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Mitch Evans

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Joined July 2014

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Formerly, I am a mediocre rugby backrower and more mediocre water polo centre-forward. Writing is a hobby and rugby is my passion. Mention Berrick Barnes' perfect banana kick and you have my undivided attention.

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Bledisloe Cup Game 1 preview

It has been nearly an entire year since Australia’s quarter-final exit at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, but with only two of the same players from that starting XV retaining their jerseys, coming off the back of a very different Super Rugby competition and with an entirely different coaching set-up at the helm, the Wallabies […]

Haha that’s one player I’m fine omitting. He’s had some ok games at Waratahs level, but I’ve not even seen enough there that convinces me he has the skillset for that role anymore. Would’ve liked to have seen more of him there early days though.

All Blacks by 20 means changes aplenty for Wallabies

Thanks Zenn, and yes, plenty to unpack in those positions.

At the moment, 4, 5, 7 and 8 seem pretty locked up and it’s now a matter of finding a 6 that suits Hooper and Wilson and a 20 who can offer impact off the bench and cover all positions if needed. The 20 role is really well suited to Samu, as he did successfully for the Crusaders, so the 6 role looks like a battle between Hanigan, Wright, Valetini or Swinton based on the squad – all of which have shown glimpses of great at different levels, but Hanigan the most recently good form and the most experienced.

I’m very keen to see how many changes are made outside of the required ones.

All Blacks by 20 means changes aplenty for Wallabies

A lot of the people I’ve spoken to think Maddocks might offer the most potential upside in attack, so I’m keen to see him given a chance, but he’s a confidence player and it’s been traditionally hard to feel confident while playing the ABs

All Blacks by 20 means changes aplenty for Wallabies

JOC does have a great ability to beat the man and keep the ball alive. I actually really liked his inclusions at 13 at times last year, but I don’t think it’s the answer.

I’d have liked to see a Naisarani, Hooper, Wilson backrow just because I think it offers everything the Bled 1 backrow had but more size and a handful in defence, but clearly that wasn’t the consensus in the selector’s meetings.

All Blacks by 20 means changes aplenty for Wallabies

Wright at 7 is an interesting option because it opens the door for 5 lineout jumpers (surely BPA/Uelese/FF can hit the target) and still has a high workrate player who can pilfer and disrupt the ruck. Would be a big ask and hard shoes to fill, but would be interesting to see that composition.

All Blacks by 20 means changes aplenty for Wallabies

I can’t agree with that fully. While his passes were often directed where they needed to go, it was the crabbing before the pass was made and the indecision of which side to pass to that limited him for me. It seemed as if close to half of his passes came after taking two steps or changing his mind about which way to go after noticing he’d telegraphed the side they’d be attacking.

All Blacks by 20 means changes aplenty for Wallabies

He’s a good defender, but my comment was more in line with having more defensive starch than a Lolesio-JOC combination

All Blacks by 20 means changes aplenty for Wallabies

As a Reds fan I’m happy seeing their representation, but you make a great point. It’s something to be mindful of when picking the team because it needs to be a group of players that fit the game plan and that have styles that can nullify the attacking prowess of a team like the All Blacks.

Based on this, what would be the team you would name for the next match if you had your say?

All Blacks by 20 means changes aplenty for Wallabies

Thanks Jonty and I back a lot of your thoughts here.

Banks is someone who for me has been so close to making those breaks, but I think we’re seeing the difference between Super and Test level. He gets himself in some nice positions and I like his work in the air and with the boot at fullback, but he seems just that slight bit hesitant in contact as he hasn’t been breaking anywhere near the number of tackles he usually would (albeit much harder opposition). His acceleration really needs to be abused if we can get him in space because he’s a very talented athlete.

Slipper could definitely be the bench option – I considered swapping him and Sio, but they both do a great job in the scrums and in tackles when they’re on. Slipper does have better hands so may be a better option if the desire is to keep the ball alive and moving in the last 30.

All Blacks by 20 means changes aplenty for Wallabies

The 6 jersey is a tough one to fill, so I feel it could take a bit of mixing and matching until they find the perfect backrow combination, but I like nearly all of the possible options.

All Blacks by 20 means changes aplenty for Wallabies

Looking at the game and looking at the statistics, I can’t agree regarding Banks being the best back. Certainly not by far. What about his game do you think put himself above the others so much? I’m happy to be corrected.

The team is still finding it’s balance and we’re still trying to get the best XV and reserves out there, which will take some time. I agree that Hodge and Paisami may struggle to keep their spots long term, but I think their positions are justified so far.

Out of curiosity, what would your ideal team be? It seems like you’d like to pick a few from outside the current squad.

All Blacks by 20 means changes aplenty for Wallabies

Hosea at lock and LSL at 6 is a massive option for our lineout, but I’m still concerned with LSL’s mobility and body height for the 6 role. It’s an option I’d be willing to try, but I think Wright has the balance from captaining there with LSL and Wilson around him and a solid head to dictate ruck involvements and lineout stealing opportunities.

Interestingly, JOC to 15 was brought up a lot last year with the RWC, but I haven’t heard much of it this year. He may have lost that yard of top-end pace to make a real fist of it, but he is definitely a balanced option that can create opportunities and still beat defenders from back there. Solid boot as well. I think we can get enough of the same skill set from DHP without moving people out of position, but it’s definitely an option to consider.

Valetini is the player I am most desperate to see reach his potential. He has the perfect frame to make it as a 6 and can provide impact off the bench, but I feel he still requires quite a bit of training to coach exactly what is needed from him.

