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Opinion

Why not stack the Wallabies' back line with big boppers?

Roar Rookie
16th September, 2021
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Roar Rookie
16th September, 2021
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I was reared on a diet of Jonah Lomu Rugby. It was the hit PlayStation game of the ’90s.

As you progress through the game you unlock special teams and the game’s best team is Team Lomu, where every player is Jonah Lomu. The team is stacked with big boppers. You always win.

I still have PTSD from when the All Blacks’ frightening modern incarnation, Caleb Clarke, door-matted our whole team last year.


We saw the value of a big bopper when Samu Kerevi was parachuted into the team. He constantly beat the first defender to get over the gain line.

Previously when this occurred, the Wallabies were forced into a predictably poor panic kick that would gift opposition good field position.

This new option enables us to wrestle back control and persevere with our game plan. This poses opposition coaches a point of difference and a new problem to deal with.

Opposition teams will have to watch Kerevi and commit defenders to him. This creates space for other players and was critical in the lead-up to the Wallabies’ first try last weekend.

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So often Australian teams are obsessed with balance and compatibility in our sporting teams. An example of this is the Australian cricket team needed three fast bowlers and a leg-spin bowler.

The Wallabies have always chased a formulaic balance of pace and speed. My question is why not stack the back line with hefty boppers?

It would be very hard to defend a back line featuring Kerevi, Hunter Paisami, Suliasi Vunivalu and Marika Koroibete. You have to commit multiple tacklers to all of these players and it quickly becomes fatiguing for defences.

It creates problems for opposition coaches and defences alike. When there is one or two problems for the defence, most back lines are capable of negotiating these.

However, when there are three to four live problems in a high pressure situation (such as when defences are moving backwards), people are prone to errors. It also forces coaches to compromise their own game plan.

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I would expect that the All Blacks would be hesitant to pick small players like Damian McKenzie against the aforementioned back line. He would be very challenged in aerial contests, goal-line defence and the breakdown. I want a back line of monsters.

Big boppers have value in defence too. The aforementioned players are all hard hitting defenders too. The value of a big hit cannot be underestimated. It can snatch away momentum from an advancing team. It can lift young players around them to feel more confident.

The Wallabies are youth-heavy and in need of confidence. Big boppers can be harder to clean out at the ruck and are capable of earning you ruck penalties.

Given the frequency of infringement cards, we’ve seen the mandatory shift of Koroibete to flanker. The interchangeability of forwards and backs is streamlined by big-bodied backs.

Marika Koroibete of the Wallabies runs with the ball

(Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

I anticipate that following on from the last 20 minutes of last weekend’s match, South Africa will try and maul us to death this weekend. The forwards will need all the help they can get from big-bodied backs at the breakdown.

Sure, you can have illusive players on the bench should the game necessitate it like James O’Conner or Len Ikitau. However the game is so choked by stoppages that the durability of the bopper is enhanced.

Boppers like Taniela Tupou can now last 80 minutes. If they are struggling, they can always do what the South African forward did last weekend and stop the game to do up his shoelace.

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Illusive players, or finishers as Michael Cheika called them, could add value in the last 20 minutes off the bench to exploit holes in a fatigued defence.

Some may argue that we’d lack kicking ability. A raking, relieving kick is almost mandatory to clear your lines. Firstly, Kerevi and Paisami have both demonstrated a willingness to kick.

Hunter Paisami of the Wallabies passes the ball

(Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

You could also consider playing either O’Conner or Reece Hodge at fullback. Also, playing Nic White at nine also provides a world-class box-kicking option.

Australia used to be characterised by our smart rugby. This mantra has drifted further away from us, especially during the mind-numbing strategy of running rugby regardless of the context.

Rugby IP has been well researched and broadly shared across the world now. Rather than setting trends, it’s time for us to learn from other teams who’ve succeeded. The current world champions, South Africa, love big boppers. They’ve enjoyed incredible success against the All Blacks too.

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It’s time to bring in the heavy artillery. More is more. Computational modelling has even been done to demonstrate the win percentage if every player on a modern professional rugby team was replaced by Jonah Lomu.

The lesson from Jonah Lomu Rugby was simple: you cannot lose if all your team are built like Sherman tanks. The last time I played it, I completed the final difficult classic match playing as Japan against the All Blacks.

My final memory of the game was a bone-crunching hit by one of my big boppers. The interplay between commentators captured it nicely: ‘That hit ought to put him in Ward 4… I hope not Bill, that’s a maternity ward’.

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