Amongst all the despair, the Wallabies beat Ireland this year and the All Blacks last year. We can do it again.
With some shrewd signings in the off-season, the Rebels game plan and style will be key to both their own Super Rugby success and Wallabies World Cup hopes in 2019.
And taking a look at the Rebels playing roster, with talent to burn, they have not mucked around when it comes to the backline.
Quade Cooper rejoins fellow Queensland Reds 2011 Super Rugby champion and fellow Wallabies legend Will Genia. Former Wallabies and Brumbies star Matt Toomua becomes available after his contract finishes with Leicester Tigers.
With these additions the Rebels boast a backline full of current and former Wallabies. Here is a review of a possible full-strength line-up.
Half-back: Will Genia – 100 Wallabies caps
Real deal. World Cup finalist. Reds Super Rugby champion. And 100 tests is a lot of games. He needs to be properly rested and have his fatigue managed this season. In tandem with Rebels Kiwi Michael Ruru, Melbourne are one of the more mature outfits when it comes to player management.
Fly half: Quade Cooper – 70 Wallabies caps
World Cup 2011 semi-finalist. Reds Super Rugby champion. Freakish X factor talent. Can burn opposition in a second. His 2018 season was probably a blessing in disguise. While Bernard Foley was mercilessly played game after game by New South Wales and the Wallabies, Thorn protected Quade Cooper, who is coming into 2019 the freshest he has been in a long time. Out of the bubble of Queensland, Quade can rub shoulders with the likes of Cameron Smith, another Queensland legend playing in Melbourne.
For the Wallabies, Quade’s focus is on his kicking game and emulating Johnny Wilkinson’s work effort. As a fellow Roarer commented, Johnny Wilkinson was always last to leave at training. For Quade it’s about striving for personal bests in goal-kicking percentage and linking up with Cameron Smith, who is an 82.4 per cent goal kicker and one sharp cookie. Master the pinpoint accurate, long-range torpedo kick. With tall outside backs, look for cross-field bombs. Chips over the back to turn around defences who like to rush in on our backs. And of course the drop goal.
Inside centre: Matt Toomua – 40 Wallabies caps
A World Cup finalist and a Super Rugby finalist with the Brumbies. After Toomua left Brumbies, their number of wins dropped from ten or nine per season to six. Again, he’s the real deal. He’s a gun fly half who will no doubt readily interchange positions with Cooper in 2019. This is important as both players will need to be rested during a World Cup year. It also keeps them sharp in both positions. Like Quade, Toomua should unleash on the kicking front.
Outside centre: Marika Koroibete – 18 Wallabies caps
He’s a dual international and 2016 NRL grand finalist. Though he’s normally a winger, he could become a deadly centre. His fend has shades of Steve Renouf, who incidentally, at 1.8 metres tall, is the same height.
Using tall wingers and fullbacks gives the Rebels an aerial advantage close to the line and when defending. Taller players with proper technique can also have latent monster boot abilities, which brings us to wings and fullback.
Wing: Reece Hodge (the Monster Boot himself) – 33 Wallabies caps
He’s 1.91 metres tall and historically a utility player who can play all backline positions. This offers the ability to fill in for players when they are being managed for fatigue in 2019. Hodge’s fatigue needs to be managed also.
He kicked the winning goal against the All Blacks in 2017. Arguably the most underused weapon in the Rebels and Wallabies arsenal, the last time we rolled the All Blacks was off the back of a Reece Hodge monster goal. Here’s a little trip from memory lane at the three-minute mark, and the following is him on debut against the All Blacks.
When you have a weapon like Hodge, the opposition think twice about infringing. It’s risk vs reward and percentage plays. If they muck up, they can get hurt from a long way out. The more long-range kicks Hodge make, the bigger the threat he becomes in international rugby.
For both the Rebels and the Wallabies, Hodge should be used as fly half for farside touchline clearance kicks when inside our 22. Likewise, when in the 35-metre to 60-metre zone on our lineout throws, Hodge again would act as a fly half to penetrate the ball deep into opposition 22. Again, farside of field torps. This then links in with a strong lineout focus. The Rebels and Wallabies need lineouts to be a standout strength.
For all other scenarios, revert back to Cooper or Toomua at fly half.
Hodge’s focus for 2019 ought to be long-range penalty and field goals and monster cross-field torpedo kicks. You are probably starting to see a common theme here. AFL-style drop punts aiming for near the touchline have a place in the game, but for territorial advantage nothing beats a monster cross-field torpedo aiming for the farside touchline.
Territorial advantage was a tactic employed in the 2003 World Cup by England and is a major weapon the Wallabies could have at their disposal.
South Africa and teams from Europe are torpedo masters, so the Wallabies should contract a gun South African or European kicking coach. Backs should be launching missiles again each other in a game of ‘force-em backs’ at the start of training under the tutelage of an eagle-eyed torpedo master.
Wing: Dane Haylett-Petty – 29 Wallabies caps; fullback: Jack Maddocks – 6 Wallabies caps
At 1.90 metres and 1.94 metres respectively, these two are great talents. In opposition 22 the odd cross-field kick from Quade or Toomua to these tall men becomes another threat. Wings and fullbacks need to focus on basics of speed, kicking, chasing Ben Tune-style, catching cross-field bombs and positional play. Again, as part of the back three, they need missile torps to play the game in opposition territory. With practice comes precision.
Australia need a lot things to win the World Cup: player depth, player combinations, multiple players with pinpoint-accurate torpedo kicks matched by an equally dominant lineout and a host of other factors.
But above all we need multiple Super Rugby teams performing well and mastering new weapons. The Rebels world-class backline has what it takes to match it with the best. The question then becomes: Will they get the platform they need from their forward pack? And what does the most dangerous full-strength Rebels forward pack look like?