All Blacks by 20 means changes aplenty for Wallabies

I don’t think anyone is blaming the loss on Gordon, I just don’t think he added much.

You’re entitled to your view and what you deem as good or bad running or tackling, but I’d redirect you to the last three regular season rounds of Super Rugby AU against the Rebels, Force and Brumbies to showcase how good McDermott is in both attack and defence. Plenty of body-on-the-line hits and some try-saving tackles. I acknowledge his pass and kick isn’t quite as good as Powell or Gordon, but his running game and tackling is every bit as good and better than the others.

All Blacks by 20 means changes aplenty for Wallabies

There’s a lot of issues with what that side put out, but I’m hoping a lot of that can be fixed with some thorough analysis with Rennie over the fortnight and plenty of tackle practice. Timing and sticking the tackles, not just trying to put shots on.

What would your ideal team look like for the next match?

All Blacks by 20 means changes aplenty for Wallabies

Massive agreement with you on the body height issue of LSL. That’s something that is causing issues in attack and defence.

The combination of JOC and Simone would add a bit more starch for the defence, but it’s still not quite the mix of having the ability to defend and playmake that To’omua provides.

The lack of dent from Simmons is my issue with it too – has plenty of experience and is a good starting option if there’s an injury to Philip for his lienout work and scrumming, but he isn’t a bench option when we need impact. Hosea can take that spot.

All Blacks by 20 means changes aplenty for Wallabies

6 continues to be a headache for us. I think Valetini has the perfect frame and size for the position, but haven’t seen him deliver consistently even at Super level. Still young, so I hope to see him develop into the role, but at the moment I feel like Wright might have the safest skillset for what I’d like the Wallabies to be doing with and without the ball.

All Blacks by 20 means changes aplenty for Wallabies

That’s clearly the biggest decision Rennie has to make and it’s not an easy one. I personally think Simone is the safer option and Lolesio is the option with more upside, so it’ll be interesting to see if Rennie thinks similarly or if that factors in at all. I’ll be happy to see the inclusion of either two given how well they went for the Brumbies, I just hope they don’t replace To’omua with Hodge.

The 6 jersey continues to cause headaches. I think Valetini has the perfect size for it, but hasn’t delivered physically or tactically like Wright or Hanigan has. Samu has a nice mix of all of them, but perhaps isn’t out-and-out dominant enough in any of the key roles to demand a starting spot. I haven’t accounted for Swinton yet because I thought he was still a little off the mark, but if Rennie deems him good enough, I’ll be cheering for him. I’m just not sure we need both him and Wilson getting in the face of the opposition – might be too easy to penalise if there’s two people pushing the envelope for late/off the ball shots.

All Blacks by 20 means changes aplenty for Wallabies

That’s spot on, Tony – those two have the best ability to keep the ball alive and moving on a dry track and I’m hoping that’s what we’ll get next weekend.

All Blacks by 20 means changes aplenty for Wallabies

I think his decision making as a captain has been an issue at times (including on the weekend), but I do still think he’s the best openside in Australia at the moment. I’d be happy to see McReight given a chance, this year ideally too, but I’m not sure this week is the best time for it.

All Blacks by 20 means changes aplenty for Wallabies

I think the logic behind that is sound and does mean the least disruption to the side. It also means that Lolesio either has his Brumbies partner, or, if Simone isn’t up to it, he can come on and move JOC to the 12 jersey, meaning he still gets an experienced player alongside him.

It’s a very interesting decision to be made.

All Blacks by 20 means changes aplenty for Wallabies

It’s a tough ask to debut McReight in a must-win game agaisnt the best side in the world. Especially in place of our captain (who does seem to be nursing a small shoulder injury). Would you really swap the two?

All Blacks by 20 means changes aplenty for Wallabies

I am a Queenslander, but I don’t want them in there for that reason, otherwise I’d be trumpeting Tupou and Tate to start or bemoaning the absence of Stewart and Campbell in the squad.

I completely see why McDermott wasn’t starting/benching in the first game, and I won’t be upset if he doesn’t play in the next match either, but I don’t think we’ve seen enough from Gordon based on why he was initially included. I like what he’s done at the Waratahs and I hope to see him prove me wrong and excel off the bench, but in my view of prioritising impact, McDermott fits that best imo.

All Blacks by 20 means changes aplenty for Wallabies

Not sure how to get the editor’s attention on that, but clearly a problematic error that wasn’t on my end. Thanks for picking that out.

All Blacks by 20 means changes aplenty for Wallabies

That’s a fair comment, and not one I would suggest if I hadn’t seen the good defence from Blediloe 1. Clearly it’s there somewhere, they just have to find it again given the players didn’t change all that much. Could call in Stewart and Ikitau as centres if going for defensive, but I’m sure the crop that’s there can do the job – Rennie won’t allow numbers like that two games in a row.

All Blacks by 20 means changes aplenty for Wallabies

100% agree regarding Hanigan and his performance. I put Wright in to start as I feel he offers a ‘safer’ and more secure game in terms of protecting our ball and trying to turnover some of theirs, however I’d be happy to have Hanigan at 6, Hosea at 19 and Samu at 20 if that was the change to be made.

Part of why I wanted Hanigan on the bench was because of how well he ran and his injection into the game. I’m curious to see if the All Blacks let him get away with so many metres next time if his spot is retained, but he’s definitely done enough to keep starting.

It’s a nice thought regarding Powell. I initially thought Gordon would be the right balance of Powell and McDermott and so thought he’d make a good bench option, but it seems either a specialist runner or specialist passer would be the better option now.

All Blacks by 20 means changes aplenty for Wallabies