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Opinion

Why there can be no short cuts to Wallabies success

Roar Rookie
9th September, 2021
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Roar Rookie
9th September, 2021
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Maybe I’m a sucker for punishment. I watched the last Wallabies game three times – once live with French commentary, once with the Aussie commentators and once with the Kiwi callers.

The second and third times were while I was doing other stuff, so I did catch more of the commentary than the games, but I was rewatching to see if the trends in how it was played that I’d thought I’d noticed were actually really there or not and how true what others on here were pointing out really were.

Hearing a different set of voices can help you spot other stuff that’s going on too.

Before going any further though, so as not to let anyone down, this isn’t going to be an attempt at in-depth analysis. I’d say broadly I’m at the stage as rugby watcher where I can pick up a fair bit of what’s going on, but I’m not so far along that I can always work out why. For instance, I might notice the centres aren’t getting into the play much, but I couldn’t tell you that’s because they’re running the wrong lines or because they’re getting mistimed delivery or the halves are moving too far laterally.

I’m supposing some commentators on here might be able explain to me – assuming my observations are valid – why these things are happening. I have theories.

(Photo by Getty Images)

My first observation is that generally our forwards just weren’t quick enough to the contest. Lachlan Swinton, Matt Philip, James Slipper, Rob Valetini even Darcy Swain seem to hit it fairly hard and purposefully, but they’re just too slow to get there.

Is this an inability to read the play well and anticipate? Or is it just that they’re not focused enough on this?

Michael Hooper, on the other hand, does an amazing job of recovering quickly. But too often he was first in, and without support he was left to be thrown over by one or two All Blacks who are each 15 to 30 kilos heavier than him.

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As an aside, I was frustrated to see Folau Fainga’a picked. I’ve never watched him play and thought that he’s a bloke who works extra hard. I’m not saying he doesn’t, just that I haven’t seen it – whereas I often have with Brandon Paenga-Amosa and defensively especially with Jordan Uelese.

What I think we’d call forward-pod play seems to have deteriorated considerably compared to last year. I remember last year’s Bledisloe the Wallabies forwards generally looking very nifty in terms of quick passes between each other. Taniela Tupou was out there but wasn’t the one busting the lines. I remember it was Philip, Slipper and sometimes Harry Wilson. I suspect that this structure, purposefulness and coordination also meant better anticipation and positioning to defend the contested ball. Was it?

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Maybe it wasn’t. A few observers on here point out Nic White’s ability to organise play around him. I remember he and James O’Connor playing very attacking line-breaking rugby in the early games of last year’s series. That’s easy for a non-expert like me to appreciate, as is Tate McDermott’s aggressive attacking style, running hard and straight, ball in hand, this year. What I don’t have the nous for is whether it’s actually his (I’m told) poorer play as a passer and organiser that makes the forwards look like they’re not playing smart and hard when we’ve got the ball. Is it?

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My main point and my main frustration is about the centres and outside backs getting the ball too quickly. I hate England mainly because Owen Farrell plays for them, but it’s also because I hate getting beaten by their clinical, machine-like way of playing. They truck it up the middle bit by bit: Mako Vunipola, Courtney Lawes et cetera chugging through. Then, like clockwork, once they get to just a little before the 22, not earlier, you’ll see Owen Farrell or George Ford start looking for Jonny May, Anthony Watson, maybe Elliot Daly et cetera.

What per cent of their ball do those backs get in the middle of the field? To me it always seems like very little. Am I exaggerating? Maybe I am.

They’re used as finishers apart from in broken play. On the other hand too often we’re trying to chuck it out to our wings to make breakaway metres as soon as we’ve got the ball. It looks desperate, and it’s now frequently intercepted. There seems to be no confidence or patience. As if we want a short cut to a try rather than a fight. As if it’s not the forwards’ job to make most of the metres up the field ball in hand.

Even though Samu Kerevi had a pretty good game, how often do you see England using their most comparable player, Manu Tuilagi, to break tackles in his defensive half? Not often from what I’ve seen. We seem to be playing so flat, with no depth to the attack, so the width has to come into it too early on.

We need to play more like England – tough and clinical, expecting to fight for those metres rather than being opportunistic. I realise we don’t have Ford and Farrell, but I’d like to see the Wallabies play more that way.

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I don’t think the Pumas or Springboks backs are as likely to blow the lead right out on us, but I also think their forwards are every bit as good as those of the All Blacks, and probably better in the case of the Springboks. The Wallabies forwards need to step up and play better and be given more responsibility attack-wise. No short cuts!

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