As the Lions tour approaches...
As the Lions tour approaches, some thoughts on the current game ...
Are the two hemispheres aligned?
Arguably the best 6 Nations ever? As usual some predictable results, some controversy, but more importantly some quality rugby with a level of intensity founded on good technique rather than frenetic endeavour.
So are the two Hemispheres aligned? Or do we have three Hemispheres of rugby with New Zealand detached and hovering above the rest?
Depth of talent and quality coaching has raised the performance bar in the N Hemisphere. The internal structures in Ireland and England have ensured a steady flow through of talent. Scotland and France are transitioning well. Scotland’s playing discipline will be further enhanced by the arrival of Gregor Townsend who will bring a more specific focus on support play, go forward and continuity. Noves is returning France to the days of belligerence and flair, a combination only the French can understand.
Wales remain entranced by defence and defensive systems, more concerned with stats than effective team play. A change of coaching personnel may herald the re-birth of attacking Welsh flair, built around the charm and skill of the Number 10. A quick look over their shoulder to the 10s of yesteryear may promote the change?
England have been found out mainly because the egos at the RFU were busy trying to organise a World Play-off game with New Zealand before the team had played Ireland!! How the Irish players must have fed from that trough … and rightly so.
Italy remains the place to visit but not to support. Until the relationship between the clubs and the federation improves, their game will languish, occasionally spurting out a Parisse, but he alone cannot conquer Europe.
So what’s happening down under?
Australian Super teams are in a downward spiral. Gone are the days when you could name the starting line ups as part of pub talk. Now it’s more a case of who’s he? Or where did he come from? Monetary issues lurk beneath the surface and unlike the “shark alarm” they are unlikely to be forced away, even temporarily! Australia can always find a team performance – its part of their culture and style – but the X factor players are decreasing in number.
Only New Zealand teams play with consistency of ball movement and go forward, for 80 minutes, every game.
This may be a fair assessment of how they play the game …
“Using the ball is a blend of understanding with attitude; of team awareness with individual virtuosity; of practised patterns with spontaneous reaction. The blending is elusive and short-lived”.
Is the above quote a fair reflection of effective team play?
If the above quote is true then the way we structure our sessions for young players, 12-14 years, needs serious consideration, because the foundation stones need to be introduced and put in place so future coaches can build on them. The alignment is one of attitude and skill development. We want young players who are constantly striving to take the game away from the coaches.
What do young players want to do at coaching sessions?
• Be able to express themselves.
• Demonstrate their skills.
• Play conditioned games.
• Compete with each other.
• Be challenged.
• Be involved and active throughout.
The flow through of X factor players will increase if we provide coaching sessions that embrace these points while at the same time knit and blend techniques into the session model.
This model will flourish in the hands of coaches driven by such factors, but are we producing coaches who can understand this model?
It doesn’t demand a qualification, more an ability to connect with young players and grab their attention, get them moving and challenge their skill and personality. A frightening thought for some coaches, like taking your dog to the park for the first time, will it run off?
Who will drive the recruitment and retention of young players? I’ll tell you who! The young players who are playing the game now. They tell their mates, and their mates tell their mates.
So if we accept the on grass coaching model, it’s now a question for the coaches of … ”would you like to be coached by you?”
If you like your answer then get back out on the park quick, because the game needs you right now.
Effective Coach Education: The Bond Pirates Model
(Mike Penistone and Bob Dwyer)
“Would you like to be coached by you?”
The market for young players is very congested. Lots of sports all trying to attract players to their game.
The “hook” that finally pulls them in can be from; facilities, family tradition, peer group, marketing strategy of the club, school link, or more relevantly, good teaching and coaching.
One thing is for sure. If the participants don’t enjoy the coaching sessions you may lose them, and very quickly. So attending a club coaching session has to be an enjoyable one! In my experience, if young players are having fun with their mates they are far less likely to leave and try another sport.
Preparing coaches to run effective programs is vital if your club is to prosper and grow.
The recent Coach Education evening/coaching session, with 20 coaches and over 40 x 12/13/14 year-old boys at Bond Pirates Rugby club is I think a very effective model.
The Bond Pirates Coach Education Model (Feb 2017)
The key word in our initial thinking was relevance.
Coach Education should also be about “How” rather than “What”
We can’t have coaches who have full time work away from coaching, giving up their time to attend something that has only limited relevance. We wanted the coaches involved from 6pm on Friday to 2-30 pm on Saturday. We wanted to challenge their thinking from the very first minute. We wanted them to maybe shift their mental approach and be more creative when designing practices and sessions, not just click on you-tube. So our content had to be relevant.
