Flair … Kurtley Beale. Photo: Getty Images
THE Wallabies coaches have access to technology that analyses Tests so minutely that 500,000 pieces of information can be evaluated. An article in the match program for the Melbourne Test quotes George Serrallach, the creator of the program, as saying there are 3000 tasks (runs, passes, tackles, kicks, knock-ons) that are performed and then reviewed for each match. There are also 200 events (scrums, lineouts, penalties, rucks and mauls) that are part of the analysis. Everything about how individual players and teams react under various circumstances is worked out. The teams also have their own analysts (Andrew Sullivan for the Wallabies) who work out specific game plans for different opponents and a likely game plan the Wallabies, say, will have to try to counter in their next Test.
Given all this analysis, it was a rugby delight that the Wallabies were able to totally surprise Wales at Melbourne and force a penalty that was converted by Mike Harris to win an exciting Test.
Roll the tape. Time is up. The Wallabies are behind by two points and have the throw into a lineout near the Wales 10-metre mark. All the analysis indicates the Wallabies invariably take the ball off the top of the lineouts in this situation and then flood runners down the middle of the field. So the Welsh back row start to look at their Wallabies targets in the midfield as the ball is thrown in. But what's this? Instead of feeding the halfback, the Wallabies forwards create a perfect driving maul. There is limited resistance initially because the Welsh focus is on the expected midfield play. The maul plods forward and then rumbles when Anthony Faingaa races in from the centres and puts his shoulder in. When the maul looks like smashing through to the 22, several desperate Welsh forwards collapse it. Penalty to Australia!
Last year, I asked Robbie Deans why the Wallabies never used the rolling maul. He didn't answer. He clearly didn't want to criticise his forwards coaches. This year the Wallabies coaching staff has been beefed up. New forwards coach Andrew Blades has been described as having a PhD in scrumming and mauling techniques. The new coaching co-ordinator Tony McGahan is meticulous and knowledgeable. McGahan coached Munster when they defeated the Wallabies a couple of years ago. Interestingly, Munster scored two rolling maul tries in that match.
It is to the credit of stand-in captain Pocock that he made the call for the rolling maul. Pocock's performance as captain has been so forceful and intelligent that Deans surely has to accept that here is the next long-term leader of the Wallabies.
I am not so sure, though, that Pocock should remain as the open-side breakaway, or ''fetcher''. He has remarkable upper body strength and leg drive. He is a ferocious and accurate tackler. He is strong on the burst against a compressed defensive line. He would make a superb No.6. It was noticeable at Brisbane and Melbourne when Michael Hooper came on and Pocock moved to No.6 that the back row had a lot more energy and effectiveness.
The Wallabies gained 817 metres running the ball compared with the paltry 329 metres gained by Wales in Melbourne. But there were only a couple of line breaks. The return of Kurtley Beale at fullback this afternoon will give the Wallabies attacks some needed flair. I rate Beale more important(as his absence in the 2011 RWC semi-final demonstrated) than the other X-factor players, James O'Connor and Quade Cooper. With Berrick Barnes playing splendidly at five-eighth, I would play Cooper on the wing as a Shane Williams-type playmaker. Cooper's wing-and-prayer play defies analysis even via the Serrallach method.