ABs vs Arg - Fifita’s last chance?

Vaea Fifita was perhaps lucky to get the first opportunity in the 6 jersey, as Frizell’s injury saw him left at home. Overwhelmingly, TSF posters appear pretty disappointed with his effort against Argentina, in the All Blacks lucky win in Buenos Aires overnight.

They are right.

After the first game of the season, it seems that the six question remains unanswered. He seems to remain a coach favorite, but this should be his last test this year.

The Stats

Rugbypass stats indicate a mixed effort in comparison to the other loose forwards out there. In 57 minutes, he made 6 tackles, missed 1, and gained one turnover. With the ball, he ran 5 times for 7 metres, beating one defender. In the line out, he won three off our throws, and stole one. He also conceded one turnover and two penalties. Overall, he was equally highest with Retallick as a line out target, but may have lost ground to key competitors in some key areas (NB: ESPN stats have him only making one tackle and missing one).

To start, by comparison his opposite number Matera ran for 40 metres off 12 carries, with one offload and one defender beaten, while making 9 tackles with one miss, one line out won, and the same number of penalties conceded (NB: ESPN stats have him making nine tackles and missing four).

Against the starting AB loosies – who it should be mentioned both played 80 - Fifita also looks to be less involved: Ardie took 31 metres from 8 runs, beat one defender, gained one turnover, and did not concede any turnovers nor penalties while making 11 tackles with no misses. He was, admittedly, probably our best player out there though. The other starter, Sam Cane, had one terrible dropped ball (and a total of three turnovers conceded), but was very involved with 17 tackles (leading the team), two misses, and two penalties conceded. Cane had one offload and ran 6 times for 31 metres (NB: ESPN stats have Ardie making 24 metres off 9 runs and Cane making 24 off 6).

Perhaps even worse, key competitors (Hemopo, Jacobson) came on and each played relatively well: In 23 minutes, Hemopo had 3 metres off one carry, with one offload, five tackles and no misses. In the same amount of time, Jacobson got quite stuck in on defence – making 8 tackles with no misses, while winning two line outs. He conceded one turnover but no penalties, and had no running metres. Noticeably, Jacobson made some pretty hard (NB: ESPN stats have Hemopo making 3 tackles, with Jacobson at 9 tackles).

So, putting things together, what do the numbers indicate? Firstly, to me, I wonder what his role is? Looking at the numbers, he appears to be doing the Read role - he is used as the primary line out option, is not the main ball runner (Ardie), and is not the primary tackler (Cane). Is he the main cleaner and player making high impact tackles? Jacobson jumped out with his work there after coming on, and Hemopo has some runs in the bank on that front too. So, I focused primarily on his off the ball duties in my re-watch. To what extent is Fifita involved? After being replaced, to what extent was Jacobson involved?

The Rewatch


2:32 - Wins lineout jumping at four
3:08 - Stays out on the left and passes to Barrett then gets cleaned out trying to join the ruck – poor clean as Smith gets put under pressure
4:01 - Third player to the ruck as Abs head back for a kick
4:26 - Second ineffective tackler, doesn’t roll, and gets penalised
7:17 - Attacks their lineout
11:06 - High tackle and is penalised – then takes no part in any of the defence against the Argie attack on our line – is also unseen in the next break out which leads to a penalty

15:10 - Wins the lineout at four
16:19 - Good lift for BBBR as we win the line out and attack
16:30 - Sort of attends one breakdown then is the support of Ardie who takes about 8 metres as we attack their line
16:52 - Cleans a breakdown, then gets up and receives the ball. Is tackled immediately for no gain. As we were under advantage, Gardner awards the penalty – Smith taps and Laumape goes in
19:30 - Joins maul against Argentina throw
21:10 - Good clean after Laumape’s break
21:26 - Inspects a ruck
21:40 - Good clean

