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Opinion

All Blacks by 20 means changes aplenty for Wallabies

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Roar Guru
20th October, 2020
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7286 Reads

Two games into Dave Rennie’s tenure with the Wallabies, one thing is certain: if you’re not up to it, you’re out.

Pete Samu and Folau Fainga’a wore that reminder after the first Bledisloe Cup match of 2020, after their performances were deemed to have not met the standard set by the new coach.

The tactical change of reserve backrower (Rob Valetini for Liam Wright) and the injection of Jordan Petaia off the bench after his return from injury were the only other changes, but in a game widely considered as a success for the Wallabies, Rennie was still happy to swing that selection axe.

Lord knows how the team will look after that defensive capitulation on the weekend.

Speaking to that point, however, is the need to change something. It was evident on the weekend that tackles weren’t sticking, the ruck still wasn’t quite getting the protection it requires on our attacking ball and without Matt To’omua our attack seemed misguided.

Clearly, the strike is there. The Wallabies can’t name more damaging runners than Marika Koroibete, Hunter Paisami, Petaia or Filipo Daugunu, yet without that second playmaker, the opportunities and gaps that would normally be afforded these players were limited.

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Following the cruel news that To’omua will be out for the rest of the year, Rennie has a tough choice in terms of how he sets out his backline.

Option 1: More playmakers
The first option would see the team shuffled to ensure there are distributors at every axis, so that the ball is kept alive and our bigger ball-runners have a better chance at finding a gap or being put in space.

This would likely include a Test debut for Noah Lolesio in the 10 jersey, with James O’Connor helping to steer the ship outside him.

Another addition could be that of Dane Haylett-Petty in the fullback role. His ability to see space for his wings and his propensity to come into first receiver could help direct play and finish more attacking opportunities.

This is my preferred option, but there is merit to nearly every scenario.

Dane Haylett-Petty

Dane Haylett-Petty (Photo by Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Option 2: More ball runners
This option would see the backline that played most of the Bledisloe 2 match with Paisami and Petaia in the centres and potentially Jack Maddocks at fullback for his first game of the series.

The issue with this tactic is that it looks a lot like the side that leaked all those points against the Kiwis over the weekend and failed to score any tries after To’omua left the field.

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The difference, however, would be the ability to train for having this line-up, the hope that Koroibete’s hands have more grip and that all of their tackles have more starch and substance.

Option 3: A balance of both
Perhaps the most sensible option is the simple swap from To’omua to Irae Simone.

Although a baptism by fire would await, Simone possesses the closest thing to an all-round skillset at 12 in that he can pass, kick, defend and set up line breaks.

Simone’s presence may not induce fear but he provides a safe and reliable option if his Super Rugby AU form is to go by and we’ll be playing inexperienced players in our backline regardless.

Other changes
The resounding feeling after re-watching the weekend’s match was that the Wallabies did well to be down by just three points at halftime despite being the worse team.

This was a chance to regroup and realise how much of their fate was in their own hands, but instead of coming out with a bang, annoying errors over the span of just 11 minutes put the game out of reach.

Sticking tackles and making some slightly smarter tactical choices will improve the result, but seeing the success the Springboks had with their ‘bomb squad’, it’s time to have a team start that can play tactically brilliantly and keep us in the game so that the reserves can capitalise on a more tired defence.

The point has less effect when the opposition is the All Blacks, who boast a ridiculous bench man-for-man, but the tactic can still be put to good use.

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Starting these changes off would be the tighthead prop position. Taniela Tupou dominated Super Rugby AU and is a human highlights reel, but you don’t get those same luxuries in Test matches and he has failed to have the same impact over the last two fixtures.

Allan Alaalatoa, on the other hand, has come off the bench and stuck to all of his tackles but also made more metres off fewer runs over the same amount of game time on the weekend. It makes sense to reverse their roles so that the Wallabies can get the richest benefit from both players’ individual skillsets.

Allan Alaalatoa of The Wallabies in action

Allan Alaalatoa (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Another change would see Liam Wright start at 6 and Ned Hanigan take the 19 jersey. Wright had one loose carry, but otherwise showed he can be efficient in the rucks, is useful in lineouts, and has the capacity to truck it up in the absence of bigger ball carriers.

Hanigan’s inclusion is more to do with the fact Rob Simmons doesn’t provide the impact needed off the bench. Hanigan or even Trevor Hosea would pose more of a powerful injection from the reserves.

Rounding out the changes would be Tate McDermott coming in. Jake Gordon was brought in for his better kicking and passing game, however, as much as I like him for the Waratahs, his crabbing with the ball and delayed decision making haven’t helped the Wallabies and I’ve seen nothing in those matches to warrant a better box-kick keeping McDermott from playing.

McDermott showed time and again that he could set plays outside him with his vision, but importantly, he was the best exponent at targeting tired or unobservant defenders and punishing them with well-timed and well-placed snipes.

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In all, the Wallabies have a tough ask to win two consecutive Tests against the All Blacks to reclaim the long-lost Bledisloe Cup.

The last encounter doesn’t exactly instil the assuredness of two on the trot, but there are definitely enough promising signs out there to feel optimistic about Rennie’s Wallabies, however he chooses to name them next weekend.

My side for Bledisloe 3
1. James Slipper
2. Brandon Paenga-Amosa
3. Allan Alaalatoa
4. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto
5. Matt Philip
6. Liam Wright
7. Michael Hooper
8. Harry Wilson
9. Nic White
10. Noah Lolesio
11. Marika Koroibete
12. James O’Connor
13. Jordan Petaia
14. Filipo Daugunu
15. Dane Haylett-Petty

16. Jordan Uelese
17. Scott Sio
18. Taniela Tupou
19. Ned Hanigan
20. Pete Samu
21. Tate McDermott
22. Hunter Paisami
23. Reece Hodge

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