Bob Dwyer had sent a video of his views based around,
“To teach and coach the game effectively you must understand the game”
Bob’s 15 minute explanation included his philosophy on the key principles of Team play namely...
These key principles have to become part of a players DNA.
Our team has to be able to “apply continuous pressure in attack and defence”.
Most coaches have a philosophy but keep it to themselves, why?
Open discussion followed and there was general agreement in Bob’s philosophy and I felt the coaches had a better understanding of Instinctive play and the concept of learned instinct. Rugby Union is an exciting game when players play instinctively with enthusiasm and good basic technique.
Coach education evenings have to be interactive, to that extent the white board is free for all to use. If you want to clarify a point by putting something on the white board then step forward and do so. (i phones are great for photographing script and save time). So we can wipe clean and move on.
Having a television, wall mounted, close by the white board, adds to the effectiveness of presentations because you can ask questions of aspects of play. My advice is to only run short clips and act quickly on each.
Teach technique, Coach Performance, was discussed and we all agreed that it applied to both young and old, learner and elite player. The amount of time you allocated to each during a session (90 minutes), dependant on several performance related factors.
Many elite performers still need help with technique issues, so never make assumptions about technique, some players will camouflage their deficiencies!
This statement led nicely into a power point presentation, (one slide only)…
“Open the door to self-improvement”
To become a better coach you have to be able to progress practices.
Understanding the need for work on ...technique- skill application-game scenario in a coaching session will help you progress your practices, and more importantly your players will develop an understanding of their role in the practices, as they become more complex. (Very relevant if you are coaching overseas in a foreign language).You are now beginning to challenge their understanding and at the same time measuring their understanding.
So the Coach Ed’ evening is progressing nicely and everyone is comfortable in the room. Having discussed technique-skill application-game scenario thoroughly, now is the time to challenge the coaches understanding by showing a 3 minute piece of practice, (We chose The Highlanders at training) and identifying firstly that the practice relates to the skill application component.
The question put to the coaches was….
1. What would your technique component involve?
2. What would your game scenario be?
I scribbled lots of their suggestions on the white board. They were all relevant! Because the clip is only 3 mins long we could keep re-showing it.
If you want your players to improve you have to be able to progress practices.
There was a total buy in to this formula.
Now was the time to let the coaches sit back and look at a series of 42 second long video clips, highlighting how to progress practices. Bob Dwyer and I made these over 2 days of coaching at Leeds Carnegie. There are 13 clips of action, each lasting about 42 seconds. Just to emphasise the point we showed the final clip first and then went back to number 1 and worked through each.
What are we looking for... progression and quality technique throughout!
All the points made previously can be observed now with greater clarity and understanding. It was also noted how hard Bob was working in encouraging the players!
We have now covered the theory and the visual. But if our coaches are to become more effective they must progress from the classroom to the playing field as part of this Coach Education program. So we have to prepare for Saturday and working with the players,
We agreed that Saturday’s practices had to progress, and that the coaches had to grow them.
I outlined (on the white board) the practice I was going to start with, which had a handling-footwork and support play base. I would demonstrate this and then the coaches would go away with a group of players and progress the practice.
Discussion and understanding followed and a few suggestions. Less experienced coaches could work in small groups or with a partner.
Coaches and players arrive early for an 8am start.
I ask the boys, “Who wants to play for the Wallabies?” all hands go up. I tell them they can.
“Every International rugby player was a 12 year old boy once”
Young players don’t need long monologues so I get them all moving quickly and all the coaches get involved. Groups of five, coach rolling the ball, nearest player picks up, passes to each, then back to the coach and we roll again.
“We want quality technique at pace today”, I tell everyone, including the coaches. Generally the Southern hemisphere trains at a faster pace than the Northern Hemisphere.
I get the entire group sitting down and when there is quiet, I introduce and demonstrate the practice.
The coaches take away their respective groups and I leave them to it.
For 2 hours they work hard and develop practices around the main theme, occasionally stopping to hydrate and make some observations. Now the coaches are working with the players and are really getting stuck into it!
Enthusiasm is everything and young players will feed off your passion.
A welcome break for fruit and drink before we welcome former Wallabies Tim Horan and Garrick Morgan to do some specialist backs and forwards work, as well as Phil Mason-Cox who will run some rugby movement and footwork practices, many include using the rugby ball.
