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Opinion

Does the ghost of Michael Cheika live on in our Roar Wallabies team?

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Roar Rookie
9th April, 2020
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2303 Reads

It was a great idea for The Roar to give us the opportunity to select our Wallabies team for the next time they play.

Dave Rennie went on record as saying he would select the Wallabies team based on this year’s Super Rugby form and not on reputation. It’s an excellent call from Dave as unfortunately the Wallabies have too often been selected based on the player’s reputation and past form rather than their current performance.

This problem isn’t isolated to the Wallabies or to rugby itself – as it was once said, it’s harder to get out of the Aussie cricket team than get into it. Unfortunately, only the truly great players can maintain form year in, year out as for most athletes their peak form only lasts a short period of time.

This brings us to the team that us Roar readers chose as our next Wallabies team. I thought it would be interesting to have a look at who the numbers say are the form offensive and defensive players from this year’s Super Rugby season.

I did this by looking at the Fox Sports Lab website. I know pure stats and numbers aren’t the be-all and end-all in selecting a good player, but I thought it would be an interesting experiment.

James Slipper

(Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

For the top attack I looked at the total of big attacking plays – tries, try assists, line breaks and line break assists – for each player in each position. In this case, using the totals seemed the best indicator compared to working it out per minute played or possession. I did this so we got players who have actually had a good amount of game time this year.

I tried to group players who played in multiple positions to the one they spent the most time in this season. Here are the results.

Attack
Tries, try assists, line breaks and line break assists

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  1. Tom Banks – 17*
  2. Andrew Kellaway – 17
  3. Hunter Paisami – 6
  4. Irae Simone – 12
  5. Henry Speight -15*
  6. James O’Connor – 16*
  7. Tate McDermott – 18*
  8. Harry Wilson – 11*
  9. Michael Hooper – 8*
  10. Angus Cottrell – 5
  11. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto – 9*
  12. Murray Douglas/ Cadeyrn Neville/Matt Philip – 2*
  13. Taniela Tupou – 15*
  14. Folau Fainga’a – 7*
  15. James Slipper – 2*

There are some pretty handy players in there. In total ten players from this team made our Wallabies 23 – 11 if you count Philip, as he was in a three-way tie for the second lock position). I marked these players with an asterisk.

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To look at the best defensive players I looked at two things. For the forwards I looked at the big defensive plays: pilfers, forced penalties and lineout steals. For the backs I looked at the player’s tackle percentage – that is, what percentage tackles they made out of what they attempted. I did it this way for two reasons.

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Firstly, Australian rugby has neglected the importance of defending aggressively and winning the ball back from the opposition or at least slowing or disrupting their ball. This is one of the main things most successful rugby teams do.

Unfortunately, very few backs in Australia are in these figures, with many positions not having one player who has won the ball this year – and backs can’t win lineout steals! So, the best indicator I could find was their tackle percentage. This works well because a missed tackle for a winger or outside centre out wide will most likely result in a line break or try. Whereas if a prop misses a tackle next to the ruck, you might lose a couple of metres.

Here are the results.

Backs
Tackle percentage

  1. Tom Banks – 83 per cent*
  2. Tom Wright – 77 per cent
  3. Hunter Paisami – 72 per cent
  4. Hamish Stewart – 82 per cent
  5. Chris Feauai-Sautia – 76 per cent
  6. James O’Connor – 84 per cent*
  7. Joe Powell – 83 per cent

Forwards
Pilfers, forced penalties and lineout steals

  1. Isi Naisarani – 3
  2. Michael Hooper – 5*
  3. 6. Rob Valetini / Angus Cottrell – 2
  4. Matt Philip – 5*
  5. Harry Hockings – 4
  6. Harry Johnson-Holmes – 1
  7. Robbie Abel – 4
  8. Matt Gibbon – 2

What is interesting is that only four players made our Roar team compared to the ten (or 11) from the form attacking side. Favouring attack over defence was a common complaint of Michael Cheika’s selections. It is a common thing for the Australian rugby fan to do too. I know I used to watch match highlights and base who I thought was a good player on the tries I saw. If you look at the whole match and analyse it, there is a very different picture.

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Michael Hooper

(Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Lastly I wanted to look at players who have made the most negative plays for each position. I did this by adding up the handling errors, turnovers, penalties conceded and kick errors for each player.

Here are the results.

Most negative plays
Handling errors, turnovers, penalties conceded and kick errors

  1. Kurtley Beale – 16
  2. Mark Nawaqanitawase – 16
  3. Hunter Paisami – 12
  4. Karmichael Hunt – 12
  5. Marika Koroibete – 20 *
  6. James O’Connor – 16 *
  7. Jake Gordon – 12
  8. Harry Wilson – 20 *
  9. Michael Hooper – 7 *
  10. Lachie Swinton – 16
  11. Matt Philip – 15*
  12. Cadeyrn Neville – 11
  13. Taniela Tupou – 17*
  14. Alex Mafi – 13
  15. Scott Sio – 10*

Interestingly, seven of these players made our 23. James O’Connor and Michael Hooper were both the top attacking and defending player in their position, so a high number of negative plays can be justified. Also, Taniela Tupou, Harry Wilson and Matt Philip were the top in their position for either attack or defence too.

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You have to wonder about our selections of Marika Koroibete and Scott Sio. Sio has been a Wallabies stalwart for years and Koroibete had an excellent season in green and gold last year and was deservedly awarded the Wallabies best. However, it looks like both players have not been selected on this season’s form as the payoff this year just isn’t there.

Additionally, Jordan Uelese, Izack Rodda and Jordan Petaia were all picked in the Roar team and have hardly played this year. We must have picked them all on reputation, which brings me to another interesting fact: a whopping 20 out of our 23 Wallabies selections played in one of Michael Cheika’s Wallabies teams last year.

So in conclusion, when selecting our Roar team it looks like we favour strong attacking players over strong defensive ones and have a big preference for last year’s Wallabies.

What do you think? Will solely a change of coaching staff change our fortunes? Or as a rugby nation do we need to address how we value defence and be more open to selecting players whose skill set has been overlooked in previous seasons?