Five things we learnt: Samoa win proves that Wallabies’ Rugby World Cup campaign rests upon Samu Kerevi

Five things we learnt: Samoa win proves that Wallabies’ Rugby World Cup campaign rests upon Samu Kerevi

The Wallabies aren’t England.

They can’t switch from Plan A to Plan B with the click of the fingers.

Saturday settled that once and for all; even if was essentially a second XV.

It was just over three years ago that Eddie Jones brought on playmaker George Ford for Luther Burrell and pushed Owen Farrell to inside centre in the minutes before half time in the first Test against the Wallabies in Brisbane.

The change up was a coaching master stroke and the series turned suddenly in England’s favour.

Since then, Jones has mixed and matched between playing the duo together at fly-half and inside centre, and Farrell at fly-half and either one of the larger bodies of Ben Te’o or Manu Tuilagi at inside centre.

Eddie Jones has two strong game plans that he can use depending on whether he deploys both Owen Farrell and George Ford.
Eddie Jones has two strong game plans that he can use depending on whether he deploys both Owen Farrell and George Ford.Source: Getty Images

Even now, on the eve of the World Cup and on the back of a marvellous display from Ford against Ireland just a few weeks ago, it’s not yet known whether Jones will start the dual playmakers with Tuilagi at outside centre, or opt for a Farrell-Tuilagi-Henry Slade/Jonathan Joseph combination.

It’s most likely that Farrell will wear the No 10 jersey and Tuilagi outside him.

But oppositions will know that at any point, Jones can change the way England attack.

Better still, it appears that they’re equally versed at both styles of attack depending on the flow of the game and how the opposition is defending.

The Wallabies don’t have that luxury.

The Wallabies’ attack is centred on Samu Kerevi — the tackle shredding beast in the midfield who acts as Australia’s atomic weapon.

Without him, the Wallabies’ attack is predictable and they return to the out the back plays they’ve been using for the past three years which have proven not to work.

Kerevi, finally picked at inside centre, changed that by straightening the attack up, bringing in second phase ball through his offload game and, when necessary, by acting as a decoy.

On Saturday, he was rested and the same clunky attack returned.

The first example occurred in the fifth minute, when the Wallabies attempted to spread the ball to the left with two decoy runners, yet it finished with an under pressure Adam Ashley-Cooper hurriedly attempting to batten the ball away to his outside backs and the ball hitting the turf.

Samu Kerevi is the key for Wallabies success at the World Cup.
Samu Kerevi is the key for Wallabies success at the World Cup.Source: Getty Images

The movement left the Wallabies well behind the gain line.

Straight after half time, in the 41st minute, the Wallabies attempted to stretch Samoa, but the final pass ended up going into touch, too.

Similarly, in the 59th minute, Foley was smashed as he attempted an out the back play 30 metres out from Samoa’s line and the ball ended up bouncing back to halfway where Ashley-Cooper managed to clean it up.

Earlier, when the Wallabies did get on the outside in the 23rd minute from a scrum feed near half way, they still ended up in touch as Marika Koroibete was forced into touch after failing to straighten up.

Foley should not be made a scapegoat, nor have his name crossed out for the No 10 jersey at the World Cup.

Had Christian Lealiifano played, it’s likely he would have experienced the same troubles without Kerevi in the midfield.

Foley was solid throughout the evening, making one linebreak and laying on one linebreak assist too.

Really, it came down to his troubles off the tee and being run over the top from the back of the scrum by giant No 8 Afa Amosa which reflected poorly on him.

But the Wallabies can’t play that game without either having a Kerevi threat in the midfield, or by dominating the collision up front and getting the necessary quick ball to spread it wide early.

Wallabies too good for Samoa

Wallabies too good for Samoa2:05

Nor, as it showed when Koroibete was pushed into touch or later when Dane Haylett-Petty twice didn’t have the toe to find the line either, do the Wallabies have the out-and-out pace to burn their opponents out wide to play that game either.

England can do that.

They have arguable the best pack in the world, Tuilagi in the midfield and serious toe in Jonny May and Anthony Watson and a wrecking ball in Joe Cokanasiga out wide.

That’s why dual playmakers can work for England depending on the opposition they’re coming up against.


The other deeply troubling aspect of the Wallabies’ performance against Samoa was the second-half fade that left a bitter taste in the mouth of those watching.

Like in July, when the Wallabies narrowly escaped past Argentina, the Wallabies looked like they could blow it.

In the end they had too much class for Samoa, but the Wallabies found themselves in a hole because they compounded error after error.

Looking simply at the stats, the Wallabies made 11 handling errors in the second half compared to four in the first.

They also conceded seven penalties compared to four in the first half, too.

But just as concerning was the way the Wallabies turned over possession.

It seemed as if they tried to speed the game up rather than build phases and restore order.

It was the forwards that must shoulder the blame.

Jordan Uelese, Sekope Kepu, Taniela Tupou, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and Jack Dempsey were all guilty of dropping balls cold, while Will Genia missed Luke Jones altogether with a pop pass.