So we have 3 groups who will rotate every 30 min’s approx... This is a time when the coaches can wander from group to group, watch, listen, and ask questions or get involved if asked.
All the watching coaches remark on the simplicity and attention to detail used by our specialist coaches.
Don’t ever be surprised how quickly young players can improve
when subject to quality practices and passionate coaching.
The morning session flies by and pre-lunch, Tim Horan speaks to the boys, raising their eyebrows when he tells them he played for the Wallabies when he was only 19 years old. This comment fits nicely with my earlier comment about 12 year old boys.
The group is now split into 4 teams and we play 2 games across the field on adjoining pitches, touch line to touch line. (You can vary the width to affect style of play).
Coaches are allocated to each team and they are left to design their own game and coach on the run, so to speak.
We had made the point earlier of how important it was not to over coach.
Allow the players freedom to express themselves, to demonstrate their skills and understanding.
It never fails to amaze me how young players can lift their performance when we get to the game scenario stage. Despite the high temperature (30 +) the pace and enthusiasm was unrelenting. Short water breaks afford the opportunity for coaches to make succinct points, no waffle.
Music to my ears
As I walk around, watching and listening, one coach says he can clearly see how there is transfer from our earlier practices to the current game. So we have progression.
We rotate the teams and after an hour we blow the final whistle. Parents have arrived and we sit all together for a final short wrap up.
I ask the question, “Do you still want to play for the Wallabies?” All hands go up.
Coaches wrap up.
All the coaches felt the 2 day experience had broadened their view on coaching and had offered them a framework within which they could work, with passion, enthusiasm and a design structure for preparing sessions.
When they watch their teams play they will identify areas to work on and have the confidence and knowledge to prepare relevant practices, which they can grow; knowing it will lead to improved individual and team performance.
The Bond Pirates Coach Education Model is one of many, but it was a model that produced the outcome we were hoping for.
Coach education models have to be all inclusive, relevant inside and outside. Only by involving yourself will you benefit from the experience.
Then it is up to you, the Coach, to go out and make it happen, every time you cross the white line!
Thanks to all at Bond Pirates for a memorable weekend.
Jones beats France because England couldn't!
Frustration and culture force Eddie’s hand.
England’s problems are at 7, 12 and Itoje! If Itoje is to play at 6 and run amok he needs inside backs who can build pressure, not kick ball away under pressure.
Successful back line attack should always have the 7, 8 and 6 running forward in support or to the tackle contest. Ford and Farrell cannot produce this!
Ford badly needs Matt Toomua outside him next season and Toomua is at Leicester! Until he plays with a dominant 12 who has a running game Ford will remain on his current plateau, which is way below his potential.
Quick ball from the breakdown, accurate passing, hard running, composed finishing got England home. Care, Farrell and Teo fulfilled that role. Can Teo give the play width is another question, but Farrell is better at 10 and England’s reliance on culture demands his selection. (He kicks goals…regularly)
Wood ticks every box relating to effort! But as a technically competent 7 barely one. In the 16th minute he received a bad French line-out throw and set off running. He ran straight into a defender and went to ground, no footwork, hit and spin, hit and pop, stay on your feet and drive on, make the ball available… nothing. Ten minutes later 15 metres out from the French line he dives over the ruck from quick ball!!!... penalty to France.
I would have Wood in all my squads because he will keep everyone else honest! But England is not producing 7s, or am I missing someone? Or is anybody working on ball jackling with 12 year olds? It’s a must do?
France exposed England’s inability to deal with close quarter support play and ball into contact off-loading techniques. (Come to think of it when I attended all England’s training sessions in Sydney, I can’t recall seeing any such practice.) Itoje also has lazy arms when attackers step inside him. Under the new tackle laws he will be vulnerable. Under the current selection he looks more at home in the second row.
Australian coaches don’t lack courage when it comes to making changes so England may have a new team and a new approach for Cardiff.
A more prescriptive 1st phase and greater use of the wingers in mid-field off second phase could be used. To that extent I would pick Nowell. He’s a go-forward player, especially in tight situations. If the Welsh back row are tied up England can profit. Daly may also offer a selection option at 12, but maybe not at the start of the game?
Can some of my English coaching friends who are forwards please explain how the Australian referee viewed scrum infringements??
Finally, do England’s forwards look heavy and sluggish?
Appetite is more about wanting to play rather than wanting to eat.
