Analysis

The Chewsday Chew

The Chewsday Chew

Hello Cobbers all and welcome to the 37th (and last) Chewsday Chew of 2022.

I appreciate that we’re all likely still on a high after our clutch win over the Taffs. But after that fleeting moment of goodwill and bonhomie, reality kicks back in and all I can say is thank Christ on His stick that year is over. Barring any more injury reports yet to surface (Achilles! Achilles! My Kingdom for an Achilles!), I think the best part of this year is in saying Sayonara and Adieu to one helluva annus horribilis for our beloved Wobblies.

The Results – we can’t hide from the obvious and must stare it in the face. Yes we got the win over the Joneses, but 2022 was not good and reads like this;

So the obvious stats are that we played 14 matches for 5 wins (35.7%). And we finished it off with a 2 from 5 (40%) northern tour that really should have been 3 from 5 (60%) if our arrogance hadn’t cost us so dearly against Italy, and could’ve been 5 from 5 with just a little luck against the Micks and the Frogs. Clearly the results of 2022 were just not good enough. However, within that are some interesting nuggets to consider;

  • We are scoring points at 23.4pts per game on average and that’s against the best sides in the world.
  • We are consistently losing by less than a try. Our average points differential is -4.4. Of the losses, 5 were by less than a try and if we take out the 2 blow-outs (losses by more than 20pts), the points differential drops to under -3.0. So we are ‘in the games’ and clearly not out of our class.
  • Our problems lie in tries scored against us while at 14 men and even then generally off the back of ill-timed penalties and in being unable to close out close games. I believe these are performance/psyche/emotional issues both in general and also exacerbate against certain opponents (more on that later).
  • But ‘ze numbers are ze numbers.’ And they are not acceptable.

And within that, we also must look Dave Rennie’s larger record at the helm since 2020…

Again, the results are unacceptable and here we see the same core issues in that we are scoring points and our differentials are less than a try. But as that number is a negative, all too often we aren’t ‘closing out the game’. This issue around not ‘closing out’ is so profound that again, if we can take out the blowouts (losses by -20pts or more) then our points differential is under -3.0 again. And further, of the 10 opponents faced, 5 of them have a win/loss points differential of less than a try (plus or minus). So while the results aren’t palatable, we are right on the cusp of success and so my point is this can be salvaged given the margins are so fine. So imagine if we cut out (say) 2 or 3 dumb penalties per game?

What is of particular note to me is that the current World Champions pose no real issue to us – we beat the Saffas 75% of the time. And we have shown ourselves to have the measure of the Irish and the French. But clearly we have issues with the English and most glaringly with New Zealand (look at the points differential especially) to the extent that if NZ are removed, Dave goes to to around 50% win ratio and, depending how we treat draws, he also goes +4 for overall points differential.

So our problems are able to be crystalised: resilience in play, closing out tight games and getting our heads right especially against England and New Zealand. More on that further down.

The highs and the lows of 2022 Leaving aside the win on the weekend the high-point for me this year was clearly the 25-17 win over the Saffas at Adelaide followed by the 30-28 win over the English in Perth. And I have to say the 16-15 win over the Scots, who have had our measure now for some time, gave me a buoyancy leading into the start of the northern tour I now realise I didn’t deserve. But that said, the sheer foolhardy guts of the win by the rag tag army over the Taffs left a good taste in the mouth to take into the summer layoff.

Compared to those, the 40-14 shellacking in Auckland was just mind-numbing while the 48-17 loss in San Juan to Cheika’s Big Cats was just bewildering. However clearly the low point of the year was the 13-10 loss to the gallant Italians in Florence.

In between those, the 39-37 loss to the Darkness in front of a sell out Melbourne crowd (even if they were nearly all scaffolders) still sticks in my mind as just unforgiveable on so many levels. While comparatively the 1pt loss to the French and 3pt loss to the Irish just reinforced how our national team is often seemingly happy to be ‘also rans’ rather than outright winners.

So where are we going wrong? Let’s approach this via a sort of process of elimination:

Do we have cattle to compete? Despite our national obsession with keeping this game as blue-blood, private school marginalised as we possibly can, we still do have the cattle. We used 51 bodies in Cadbury gold this year (with Sam ‘arse up’ Talakai being number 51). Is that necessarily good to use that many? I would say no. We shouldn’t even clock up those numbers in Year 1 or 2 of the Bill cycle and certainly not in Year 3. But compared to not having players of a minimum calibre to field, it’s a better place to be than the alternative.

