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To playmake or distribute, that is the question

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Roar Guru
30th May, 2019

Two of the most contentious positions in the next Wallabies team are stand-off and fullback. But what do we expect from these two players?

Coach Michael Cheika has preferred two playmakers in his run-on 15, but do we actually need that?

And if we do, do they have to be at No.15 as well as No.10?

And what about the role of distributors to support playmakers?

I expect a playmaker – someone who can play a traditional stand-off role and control a game, with good passing to both sides and a tactical kicking game – to be more involved than a distributor – someone who can effectively pass both sides and can read a game for opportunities.

These definitions relate to the attacking aspect of their games only. Both positions require effective defence. Positions other than No.10 can be playmakers, often No.12 or No.15, and any position could be a distributor.

Last weekend provided an opportunity to view all the leading contenders for both positions. After watching all the Australian teams play live, I then reviewed the games with an emphasis on the Brumbies’, Rebels’ and Waratahs’ stand-offs and fullbacks.

I did not review the Reds game as Bryce Hegarty and Matt McGahan aren’t serious contenders for a Wallabies 23-man squad this year.

The players I reviewed in detail were Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale, Christian Lealiifano, Tom Banks, Quade Cooper and Dane Haylett-Petty. Matt To’omua was only on the field for 15 minutes and I couldn’t fairly assess him as a result. Also, he came on to the No.12 position with Cooper and Haylett-Petty maintaining their roles.

Kurtley Beale throws a pass

(AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

The focus of the review was the players’ attacking skills, positional play and unforced errors, only noting actions that were above or below what should be expected from Test players in a Super Rugby game. I did not review their tackling rates or simply doing what’s expected of them, nor their form so far this season.

Here are the highs and lows of each game.

Brumbies vs Bulls
0:22 Banks drops the ball on kick-off
04:25 Banks breaks a tackle and delivers a good offload for Tevita Kuridrani – try
21:30 Lealiifano puts a good kick in behind the defensive line
40:25 Banks kicks out on the full from general play
44:20 Lealiifano gives a good inside pass to Henry Speight then to Irae Simone – try

Rebels vs Sunwolves
01:00 Cooper gives a long pass (right to left) to Marika Koroibete, creating a genuine try-scoring opportunity
02:36 Cooper’s wide pass (right to left) was intercepted
10:14 Haylett-Petty makes a good run, beating two and getting a good pass away
12:22 Cooper gives a pass to Matt Philip, Cooper backs up then to Angus Cottrell – try
15:05 Cooper puts Reece Hodge into a gap, creating a genuine try-scoring opportunity
27:30 Cooper gives a long ball (right to left) to Koroibete – try
29:50 Haylett-Petty fails to find touch
57:00 Cooper gives a long ball (right to left) to Koroibete then Haylett-Petty – try


Waratahs vs Jaguares
00:20 Beale fails to kick out inside his 22
12:18 Foley fails to make touch from a penalty
12:30 Beale kicks out on the full but his foot is on the 22 (not picked up)
19:56 Beale fails to kick out inside his 22
25:01 Beale out of position to defend against the first Jaguares try
30:48 Foley delivers a good kick in behind the defensive line
45:38 Beale fails to kick out inside 22
52:29 Well timed pass from Beale to Curtis Rona
57:50 Good run close in by Beale, beating two before a good offload
72:23 Beale loses the ball after the tackle but not in contact
75:22 Foley loses the ball in contact

Foley and Beale evenly share the playmaker role for the Waratahs, so they both handle the ball a lot.

Cooper is the playmaker for the Rebels, while Genia often assists, but Haylett-Petty plays a significant role as a distributor.

This is similar to the Brumbies, where Lealiifano is the playmaker, although Banks is not so much a distributor as Haylett-Petty.

The Brumbies then have a playmaker at No.10 and no distributor in their run-on 15.

The Rebels have a playmaker at No.10 and a distributor at No.15, with important support from the No.9 and No.12.

The Waratahs have playmakers at No.10 and No.15, with a distributor at No.12.

While this is a level below Test rugby, the Brumbies and Rebels have shown that Australian teams can be successful with one playmaker.


Do the Wallabies really need two playmakers in the run-on 15? Maybe they need more distributors.