Something is not quite right up front?
Beat the All Blacks at their own game?
As the 6 Nations nears, focus in NH rugby will switch from National selection to Lions selection. The 6 Nations is an opportunity for players to stake a claim. However, is individual ability the start point or is it playing style and combinations when we start the selection process? Traditionally a strong set piece has been the Lions start point. However there are emerging signs that blend, fluency, go-forward with continuity and work off the ball might just be keys words in defeating the All Blacks. They are All Black qualities I know, but are there signs in NH rugby that the Lions can adopt this approach, rather than a pragmatic ‘field position’ style?
Ireland’s half success against the All Blacks and the playing style of Irish provincial rugby teams suggests there is merit in a change of approach.
Leinster and Munster both play a style of remorseless pressure rugby both in attack and defence.
• A fluency in their play.
• Emerging young players, i.e. Ringrose, bring a skill set that compliments and adds to the style.
• The units within the team are comfortable with the style.
• The players are comfortable with each other.
• Players in the provincial and national teams are go-forward players by instinct.
• They work hard off the ball to sustain and build pressure.
• Kickers only kick when necessary. They don’t run out of patience and kick!
• Players in the squad have played in a team that has beaten the All Blacks.
• There is an alignment between the National team and the provincial teams, a sinew of understanding.
Will this approach exploit All Black weaknesses?
Both Argentina and Ireland had success taking the ball into contact then using any one of numerous tackle contest options to keep the ball going forward quickly, close to the re-cycle, easy yardage was gained.
Both ball carrier and arriving support players will need to recognise the value of quick off the ground re-cycle and go –forward, (rip and run) to get ahead of the All Black back row and create an offside line that forces other All Black players to run back first!
If we continue down this school of thought then selection leans towards certain players and quickly discards others.
To beat the All Blacks at their own game the Lions will need a very raw uncompromising back five in the scrum. Mobile, athletic, high octane players, tough physically and mentally. It’s early days but this weekend (Jan 14/15) Gray, Mahoney, Itoje, Toner and Tim Swinson (Glasgow) all jumped on that trailer.
Having mentioned Glasgow, sadly Gregor Townsend is not the Lions backs coach. He has produced a squad that recognises traditional Scottish virtues, a squad that runs hard, is uncompromising, relentless, and if you want evidence of an understanding of how to play the game, look at centre Dunbar’s work rate to get back, rip the ball off his team mate, and get the team going forward again. (Glasgow v Munster Jan 15th, second minute!).
Gone are the days when the Welsh backs were a shoe in... and we selected the rest.
Injuries and surprise results, the emergence of young players, the demise of established players will all come out of the 6 Nation’s cocktail.
To beat the All Blacks at their own game would go a long way to towards re-establishing a global playing style, with less focus on foul play and safety and more on excitement and entertainment.
Chasing Shadows (Mike Penistone and Will Eggleston)
With 12 years of coaching experience in the Southern Hemisphere between them, Mike Penistone and Will Eggleston examine some areas where there is a difference between the Northern and Southern hemisphere approach to playing rugby.
Generally the SH player expects a session of intensity and dynamism with a focus on correct technique. A session with evidence of well thought out coaching practices. A session conducted at high speed throughout.
SH players want more out of the coach, “how can you improve my performance?” He is more likely to ask direct questions throughout the practices and want answers. This can be quite abrupt at times and puts pressure on the coach to produce relevant practices that challenge the players at every session. There is also a lack of on field passion and enthusiasm for the player who makes a momentum changing contribution in the NH, such as creating a turn – over on your own line. Players in the SH are quick to show their appreciation, running in, back slapping, etc. A real celebration and emotional expression of how much your contribution means to the team.
The practice session
In order to win the game on Saturday there has to be effective transfer from the practice ground to the game field. The practice session has to be conducted at pace with an emphasis on the execution of perfect technique. Therefore all sessions have to include work on key technical and skill competencies. Sessions may contain at least 15 minutes work on individual positional skill, as well as the individual players X factor.
The duration of the session is not important, but the quality and relevance of the practices is.
It is good to finish all sessions with competitive games, related to the practices of the session. Winning has to be a permanent component of all practices, finish the sessions on a high.
Creating maximum pressure in attack
SH players are confident in their ability to use the ball and are constantly wanting to ask questions of the defence, by moving the ball quickly to different parts of the field.
The production of quick ball, (ruck speed), supports this style of play and ensures a positive approach to skill development at training sessions.
