Coach’s Corner Issue 16: Who will front up for the Wallabies?

Thanks for all who offered a question this week. It has become clear that attention is turning rapidly towards Wallabies selection for the series against France. I am interested in taking our strengths, accepting our current weaknesses and building an Australian team that can at first hold its own and then become superior. Any ideas […]

Coach’s Corner Issue 16: Who will front up for the Wallabies?

Thanks for all who offered a question this week. It has become clear that attention is turning rapidly towards Wallabies selection for the series against France.

I am interested in taking our strengths, accepting our current weaknesses and building an Australian team that can at first hold its own and then become superior. Any ideas on where to start?

– stillmissit

Nick, who would be your starting hooker for the Wallabies against France? This has been a troubling position for Australia with no clear standout. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the main candidates?

– Numpty

I would start Allan Alaalatoa at loosehead as this is his best position and brings so much around the park.

– Olly

Apart from maybe Taniela Tupou there is not a single member of the extended Wallabies squad which would be considered for an All Blacks squad.

– Ducky

I think Tupou would be sent away to work on his fitness.

– Moaman

Tupou’s fitness is pretty good despite lugging 135kg. He’s a regular 80-minute player and maintains a high standard in his core role as tighthead prop throughout. His defence looks suspect but it’s very hard to wrap short arms around a barrel with a half metre radius and he’s not the kind of player runners look to attack directly.

– Charlie Turner

Wouldn’t it be incredible if we had a stable, solid front row who played together? But alas…

– CW Moss

I will try to examine the Wallaby choices in all departments of the team over the weeks leading up to the series against France, starting this week with the front row.

James Slipper has been injured for the Trans-Tasman competition, but I suspect he will still be the number one choice at loosehead for Dave Rennie when he regains fitness. However, he is unlikely to make it to the 2023 World Cup as first choice at the age of 34.

Who will replace him? Scott Sio is 29 and has shown signs of wear and tear (seven scrums penalties conceded in Trans-Tasman), Feao Foutuaika (one conceded) has had a breakthrough season at the age of 28, while Angus Bell is the best of the young props.
Cabous Eloff (five scrum penalties against) has shown that he can play on both sides of the front row, but is not yet Australian-qualified.

This is what the stats from the Trans-Tasman say:

Age Minutes played Mins between carries Gain-line/decisive outcomes Mins between tackles Tackle completion
Scott Sio 29 249 13.1 +7 [1] 11.9 91%
Angus Bell 21 227 4.8 +7 [3] 8.1 100%
Feao Fotuaika 28 142 20.3 +1 [0] 6.4 75%
Allan Alaalatoa 27 280 17.5 +4 [0] 7.8 90%
Taniela Tupou 25 270 8 +5 [2] 24.5 55%
Cabous Eloff 22 229 9.5 +3 [3] 10.9 81%

The outstanding stats outside the scrum belong to Angus Bell, who has only leaked three set-piece penalties in the four rounds to date. He and Allan Alaalatoa (five scrum pens conceded) are by a distance the best defenders in the group, both in terms of workrate and tackle completion percentage.

Bell makes the kind of tackles that are well beyond the capabilities of the Queensland front row:

Bell is taking down two elusive Crusaders backs in an open field – first Will Jordan with a truly outstanding effort off his weak shoulder one-on-one, then Richie Mo’unga – with the Waratahs’ loosehead prop still full of running in the 73rd minute of the match.

His speed over the ground provides added value, because he can play off-tackle as an on-ball threat:

In possession, Angus Bell is one of the four top ball-carrying props in Australia, along with Taniela Tupou, Pone Fa’amuasili and Cabous Eloff:

Now to the nub of the selection issue. If you want to pick Taniela Tupou as your starting tighthead (zero penalties conceded at scrum time) for his set-piece and ball-carrying, it means picking a loosehead who can make his tackles, and keep making them throughout the game.

Outside Slipper, there are only two possibilities – starting a youngster (Bell) or moving Allan Alaalatoa across to the other side, the position where he first started his Super Rugby career.

Allan Alaalatoa. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The hookers table looks like this:

Age Minutes played Mins between carries Gain-line/decisive outcomes Mins between tackles Tackle completion
Brandon Paenga-Amosa 25 265 8.8 +4 [5] 11.5 77%
Jordan Uelese 24 244 9.4 +5 [0] 12.8 83%
Dave Porecki 28 231 11.5 +4 [4] 7 89%
Feleti Kaitu’u 26 217 13.5 +3 [1] 9 92%

The two best scrummaging hookers in Australia, Brandon Paenga-Amosa and Jordan Uelese, also boast the poorest tackling stats, at least in comparison to New South Wales’ Dave Porecki and Feleti Kaitu’u of the Force.

Paenga-Amosa has been unable to make the same powerful impact against Kiwi front rows that he achieved against the Brumbies in Super Rugby AU:

reds scrum angle vs brumbies

brumbies scrum bind vs reds

In these examples, the Brumbies’ hookers have been split away from the tighthead completely, and Paenga-Amosa is leading the charge through the gap. He did have things his own way against the Blues front row at the first scrum of the game:

reds scrum vs blues

The Queensland scrum has adopted the same ‘anti-Brumbies’ shape as before, but Blues hooker Kurt Eklund and tighthead Ofa Tu’ungafasi have closed the gap. No free pass on this occasion.

