Brian Smith’s Analysis – Winning Ugly

Brian Smith’s Analysis – Winning Ugly


Michael Cheika will sleep better this week after his Wallabies found a way to win in Brisbane in pretty tricky conditions. It was not a great spectacle or an advertisement for the game but it was dramatic and captivating. Most importantly it was a win. A win that was desperately needed on many fronts.

In 1986 the master of “winning ugly”, Brad Gilbert, beat John McEnroe at Madison Square Garden and Nick Bolletieri was commentating. Bolletieri said the game was so ugly he needed three pairs of Oakley sunglasses to watch otherwise he’d get bloodshot eyes.

In my view this test match was ugly (not Brad Gilbert Ugly) but the Wallabies were effective and credit should go to the coaches, who it must be said had to deal with some curve balls in the lead up to the match. In this analysis we’re going to have quick look at the four first half tries and hopefully provide some tips for schoolboys and young coaches interested in some of the fine detail of the game.

Great Start

Michael Hooper’s first try will not go down as one of the most thrilling tries he’s ever scored but it was reward for the team’s hard graft deep inside Springbok territory.

If you watch this clip you’ll notice the great work of Allan Allaalatoa. First he mops up a pass intended for Pete Samu then he pops up and puts in a monster clean-out that paves the way Scott Sio to tractor forward. He then punches an effective pick and go himself delivering a quick ball for Hooper to capitalise.

In a 20 second passage of play Allan Allaalatoa selflessly worked his tail off with three major efforts. Let’s hope he gets a try assist wrap in the team review this week.

The Bomb

South Africa scored next with a well formed drive as the Wallabies failed to execute their drive defence plan effectively.

If you look at the Wallabies set up you’ll notice they’re heavily marking Franco Mostert (#5) in the middle with Pete Samu, Izack Rodda and Lukhan Tui. The Wallabies are virtually giving the Springboks the front because their plan is to blow up their drive with a designated “Bomb” defender.

The “Bomb” is Michael Hooper. Look for Hooper standing as the insert at the front of the lineout. It’s his job to blow up the drive by piling into Eben Etzebeth (#4) and get him going backwards. Scott Sio and Pete Samu are meant to pile into the lifters Steven Kitshoff (#1) and Franco Mostert (#5) and get them shunted backwards. However, the Springboks manage to set the drive and you’ll notice that five Wallabies end up peeling out of the drive at the front with Steven Kitshoff.

Once the Springboks got set we were done for. They are big humans and we failed to execute the plan on this occasion. Later in the game the Wallabies managed to steal a drive thrown to the middle but on this occasion we came up short. Not sure Michael Hooper is the best option in the “Bomb” role but when the Springboks use the 6+1 set up someone has to be the defending insert.

Faf’s Floater

The Springboks backed up with a second try thanks to some concerted pressure on the Wallabies line and a floated pass from Faf de Klerk. In the build up it was South Africa’s big forwards that paved the way.

Steven Kitshoff, Siya Kolisi and Franco Mostert all carried strong but it was the exceptional clean-out on Michael Hooper from the Springbok fly half, Elton Jantjies that provided the quick ball for de Klerk to float his pass to Makazole Mapimpi. Unfortunately for the Wallabies Jack Maddocks had too much to deal with defending his corner.

The Howler

Australia’s second try was a Steven Bradbury special. You may recall Bradbury is the former Aussie short track speed skater and best known for winning the 1,000 m event at the 2002 Winter Olympics after all of his opponents were involved in a last corner pile-up.

To be fair the Wallabies lineout pressure forces the Springboks to throw long. It’s a standard play for any team when you’re backed around 5m from your own try line. What’s not so standard is the entire Springbok backline standing well behind their own try line.

Yes the throw was intended for the back rowers, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Siya Kolisi. However it’s only fair to think the South African centres might have been more alert and better positioned. As it was, Michael Hooper and Pete Samu pressured well and for some reason Kolisi failed to pick up the flight of the ball and Matt Toomua scored the easiest test match try he’ll probably ever score.

The lesson in all this for any young player is to press hard in defence and pressure the opposition. If you do this relentlessly the rewards will come.


There were no tries scored in the second half of this match but there was a lot of endeavour. The Wallabies just hung in the fight all night and when Taniela Tupou came on in the second half he made an impact in the scrum. Both Wallaby tight heads did well and the coaches will be happy considering Sekope Kepu has been such a strong performer in the number 3 jersey.

Michael Cheika and his coaching staff will take some good things out of this match and they’ll look to improve going into their next test v Argentina on the Gold Coast. The Pumas asked plenty of questions of the All Blacks defence and they can’t be taken lightly.


Brian Smith is a rare breed who has both played and coached international rugby and doesn't mind telling it as he sees it. He's currently putting his Oxford degree to good use teaching Commerce and coaching rugby at the Scots College, Sydney.

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