This style of attack based on quickness, a high level of skill and deception, demands involvement from all team-mates; primarily in understanding lines of running and the value of inside support, which in itself encourages the ball carrier to carry the ball in both hands.
The attacking process has to contribute to go-forward, which applies maximising pressure to the defence. All players are involved in team play so working off the ball is vital at all times.
The excitement and enjoyment generated through creating pressure in attack, ensures that maximum effort will be used in getting the ball back, (turnover) if it is lost or stolen, thereby reverting to creating maximum pressure on the defence. A passionate desire to attack will intensify the commitment to defend and re-start the attacking process.
Understanding team play
It is important that each player is aware of his contribution to the team. Choosing when to and when not to make a contribution is important. Players should be aware of their team mates’ contribution in a pattern that might produce a score and of his team mates’ limitations.
The current All Black back line has players who can contribute collectively or individually. They are prepared to break the pattern when they see an opportunity to demonstrate their skill set to the benefit of the team.
In the red zone (10 metres from the try line) there is a distinct lack of urgency and creativity in NH attack. Attacking in the red zone switches the defence on, so a process approach to attack is more important than an outcome approach. By having a number of attacking processes, opportunity to score will present itself. Urgency-positioning-composure-weight of pass and accuracy will help create opportunities to score. How often do we see repeated pick and drive fail in desperate attempts to score.
A leaner athlete is needed to play a fast mobile support based game. The All Blacks have team mobility. All players are support players and all work off the ball. To play this way requires a positive approach to the relationship between running-quality technique – execution and re-involvement. How quickly do your players get off the ground? How many players do you have on their feet? Do your players react quickly? In a recent test match Brody Retallick took the ball into contact, drove forward, executed perfectly the long place, got back to his feet quickly and latched on to the next player who had picked the ball up and gone into contact, then Retallick drove him forward.
Players should always support the ball carrier in anticipation of receiving a pass. The ball carrier plays at pace knowing someone will always be on hand to receive a pass.
If you want to play this way, you have to train this way!
Competition and 'have a go' mentality
In all aspects of play, compete and back your skill set.
Finish training sessions with some form of competition, be it individual, unit, team or mixed groups. Don’t restrict the players.
A fast attack, one touch 10 v 6 from half way to try line, between the 15 meter lines will allow for team play as well as individual virtuosity. You get one shot at the title, make an error and its over!
Use a stop watch to time how long each group takes to score!
Above all let the players have this time!
Then it might be your time (coach) on match day?
One day they will all stick
By rights the Argentinian coach should be bald, having pulled all his hair out. His team play fantastic close support-based rugby but the last pass is catastrophic, as proved against an Australian side still without traditional Wallaby style. Both these two teams can beat England in November/December; especially If the games clash with any judo competitions?
In Australia England looked like they would easily run over their opponents in November/December, but now they have selection issues and their S Hemisphere opponents will be battle hardened.
Both the Wallabies and Argies score tries and the S Africans like the physical and can kick goals. The Fijians will make England work hard to win.
The forward play of the Argies creates shape for their back play and they have adventurous players who can run lines. Their half back will keep the forwards going forward with ball in hand... unlike some of the current Aviva Premiership half backs!!
Australia have selection options and there is still the possibility that Haylett-Petty could play 15 with Serevi at 12, Foley at 10 and Folau at 13. Playing two 10s at 10 and 12 has not really created the space for Folau from 15. Plus in two weeks’ time the Wallabies play the All Blacks at Eden Park, who will relish Cooper at 10? Without Pocock and MacMahon the Wallabies are ill-equipped to play fast and free against an All Black side who "Score off scraps" and are averaging over 40 points in attack in 2016?
It's a tough call for Cheika in Auckland but he has nothing to lose by trying to have a more direct running style. The kick chase of the All Blacks will almost certainly minimise Folau's effectiveness if picked at 15?
We approach a fascinating series of games in the N Hemisphere and maybe the Irish can provide the shock of all time, and maybe in America?
Accuracy... ever more important
All Black performances are now so consistent, that it is hard to see where the next loss will come from. Changes to the starting side does not affect the quality of performance, nor does playing players out of position. Their depth is a worry for world rugby.
Against a resolute Argentina, All Black accuracy set the tempo, denied Argentina the ball and the result, well inevitable.