The Reds scrum (and Tupou in particular) did not get on top until Karl Tu’inukuafe was replaced by Alex Hodgman:

Does Dave Rennie opt for maximum scrum power or the higher defensive workrate and tackling efficiency of Porecki or Kaitu’u?

I have excluded lineout throwing accuracy from the equation because it is so difficult to disentangle from lineout system failures as a whole:

reds lineout miss vs blues

In both of these examples from the second half of the Reds-Blues game, the throws are straight and on the money. The problem lies with a lack of disguise in the call – the Blues clearly read where the throw is going, and in the second instance there is only one potential target – Lukhan Salakaia-Loto at the tail.

Brandon Paenga-Amosa looks dejected

Brandon Paenga-Amosa. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Our two youngest teams, the Brumbies and the Reds, are also our two most successful. This would indicate something in Australian rugby’s pathway system has been amended and is now providing a positive platform for young players to develop. Would you put this down to the NRC, under-18 and under-20 pathways, a combination of both, or simply a better generation of players and recruitment?

– 1997 Brumbies

It is an interesting exercise to look at this question in conjunction with the front-row selection options above.

If you examine the stats for World Cup-winning teams, a typical pattern begins to emerge. The dominant team of the last decade, the All Blacks, were on average 28 years old when they won the Webb Ellis trophy in 2011. Four years later, their average age stood at 29 years 151 days, with an average Test cycle of 6.5 years per player and over 1000 total caps in the starting line-up.

That compared to a low point in 2003, with the youngest New Zealand team in history – and as Graham Henry acknowledged later, no functional leadership group at all.

The average age of the last Wallaby World Cup winners in 1999 was 27 years and 321 days, while the 2015 finalists were boosted by the return of Scott Fardy and Matt Giteau to 28 years and 288 days – incidentally, exactly the same as England’s victorious 2003 side.

Head coaches typically aim for an average age of 28, with a minimum of 600 caps and 61 per cent win rate from the four-year World Cup cycle. Herein lies the issue for Australian rugby. Too many players leave on overseas contracts at the peak of their powers. Samu Kerevi will be 29 and Izack Rodda 26 in 2023, and both might have been central players for the Wallabies at the next World Cup.

The organic development at both national and provincial level has been disrupted by their absence.

In the front row, Brandon Paenga-Amosa established himself as Dave Rennie’s number one choice at hooker in 2020 at the age of 25, only to leave for a stint in French club rugby one season later. New South Wales rake Dave Porecki is a possible replacement, but has spent the last five seasons playing in the English Premiership. He is only coming back into Australian rugby as a potential Test player at the ripe old age of 28.

If Dave Porecki is a Test prospect now, how much of his playing value was lost to Australia earlier in his career?

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Understanding the high tackle framework

I’ve seen a lot of comments about high tackles and many people seem unsure of the process of deciding how these need to be adjudicated. Here is something that may help you look at it. Once again, team, these are my interpretations of the direction provided by World Rugby and passed on by the NSWRRA […]

Understanding the high tackle framework

I’ve seen a lot of comments about high tackles and many people seem unsure of the process of deciding how these need to be adjudicated.

Here is something that may help you look at it. Once again, team, these are my interpretations of the direction provided by World Rugby and passed on by the NSWRRA to me. If I’m wrong, then it’s in my learnings that I’ve got it wrong, so take it out on me.

Rugby, like many contact sports, has recognised that there is a lot more it can do to protect the people playing the game.

Over the years, as more and more science has gone into fitness, nutrition, strength and conditioning, players have got bigger and faster with the consequence that the collisions in the game have got harder.

People are also starting to take note of the effects of these collisions, especially the ones to the head and the long-term effect of this on the players.

While there is undoubtedly an element of arse covering in this where administrators are able to say “we did all we could do with the knowledge we had at the time”, the prime aim is actually to protect the players and to ensure that they don’t have long-term issues resulting from playing rugby.

I still believe the people managing this game do care about the people as much as the product and that they understand protecting them is a good idea. A big change has been to try and reduce the high tackle by penalising those who make contact with the head.

World Rugby has put out a framework for managing these high tackles and the framework tries take into account the dynamics of the game.

In most cases, it is good, with the main issue being that a referee has to apply this framework in the length of time it took you to read this sentence.

The initial part is quite clear:

1. Is the incident a high tackle or a shoulder charge?
2. If so, was there contact with the head or neck of the ball carrier?
3. Was the degree of danger high or low?
4. Are there any clear and obvious mitigating factors?

Now, every tackle is a tackler driving his shoulder into the ball carrier.

Referee John Lacey (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

When I was playing, this was done with as much force as possible to stop the player and make him drop the ball. However, the clear aim of a tackle is to stop and then grab the ball carrier, so the arms must be in a position to reach around the player and should be in motion during the tackle.

This is often noticed where a referee will say, “There was no arms in the tackle!”

