I always find it interesting how people think they need to reinvent the wheel. They think they can make it work better when in fact it is spinning around just nicely as it is.
The wheel I am speaking of is the Waratahs combination at five-eighth and inside centre, and the fact that it wasn’t used for the Wallabies for the opening two games of the Rugby Championship.
Publicly Kurtley Beale was happy about his selection at five-eighth and I am sure he was in his preferred position, but I wonder if privately he ever thought, “have I spent enough time in the role?”
There’s no denying he has immense talent, but what about the fact Bernard Foley occupied that role for the Waratahs all season?
Personally, I think Beale got a rough deal with his selection at five-eighth for the opening two games. Why? Because he was put in a position where you need time to be settled. It’s not like riding a bicycle.
You may say that he spent time at pivot for the Waratahs, but I argue that the majority of that time was at phase or unstructured play where it’s completely different. You’re running broken play structures, using instinct to create havoc.
So for him to run the team, I thought, was a heavy burden. On top of that there is the standard of the opposition he was facing. As it turned out, the experiment didn’t end well. Even coach Ewen McKenzie admitted he got it wrong.
So how do you learn from getting smacked like that?
The players know they didn’t deliver, so there is no use reiterating that fact. A week on, it’s about using that game as a yardstick to improve their own performance.
To understand how the speed of the game derails opposition defences. How under pressure, defensive structures fall apart. The learning continues with the accuracy of play displayed by the rampant All Blacks.
The passing was on the money every time, the kicking strategic and the targeting at the breakdown precise. Every player contributed to the effectiveness of the game plan.
All those attributes revolve around the player wearing the No.10 jumper, the most important person on the field.
They are the ones to construct the play, make the calls and execute the game plan, controlling outcomes through their game management, and that point needs to be stressed.
If you look back through history, you can target the champion teams that had a dominant five-eighth and their partner in crime, the halfback.
If you have that strong 9/10 combination, you can control the game. The Nick Farr-Jones–Michael Lynagh and George Gregan–Stephen Larkham duos did it for the Wallabies, Justin Marshall–Andrew Mehrtens for the All Blacks and Matt Dawson–Jonny Wilkinson for England.
So it surprised me when – and I am not putting this man in the same category as the aforementioned – Wallabies selectors didn’t pick Bernard Foley as the No.10 for the opening Bledisloe Cup matches.
There is some correlation between the current Wallaby outfit and the Wallabies of 1998, who tried numerous combinations to get the right five-eighth.
The selectors settled with Larkham and paired him with the experience of Gregan. There were going to be limitations but as it turned out they were few and far between. The key was persistence, all the way to the World Cup.
Fortunately for selectors, that proved to be a master stroke. Since that partnership ended, Australian rugby hasn’t had a strong or consistent 10 – a player when you looked at them you said, I will put my trust in you.
There have been players that have occupied the role but I believe have been of the wrong ilk.
Again, selection curveballs and sometimes personality traits that became issues derailed consistency. So that’s seven years we have been floundering.
I believe a five-eighth should be of a conservative nature. One that is not easily bored by doing the same thing over and over and over again. As a mater of fact, what drives them is the clinical nature of the game and the need for the fundamentals to be spot on.
They have some show, but are not show ponies. Leave that for the blokes on the outside. That’s why, with less than 15 months to go till the World Cup, the Wallabies missed an opportunity to continue Foley in the position he dominated through the Super Rugby competition.
Everybody applauded his selection for the French Tests but not all scratched their heads at his demotion.
I would have thought the finish to the season with the Tahs after the French test would have made it a lay down misere for selection.
There is a chance now to get the bigger picture in focus. That selection would be Foley at five-eighth, Beale at inside centre and, while we’re on a roll, Nick Phipps at halfback.