Do we have the game plan to compete? For me this is the biggest immediate problem. We are using a game plan that I call “Brumby Speed Ball” (because that’s where it comes from) and, at its most elemental, it’s based on using a mix of both wider-than-usual pods to deliver exceptionally fast ruck ball or to dump-off to the sweeper/distributor to go wider again. The idea is to force a game of such lateral speed that the opposition must expand and contract their defensive line mindblowingly quickly or risk losing connection with each other. As such, the plan in attack is to use such speed and concertinaed pressure to manufacture either a gap or a mismatch to exploit with anthill style penetration (where we all pour through and fan out from that gap to block off the cover defence). It sounds great in principle and is the foundation of Brumby success in recent years alongside a rock-solid set piece.

But the challenge is that the sheer lateral speed required in its execution means it’s fragile. It’s too delicate and easy to disrupt for a well disciplined defence. And it also means its very speed makes recovery impossible if something does go wrong (illustrated by the amount of tries against us on turnover). Plus it requires brutally mobile people to play (which engineers out the key big forwards which we need to compete in the dour channels with the monsters being picked by South Africa, France, England and Ireland especially). And, most importantly at Test level, it requires the opponent to make the sorts of defensive errors that Test level opponents aren’t going to make easily. So while Brumby Speed Ball works reasonably well with a well-drilled team on a fast pitch at Super level, I doubt it’s fit for Test footy against proper Test level opponents especially on heavier fields (as in a French November).

I urge we narrow the pods a bit, drop the inside supporter back a step to be a realistic ‘straight on’ 1st cleaner to the primary ball carrier or as an inside tip-pass option, and put the speed into punching through lines via using footwork to target soft shoulders rather than in trying to run everyone sideways. This will allow our 10 to come up flatter behind a pack moving forward (instead of sideways). And if we take just a fraction of the frenetic speed out of our general attack game we will then execute better and have some supporting redundancy in place to adjust when things go pear shaped (as they do against good opponents). We have great athletes and we can make this change simply enough. Or am I wrong?

Do we have the smarts to compete? No I don’t believe we have the grey matter in the right form and this is our biggest medium term problem. Essentially, it’s not that our guys are stupid but rather our guys are so drilled into the intricacies of Brumby Ball, and the complex elements surrounding it, that we have trained ourselves to the point of autoresponses and so we have trained out the art and the freedom of thinking to recognise what an opponent is doing and to shift our game plan to counter it. We have forgotten how to just play footy (dare I use a blast from the Dingo past and say ‘Play what’s in front of you’?). Our guys know the scripts and pre-game formulas by heart. This is the source of nauseating ‘they trained well’ comments. But we have no clue of what to do if the opponent doesn’t play to the script we expected. Thus we don’t adapt or bounce back. Rather we just try harder at what we are already doing and so just make the situation worse.

What do we do about it? Firstly, we have to recognise it for what it is: that we lack the awareness and the EQ to both adapt to a changing landscape mid-game and to relish the pressure that creates. In my opinion we have a very real emotional intelligence problem deep within the psyche of our national team. We don’t lack individual skills, size, power, aggression or will. But we clearly lack the noggin to use, adapt and employ those attributes positively on a changing canvas. We lack confidence to adapt to a shift in opposition tactics, we lack clarity of thinking in pressured scenarios and too often we seem to lack the ability to execute under pressure. And we certainly lack the resilience to bounce back after disappointment both in the immediacy of the moment and week to week. And we see that most when we play our neighbours New Zealand. Under Dave Rennie we have played the Darkness 9 times for 1 win and a points differential of -144 (-16pts/match). Some social worker friends of mine tell me you see the biggest emotional challenges of people writ large in their relationships with their nearest and dearest and here we have it writ large right in front of us.

So, alongside the breathtaking discovery last week that the Wobbs don’t have an S&C team at the moment (or are we surprised given the amount of particular injuries?) I say to RA that we need our own version of Gilbert Enoka even more badly. He was the guy who got in the heads of the All Blacks in the noughties and built culture, resilience and a focus on how to win under pressure. We need to get in the heads of our Wobbly squad and teach them about adaptation under pressure, thus how to enjoy pressure and so how to ‘step forward’ into the challenge of that pressure. This isn’t warm and fuzzy candles and meditation palaver. But it’s the sort of mental and emotional preparation you find not just with the ABs in their golden period, but with some of the best special forces, civil disaster-response teams and business leaders/groups around the world. It’s a very real set of skills that can be taught and our national team lacks them. So if we are serious about winning, it needs to be addressed and become part of our ethos. It is probably already too late for this Bill, but we will need such a platform in place for the Lions tour and our own 2027 Bill. To me, this is priority spend issue.

