Well, happy Monday one and all in the RDU universe. Kind of like the Marvel universe but less geeky, a lot older, fatter, and alcohol-soaked. With no TRC games on over the weekend, you would think there isn’t a lot to talk about. But alas there definitely is. Firstly we will discuss the flying Fijians and their marvelous 5 tries to 3 victory over Tonga. We will also look at the Samoan victory over the Japanese in ‘Close Encounters of the Aisa-Pacific Kind’. We will have a look at Dr. Evil’s crazy selection wheel, and round out with a discussion about ‘balance’. So as Big John McCarthy from the UFC says;
“Are you ready?…….. Are you Ready?……. Let’s get it on!”
Fiji Flog Tonga
The red-hot Fijians touched down for five tries to three to give Tonga a wee touch-up in their 36-20 victory on Saturday. This was the first test for both nations prior to their RWC campaign, with Tonga’s game against Aus A not counted as an official test match. The hosts delighted those passionate Fijian supporters in Lautoka by carrying out a ‘blitzkrieg’ raid similar to the Kiwi’s last week by going up 19-0 after 12 minutes before weathering the Pacific storm fightback from their Tongan opponents.
Tonga got to within four points, following two tries by their big-bopper forwards, but the F1J1’s extended their lead to 26-15 at oranges, by doing that thing the pesky Kiwis do, by crossing the line just before halftime.
The Lautoka heat really took effect in the second half with very little scoring occurring post the break. From 26-15 at oranges, to 36-20 at full-time. The Tongans were down a number of their marquee players but still put in a good showing. Fiji is off to Apia next week to face a Samoan side on a roll after beating the Brave Blossoms.
‘Close Encounters of the Aisa-Pacific Kind’
Samoa narrowly defeated Japan 24-22 in the Pacific Nations Cup opener that was held in Sapporo, after Japan’s Michael Leitch saw the vino in the 30th minute. Japan’s talisman Leitch, was shown a Barossa Shiraz for his shoulder to the head on Samoa’s So’otala Fa’aso’o.
The former Brave Blossoms’ captain and spiritual heart of the Brave Blossom’s side now faces a potential multi-week suspension that will disrupt and certainly impact Japan’s preparations for the Big Dance.
The loss of Leitch hurt Japan allowing the Samoans back into the game. In what ended up being a very tight finish, the Samoans were able to hold out their Japanese rivals to secure the victory. This was Samoa’s first win over Japan in Japan since 2012 and ended their run of three successive defeats to the Brave Blossoms.
Last week there was a significant amount of commentary on this site and numerous others about Dr. Evil’s latest squad announcement. To be honest, there were some selection inclusions of the bleeding obvious, but also some utterly head-scratching inclusions, or as we should say, players that remain in the squad and didn’t get kicked into touch!
Let’s talk about the ‘dead cat’ in the room. Mr Vunivalu. I am not quite sure what Eddie sees in him, and whether there are any external factors keeping this guy in the mix. But on form, he certainly hasn’t lived up to expectations or his position in the squad. Players have been given the boot for a whole lot less. Tom Wright has been shown the door for continued John Denver (rocks and diamonds) form. At times his play is fantastic, but he has continued to be let down by poor decision making especially when under pressure. I am wondering whether we change his nickname to ‘Cadbury Flake’.
The one that really surprised me was Pistol Pete Samu getting dropped. No one is really sure as Dr Evil hasn’t mentioned why, but is this dropping a rotational resting because he has already made his mind up that Mr Samu is definitely part of his squad, so he will give him a rest and experiment with other options?
Kellaway the Ginger Ninja coming back post-injury is a no-brainer, with him now just requiring some game time to get his rugby feet back in order. Same with Jordan of Nazareth. Game time and some demonstrated form are what Eddie will be looking for. Eddie has two games against the Darkness, and a trial game in Frogland to work out what his best squad is. To be honest I am not 100% sure that he knows!
Balance in the Force
Balance has been the perennial problem with the Wallabies squad for at least the last decade. Particularly of note has been the imbalance of the back row. However, that is not the imbalance that I will be talking about today. Today’s imbalance for discussion is the mismatch in our 9 / 10 combination.
At the moment our starting 9 / 10 combination is Nic “the lip” White and QC 2.0. The differing styles of these two players and the lack of surety around our current game plan (that is if there is a current game plan) were clearly evident in both of the two initial tests in the TRC. The Brumbies run their plays off their 9 with their 10 functioning more like a support player to distribute. Whereas Quade without a doubt is the ‘On field General’ or Quarterback style of 10.
This differing style of play is causing a ‘push-pull’ factor on the game plan. In the game against South Africa, Australia through Nic White was guilty of kicking away possession quickly as the forward pack was going backward. Rather than getting quick-ball back to Quade for him to either set up a play or to take a more deliberate and less rushed kick to where opposition players weren’t, or to touch for favourable field position. In the game against Argentina, this happened less but it was still not clear who was calling and running the plays. In addition to this, the ball speed from Nic White was poor. There was a significant delay for Nic White to get the ball back to either a forward pod to hit up the next play, or back to Quade for him to weave some back-line magic. This enabled both the Saffa’s and the Argy’s time to structure their defence and reduce the tempo and front-foot ball of the Australians.
The Wallabies need to identify now whether they play off 9 or 10, and structure their squad accordingly. The more I look at it, the more I am convinced that Tate ‘Joe Dirt’ McDermott would be a better combination for Quade. The quicker ball speed, plus his sniping runs would allow Quade to set up plays that will either break the ad line or when it is broken by a Tate snipe, distribute wide for the speed of our backs to capitalise.
Having your best 9 and 10 together doesn’t necessarily ensure that that combination will work well. White and Cooper really are different ‘game plan’ styles of players. The question is, has Eddie worked this out? And is he prepared to bench one or the other to ensure the combinations are right? Previous coaches of the Wallabies have played their best players regardless of the effect that has had on the game plan. Think having Pocock at 8 just to fit Hooper in as Captain and 7. Let’s hope Eddie aims for balance, not inclusion. Because there is little doubt, with the form that the Sheep Lovers are in, the ‘darkness’ will prevail if there is no balance in the Force!
Over to you RDU’s! Have At it!