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Matt Toomua's defence can be both a strength and a weakness

Strengths and weaknesses: Brumbies star Matt Toomua isn't without fault - as the recent Test series proved.

Strengths and weaknesses: Brumbies star Matt Toomua isn't without fault - as the recent Test series proved. Photo: Getty Images

The old adage about the tight-head prop being the most important player in the side plays out across the Super Rugby semi-finals this weekend.

Of the four sides left, three have the starting tight-heads for the Wallabies (Sekope Kepu), All Blacks (Owen Franks) and Springboks (Jannie du Plessis) respectively, and the other No.3 (Ben Alexander) is the second choice for his country.

In no other position across the semi-finalists is there such a concentration of first-choice Test players.

But even the big men will concede the No.10 has a bit to do with the game plan as well, and the performance of the Brumbies' Matt Toomua against the Chiefs last week will have been looked at closely by the Waratahs.

Toomua is an unusual No.10 because of the way he defends. On three occasions last week, he either helped shut down a play or actually intercepted a Chiefs pass from the base of a ruck due to his willingness to rocket forward out of the defensive line.

But it's a high-wire act. He was caught out badly for the Chiefs' fourth try, which could have been very costly, and while his line speed and hard tackling can rattle opponents, the Waratahs will be happy if he keeps doing it on on Saturday night.

Toomua has drawn comparisons to Jonny Wilkinson or Dan Carter for his defensive prowess, but those are probably a bit premature. He's certainly a great tackler, which often makes him a great defender, but not always. Carter, for example, is the master of the drift defence – sometimes he won't even need to make much contact to do his job, he'll just push the ball carrier towards the sideline and crowd the space for the winger. 

In some ways, Toomua is more like former Springbok Butch James – but legal – or even De Wet Barry, the ferocious No.12 who built his game around line speed and intimidation.

When he gets it right, it's impressive. As mentioned above, in the 32nd minute, 54th minute and 73rd minute last week Toomua made vital contributions by coming up quick and stopping the Chiefs' attack. There will always be question marks about offside when a player repeatedly does this, but Toomua is pretty clever. On occasion he sets himself like a sprinter on the blocks, so his feet are well back. Referee Craig Joubert is a good communicator with his assistant refs on the sideline and saw no problem, so Toomua does it well.

But, as always, there's a but. When the Chiefs set a good scrum in the 49th minute and halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow simply picked up quick ball and ran straight and hard – denying Toomua the chance to line someone up, he burst over the advantage line through Toomua's inside shoulder. A try was scored a few phases later.

And when you look at what was different about the Chiefs' success with that play as opposed to the ones when Toomua shut them down, it simply comes down to the quality and speed of ball. When the Chiefs had a laboured delivery from the base, from loose-head prop Jamie Mackintosh, hooker Mahonri Schwalger, or a no-look pass from Bundee Aki, Toomua profited. When the Chiefs had accurate ball – different story.

This was the case again again in the 76th minute when the Chiefs had a scrum close to the Brumbies line and Toomua shot up to put a massive hit on replacement halfback Augustine Pulu and missed him, again on the inside shoulder, which created the room for the Chiefs to go over for a try that could have tied the scores but for Aaron Cruden's failed conversion. The line Toomua takes when he does this is so unforgiving for a defender – it's square, almost outside to in, and there's no safety net when he misses.    

Which brings us back to our old mate the tight-head prop. In both the scrums that led to the Chiefs' tries, No.3 Ben Tameifuna did his job. Even though the second wasn't overly stable, any lateral movement suited the Chiefs – it opened up the side of the field they wanted to attack. The Waratahs are a pretty complete team. They can beat the Brumbies a number of ways – but if Kepu and Paddy Ryan get it right at the scrum they have the threats in No.9, No.10. No.12 and No.15 that can flip what can be a particular Brumbies strength into a weakness.

4 comments so far

  • Excellent assessment! However it says something about rugby coaching that a technically excellent defender (in Toomua) is a potential weakness!

    The game is far too structured - and young Matt has only ever been coached/learnt to defend outside-in!

    Commenter
    Alan
    Date and time
    July 24, 2014, 11:14PM
    • I agree his great defence can be a weakness, however as the old adage goes "a good defence is a great offence". I suggest Toomua's attack is superior to Johnny Wilkinson now as well as superior to Foley, Cruden and even the mercurial Dan Carter. Toomua's speed and physicality make him a special.Watch teams playing Foley and Cruden if they can see them isolated they will send the big boppers their way, Toomua as with Carter and Wilkinson can take them. Toomua's only weakness in my humble judgement is his kicking game, the Brumbies usually leave the kicking to Nick White and Jesse Mogg.

      Commenter
      Taffy
      Location
      Ingleburn
      Date and time
      July 24, 2014, 11:52PM
      • Nice analysis, I've noticed that tendency with Toomua (as I'm sure opposing teams will as well), I think he overplays his hand a bit looking for the big hits (but you have to love that sort of aggression). I still think his physical approach to the game suits 12 rather than 10 (especially defensively), and he lacks the creativity needed in a 10 if he's not getting lots of front foot ball (but he's the best option at 10 for the Brumbies). He needs to find a permanent position at both Test and S15, bouncing between two positions with very different demands I don't think will do him many favours in the long run.

        Commenter
        AD
        Location
        NQ
        Date and time
        July 25, 2014, 8:01AM
        • If the Brumbies are depending on Ben Alexander at tighthead they might as well not turn up. Alexander has never shown any desire or ability to scrummage. He's only interested in trying to play games at scrum time, where he invariably loses, much to the Brumbies and Wallabies detriment over the years. Easily one of the worst Wallabies we have ever had.

          The game appears to be one between the canny sneaky smarts of the Brumbies (Alexanders losing antics aside) and the relatively clumsy bash and crash of the Tahs, much like their coaches. If the Brumbies forwards can withstand the Tahs forward onslaught by constantly chopping them down and always changing the direction, the Brumbies backs will prosper. Beale's defences at 12, or lack thereof and the over use or other of Speight will be crucial

          Commenter
          johnny-boy
          Date and time
          July 25, 2014, 9:25AM

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          Super Rugby 2015

          Round 1
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          BRU 47 vs RED 3 Stats
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          BLU 18 vs CHF 23 Report Stats
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          SHA 29 vs CHT 35 Stats
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          REB 28 vs WAR 38 Stats
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          HIG 20 vs CRU 26 Stats
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          STO 27 vs BLU 16 Stats
          SHA 29 vs LIO 12 Stats
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          HIG 20 vs RED 13 Stats
          FOR 13 vs HUR 42 Stats
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          CHT 25 vs BLU 24 Stats
          CHF 40 vs CRU 16 Stats
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          BUL 43 vs SHA 35 Stats
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          Fri, 06 MarTimes shown AEDT
          CHF vs HIG 17:35WS
          BRU vs FOR 19:40GIO Stadium
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          BLU vs LIO 17:35QBE Stadium
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          HUR vs BLU 17:35FMG Stadium
          FOR vs REB 22:00nib Stadium
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          CRU vs LIO 14:30AMI
          HIG vs WAR 17:35FBS
          RED vs BRU 19:40SS
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          STO vs CHF 00:00DHL Newlands
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          REB vs LIO 19:40AAMI
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          CRU vs CHT 17:35AMI
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          BUL vs FOR 02:05Loftus Versfeld
          SHA vs CHF 04:10Growthpoint Kings Park
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          Fri, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
          HUR vs REB 17:35WS
          RED vs LIO 20:00SS
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          CHF vs CHT 14:30WS
          HIG vs STO 17:35FBS
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          SHA vs FOR 02:05Growthpoint Kings Park
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          Fri, 03 AprTimes shown AEDT
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          CHF vs BLU 18:35WS
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          Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
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          FOR vs CHT 22:45nib Stadium
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          HUR vs WAR 15:30WS
          HIG vs BLU 18:35FBS
          BRU vs REB 20:40GIO Stadium
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          CRU vs BLU 18:35AMI
          WAR vs REB 20:40ANZ
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          STO vs BUL 04:10DHL Newlands
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          Round 12
          Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
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          BRU vs WAR 20:40GIO Stadium
          Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
          BLU vs FOR 16:30EP
          HUR vs CRU 18:35WS
          REB vs CHF 20:40AAMI
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          CHT vs STO 02:05FSS
          BUL vs LIO 04:10Loftus Versfeld
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          Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
          CRU vs RED 18:35AMI
          REB vs BLU 20:40AAMI
          Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
          HUR vs SHA 18:35WS
          FOR vs WAR 20:40nib Stadium
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          LIO vs HIG 00:00Emirates Airlines Park
          STO vs BRU 02:05DHL Newlands
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          Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
          BLU vs BUL 18:35EP
          RED vs REB 20:40SS
          Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
          HUR vs CHF 18:35WS
          WAR vs SHA 20:40AS
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          Round 15
          Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
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          RED vs SHA 20:40SS
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          BLU vs HUR 18:35Emirates Airlines Park
          WAR vs CRU 20:40ANZ
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          CHT vs LIO 02:05FSS
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          Round 16
          Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
          CRU vs HUR 18:35Trafalgar Park
          BRU vs BUL 20:40GIO Stadium
          Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
          SHA vs REB 04:10Growthpoint Kings Park
          HIG vs CHF 18:35Rugby Park
          FOR vs RED 20:40nib Stadium
          Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
          STO vs CHT 02:05DHL Newlands
          LIO vs WAR 04:10Emirates Airlines Park
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          Round 17
          Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
          HUR vs HIG 18:35McLean Park
          FOR vs BRU 22:00nib Stadium
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          REB vs BUL 16:30AAMI
          BLU vs CRU 18:35EP
          RED vs CHF 20:40SS
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          CHT vs WAR 00:00FSS
          STO vs LIO 02:05DHL Newlands
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          Round 18
          Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
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          REB vs FOR 20:40AAMI
          Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
          BRU vs CRU 16:30GIO Stadium
          CHF vs HUR 18:35Yarrow Stadium
          WAR vs RED 20:40AS
          Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
          BUL vs CHT 02:05Loftus Versfeld
          SHA vs STO 04:10Growthpoint Kings Park
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          Round 19
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          7 vs 7 10:00
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          7 vs 7 10:00
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          Round 21
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          Overall standings
          Team P W L D +/- Pts
          Brumbies 3 2 1 0 47 10
          Hurricanes 3 3 0 0 47 13
          Stormers 3 3 0 0 26 12
          Cheetahs 2 2 0 0 7 9
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          Rebels 3 1 2 0 -5 6
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