21:47 - Gets up and puts in another good clean
24:52 - Part of the maul defence (we concede a penalty)
27:08 - Third ineffective tackler (kind of hits, kind of misses)
28:05 - Joins/inspects ruck (4th man there)
29:35 - Wins lineout and we set a maul
30:35 - Joins our maul towards their line, we win a penalty
32:11 - Wins the lineout and we maul
33:03 - Fifita jumps at the lineout but can’t get two hands on it
33:50 - Receives a pass from Barrett and makes about 1 metre
34:19 - Receives the second pass from BBBR and drops it
37:33 - Gets ball in our 22 and gets about 4-5 metres
40:15 - Tries to win the ball but misses, then inspects the ruck. Ball goes out and that’s the half
40:48 - Joins maul in defence
41:41 - Lifts BBBR at the lineout
43:21 - Steals a line out jumping at 2 then stations himself on the wing – conspicuous by his absence during the next 30 seconds as we try to get going
45:49 - Second or third tackler/first ruck cleaner as Argentina attack our line – gives away the penalty for not rolling
46:01 - Makes initial tackle but doesn’t take the player to the ground – Creevy offloads, they kick, and score
48:45 - Joins maul defence (BBBR gets penalised)
50:58 - Catch/pass
51:09 - Rushes out of the line and is beaten
51:50 - Is unlucky as BB can’t find him after his break
52:41 - Is lucky not to get penalised for joining a ruck from an offside position (Coles about to be penalised)
53:44 - Lifts Patty and then defends against the Argie maul
55:00 - Terrible clean and we are lucky to not get turned over
55:34 - Second (ineffective tackler)
56:00 - Gets 4 metres with the ball - might have beaten one man
57:20 - Is taken off

I didn’t see one dominant tackle from Fifita – in fact, he is hardly in the middle of the field – usually spending most of his time on the wings. He had one good period were he made two good cleans, but apart from that and one good steal, he’s hardly involved.


Looks a bit lost for the first few minutes and doesn’t really get involved until
60:04 - Makes a good tackle on Labanini
61:56 - Tracks across and cleans
62:41 - Wins the line out
63:30 - Is unlucky as he is outside Cane when he drops a sitter cold with no one in front of him
66:34 - Dominant tackle in midfield
66:46 - Second effective tackler

67:40 - Second (ineffective) tackler / ruck joiner
67:53 - Third (ineffective) tackler /ruck attacker
68:08 - Excellent ruck clean to assist Coltman and we almost win the turnover
68:28 - Strong tackle on man off the ruck [You almost never see Fifita defending here]
70:39 - Ankle tackle and doesn’t get shaken off
71:01 - Makes a tackle as the Argie player loses the ball
72:40 - Third man to attend the breakdown (behind Cane and Reece)
73:01 - Good clean to secure ball
74:30 - Accurate clean after following BFA
76:47 - Wins the line out at the back, then is strong at wrestling he attacking defenders in the following maul
78:15 - Ankle tackle
78:37 - Stopping tackle, then straight up again and attacks the ball at the next ruck – he’s unlucky because he would win it too, but as the Argies are under advantage, Angus goes back to the penalty

I see eight or maybe nine tackles in that short period of time, including three of four very effective tackles. Furthermore, he puts himself into positions to be influential – following the play more and putting himself one of the ruck – something Fifita almost never does. Furthermore, I saw three good cleans and one ruck attack, plus he was a pretty effective line out option.

What does it mean?

Firstly, rugbypass has some of the friendliest stats out – Fifita seemed to get credit for a lot of poor tackle assists. ESPN’s seem much more on the money (I’ve added them as a result).

Based on what I saw, I can’t how Fifita can continue to be selected. Jacobson has the Read look about him – he’s involved and he’s accurate. I’d be taking a much longer look at him and Papalii – both of them have versatility, toughness, and can contribute around the field. Frizell also deserves a chance.

Overall, if this was Fifita’s WC try out, he should have just played his last test for this year.

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