Clearly, the aim of that tackle was not to get the ball but to stop the ball carrier.

A shoulder charge is defined as where “the arm of the shoulder making contact behind the tackler’s body or tucked in a ‘sling’ position at the point of contact”. I don’t usually have any issues with this one and in most cases, it is pretty clear.

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A high tackle is a bit more complex and is defined as: “An illegal tackle causing head contact, where head contact is identified by clear contact to the ball carrier head/neck or the head visibly moves backwards from the contact point, or the ball carrier requires an HIA”.

This one carries a lot more subjectivity, not because it isn’t clear, but because there is so much to it.

When I have the whistle, I just call anything high and penalise, especially early on, as I find that way most players adapt quickly and then stay low. I also include it in my pre-match talk to the captain, so they know I’m looking out for it.

The next bit of this is the analysis that is done about the tackle, and this is where it can get complicated. The rulings in the guideline are very clear:

A shoulder charge
• If there is contact with the head – red card
• If there is no contact with the head but it is a dangerous tackle – yellow card
• If there is no head contact and low danger – penalty only

A high tackle
There are two areas to initially look at. Firstly, was the contact to the ball carrier with the tackler’s head or shoulder?

• High contact with tackler’s shoulder or head and high danger – red card
• High contact with tackler’s shoulder or head and low danger – yellow card

Secondly, was the contact to the Ball Carrier with the tackler’s arm?

• High contact with tackler’s arm to the head or neck with high danger – red card
• High contact with tackler’s arm to head or neck with low danger – yellow card
• No direct contact to the head but a tackle over or above the shoulder (‘seat belt tackle’) – penalty

Some of the signs that there is likely to be a high level of danger include:

• Tackler drawing the arm back before contact
• Tackler leaving the ground
• Arm swinging forward prior to contact
• Tackle is an active or dominant tackle rather than a passive or the tackler pulls out on contact
• The tackler accelerates into the tackle
• The tackler follows through the tackle, rather than pulling out of it

So far, so good and pretty clear and obvious. It looks messy but I don’t have much problem with any of this, and in most cases, it’s pretty clear even if some of it can be very subjective.

Sam Cane speaks to the referee

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

This appears to be where there is the most confusion and certainly where some commentators really get it wrong. I’ll cover this in a bit of depth as this seems to be the most contentious area.

Note: any mitigation factor can only lower the penalty by one step, so a red card offence can go to yellow, not to a penalty.

Factors against mitigation
Not something often considered but if the tackler and the ball carrier are in clear, open space and the tackler has a clear line of sight or time before the tackle, it is unlikely that any mitigating factors will be applied.

The reason behind this is that it is the tackler’s responsibility to tackle safely, and in this situation, they can clearly prepare themselves for the tackle.

Factors for mitigation
These must be clear and obvious factors and as this is sometimes a matter of perception, as they can seem very subjective. As a referee, it means that unless the picture shows something deliberate then it is unlikely to be that clear and obvious.

Ball carrier dropping their height
This seems to be the one that most people pick up on and there are two parts to it. Apart from a few Wallaby locks, all ball carriers will drop when they confront a tackler, so a player going down in height is not unexpected, and therefore, not usually a factor.

However, if the drop is a sudden drop due to the player tripping or falling from an earlier tackle or diving to score, then it is a factor to take into consideration.

Tackler makes a definite attempt to change height in an effort to avoid the ball carrier’s head
This has to be a clear and obvious effort and is usually where a tackler attempts to pull out of the tackle when they see they may have it wrong. No worries with it but it must be ‘clear and obvious’ and that’s the hard part both to do and to rule on.

Tackler is unsighted prior to contact
If a player is attempting to tackle and the ball carrier moves behind another player as the tackler moves in and then cannot see the ball carrier, this may be a mitigating factor.

Reactionary tackle with immediate release
We all know that in a game sometimes you just react to something, usually by reaching out and for some reason, this is usually high. If the tackler clearly does this and immediately pulls out, then it is a factor to be taken into consideration.

Indirect contact that starts elsewhere and then moves up
This does happen a lot and is a clear mitigating factor.

As you can see, there is quite a lot to this and noting my previous comment about the length of time there is to make a decision, it is understandable why there is sometimes some contention about the application of the law.

Having suffered concussions in a couple of games, I am more than happy with the emphasis on looking after the players’ welfare.

As we have seen over the last few years, the players and coaches are adjusting their play for the new reality, just as they have for other law changes.

It takes a few penalties and cards for them to get it right, but most are adaptable and will make the effort.

If a player or a coach is too stupid, or too arrogant, to change then they should move out of the game and go and play another sport.

Despite some people saying things like, “It’s making the game soft”, or, “Wasn’t like that in my day” or other meaningless dribble, the game does need to change with the times.

We are losing kids before they even start, with parents wanting a safer environment for their kids to play and if you see some of the ex-players and how they are suffering from the effects of head knocks, then I think most normal people will understand and embrace the changes.

While there will always be accidents and while there is a need for personal responsibility to remain safe, if we want this great game to grow then we need to make these sorts of changes.

Source : The Roar More   

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