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WILL GENIA: There’s no escaping the reality

My column yesterday about the changes I’d like to see for the first Bledisloe Cup caused quite a reaction and I can understand why people would feel that I’ve changed my mind drastically on Noah Lolesio.

It has nothing to do, as some suggested, about favouring mates. That’s not how I approach this job.

It’s mainly because of how poor that performance was. We failed to fire a shot at all. It’s not as if there were good passages or moments of rugby. We were poor in all areas, particularly in and around the controlling of the game from our drivers.

We kicked poorly, we organised the game poorly in respect of what we were calling, and in terms of the positions on the field we put ourselves in.

That falls heavily on your playmakers. From Noah’s perspective I genuinely back him. He’s a quality player and will continue to grow. But the nature of that defeat means people need to be held accountable.

Maybe it’s not just Noah. Maybe it’s others as well. But there’s no escaping the reality – he’s a big part of that because he’s the number 10.

I think the coaches are doing a good job as far as giving him an opportunity. But he must be brave and try to put those learnings into practice when he’s out there on the field. For me, he seems a bit hesitant to do that whenever the pressure comes on.

As a playmaker, you’re looking for cues on the field and you are looking at certain pictures to determine the decisions and calls you make.

When you’re on the front foot, rugby is the easiest game in the world as a playmaker because you’ve got all the time and space to be able to make the decisions.

On the weekend we were on the back foot and in positions of pressure where we had to manoeuvre our way out of those spaces.

As a young playmaker, without the experience of someone like a Quade Cooper, you can get lost. When you get lost you revert to carrying the ball yourself or to shifting pressure by passing a ball that you maybe need to kick. Or you’re not calling for the ball when there’s an opportunity. You sit back and allow the forwards to carry almost as if you’re waiting for the perfect picture when that’s never going to happen in Test footy.

Noah’s been given enough opportunities now to be able to put those learnings into practice. And he’s got to be brave to take that next step in his game.

It’s about identifying that at Test level you’re never going to get the perfect picture and you’re never going to get the obvious picture. You’re never going to three or two man overlaps.

What you will get are one on one matchups and you’ve got to be brave enough to identify that and take a gamble on it, rather than sit back and let the forwards carry, or shift the pressure to someone else and wait for a perfect picture to inject yourself in the game.

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie speaks to Noah Lolesio during the Australia Wallabies Captain's Run at Sydney Cricket Ground on July 15, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie speaks to Noah Lolesio. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

That’s probably the area that he’s struggling with. Yes, it comes with experience but if the coaches are backing you, take that opportunity. I don’t think he has just yet.

If you look at that in regard to that performance on the weekend, it doesn’t look good as far as the  job that he did or our playmakers did as a whole in the game. That’s my thinking around potentially making a change for the All Black game, because they will put us under similar amounts of pressure, place us in similar positions of the field where they’re going to try and squeeze us.

Sure, we can put him back out there and allow him to learn and within that learning maybe weather the grief of another loss, or we can potentially make a change whether it’s at ten or somewhere else that that might give us the opportunity to play better.

So what are the options?

Reece Hodge can cover all types of positions but when he plays at 10, because he’s so detailed, and he does all his homework and works hard to understand the game, he can deliver a game plan. Maybe it’s a much simpler game plan to say when Quade or James O’Connor plays there. But he’s quite good at delivering the game plan in its simplicity. For me, that’s the biggest thing I think they want from 10.

Bernard Foley brings a really cool head and is a good communicator. He’s played in the World Cup finals, 70 odd Test matches. Because of all that experience, he understands when to pull the trigger, when to get the ball and what pictures he’s actually looking for as far as wanting to execute.

And he understands depth really well, much like Quade –  when to flatten up, when to sit back. Those things come with experience, but they also come from a certain mentality where you want to take the game on. That might stand the team well having that cool experienced head in, if it’s a good communicator to help in situations when things aren’t going their way but can also create opportunities because of the fact that they know what pictures they’re seeing.

What should Noah be doing? Start with homework. Look at other players and what their strengths are. Not just trying to be like them but looking at why they make the decisions they make on the field. Why they run, why they kick, when they flatten up and sit back.

What pictures are they looking at? Identify why they’re making the decisions. He can’t kick a ball like Richie Mo’unga, he can’t run like Beauden Barrett, but he’s got his own strengths.

You pick up particular things that might serve you well around how you see the game, and then you apply what you have in your game, your physical gifts and mental attributes to that.

That’s the biggest thing that you find at Test rugby – when you become successful at that level is you fully understand and know what your game is and you play the game based on what your strengths are.

One part is having experience, but also being a student of the game, watching the game, watching other players, what are they looking at, why they’re making these decisions?

Whoever the Wallabies send out next week they’ll spend time up against Richie Mo’unga, and there is plenty to be learned from him.

He’s one of the most complete players we’ve seen in a long time, very much in the mould of Dan Carter. He has excellent skills, is an excellent passer, kicker and runner. He’s a good defender, and he’s a good organiser and communicator within the game. When you watch him moving around the field he seems like he’s always quite calm and composed. That’s essentially  as complete a player as you can possibly get.

The biggest attribute that you want from a 10 is they’re a good communicator and calm under pressure. Noah has some more to learn.

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