or even coaching, but it’s also all of the above.

    And the losses haven’t been all together. They have been able to turn bad results around the following week.

    But all three teams will be kicking themselves in July if the consistent inconsistency remains.

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.

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    The Crowd Says (144)

    • April 17th 2018 @ 5:37am
      Hugo said | April 17th 2018 @ 5:37am | ! Report

      Hi, Brett. Yep, it’s an 80-minute game divided into two parts. The second half fade can’t be because of poor conditioning. It’s a pro’s first duty to be in shape, and I think most of them are. So maybe it’s because most Aussie opponents, when they find themselves behind, switch game plans which the Aussie teams can’t adjust to. However, I think we have to bite the bullet and admit that this is not our year. And if this year isn’t ours, how can next year be much different when we go to Tokyo for the RWC? Gloom, doom.

    • April 17th 2018 @ 5:53am
      mania said | April 17th 2018 @ 5:53am | ! Report

      yeah ive never understood how NZ teams can be fitter. dont the other countires work on fitness?

    • Roar Guru

      April 17th 2018 @ 5:56am
      Kia Kaha said | April 17th 2018 @ 5:56am | ! Report

      Thanks, Brett.

      I wonder how much of these withering second half performances can be attributed to the coaches. The Rebels’ losses, for example, all seem to have involved their pack moving around like a hive of angry bees in the first half and then the opposition capitalising in the second half. Has Wessels not adjusted after some early convincing performances?

      It’s not just the Australian franchises. The Bulls and Sharks, for example, look deadly one week and then look clueless the next. I think the personnel are there. They’re just lacking direction over the whole course of the game. The mixed results help to put doubt in the players’ minds when things start to go pear-shaped. The Tahs for that reason are looking the most consistent at the moment and that’s reflected in their performances. The big tests are still to come but they look like they have a plan they’re working towards. It’s far from perfect but they’re a marked improvement in tactical terms compared to last year.

      • April 17th 2018 @ 9:14am
        John said | April 17th 2018 @ 9:14am | ! Report

        Probably a lack of leaders within the teams you have mentioned who have the ability to step up when required and adjust their game plan quickly to counter the opposition.

      • Roar Guru

        April 17th 2018 @ 11:42am
        jeznez said | April 17th 2018 @ 11:42am | ! Report

        I think that is the key KK – the Tahs trailed the Rebels 3-20 after 37 minutes of their match.

        A couple of the Rebels tries had looked fortuitous but the scoreboard dominance was there. The Tahs coaching staff – particularly Chris Malone – have attributed the change to the team becoming more patient with the ball in hand. His comments during and post the match were that to this point in the season the team had been trying to score off each play.

        I actually don’t buy what Malone is selling. Prior to this I didn’t think the team could hold on to the ball at the breakdown and so they weren’t getting the chance to build phases.

        From the middle of that match onwards their forwards have started supporting each other much better into contact. All players – forwards and backs are working very hard to shift the ball away from congested parts of the field.

        Against the Rebels with Folau on song they used a kicking game with Folau chasing to shift the point of attack. Against the Reds on Saturday they used Beale at first receiver to throw wide passes to Foley so that BF and Hegarty could shift strike runners in Naiyaravoro and Rona into space.

        It ties neatly to Brett’s article that the Tahs have been able to make a shift in their game. I think the key will be what happens in the next six weeks with the stronger teams they are going to be facing. Do they have another strong to their bow if this plan stops working? Or will they prove unable to adapt similar to the way the other Aussie teams are struggling?

        • April 17th 2018 @ 11:54am
          Fionn said | April 17th 2018 @ 11:54am | ! Report

          If the Waratahs keep attacking like this then the backline skeleton, augmented by a good few backs from other teams, could be really successful for the Wallabies given built in combinations.

          I think we will see:

          9. Genia
          10. Foley
          11. Koroibete
          12. Beale
          13. Rona
          14. Hodge
          15. Folau

          This is already a pretty good backline.

          However, I hope we see:

          9. Genia
          10. Foley
          11. Koroibete
          12. Beale
          13. Rona
          14. Folau
          15. Banks/Maddocks

          • Roar Guru

            April 17th 2018 @ 12:03pm
            jeznez said | April 17th 2018 @ 12:03pm | ! Report

            I like the look of the Izzy for wing option – I never had a strong opinion previously when the FB/wing debate came up but we’ve seen how devastating he can be there.

            For the 15 we need a Hegarty type player – I’m not actually suggesting Bryce but the style of player who consistently gets into good positions, has a kicking game, supports well and has the hands to shift the ball quickly when needed.

            I’m not sure that is Banks. Maddocks might be closer, or maybe Hodge?

            • April 17th 2018 @ 12:09pm
              Fionn said | April 17th 2018 @ 12:09pm | ! Report

              I’d say Hodge is the least likely to be honest, if only because he isn’t practicing in the position and looks the least strong under the high ball.

              Maddocks is the most playmakerish of the trio but hasn’t played well the last few weeks.

