Looks like improvisation but Australia work from carefully structured plan
Ireland must target Michael Hooper and Quade Cooper to have any chance
Although vulnerable, the Wallabies are far more dangerous than a lazy perusal of their recent scoreboards would suggest. Having watched them lose in Sydney last summer to the Lions, I had to wonder what they might have been with the addition of two players – a tighthead and an outhalf.
If Ireland follow Leinster’s lead of minimal possession, Australia have the game to win. However Ireland – in maintaining possession while building phases – must not over commit to the breakdown. Although statistically impressive, it will ultimately limit options.
As a northern hemisphere forward I still can’t fathom how eight Lions forwards, who met only weeks prior to the three Tests, could dominate a Wallaby scrum who’ve been together for months, even years.
I assume everyone is aware of the potential in the scrum, but is New Zealand referee Chris Pollock? Ireland’s scrum must work the scoreboard but, without Wallaby tighthead Ben Alexander’s weak right arm, it may be tougher task than expected.
Last Friday I lamented Iain Henderson’s injury and this week it’s another Ulster man, Chris Henry. I know I’ve been harping about Seán O’Brien for the number six jersey and I know how brilliant he has been in the seven jersey, and with Wallaby Michael Hooper starting at openside the breakdown will be crucial. I’m just thinking about the All Blacks and how to potentially manufacture more outfield damage!
But it is Hooper this week: so how does he do it?
1. Knowing he can’t be affective at every breakdown, he has the ability to read the evolving game. Watch as if you were a camera on his head viewing the environment from his angle and ground height.
2. Watch his alignment as he approaches the contact zone with his team-mate preparing to make a tackle; look at how the tackle will finish. He steals vital time by getting into the gate position before it opens. Hence as the ball hits the deck he is ahead.
3. Now the ball is on the deck, Hooper is ready to pounce which is really only the start of the situation. At just under 6 feet tall his body shape is ideal for the next phase.
4. Now that he’s anticipated, even visualised, the future shape of the breakdown he will select from a range of options required to slow down or, even better, steal the ball.
When to pounce
Hooper doesn’t get to every ruck but has the ability to visualise the ones worth getting to, then gets into the steal position and chooses when to pounce.
Australia had 283 more caps than England in Twickenham. Even with their vulnerability those caps punished England until Mike Brown, England’s fullback took control. He does the nuts and bolts well but adds an exuberant counter attack, igniting his team and the crowd.
It went against him in the Stoop with Munster punishing him but he did awaken England in the second half when they needed it most.
It was Brown’s play from the back that led to England’s first try with the momentum keeping England going until the second try, scored by Owen Farrell. Rob Kearney needs to follow suit.
Quade Cooper at 10 has an air of confidence, cemented by vice captaincy, that will enhance his already outrageous gain line play. The key Wallaby difference these past weeks is the variety outside Cooper at 12, 13, 11, 14 and 15.
They all work in tandem; often labelled “eyes up rugby”. It’s not, it’s actually all operated inside a functioning system. There’s no miracle of invention. At a given time, the Aussies have a strict alignment of lines, options and depth that creates a precision pass to unlock defences. Watch Cooper, his timing of run, angle and depth and notice his midfield alignment before he fires a pass.
Array of options
Cooper likes to look like neither he nor his team-mates know what he’s going to do next. Don’t be fooled as it’s all about the array of options and how his team-mates react to his play selection. One example is as a Wallaby variation on Johnny Sexton’s wrap around – a multiphase with part-time outhalf Matt Toomua lying flat and wide to take a target with Cooper loitering deep to take the circle pass.
I can’t wait to see Kieran Read in action for New Zealand but tomorrow it’s scrumhalf Will Genia who is an unreal performer. He consistently carries in both hands, attacking the second fringe defender. Appearing as if he’s slowing the pass, he’s attempting to suck in the second defender, creating a tiny hole that the Wallaby runners expose, as Toomua did crashing past Tom Youngs in Twickenham.
For all their running Australia have no issue in kicking the ball especially box kicks. Toomua’s kick-offs are unreal, going very high and short with serious outside backs sailing into the air to reclaim.
A similar tactic will target Devin Toner’s lineout space as the Wallabies get their inside shoulder to destabilise. Stephen Moore’s lineout throw is very flat and open for steals!
It’s a breath of fresh air to see a team rotated and players not being dropped. That said, Luke Marshall will have to be at his brilliant best to mimic the phenomenal defensive partnership of Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll.