Opinion: A Wallabies backline that could beat the All Blacks
By Sam Ryan
There is a long, long list of things that need to go right for Australia if they are to beat the All Blacks in the opening Test in Sydney next month and give themselves a shot at winning the Bledisloe Cup.
New Zealand will rightfully go into the opening match as a Winx like odds on favourite, but that doesn’t mean the Wallabies can’t cause an upset. Just ask the Irish!
While we’ll obviously need a near perfect 80 minute performance, parity at set piece and our fair share of luck, Michael Cheika and his coaching staff must also pick the right side to take on the Kiwis.
I’ll leave the forwards debate to smarter heads and today focus on the backline that I believe can challenge the All Blacks.
For me, it comes down to selecting the right 12,14 and 15 combination, in the hope of getting the most out of Australia’s two best attacking weapons, Israel Folau and Kurtley Beale.
To do that, I’d start with the following backline:
9) Genia, 10) Foley, 11) Haylett-Petty, 12) Hodge, 13) Kuridrani, 14) Folau, 15) Beale.
To beat the All Blacks, our backs will need to do three things.
- Weather the storm in the opening 15 minutes
- Match the All Blacks in the final 10 minutes of each half – When they are most dangerous
- Score plenty of points
This backline can do all three.
By starting Hodge at 12, we have a solid ball running option that we can rely on as the Wallabies play their way into the match. As all of our Super Rugby sides have learnt this year, it’s almost impossible to beat a New Zealand side when you are trailing by 15 points after 10 minutes.
Hodge will get the Wallabies over the advantage line in the early stages and keep the scoreboard ticking over with long range penalty goals.
With Hodge in the centres, we’re also able to keep our two main strike weapons on the park for 80 minutes, without relying too heavily on them in the opening minutes.
The beauty of the Hodge/Folau/Beale combination is that all three are comfortable playing in each others position and will likely do so at certain points of the match. But I still think it’s important to have all three on them on the field for as long as possible.
I’m a late convert to the “shift Folau to the wing” theory but after watching a replay of his performance against the Lions back in 2013, I remembered just how dangerous he can be.
At the end of the day, Folau is a try scorer. He has a lot of qualities but he’s on the big bucks because the Wallabies need him to score tries. And lot’s of them.
So let’s give him the best opportunity to do that by starting him on the wing. He won’t need to worry as much about his catch and pass, kicking or those around him.
He’s there to catch the ball and score.
It worked for Jonah Lomu.
He’ll also be highly effective as a decoy runner. By starting Folau in the 5 metre channel off set piece, the Kiwi’s widest defender will be forced to shift his attention out wide to defend a cross field kick. This will create a disconnection in the All Blacks defensive line and create more space and opportunity in the midfield and outside the 13 channel.
When Folau is on the blind wing, he can run lines on the inside or outside of our 10, 12 or 13 and either crash over the advantage line or be used as a decoy to set the feet of the New Zealand defenders, creating further opportunity for our front line runners.
For me, Kurtley Beale is the key to Australia’s attack going forward. By starting Beale at fullback, he won’t have to attack or defend in the front line in the early stages and he’ll be able choose when and where he injects himself.
As the match progresses and the Kiwi defenders tire, Beale can chime in as a second playmaker from either 12 or 15, adding a further dimension to the Wallabies attack.
At the back, he also won’t be too far away from his old mate Issy, which may force the Kiwi’s to second guess their kicking tactics.
Cheika has shown in recent years that he is happy for his backs to play unconventional roles and set up in numerous positions, regardless of the number on their back.
If we’re any shot of beating the All Blacks, we need to get the most out of backs and utilising the Hodge/Folau/Beale combination will allow for that.
It’s not going to be easy and a whole lot needs to go right but if the Wallabies turn up in Sydney and cause an upset in game one, maybe we’re a chance of bringing the Bledisloe home.