              Banks has great running lines but he can also kick accurately and well and has fast hands. He’s actually a good linkman, although definitely doesn’t possess Maddocks’ beautiful long pass, which based on a few he has done for the Rebels is probably the best in Aussie SR.

              • Roar Guru

                April 17th 2018 @ 12:25pm
                jeznez said | April 17th 2018 @ 12:25pm | ! Report

                With the roles that Beale and Foley would be looking to play it is really the speed of hands rather than the need for great width that would best replicate what Hegarty is doing.

                Based on your comment above sounds like Banks.

              • April 17th 2018 @ 12:28pm
                Fionn said | April 17th 2018 @ 12:28pm | ! Report

                Maddocks has stated he wants to play flyhalf in the future though, and I read that Cheika, Larkham and Wessels all see him as a flyhalf for the Wallabies longterm, and he played there as a junior, so he may be the best option, as he wouldn’t be considered a serious flyhalf if he didn’t have quick hands?

                I don’t know. The point is that between Maddocks, Banks, Hodge and Hegarty we have options. I would probably have Hegarty as last placed out of those four, but I think that they would all do a decent to good job.

                It’s an odd feeling to actually be (tentatively) optimistic about the Wallabies…

              • April 17th 2018 @ 1:02pm
                jameswm said | April 17th 2018 @ 1:02pm | ! Report

                I’d go Hodge 1st option and Maddocks 2nd. Pretty clear.

              • April 17th 2018 @ 1:02pm
                Fionn said | April 17th 2018 @ 1:02pm | ! Report

                Why is that, James? Certainly not on form the last 3 or so matches each have played.

                I reckon in terms of fullbacks I’d go for Maddocks first, Banks second and then Hodge third. Not convinced by the speed of Hodge’s passing or accuracy of his kicking.

              • April 17th 2018 @ 2:38pm
                Malo said | April 17th 2018 @ 2:38pm | ! Report

                Folau played all over Maddocks, Banks and Hodge when they played each other. Folau is the 15. End of, no one comes close to his aerial skills.

              • April 17th 2018 @ 1:44pm
                jameswm said | April 17th 2018 @ 1:44pm | ! Report

                Hodge has proven himself to be an all round class player. The others have not. He has decent hands, decent defender, strong in contact, massive boot, and composed. I’m not going to base it on 2 or 3 games.

                Banks and Maddocks may prove to be as good or better but right now, the closest either will get to a Wallaby jersey is wearing 23. And I wouldn’t be against that. I’d happily put Maddocks in 23 (he’s more versatile). And the Rebs really need to get him game time at 10 later in games.

              • April 17th 2018 @ 1:54pm
                Fionn said | April 17th 2018 @ 1:54pm | ! Report

                Both Maddocks and Banks both play wing and fullback. Banks was also in great form last year. Thankfully his form has picked back up.

                I just would prefer not to play Hodge in a position he doesn’t have a great deal of experience in. He’s playing in the centres for the Rebels and has played mostly on the wing for the Wallabies. I also don’t think he’s in great form.

          • April 17th 2018 @ 1:32pm
            ChipandChagger said | April 17th 2018 @ 1:32pm | ! Report

            Koroibete has been having a shocker, definitely won’t be starting in June if he’s picked.

            • April 17th 2018 @ 3:03pm
              Fionn said | April 17th 2018 @ 3:03pm | ! Report

              Who do you think is the best option on the left wing?

              • April 17th 2018 @ 9:09pm
                Akari said | April 17th 2018 @ 9:09pm | ! Report

                I’ve been a Taqele Naiyaravoro fan since his Barbarians stint last year. He has to be on the left wing.

        • Columnist

          April 17th 2018 @ 8:04pm
          Brett McKay said | April 17th 2018 @ 8:04pm | ! Report

          Hooper is in incredible form already Jez, and Miller’s impact at the breakdown can’t be understated currently, but if the Tahs were able add more breakdown hardness again to their game, I reckon they’ll be really well equipped come July…

          • Roar Guru

            April 17th 2018 @ 10:56pm
            jeznez said | April 17th 2018 @ 10:56pm | ! Report

            Next six weeks will tell a lot – Lions, Blues, Crusaders, Highlanders and Chiefs with the second bye slipped in there.

            We’ll learn a lot about whether this team has a touch of the soft track bullies or if they can step up and mix it with the big boys.

            The team is slowly winning me over – I wonder what a pass mark across these five games is? If it is three from five that sounds like a hell of a task.

            • Roar Guru

              April 18th 2018 @ 12:22am
              The Neutral View From Sweden said | April 18th 2018 @ 12:22am | ! Report

              I say two wins from five would more or less guarantee that the Tahs win the OZ conference. Anything better than that and they could almost be considered a dark horse in the playoffs.

