In the book Friday Night Lights by Harry Gerard Bissinger, head coach Gary Gaines asks of his players, “Can you be perfect?”.
“Simplify, Simplify Yourself”. Okay, that is a real demolition of a Simple Minds iconic hit, but if there is a single message that this Wallaby coaching team needs to take on board, it is that the current game plan is way too convoluted for the players they insist on selecting.
This weekend at Twickenham is a chance to send players and fans to the beach with at least a sense there is an ability to set a plan, select an opposition specific line-up and execute on it.
Owen Farrell’s upright tackling technique gets a fair bit of opposition attention and for all the wrong reasons. New Zealand went after him in the key moments two weeks ago to great effect and this should be Australia’s target.
Rugby league sides put great store in making the key opposition players work hard in defence to blunt their offensive efforts and Joe Schmidt is a student of attacking an opposition’s strengths; both are opportunities for Australia this weekend.
Over the past two years when Farrell’s tackle count gets above 11 per game, he largely ends up without a win.
Eight times he has been forced to tackle above this number for a single win, and that was a squeaky one over Wales in last year’s Six Nations.
This is all about volume, get his numbers up and his game suffers and, as we saw against New Zealand, he invariably leaks on defence as well.
His 11 missed tackles against the All Blacks were a Tier One record for this year. Wonder if there is an award for that at the World Rugby event in Monaco?
So, for Australia, this week is about flooding the 10 channel and finding Owen Farrell, over and over again.
Play very flat, run from the base of rucks and scrums, go narrow and stay narrow. Lots of inside balls to wingers and midfields hitting cutbacks all day.
It might not be pretty, but neither is getting beat without direction regularly.
The selection to support this game plan needs to be plan specific and I would go as follows.
9. Jake Gordon (biggest halfback body and a good ball runner), 10. Matt Toomua, 11. Marika Koroibete, 12. Samu Kerevi, 13. Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14. Sefa Naivalu, 15. Dane Haylett-Petty
Big bodies, lots of damaging direct ball runners and no switches required on the transition to either attack or defence, all are perfectly capable of doing a complete job in their own channel. – simplify.
The obvious selection conundrum to complement this strategy is a damaging ball carrying eight that is quick enough to get into the ten channel off rucks and scrums and get across the gain-line.
The omission of Caleb Timu from the touring squad looks a little short-sighted now and I have no idea of those left standing could best do this job.
Pete Samu did a reasonable job in the win over South Africa earlier this season and perhaps that will be the way to go, he does at least play with some aggression ball in hand.
Farrell made an excellent front on tackle on Kieran Read in the All Blacks match off the back off the scrum, but the intent from Read was clear. Straight at Farrell, make him make yet another tackle to get those numbers up.
He is vital to this England line-up and, if it did need further reinforcement, his arrival in the second half versus Japan steadied a visibly wobbly English ship who were not solving the puzzle Japan had set.
The only other area that needs attention under this game plan is the clearance of the offensive ruck, and as Simon Poidevin noted this week, it sadly remains an area of ongoing Wallaby concern.
Forget the pod structure, forget setups, forget what happens next, a total focus on retaining and clearing their own ball must be the directive to the collective loose forward trio. A narrower game plan will seriously help here.
Owen Farrell holds the key to this English side, keeping him focused on the traffic coming towards him will go a long way to the Wallabies having a shot at what would now be one of the surprises of the season