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Why do the Wallabies make the game more difficult?

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Expert
28th November, 2018
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4894 Reads

I am a fair-weather golfer.

People who know me well, and people who know how much I enjoy a round will be thinking ‘tell us something we don’t know’ right now, but there is very good reasoning behind my pathological need to restrict golf to days of blue skies and dry fairways.

Simply put, why on earth would I make an already difficult sporting pursuit even harder again by adding meteorological variables into the mix as well? I can get myself into more than enough trouble without having to negotiate things like rain, wind and frost.

Instead, I keep it simple and study weather forecasts very carefully. If the skies are clear, you won’t stop me playing; but if there’s a chance of rain, not even your money paying the green fees is enough to get me out there.

Nick Bishop’s superb analysis yesterday of Sekope Kepu and particularly Jack Maddocks and Sefa Naivalu from the England Test got me thinking about my strict golf-is-not-for-for-crap-weather stance.

The similarities are as clear as the days on which I prefer to play. The Wallabies, for no obvious reason – and certainly not for any well-performed reason – are intent on making things as difficult for themselves as possible.

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Nick’s analysis highlighted the incredible ask placed upon Maddocks in playing on the left wing against England, a Test he started in the no.11 jersey despite not having played in it very much at any level, having sat out the Italy Test the week before completely, and during which he had to be hooked at halftime.

The jaw-dropping bewilderment around the selection was made clear by all and sundry in the lead-up to the Test. And when Jonny May scored down the short side from a wonderful English scrum in the third minute, the warning bells were there on how tough a day Maddocks was in for.

Because, as we all know, it was Dane Haylett-Petty, the Wallabies right winger in the no.14 jersey who found himself isolated down the short side when May touched down in the corner. Maddocks, being the left winger in the Wallabies defensive set up, was not on the left wing but on the opposite side of the field defending the open side.

Maddocks had been on ‘his’ wing for the kick off to the game, and was still out there on the left when Haylett-Petty’s clearing kick was charged down in the opening minute. In the lead-up to the resulting five-metre scrum, Maddocks can be seen in the background making a confused switch with Samu Kerevi; Maddocks went to the open side to defend at outside centre with fullback Israel Folau defending like he does out on the right wing.

There’s no need for me to go back over what Nick pointed out about Maddocks’ game, but if you’ve not read it, I’d absolutely encourage you to do so. And if you’re the Wallabies defence coach, I demand it.

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But it is worth regurgitating this little tid bit from Nick a few weeks ago, in which he did the deep dive on Marika Koroibete’s workload in the Wallabies no.11 jersey:

“Ever since Michael Cheika took over as head coach of the Wallabies back in late 2014, his defensive assistant has been ex-Waratahs centre Nathan Grey. The system of defence Grey has evolved is unique in world rugby.”

Our attention to this defensive pattern came after former Wallabies winger, and now Fox Sports commentator Drew Mitchell offered up some first-hand experience around what playing on the left wing for the Wallabies really entails, and how this world-exclusive overly-complicated pattern is impacting Koroibete.

“Marika’s always having to go to the opposite side of the field, to be in that first phase on defence,” Mitchell said.

“It’s hard because you want him to have more in the tank to keep going around and popping up inside the 10, in and around No 9 as well.

“But at the moment he’s probably spending too much in defence.”

Mitchell made the comments on TV at the end of The Rugby Championship, but the Fox Sports Lab went deeper again from an online piece that went on to confirm that not only had Koroibete had twice the defensive involvements as his international left wing counterparts in 2018, but that he’s also had only half the attacking impact in terms of tries and line breaks.

And it’s no wonder Koroibete’s having half the attacking impact, if he’s covering twice or three times as much territory in a game by having to defend all over the park.

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Marika Koroibete

Marika Koroibete of the Wallabies (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

The sad – infuriating, even – part to this is that a simple online search, ‘Marika Koroibete Melbourne Storm highlights’ returned this nine-minute gem of a highlight reel in which one thing is abundantly clear.

Koroibete was so deadly in rugby league because his teams attacked using his strengths: his ability to find space on the left edge and his blinding, uncoachable speed. His job with Wests Tigers and the Storm was simply to stay out on the left and be ready for the ball, or to stop blokes that came his way.

I could only get halfway through the video; it was too depressing thinking about what the Wallabies aren’t getting by overly complicating his role.

I’ve made this same criticism of Folau’s hybrid half-winger, half-centre, half-pregnant role repeatedly and the resolution is the same: cut out the complications, make the role simple, and reap the rewards.

Folau looks so much better on the right wing playing like a right winger that we can only shake our heads again that he’s played the last two Tests of the year back in the no.15.

Of course, this over-complication role isn’t limited to the wings or the back three. The Wallabies have props playing on the wrong side, opensiders playing elsewhere, and midfielders moving all over the shop like they’re playing whack-a-mole.

Israel Folau Australia Rugby Union Championship Bledisloe Cup Wallabies 2017

Israel Folau (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

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May wears no.11 for England but plays almost entirely on the right. Jacob Stockdale is at his most dangerous on the left wing for Ireland. The common denominator in Jordie Barrett’s four tries against Italy on the weekend was that he only left the five-metre ‘tram line’ on the right edge when he was improving the position for the conversion.

If the genuinely best teams in the world don’t hinder their attack by playing their wingers anywhere and everywhere but on the wing, then on what possible grounds do the Wallabies think they’re doing this a better way?

Modern, professional rugby is not a simple game and hasn’t been for some time.

But like my golf game on an overcast day, the Wallabies are only punishing themselves by imposing unnecessary difficulties in their play.