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How does Australia find a world-class No.8?

Taqele Naiyaravoro of the Waratahs. (AAP Image/Craig Golding)
Roar Pro
19th April, 2018
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1842 Reads

Finding 110-120kg athletes who have superb balance and eye-to-hand coordination, are nearly two metres tall, can run explosively over 20-40 metres, and who have the physicality and mental attitude required for collision sports is a difficult task.

In Australia, rugby union must compete with rugby league, AFL, basketball and even cricket for these rare athletes.

Watching New Zealand’s Super Rugby and national teams over the last three years, it is obvious every professional team requires a core of big, powerful, dynamic players distributed between backs and forwards to be successful.

These dynamic players can drive the tempo of a game through domination of the gain line and the delivery of quick ball. The more of these dynamic ball runners you have the better, as long as you have the halves to exploit this tempo.

Right now, the Kiwis have more of these players and halves and the results show.

Unfortunately, Australia have lacked this type human specimen for just about as long as we have failed to hold the Bledisloe Cup.

Going into 2015 Rugby World Cup, Michael Cheika basically resigned himself to the fact that our best large backrow specimen, Wycliff Palu, could no longer match it at Test level and went with David Pocock at 8.

In both the 2011 and 2015 World Cups, Australia was without a world-class specialist No.8.

It is likely we could head in the same direction for the 2019 tournament, so fixing this deficiency is a priority.

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The current options are Scott Higginbotham or Caleb Timu at the Reds, Isi Naisarani at the Brumbies, and Michael Wells or Jed Holloway at the Tahs.

Naisarani is playing well but may not be eligible in time for 2019, while Higginbotham was not selected for the last World Cup, so I doubt he’s an option. Timu and Wells have both been playing good rugby, while Holloway is quietly working his way back from injury.

Someone who is also a competitive lineout target and can carry hard in tight or loose would be ideal, which starts to limit the options to either Timu, Wells or Naisarani, with Pocock at 6 and Michael Hooper at 7.

But how about thinking outside the box, by selecting as many dynamic players as possible in the backrow? How about moving Taniela Tupou to 8? Or big Taqele Naiyaravoro? Who’d want to tackle those guys steaming off the back of a scrum?

These two have the raw potential, would present a point of difference and a major running threat at 8. It would mean going back to a conventional backrow with one openside, a ball-running 8 and a lineout 6, but all of those previously mentioned 8s can play 6.

So how are these for out-of-the-box dynamic backrows that could be tweaked based on opposition:

6. Naisarani, Wells, Higginbotham
7. Hooper, Pocock
8. Tupou, Timu, Naiyaravoro

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What do you think Roarers? Am I dreaming? What would our most dynamic pack look like?