ABs v England - Time for change
Well, that’s a good comeback and a lucky win, and probably a good result for the team looking forward - as I've written before, we could easily face similar wet conditions next year in the WC if a typhoon hits. Equally, it could be 35 degrees and stinking hot, but I'm sure we'd feel more comfortable in those conditions compared to wet rugby.
Regarding the 'controversial' no try, I thought at the time that Lawes was offside, but they had been threatening there all day, and with TJP only having a left foot, he must be protected. It's suicidal play by the ABs the way we are not protecting the HB, and they were very lucky to get away with it (as equally were England unlucky to have that one called back after attacking the kicker in a similar vain, with no referee involvement all day).
Furthermore, BB, what the fuck was that ‘defense’?
We have to do something about our defense. England were very very good early, but equally our first up defense was terrible. It’s either the players, the coaches, or both.
Although he was my hero as a player, McLeod is no Wayne Smith as a defensive coach. Perhaps it’s just time, but either way our defense (early on) was just not good enough. In the early minutes England made metres at will (perhaps because a number of passes to crash runners were forward) but either way they had us stretched easily.
One thing we should put away is moving BBBR to the front to attack their lineout. In itself, I think that was the winning of the game, and strategically I think we should shelve it until we need it again (i.e., next year). I love to see us attacking the other teams ball, and with Scott Barrett on, there were just so many options. Right now, I'd hold it back.
They knew the way we use the 1-3-3-1 and especially the short pass, and early in the game, they were just standing off the 2nd man in the pod (usually the passer) and hammering the 3rd man. Although it took a little while, I was impressed that we saw that they were doing this, and then saw a lot more runs from the second man (especially Whitelock made good decisions here and was probably unlucky to not get a MOTM vote from me), getting us some go forward.
In these conditions, Beauden Barrett really didn't look that good. It's not just the kicking, it's the aimless and poor kicking (of course, he's not the only guilty one here). I can see that it is strategy, but there is no variation. From memory, he didn't run until the 43rd minute, and we looked much better once he had some help from Crotty - who attacked the line from first or second receiver with vigor. It was much needed. It seems to me that Barrett he isn't being helped by the poor form of the players being selected around him (A Smith, SBW), and after moving to fullback, BB got a few more metres, and looked a bit more dangerous.
Personally, I thought that Dmac had a very good game, despite a few errors - he beat 9 defenders and gave two offloads, doing a pretty job defusing the high balls that came his way. I probably would have taken off Ioane, rather than Dmac and tried to attack late with three playmakers, but I can understand why they left Ioane out there given his ability to break open a game. Overall, I think that the two playmakers idea didn't really come off, but at least Dmac made a good fist of playing 15.
Our biggest problem (apart from some of the kicking and protection of the kicker) was not being accurate when we did break them down. Both Smith - and to a lesser extent Savea - were guilty of that by fucking up a certain try, but there were plenty of other half chances that got lost through poor ball security.
You wouldn't think it, but according to ESPN stats we had 60% territory and possession in both halves, yet couldn't break through - and missed chances when we did. With 14 clean breaks, 46 defenders beaten, and 10 offloads, we should have scored more points. That's a big positive for England - they scrambled very well, but equally it shows we just aren't finishing things in the way we were earlier in the season. To be fair, ball security in a game like that is a trick, so I can understand some of the dropped balls from Dmac and Read in the second half when we were building pressure, but Ofa’s loss in the last five was a bit unforgivable.
Where are you Liam Squire?
Two weeks ago in Tokyo I thought that Liam Squire was one of our best, but he was miles away tonight, and rightly subbed for Barrett, who played very well. Although stats don't tell the whole story, they paint a reasonable picture here: In 52 minutes Squire managed zero metres gained with only three touches (and no passes), with 5 tackles. Barrett managed 6 tackles with one miss, and made 12 metres off three runs, with one offload in 28 minutes. Against the best teams, we still have a problem at six, and as we saw last week, Fifita isn't even the answer against weak teams. Is Barrett the answer to start against some teams?
On the other hand, two weeks ago I thought Read was quiet. Well, he wasn't tonight. He lead the forwards in metres run (48 off 10 runs), with seven defenders beaten and seven passes, only missing one tackle (while making 7). He did concede three turnovers, but a much better effort from him and hopefully a needed return to form. Ardie was good again, with 12 tackles and no misses, and 18 metres off 10 runs. Looking forward, I wonder whether, at some point, we'll see a Cane, Savea, Read back row... because it's hard to leave out Ardie and Todd, who made two dominant tackles in his 12 minutes.
Is it time for some big changes?
Some players just aren’t as good as they used to be.
The match thread is rightly discussing the problem with the coaches trying to play SBW back into form, when it should be obvious that he is now a bit of a carthorse and that, simply put, others are playing better. It’s been time to call it on SBW for a while, but you know how bad it is when the broken SWB Crotty comes on and straight away makes a difference. If we were honest, SBW has never looked that good at 12, except when he was outside Cruden (and fit, and younger). That’s a very long time ago and he has almost no cohesion with BB or, well, anyone right now. He may be able to play himself back in via Super rugby, but he should be fourth choice in this squad, and probably doesn't deserve to hold out Laumape.
What jumped out at me, and has been quietly brewing in some discussions on the fern for a while, is how far off the pace Owen Franks is nowadays. He was comprehensively outplayed by Sinckler (8 runs, 16 metres, 1 pass, 8 tackles with one miss). Franks contributed six tackles with two misses (as is usual noadays) and made all of one metre off 4 runs. He can scrum of course, and Nepo had a bit of a harder time out there at times at set piece, but also contributed five tackles (no misses) with 3 metres off 3 runs, with one pass and one defender beaten in his 36 minutes.
Ofa struggled a bit at loosehead, but with Moody or Hames back (and Ross coming) I wonder whether we should start Nepo and Moody with Carl and Ofa off the bench. It's been good to get some time in Ofa at LH looking forward to next year, but I also think it's probably time for Owen to be the safe pair of hands in the squad next year, but not be the starting TH.
So, with a few games left in the season, I think we are left with more questions than the start - questions in the front row, still difficulty getting the right balance in the loosies (i.e., at six), debate about the starting nine, and we still don't know what our best midfield looks like. Plus, of course, the ongoing BB discussion.
On the positive side, we have BBBR back and playing well, Coles looking pretty good and keeping our line out functioning late in the game, Dmac looking at home at 15, and Goodhue looking like the long term 13, so if we can get some better performances from A Smith and settle on a better 12/13 combo we should get home against Ireland. Liam Squire, it's time to show that you belong at this level.