ABs v Japan - How was Fifita?

There was plenty of analysis of the AB/Japan game, with most posters focusing on the poor display of Jordie Barrett, the excellent cameo of George Bridge, and the assured play of Mo’unga. It’s very hard to watch the game and not feel that Hemopo, Evans, and Bridge need another chance, while it should be the end for NMS. Naholo will really need to improve his tackling or hope for an injury to Ioane if he wants a WC place. Despite making more metres than any other AB (including a try and try assist), he was equally terrible on defence, making as many tackles (5) as he missed (5), the worst one (of many misses) was probably for the last Japanese try on 69 minutes, where he waved through Fukuoka. Add in two turnovers and a penalty and I think I’d rather have something safer out there than him, even against Japan.

One player who seemed to do himself no favors was Vaea Fifita. From reading the game thread, it seemed that Fifita had the game he would be expected to have by most TSFers – relatively lazy, with little effort to do the hard yards, while enjoying a run or two against the Japanese. Since I missed it live, I saw the highlights, read the match thread, and saw the MOTM voting before seeing the game, so I decided to focus on his play while watching the replay. I’ll draw upon ESPN game stats and my observations in this post, with a break down and a quick summary of where I think he stands.

The Japan game should be exactly made for him – they play fast and loose, and an athlete like him should be able to make a big impression. Did he?
Well…. no.

TSF observations are, well, pretty much on the money.

Firstly, the stats. Although he didn’t trouble the scorers, he led the forwards in metres run with 24 from 7 runs, including two defenders beaten. However, he also largely contributed towards our missed tackles, with a 63% tackle completion rate (made 7, missed 4). He and Naholo accounted for more than a third of our missed tackles!

You can see my notes below from watching, but in summary, I get seven runs for about the same amount of metres, with the same number of tackles and misses as ESPN. Furthermore, if I was being kind, about half of his tackles are dominant, although his misses are also pretty bad. I also get about 15 ruck attendances, but in most cases he is just leaning on them, or acting as the pillar. I also note that he rarely moved from the center of the field, so I’ll bet he ran less metres per minute than, well, probably any other forward out there who is not a front rower. It was noticeable how much Hemopo was involved in comparison (although I didn’t specifically observe him), while Papali’i got around very well in his first outing. Finally, Fifita is lucky that the stats don’t look worse for him - he avoided two penalties due ref coaching and them scoring.

Does he deserve to be there?

Not really, IMO. There are equally as good a athletes on the MAB tour, and he’s lucky that Frizzel is injured. I assume that this tour is his last chance to impress, and if he doesn’t then he’ll be out in the cold.

Here’s what I really don’t like about him. He made some good runs, and avoided turnovers, but he didn’t really influence play in any way that we would expect of our main 6 option. When Evans came on, he immediately made an impact, and he did that by getting involved on both sides of the ball, and by making decisions – for example, taking a quick penalty at the 63-minute mark that led to Laumape’s 3rd try.

Fifita was there, and you could say he is unlucky that play didn’t come his way, but perhaps that is the point – he’ll make an impact when others provide him with opportunities. But, Fifita doesn’t seem to seek them out – he’s always two out from the ruck looking for the break– even when we need him doing the hard yards closer in and making strong cleans – and, he just isn’t that guy.

Even a bench-warmer from the Highlanders looks a better bet, as does Evans, who ran for 13 metres and looked more dangerous in a short stint, and probably Hemopo should go to Europe – he got 18 metres, made as many tackles with only miss, and made a much stronger pest of himself at and around the breakdown. I suspect that this tour will be the last time Fifita wears an AB jersey, unless he makes some huge contributions in the remaining chances he gets.

My notes on Fafita

0:29 Makes an (ineffective) clean out at 3:26

6:33 Joins ruck, then gets offside and is warned by the ref before what would be have rightly been a penalty

7:03 Returns to join a ruck after being the unused man in a 2nd man play

11:00 Helps set up maul 5 out

12:10 Pillar at ruck when they try to exit and he gets offside again so has to return rather than pressure the kicker13:22 Last man to the ruck – very suitcasey and it’s worth mentioning that we went on to make about 40 metres, and the loosie who showed up there first was Paps.

Fifita is joggin up and finally catches up with the play at 13:35 to be the last man to a ruck (again) as it gets moved wide again14:00 Makes a cleanout after Hemopo’s break (and Whitelock is held back)

16:25 Joins ruck as Mo’unga catches it (serves as pillar)

17:23 Makes cleanout at ruck, then another, and another as we work our way upfield (getting the penalty)

18:27 Wins a LO at the front and we get quick ball

18:36 Arrives at a ruck, then is the supporting player of Ofa on the drive, doing a shit job

21:00 Doesn’t quite knock on the kick off (although it looks like it). We recover and move forward

21:20 Good cleanout after a Coles run

21:58 Attacks the ball but can’t get a turnover

25:30 Is the unused second man and doesn’t get himself in a position to help Wise who gets cut down without support. We turn it over

25:50 Again is early on the jump and has to retreat

26:25 Runs - Make a few metres

31:16 Runs – makes 5 metres?

31:43 Runs and makes 4-5 needed metres to help the exit

32:08 Is jogging back on defense after we turn it over – misses a sitter on Tamura and they score in the next few phases

34:30 Supports the ball carrier. We lose metres

34:45 Good cleanout

36:40 Makes what I think is his first tackle! It’s dominant

40:30 Joins the Japanese maul before they score, then swims around and is under advantage of penalty when they attack and score at the next ruck

41:32 After being a passenger to start the half, he leans on a ruck here after a Barrett return

41:42 Makes about 10 metres on a good blindside run

43:20 Misses a tackle on Leitch

44:03 Joins a ruck as the first man to attack the ball – should probably have been a penalty as he was on his feet

44:27 Leans on a ruck

45:45 Acts as a pillar for a clearance46:31 Makes 6-7 metres on a run after a lineout. Good run but can’t offload

50:00 Tackle (2) after JP quick tap

54:26 Lifter for Whitelock at the lineout

54:51 2 metre run to set up next breakdown

56:10 Ruck lean/cleanout

58:23 Cleanout at ruck after kickoff

58:45 Ineffective ruck clean

61:56 Joins ruck as first man, attacks ball to no effect

64:22 Doesn’t take the kick off and the ball goes out

65:01 Terrible lazy chase and (3rd) missed tackle of returning winger

65:08 Makes a good tackle (3rd)

68:30 Ruck lean

69:05 Non-dominant tackle (4)

71:28 Missed tackle (4th) and looked a bit silly doing it

73:30 Good tackle (5)

74:48 Lifter for Whitelock

76:44 Non-dominant tackle (6)

77:09 Tackle (7)

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