              We shall see…

          • Roar Rookie

            April 18th 2018 @ 2:10am
            Huw Tindall said | April 18th 2018 @ 2:10am | ! Report

            If only Tolu Latu was back playing like his early 2017 form he could be that extra breakdown presence

        • April 17th 2018 @ 10:06pm
          Worlds Biggest said | April 17th 2018 @ 10:06pm | ! Report

          Jez I spoke to Nobby Malone a couple of
          weeks ago, good man. I asked him about the forcing of passes, handling errors ( Rebels first half good example ). He said that whilst the error count was high they want the players to look for the offload if it’s in the right situ. He doesn’t want the players to be inhibited, obviously execute better.

          As for the second half fade outs, when playing the NZ teams, our sides seem to be able to compete for 40-60 minutes before the NZ sides lift a gear or two. Our teams don’t have that gear or game plan to stay in the fight for 80 minutes. I think the only way this can be addressed possibly is to find a way to slow the pace of the game down, of course easier said then done.

          • Roar Guru

            April 17th 2018 @ 11:02pm
            jeznez said | April 17th 2018 @ 11:02pm | ! Report

            Cheers WB – that matches the messages coming through official channels. I think the Tahs coaches will be frustrated at a few of the missed chances from Saturday. Beale should have put Foley away and Taqele lost the ball as he went over the line.

            Plus the forwards though they had one off the lineout drive but didn’t get the ball cleanly to the back to give the referees a chance to see it.

            • April 18th 2018 @ 10:53am
              Worlds Biggest said | April 18th 2018 @ 10:53am | ! Report

              Agree mate, the error counts are still frustrating after 7 games. This needs to be tidied up for the Lions game and definitely against the NZ sides.

    • April 17th 2018 @ 5:56am
      Ben said | April 17th 2018 @ 5:56am | ! Report

      The Brumbies highlighted one big issue for me.
      Their catch pass under pressure is poor. The NZ teams apply much more pressure on individuals than other teams. Their rush defence and intensity in the tackle is greater.
      The Brumbies passes often found land, or were dropped, inaccurate, rushed or cutouts used when just straight hands was the better option.
      All because of the increased pressure.
      Aus teams just dont seem to have that catch pass skill under pressure that NZ teams have. Put that down to skill sets developed as kids.

      • April 17th 2018 @ 6:53am
        nickbrisbane said | April 17th 2018 @ 6:53am | ! Report

        The should spend a season playing high level touch.

        • April 17th 2018 @ 10:14am
          jameswm said | April 17th 2018 @ 10:14am | ! Report

          Yeah I’ve wondered that myself. At least play semi serious touch over summer.

        • April 17th 2018 @ 11:12am
          Cliff (Bishkek) said | April 17th 2018 @ 11:12am | ! Report

          I thought that touch is what they have been playing!! Tackling is atrocious – misses and no intensity in a lot of tackles and falling off tackles!

        • April 17th 2018 @ 12:09pm
          Mzilikazi said | April 17th 2018 @ 12:09pm | ! Report

          Or a lot of Sevens…would bring in the tackling.

        • April 17th 2018 @ 9:31pm
          Akari said | April 17th 2018 @ 9:31pm | ! Report

          Australia are world champs when it come to touch rugby and should already have the right coaches to show them the way, nickb.

          • April 18th 2018 @ 12:06pm
            Malo said | April 18th 2018 @ 12:06pm | ! Report

            Nrc are changing the Comp to touch and are trying to change the game to touch

      • Roar Guru

        April 17th 2018 @ 9:20am
        Ralph said | April 17th 2018 @ 9:20am | ! Report

        I suspect there is a lot in what you say Ben.

        By the time 60 minutes has gone and everyone is tired, both physically and mentally, there is a lack of accuracy and vision from Aussie teams.

        In contrast it seems like Kiwi teams (except the Blues) have their heads up and are expecting those match winning moments to appear, see them, and have enough skill and fitness to be accurate when it happens.

        • April 17th 2018 @ 10:15am
          jameswm said | April 17th 2018 @ 10:15am | ! Report

          And when you want accuracy and vision in the last 20, Gordon, Foley and Beale are as good as anyone in Australia (Genia apart).

          • Roar Guru

            April 17th 2018 @ 10:25am
            Ralph said | April 17th 2018 @ 10:25am | ! Report

            And no tired front rowers in the attack line shuffling passes and dropping balls.

      • April 17th 2018 @ 11:06am
        moaman said | April 17th 2018 @ 11:06am | ! Report

        “Their catch pass under pressure is poor.”
        To be perfectly fair it is for most teams.
        Thought there was some decidedly average passing in the ‘Canes v Chiefs’ match on Friday night.

    • April 17th 2018 @ 6:13am
      Steiner said | April 17th 2018 @ 6:13am | ! Report

      Thanks Brett is a big concern for those teams. I think there are a bunch of factors responsible, including the role and quality of the bench players.

    • April 17th 2018 @ 6:47am
      Redsfan1 said | April 17th 2018 @ 6:47am | ! Report

      The Australian teams seem passive in defence and are never looking for the opportunity to to turn good defence into a counter attack opportunity.