What do you think?

Speaking of The Bill, France is calling and so I thought to give my 2cents on what I feel is our best Wobbly XXVIII heading into the 2023 French Bill year (assuming everyone is fit);

  1. Slipper – He is tired but he leads well. The Bill will be his swansong, but what better way to go?
  2. Porecki – I think he’s better than what he’s shown this year. Best of a shallow group of 2s.
  3. Ala’alatoa – A dead set rock of reliability. I have a man-crush.
  4. Philip – To him goes my biggest compliment: folk don’t miss him until he isn’t there.
  5. Frost – The find of the northern tour. His athleticism is exceptional.
  6. Holloway – Of all the Wannabes ran at 6 in recent times he’s the smartest pick.
  7. Samu – What else the guy must do to prove he is the one we want at No7 is beyond me.
  8. Valetini – How he wasn’t in the World XV selections this year is likewise beyond me.
  9. White – Best of our 9s but needs to close his gob to the ref and put away the shitbaggery.
  10. Cooper – If he can get and stay fit we’re good. Or else, just grow up and put Lolly in.
  11. Koroibete – Sets the bar others try to achieve.
  12. Kerevi – Clearly the best 12 we have.
  13. Ikitau – Sticky’s class is really starting to shine through.
  14. Nawaqanitawase – The other find of the northern tour.
  15. Kellaway – Is a better winger than fullback, but otherwise he is our smartest 15 by a long shot.
  16. Lonergan – Gets the gig as we can’t have the unreliability and penalties of Fingers Folau or Latu.
  17. Bell – If he will lengthen his pre-engage stance and stay fit, he could be something quite special.
  18. Tupou – We all know he he has the potential. But he must deliver now.
  19. Skelton – A massive body who forces opponents to change shape. Good for 30min of havoc.
  20. Leota – Another big body who moves fast and hits hard. Unleash that beast.
  21. Tate McD – Has clear work-ons, but is the best of the other 9s.
  22. Perese – I really want to see more of this guy on-field. He has that buzz that just makes stuff happen.
  23. Hodge – He has limitations and haters. But his utility and boot makes him so worthwhile to me.

For mine, Snowy Frost and Marky Mark are now must-picks alongside a fit Cooper, Kerevi, Koroibete, Slipper, Ala’alatoa, Samu and Valetini. That’s the foundation of a damn good side right there. And if Cooper isn’t fit, then stop friggin’ about and pick Noah and let the kid settle in. We have 6 confirmed and maybe a 7th test before the Big Show kicks off and Lolly has proven again and again he has the temperament to win in clutch moments. So let’s stop the funny buggers games. Where I am probably courting a public hanging is that I think Hooper’s day as the starting No7 is done and with the modern games infatuation with massive, smashing, battle-tanks coming off the bench, I struggle to find him a spot on the pine. But by the Prophet I accept that’s a lot of experience to sideline.

All that said, our biggest exposure is at No2 as Porecki hasn’t owned the role as I had hoped and Fingers Folau has proven too much a penalty magnet and lacking in basic skill execution. So Lonergan gets the gig for mine in the absence of anyone else owning it. Further No9 worries me if White is the best we have and the veritable country mile to cross before we get to the options behind him (of which Tate is the best ATM). We have cattle to cover the rest.

What do you think?

Conclusion: So that’s about enough from me. I’ll take the opportunity to thank all those who’ve been part of the site in what has been a challenging year be they fellow contributors, commentators, critics, detractors or readers. Honestly, as my dad used to say ‘You learn something from everyone you meet Boy. Usually it’s what not to do. But you’ll learn something nonetheless.” and while some of the lessons here have been on the brutal side of direct I have appreciated the experience.

A reminder here that we are all volunteers. No one could or would pay us to write this crap. So if you want a crack, feel free to reach out and would the real Slim Shady please stand up (please stand up)?

And a big ‘Thumbs Up’ to Sully who keeps the whole site ticking along behind the scenes.

I may drop the occasional random article over the break if something tickles my fancy. So be sure to check in if you’re bored. But otherwise, after what can only be described as a bloody long, hard year, at least we can look forward to next year knowing that, if all else fails, we still have the Wobblies and we’re never gonna give them up (cue the last cheesy YouTube clip of the year).

Luv youse all. Nutta out.

Analysis

Underfed front-rower with no speed or ball skills. Started playing footy in the 70's and still going. Can't remember the last time I passed on a ball, beer or karaoke mike. Motto - "Meat and potatoes first. Then gravy. And you don't put gravy on the plate first Boy."

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