Well, it’s that time of the year. Rugby has finished for the most part and while our attention now turns to Christmas and having a long-desired break from the daily grind, there’s also a focus on next year and where our team might be going. For me the pain of the one point loss in the final is slowly diminishing as I start looking to where the future might be and trying to anticipate the changes that might occur next season for the All Blacks.
Certainly, there’ll be some big changes here as well. At some stage there’ll be a new coach for the Wallabies. Or perhaps just different depending on which way RA goes on this, but either way the players will now have to navigate a new system, a new coach with different ideas and perhaps someone who sees their play in a different light. For some this could be the opportunity to move forward, while for others it could see the beginning of the end for their representation. No doubt once a decision is made and as the rugby starts there’ll certainly be a lot of challenges and changes among the team.
What I’ve wanted to look at here is a couple of positions with my opinion on what these positions need and where they could go under a new coaching setup. I’ve had a look at both the ABs and the Wallabies in this and looked at who I think have a chance here.
Now of course this is only my opinion, and I’m sure there’ll be many different ones out there. Let’s remember that this isn’t “that other site” so let’s keep the comments reasonable and treat this with the decorum and some sensible comments.
Both teams have current hookers, but, to be fair it’s a position that’s seen a bit of turmoil over here, and with the retirement of Coles and Taylor getting on I think both teams will need to look at options. The game a hooker is expected to play has developed a lot over the last few years. When I was playing rugby for Hutt Valley Marist in Lower Hutt all those years ago, the hooker was generally a lot smaller, threw the ball into the lineout, trudged from ruck to maul to ruck where he leant in and pushed and then set up the scrum to hook the ball and that was about it. If he ever got his hands on the ball, he’d run as hard as he could into the fray and just try and hit the opposition then go to ground and set the ball up for the 9 to take and do something with. We now expect a lot more from these guys. They, and all players, as well as doing what they’ve always done, have to be able to catch and pass the ball both ways, know when to take the ball up and when to pass, be able to break tackles and offload and if they have the ball in space, be able to sprint for the line and beat the backs chasing them.
For me they still need their core skill of throwing in. Now while I know a successful lineout involves a lot more than just the hooker, he’s expected to throw accurately and have the ball go where it’s needed. If he can’t do that then anything else he brings to the game, for me, is just a waste.
For New Zealand I see Taylor staying on, but both Taukei’aho and Aumua (if he gets his head right) are the players for the future. Ekland from the Blues is also one on the rise and who may well step up.
For Australia I think Porecki will still be the starting hooker. However, he needs to work on his throwing hard during the off season. I’m picking that if Pollard continues to develop then he should get a look in and while Uelese was the preferred backup with Jones, I’m not sure his field play makes up for his inaccuracies. Unlike a lot here I actually liked Lonergan. Sure, he’s not the biggest around, but I think he played very well at times and was let down by his support more than by himself so he’s also an option for me.
1st Five (or Flyhalf if you prefer)
The flyhalf is a critical position in rugby. While there are some teams, like France (and any team Nic White plays in) who run the game from halfback, the flyhalf is generally the one with a better view of what’s happening and who can make better calls on the play needed at the time. He must be able to kick well and accurately with both feet – it’s ok to have a preference, but being able to kick with both is critical. He needs to be able to pass accurately both ways, including providing long skip passes when needed. He also needs really good decision-making skills, able to read the game and quickly make decisions on the best way to distribute the ball in the game at that time. The best ones need to be able to run with an acceleration that gets them through a gap and also have the vision to link up with their supporting players. Ideally, they should be able to retain their place in defence and be good enough that they can either tackle a player or slow them enough that a hulking 7 or 8 can then come in and take them down.
New Zealand is in for some big changes here. With both Barrett and Mo’unga going offshore there’s an opportunity for others to step up. Personally, I’m not a huge DMac fan at 10. While he does have some of the skills needed there, I don’t rate his decision making and distribution as being good enough and I think he makes a much better 15 who can step in at times. I like Aiden Morgan from the Hurricanes (my bias coming through) and Josh Ioane from the Chiefs. Ruben Love has been playing for both the Wellington NPC and Hurricanes, but I see him as a better 15 than a 10. Josh Jacomb played well in the NPC final, and he’s certainly one to keep an eye on also.
For Australia I like Carter Gordon. I think his issues at the RWC were more to do with the crap game plan than him but I think he’s shown enough to demonstrate that he can easily fill the No 10 spot here. His backup is a bit harder. and it’ll be interesting to see how Lolesio goes after coming back from France and if he’s developed his game further. I think he certainly has the skills, but I’m not so sure on his decision-making and I also think he has some issues from the deplorable way he has been treated. Tom Lynagh is the obvious backup and if he gets some good game time this year, I think he could well push for a start. Other than them, I think a lot will depend on who gets the game time during the year, and who their 9 is.
Outside Centre (or just Centre if you prefer 2nd Five 8 for the inside centre position)
For me the centre is the hardest position to play on the field. The centre must have a huge array of skills and is a critical position in both attack and defence. The centre must be a great decision maker with a lot of rugby experience and has to be able to read the game and understand what the opposition is doing in attack so that he can organise the defence to counter it. At the same time, he must be able to understand and transition from attack to defence and back again very quickly so that he can stay inside the decision cycle of the opposition. Their distribution skills need to be very good both ways and they should be able to pass accurately with short and long passes both ways. For me he has two main jobs. The first one is organising the defence to ensure that the inside centre, wings and full back are in the right place to counter what the opposition does. Secondly, he must be able to create the space for the wings and fullback and time his distribution to put them into that space. The centre should be the one with the most try assists, not the most tries.
I’m not a huge Reiko Ioane fan at 13. I think that while he has improved, he lacks the ability to create the space for his other team members. While he is a brilliant player with great speed and anticipation, I think he lacks the ability to recognise the correct time to distribute the ball to others so they can score the tries. I think he’s still too much of a wing, where he’s the one who scores and so his distribution only really occurs when he hasn’t any options. I think ALB is a much better 13 just because he understands the role better and his outside backs get better opportunities. I also like both the Umaga-Jensens (one in the Hurricanes and one in the Highlanders) who both seem to understand the role better. I also like Ennor; I’d have him as ALB’s backup.
For Australia I like Ikitau and I think he has all the attributes needed for the role. He’s suffered a bit with wingers who don’t seem to know their role and a game plan that has the ball dying at 12 more than being sent wide. He has great defence and distribution skills and I think he’s the best in Australia at the moment. For a backup I think there are problems. For me Perese is ok on attack, but in the mould of Reiko and not as a good distributor. I also think his defensive positioning is poor. One on one he’s ok, but he lacks the understanding to organise a defence like he should. Petaia is not the solution at all, I think he’s a much better wing. I don’t mind Ili from the Rebels and I think it’ll be interesting to see how he develops this year.
That’s it for this week. As we progress through the break, I’ll look at a couple of other positions: 6 and 15 for a start and we’ll see how it goes. By all means tell me where I’m wrong and why as well as who you’d rather see there. Enjoy the rest of the week.