Last week’s gibbering turned into a bit of a Magnus opus so, not being one for consistency on any regular basis this week I’m going for brevity, today’s main people of interest are the coaches. Stuart Lancaster seems to have reverted to his secondary school persona and is almost dictating England’s game plan in the week leading up to the game and taking any decision making out of the players hands. Lancaster seems to have become so entrenched in his core beliefs that he’s abandoned any thought of adapting his game plan to suit the personnel on the field, last week despite picking Haskell who is probably the best English forward at the breakdown they still involved Haskell in the formation of midfield pods to recycle 2nd or 3rd phase ball that hadn’t even been won at the original ruck yet in the first place, leaving their best flanker stood out in midfield while the more ineffectual forwards struggling against the Samoan forwards.
Michael Cheika has only been in charge of the Wallabies for about a month so I would imagine he hasn’t had enough time to stamp his mark on the team’s play. Instead he has to rely on the players to adapt to situations on the field and trust them to make decisions accordingly, the core of the Australia side is largely made up from the successful Waratahs team (10 in today’s Wallaby squad) who Cheika coached to the Super rugby title in August of this year though so both coach and players are more than accustomed to each other. Cheika’s success as a head coach with both Randwick and particularly at Leinster where he had no hesitation in throwing Jonny Sexton in at Fly Half during their 2009 successful Heineken Cup campaign suggest that contrariwise to Lancaster he’s a coach who is comfortable allowing his players to play what they see in front of them and not to a rigid game plan.
Today would be a really strange time for Lancaster to actually scrap his preeminent game plan and start playing 9 man rugby but it would probably be England’s best shot at beating an Australia side who may not excel at set pieces but do come alive at the breakdown, Chris Robshaw’s going to need all the help he can get to best Michael Hooper so England should be putting as many players as they can into rucks and not leave forwards standing in midfield waiting to for phases to materialise.
Wales South Africa is a bit of a strange game; both teams have players unavailable through injury and more importantly because the game is taking place outside an IRB window so their respective clubs do not have to release them to the National side. It’s also another game where the coaches outward persona’s could be not be more contrasting, Heyneke Meyer is a human firework when he’s watching his charges from the coaches box. He often looks like he’s about to ignite and fly around the room, he spends more time jumping up and down than some his lineout forwards do. Warren Gatland on the other hand doesn’t much adopt the poker face approach as a poker body, nothing seems to change his demeanour, rumour has it he once smiled! The other slightly interesting (to me at least) area of this game is how well all the players involved will stand up to a 4th Test match in 4 weeks, obviously not all have appeared in every minute of every game but Wales have been subjected to some particularly fierce conditioning sessions in an attempt to build up their endurance in time for the 2015 RWC and there have been concerns from South African fans and observers that their players may not be particularly fit and coming at the end of a punishing season for their players this game may only serve to compound those fears.