Bernard Foley and Christian Lealiifano have both struggled with their kicking in 2019.
Bernard Foley and Christian Lealiifano have both struggled with their kicking in 2019.Source: Getty Images

Exasperating those errors was that the Wallabies’ scrum was smashed in the second half by Paul Alo-Emile.

The Wallabies need to find a way to stem the tide and change the momentum within games.

Leadership is the key.


In his post-match interview with Fox Sports, Michael Cheika attempted to down play his side’s goal kicking troubles.

Asked whether goal kicking keeps him awake at night, Cheika downplayed the inference.

“They’ll come good, don’t worry, they’ll come good,” Cheika said.

“It’s just about getting behind the wheel there.

“Bernard hasn’t kicked in game for a while.

“He’s been kicking them like a champion at training.

“That’ll do him the world of good.

“We didn’t flinch there and try to change him.

“Just let him get into the groove of it.

“I think those guys are great goal kickers and when the heat’s on at the Cup and goals are at a high demand they’ll be kicking them for sure.”

But there’s no doubt the Wallabies’ goal kickers have struggled in recent years.

Foley missed crucial shots at goal against the All Blacks in Dunedin in 2017.

Samoa can't stop Koroibete

Samoa can’t stop Koroibete0:48

He struck the ball well last year in internationals and kicked at 79 per cent in Super Rugby this year.

But his struggles returned on the weekend, where he missed his opening three shots at goal and finished with another dragged attempt after the full time siren.

In Bledisloe II, it was Lealiifano’s two early penalty misses that cost the Wallabies dearly.

Lealiifano kicked at 75 per cent in Super Rugby.

In the five Tests to date in 2019 though, both men have struggled with Lealiifano nine from 13 (69.2) and Foley five from nine (55.6).

Those numbers are well short of the world’s best:

George Ford — England: 13/13 (110%)

Yu Tumura — Japan: 17/19 (89.5%)

Nicolas Sanchez — Argentina 7/8 (87.5)

Dan Biggar — Wales: 11/13 (84.6%)

Owen Farrell — England: 37/44 (84.1 %)

Elton Jantjies — South Africa 10/12 (83/3%)

Greig Laidlaw — Scotland: 18/22 (81.8%)

Richie Mo’unga — New Zealand: 9/11 (81.8%)

Beauden Barrett — New Zealand: 14/18 (77.8)

Handre Pollard — South Africa: 15/20 (75%)

In 2015, Foley had the radar working.

It saved the Wallabies against Scotland and steered them to safety against Wales and Argentina.

History shows that to win a World Cup you need a goal kicker who will land their shots.

The Wallabies need their sharp shooters to fire.


What to do with David Pocock?

It is the Wallabies’ biggest selection headache.

This isn’t just a matter of a straight swap with him and either one of Salakaia-Loto and Isi Naisarani.

It’s a complete shift in the way the Wallabies approach the game.

Both Salakaia-Loto and Naisarani are bigger ball-carriers.

Naisarani, in particular, has been asked to operate in tight while both men have proved very useful at the lineout.

Neither of those two aspects are Pocock’s strength.

On Saturday night Cheika told Fox Sports that he would likely take a horses-for-courses approach with the back-row and take it just one match at a time.

How to use David Pocock is the Wallabies’ big selection question.
How to use David Pocock is the Wallabies’ big selection question.Source: Getty Images

While Pocock didn’t have the same impact at the breakdown against Samoa as he usually does in his return from a six-month lay-off, he still made a major contribution across the ground and cleaning out.

Against Fiji and Wales playing him and Hooper will likely be effective.

Fiji will attempt to play an open, expansive game and get their offloads away, so what better way to slow their ball down than to operate two fetchers in Pocock and Hooper.

So too Wales, who don’t have the biggest pack in the world but will try to wear you down and kick you off the field and they’ll also throw numbers into the breakdown with the likes of Josh Navidi and Justin Tipuric.

While against the Springboks and England a bigger back-row might be required.

Jack Dempsey, too, shapes as a key weapon to bring off the bench after a successful return.

His work-rate and impact on the ground could be used as a good hybrid if the Wallabies keep Pocock on the bench for the final 30 minutes.


Is it merely a coincidence that when the set-piece has fired, so has the Wallabies?

In South Africa, the Wallabies’ scrum was beaten and so was Australia.

Likewise in Bledisloe II, where the scrum was smashed.

Against Samoa, the Wallabies’ lineout was brilliant but the scrum, once again, was well beaten.

Rob Simmons was effective at the lineout against Samoa.
Rob Simmons was effective at the lineout against Samoa.Source: Getty Images

Finding consistency at the scrum is something that Cheika will be demanding particularly against Wales, whose set-piece is always strong.

The lineout, however, continues to get better.

This time it was Rob Simmons who disrupted Samoa’s lineout all night.

The Wallabies made six turnovers on opposition throws and the bulk of those were from Simmons.

With Rory Arnold to return after missing the past two Tests, the Wallabies’ lock stocks are stronger than in recent years.

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Author: CHRISTY DORAN @christypdoran