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Why Queensland have discovered a Red diamond in Seru Uru

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22nd March, 2022
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Red diamonds are one of the most valuable gem stones in the world. Unlike other coloured diamonds, they are pure carbon and entirely free from minor flaws and impurities, and there are thought to be fewer than 30 examples in the world today. They register the maximum score of 10 on the Mohs scale of hardness and are the rarest of all coloured diamonds.

The Queensland Reds look to have unearthed their very own, distinctively maroon diamond in the in the shape of Fijian-born back rower Seru Uru. The Lautoka native was playing for Brisbane City in the NRC only three years ago, but there is every chance that his rugby career will go hypersonic in 2022.

The Queensland coaches at last seem to have settled on his best position, on the blind-side flank of the back row. That just happens one of the spots which Wallaby head coach Dave Rennie has found most difficult to fill satisfactorily since his appointment after the last World Cup.

Seru Uru was one of only three Queensland forwards to go the full 80 minutes on Friday evening, in a game has become the classic contest in Australian Super Rugby – the Reds versus the Brumbies. Only seven points separated the sides over three games in 2021, and the match at GIO stadium predictably went down to the wire, with the Brumbies shading it by 16 points to 12.

If it wasn’t quite the Test-match intensity that Stan Sport analyst Morgan Turinui suggested: “It’s a similar game that the Wallabies will need to play against England in that three-Test series… Can they get up to that level of physicality and intensity that Eddie Jones’ men will bring?” , it was a step up from what has gone before over the previous four rounds.

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The last round of the Six Nations illustrated the difference. Last Friday, I highlighted the disparity between the average number of rucks set by a team in Australian Super Rugby (78.4) compared to their counterparts in New Zealand, and by Six Nations sides (91.6). 

The Brumbies and Reds built only 123 rucks between them in Canberra, compared to 162 in the France-England match, and 192 breakdowns in the game between Ireland and Scotland. That speaks directly to ball-in-play time: 28 and half minutes at GIO stadium, compared to almost 35 minutes at Stade de France, and over 40 in Dublin.

Six minutes of ball-in-play time (let alone 12) represents a large aerobic crevasse to bridge whole maintaining skills at the required level, so Dave Rennie will need some big engines in three-Test series against England. Seru Uru undoubtedly has what it takes on that score.

Over the last two games against the Fijian Drua and the Brumbies, he has led the Queensland pack in forward carries (27 carries for 104 metres), with one clean break, six tackle busts, one break-assist and one try-assist thrown in for good measure.

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He has captained the lineout, taking over the reins from Angus Scott-Young and boosting the Reds’ first-touch efficiency from 71.7% (only the Drua had lower numbers in the Australian ‘Conference’) to 89.7%. If it is not quite a before-and-after advert, but it is still some transformation.

Around Trans-Tasman time last year, Queensland head coach Brad Thorn was questioning Uru’s physical edge, and felt he had found a minor flaw in the red diamond:

“Seru, I’ve been challenging him around his physicality.

“He is an outstanding football player but there’s the physical side of the football game as well – it’s not touch football.

“If he gets that physical side of the game, he can be a great player because he has got all that other stuff.”

Uru looks to have added muscle, up to a reported 107 kilos on his lean 6-foot 6-inch frame, and he is getting heartily involved in the ‘dirty’ areas of the game – 22 appearances as one of the first three cleanout/counter players at ruck time versus the Drua – which will need attention in order to challenge the likes of Rob Leota and Lachie Swinton in the Wallabies. 

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None of those impurities tainted Brad Thorn’s latest report card:

“He’s one of those players you play with [who] could have a number on their back but they just do what the team needs – what needs to be done, they’ll do it.

“Seru read that play at the very end [a Drua five metre lineout] but he’s very smart, a very intelligent rugby player – a born footballer I would say.

“I’d say he’d be the same in any other sport he played. He’s a talented guy.

“It’s good the people are noticing him. He’s doing a great job, and is good around the team.

“The guys really like him. It’s good having him out there.”

The basis of Seru Uru’s game is lineout athleticism, and in this respect, he enjoys a higher ceiling than either Swinton or Leota. On the Reds own throw, his speed of elevation into the air is hard to combat:

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In the first example, Uru is off the ground and into the air so quickly that a defensive operator as good as Darcy Swain has no chance to compete:

In the second instance, there is something positively Woki-like in the clean rise and artistically-soft hands as the Reds’ man directs the ball down to Kalani Thomas at a pressure lineout on the Queensland goal-line.

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The mix of quick elevation into the air and good reading skills is what separates the wheat from the chaff at defensive lineouts, and the second of Brad Thorn’s two comments referenced Seru Uru’s critical steal at the end of the game versus the Drua:

Uru’s presence would give the Wallabies three potential defensive lineout experts alongside Rory Arnold and Izack Rodda, and that would offer a lot of flexibility.

‘Flexibility’ is likewise the key on attack. Seru Uru has already demonstrated a typically Fijian facility to pass, offload and connect play in the wide channels:

His presence would allow Dave Rennie to work Rob Valetini exclusively through the inside lanes, where he truly belongs. Intriguingly, it might also tow Queensland hooker Josh Nasser into the Wallaby squad in the course of 2022. The pair work together better than any other back-row/hooker combination in Australian Super Rugby, and hooker is another spot with a ‘Vacancy’ sign on it in Rennie’s squad:

One of the improvements Brad Thorn probably appreciates is the diamond-hard nose Seru Uru is developing for the pick-and-go phase:

Both plays are generated by the type of angled cleanout I observed in last Friday’s edition of Coach’s Corner. Ryan Smith blasts away the last of the Drua ruck-side defence on the left in the first instance, Jock Campbell opens the field definitively in the second:

The road is opened not only for the pick-and-jam by Uru, but also for the support line by his scrum-half Kalani Thomas.

The other aspect which will have pleased his head coach is Seru’s contribution at defensive rucks. The France-England Grand Chelem game amply illustrated the value of on-ball experts distributed throughout a starting XV, with steals on the deck spread around four different players, none of whom were arguably among France’s foremost exponents, hooker Julien Marchand and centre Jonathan Danty.

Captain Michael Hooper urgently needs this kind of support on the deck, and Seru Uru can provide it better than either Lachie Swinton or Rob Leota:

Summary

The Brumbies-Reds encounter at GIO stadium last Friday evening was a step up in intensity and physicality over what has gone before in the Australian ‘Conference’ of Super Rugby Pacific. But make no mistake, it still fell well short of the ball-in-play time, and the number of ruck-builds on show in the Six Nations. 12 more minutes and 60 extra rucks represents a huge additional workload.

Australia needs players with big engines, who can run a full course for 80 minutes if required. Of the players chosen in Dave Rennie’s first Wallaby squad of 2022, Harry Wilson, Lachie Swinton and Rob Leota are the three who offer to fill the number 6 spot with the required work rate.

None of them has the athletic skills, or arguably the footballing intelligence of Queensland’s Seru Uru. Uru is not yet in the squad, but by the end of the year it is well-nigh certain that he will be. The trio named may have more physical edge in close contact than the Lautoka man, and that will have to be weighed carefully against Uru’s skills on both sides of the lineout, his work inside and out with ball in hand, and his potential value at the defensive breakdown.

Seru Uru is that rarest of gems, a naturally-occurring red diamond. Now settled in the back row, it is hard to detect any major flaws or impurities in his game, whatever the angle. He is a born sportsman, and the Wallaby coaching group may already be wondering what he might be able to achieve on an international rugby field. The question is not if, but rather when he will get the chance to show the full range of his brilliance.

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