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Did Michael Hooper fall into Eddie Jones’s trap in the third Test?

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24th July, 2022
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Nick Bishop’s recent article provided insightful analysis about the “Australian way” of multi-phase attack.

The challenges that Dave Rennie’s team faced in the recent Test series against England, having the ball pinched after multiple phases of possession, aren’t new.

The All Blacks have been roasting the Wallabies with counter-attacking rugby off the turnover for a long time now.

England may not have had the class in their backline to beat the Wallabies with great counter attacks, but they still beat us with penalty kicks.

To work out why, I reviewed every Wallabies try of the series.

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Only Pete Samu’s try in the first Test qualified as a try where phases got into double numbers, from a significant distance away from the English try line.


What defined that try was that the Wallabies backs beat the first English defender and made significant metres early in the attacking sequence, quickly taking the Wallabies close to the opponent’s try line to grind out the eventual five-pointer.

Every other try was either a running try that was finished off in no more than a couple of phases, a rolling maul or started off close the English line, and was ground out by the forwards before crossing. These are all instances where running away from support is not an issue.

This pointed to the Wallabies style of trying to use “running rugby” to “build pressure” across many phases from anywhere on the park, doesn’t work against modern rugby defences.

Nick Bishop’s description of the relatively uncontested rucks back in the early 2000s confirms where the source of the problem might lie, in historical bias towards “Australian running rugby”.

I also wonder whether a nation steeped in rugby league might have a bias towards multiple “hit-ups”. That doesn’t work in the code where the ball is contested.

The number of times I hear Aussie rugby fans bleating when the ball is kicked is perhaps symptomatic of how biases from the 13-man game might be negatively affecting Australia’s collective IQ on how to win the 15-man version.

I have seen on multiple occasions that if an Australian forward gets the ball in the fourth phase or later, it becomes much more likely that he will become isolated and have the ball taken.

Taniela Tupou of the Wallabies runs the ball during game two of the International Test Match series between the Australia Wallabies and England at Suncorp Stadium on July 09, 2022 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Taniela Tupou (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Perhaps the Wallabies need to adopt the rule that if the forwards have not created good opportunities for the backs within three phases, that the ball is kicked.

Even a simple long grubber to the opposition corner will force the opposition to take a lineout and make a clearing kick to touch, providing at least two opportunities to get the ball and attack again.

Finally, I wonder if the Wallabies might have been drawn into the game that England wanted by Eddie Jones, who knows the Australian game intimately?

As Nick highlights in his article, Dave Rennie said that the Wallabies were planning on kicking in the wide channels but found space there, so kept attacking.

Michael Hooper said that he thought there was some space and that if they could get “one or two more phases”, they could “cut them up”.


It is understandable to try that once, but surely if it doesn’t work, the possibility that the opposition are using a planned tactic should become apparent?

Other aspects of Hooper’s decision-making, mainly his propensity to turn down kickable penalty conversions for attacking lineouts, suggest that he has a bias towards going for decisive, high-risk try-scoring plays.

This is unsurprising considering that he has been coached by Michael Chieka for most of his career, with the former Wallabies coach who was a Randwick player and rugby league enthusiast definitely promoting that style of play for the Wallabies.

It isn’t hard to see Jones laid a trap for the Wallabies in the third Test, instructing his men to leave space out wide to take advantage of Hooper’s known bias, drawing the Wallabies into playing to England’s defensive advantages.

If it was intentional, it worked, and suggests that while the old phrase by Sun Tzu to “know your enemy and know yourself” has been said often enough to have become cliched, this is only so because it is true.

Whether the biases Hooper has had coached into him are holding him back from being the captain that he can be for Australia is something that the man himself needs to reflect on for a greater degree of self-knowledge, if the Wallabies are to be real contenders in the 2023 Rugby World Cup.