Not all 12s are equal from Super Rugby to the Wallabies

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Dave Rennie was in Canberra the week before Super Rugby Pacific started, and he gave an interesting insight into the lengths he and his coaching group are going to, to essentially leave the state coaches alone during the provincial part of the season.

“We’re not coming in saying how to play, or who to play,” he said to the assembled media at a Brumbies session.

“Everyone’s got their DNA. if you look at the Brumbies, they’re renowned for their maul, but they’ve tried to grow their game over the last couple of years, and have done a good job around that. The Reds are a different side, and so on.

“It’s more around the core skills. Guys understanding from an Individual Development Plan their role, and the areas they need to be better, and what’s their point of difference. Keep excelling in that.

“I think the big thing’s been around connection, and what’s the best thing for the athlete.”

Now, a little bit on context around the comments first of all.

Rennie was in Canberra, along with all the Wallabies coaches and team management, to do some pre-season planning of their own ahead of a big season which includes an England Tour and hopefully, an uninterrupted Rugby Championship.

And he was in Canberra, because it was easier for Dan McKellar and less intrusive on the Brumbies to work on Wallabies planning around their sessions, rather than have McKellar travel up to Queensland where most of the Wallabies staff are now based for a couple of days.

Later, in the same session, Rennie said, “Our job at this stage is to just chip in and help out where we can. Ultimately, it’s their time, so we look forward to watching a bit of footy and getting a bit of clarity around what our squad looks like.”


And the Wallabies coaches have helped when asked. Attack coach Scott Wisemantel was in Melbourne doing some work with the Rebels just last week.

The context of the question that provoked the answer above was more broadly about the flow of game plans and patterns from the national team down to the states, and whether that was something Rennie wanted.

And it’s not; hence, “We’re not coming in saying how to play, or who to play.”

But those words have come back into my consciousness again in the last few weeks, because it appears that there is a growing difference in the way the Australian Super Rugby coaches want to play in midfield, and most definitely the type of player they’re selecting and deploying there.

And the words came back to me because I’m as certain as I can be without seeing an actual quote that Rennie has said this sort of thing before – that he’s happy to let the states play the way they want to and with who they need to play the way they prefer, even if it contradicts the Wallabies approach.

Because there does appear to be a contradiction in place, and if anything, I think it might be growing.

He was a brief topic of conversation on The Roar Rugby Podcast just last week, and Irae Simone’s contributions for the Brumbies have been growing in value with every game this season, as they look to play with extra width and work teams over in search of a chink in their defensive armour.

Dave Rennie

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has pledged to leave state coaches alone. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Hamish Stewart, similarly, is the glue that holds the Queensland Reds’ backline together and whose presence has allowed the return of Hunter Paisami’s natural running game at outside centre this season.

Nine and Stan Sport commentator Morgan Turinui’s thoughts on where current Melbourne Rebels flyhalf Matt To’omua are well known and fit into this as well:

“It’s very simple for me,” Turinui said just last Friday night after the Rebels lost to the Brumbies.

“Matt Toomua is clear in his role at 12. He is destructive with or without the ball. He can play really physically. All the evidence I’m seeing on the field suggests they should stick with Carter Gordon (at flyhalf).”

Will Harrison got rave reviews for the way he injected himself into first receiver for the Waratahs on Sunday, but it also allowed NSW to attack with more width with Ben Donaldson running and ball-playing in the 12 channel.

Even the Western Force have looked stronger in attack with Bayley Kuenzle or the evergreen Richard Kahui at 12.

The common denominator in all this?

None of them are straight-running, no subtlety, contact-first-offload-later inside centres like Samu Kerevi. Some of them are pretty much the polar opposite, in fact.

It would be fascinating to know what Rennie makes of it, given his stated preference to let the states be, that the method proving effective at Super Rugby level is the very method he’s trying to move the Wallabies away from. It’s intriguing that the method preferred by so many international coaches is being employed less at lower levels.

And it’s not just an Australian thing, it seems. The Blues think Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s best place is second five. The Chiefs beat the Crusaders on the weekend with Quinn Tupaea marking up on David Havili.

So, are we seeing a shifting focus on the midfield, or will the international game still demand that size and physicality are first and foremost for the number 12 jersey?

And what happens if by leaving the states alone, Rennie is left with inside options that don’t suit his international plans?

We know that answer already: it’s how Paisami was asked to play on the Spring Tour until the final Test against Wales when the Kerevi plan was properly abandoned.

It’s very clear that not all 12s are equal.

What we don’t yet know is where this is going to force a change in thinking.

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