Accuracy applies to many areas of the game not just passing, but passing would be high on the list. There is accuracy of support line running; accuracy and urgency in re-alignment; accuracy in the production of quick ball; in attack and in counter rucking, their first man in is so well positioned. In defence the point of tackle, (targeting) frequently drives players back. They win the gain line contest in attack because of accurate passing and catching under pressure, and by changing running lines they weaken their opponents tackle. In defence they challenge your accuracy with controlled line speed and targeting.
They are a multi-skilled team/squad and as a result are putting down a marker for those younger Kiwis who aspire to wearing the black jersey. They are re-writing the teaching and coaching curriculum through their performances. The next New Zealand coaching and playing development plan may well be titled “Accuracy the All Black way”.
When will they lose? How do you beat them? They don’t have bad days! Could a team with a Farrell or a Steyne beat them with penalties? They might, but you would need to get more than 30 points because the All Blacks score lots of points and from long distances, so don’t kick badly for field position and if you put the ball into touch they will win their lineout throw.
Their next challenge is South Africa in Durban. South Africa beat a poorly constructed Wallabies side who despite possession and field position could only score one try. Surely the Cooper/Foley era is over? World rugby needs the Wallabies to score tries if only because it forces opponents to score tries.
South Africa will relish the challenge on Saturday and be competitive up front, but they don’t have the guile behind and will be subject to lung bursting periods of defence because that is what “accuracy” does to you: it destroys you mentally and physically; it is a quality that leads to relentless play.
One final point on the All Blacks production line. The players introduced to the squad have ability, no doubt, but it doesn’t take long for them to blossom into outstanding players! Both Anton Lienart-Brown and Patrick Tuipulotu testimony to the system.
South Africa to win by 3 or the All Blacks by 20+, check the odds.
It's relatively easy to write about another round of Rugby Championship matches. The predictability of the All Blacks performance, the South African selection issues, the Wallaby direction and the potential of the Argies who sadly left their monumental effort against the All Blacks in NZ and forgot to turn up in Perth, at least in the first half.
From a coaching perspective what one aspect of play has left its mark? For me it's go-forward. How many players do you have in your team who instinctively go forward, as part of their DNA?
As an example, Sean McMahon has it for Australia. He always goes forward and provides the team with shape. When the Wallabies are on the front foot they are dangerous and exciting. He surely must become a regular starter! The playing balance of the back-row, so important, runner, ball winner and support player? The All Black go-forward is based on winning one-on-ones or creating overlaps. To think Milner-Skudder will be added to the AB back 3 is worrying, as he is the best one-on-one attacker in world rugby!
England can develop an attacking style off the back of the go-forward of both Vunipola's and will need to be more creative when going forward if they are to threaten New Zealand, sadly not in 2016, but the game against South Africa may offer some clues. By then SA will be under the captaincy of Warren Whiteley and he will galvanise the South African effort. He has a running style and work ethic that says, "follow me". England will need to go round the SA defence because they, like the Boks, like full on confrontation, so wise to avoid it.
Finally a quick flip to the Rugby League elimination semi-final between the Cowboys and the Broncos. If you want to impress your players with intensity, show them this game. Won in the second 5 minutes of extra time by the world's best reader of a game Jonathan Thurston! Compelling viewing. Hard to sleep afterwards so I went for a walk and pretended I'd played in the game... well, you know what I mean.
Two Tests. Two Levels.
That is how I would describe the All Blacks win against Argentina. This game had everything I like about rugby union and Argentina’s contribution through performance was huge. They had done their homework and found a slight weakness around the tackle contest and exploited it, frequently and scored. They were physical, accurate, adventurous and dominant for the early part of the game.
Then Savea, Ben Smith, Dagg and Barrett raised their game, wanted the ball, and wanted to demonstrate their talent; the tide turned. To their credit Argentina raised their game after half-time but the All Black backroom rang early changes and greater urgency and dynamic, descended on the Argies! There is serious depth of talent in New Zealand. They could send an “A” team to play in the 6 Nations and maybe win it?
Contrast this game with the Wallabies v Boks. A game a level below.
The current Wallaby backline is a shadow of all that have gone before it. Some past masters must be cringing! The empty seats demanded a win, or else more empty seats!!
The backline performance was littered with inaccurate passing, poor re-alignment, aimless, woeful kicking, sideways running and selfish play!! They couldn’t spot an overlap let alone exploit it. On one occasion Cooper ran across the field, saw there was nothing on for him, turned and ran back the other way, then kicked it aimlessly down field?
Between now and the end of the year the Wallabies will play 9 tests culminating in the final test against England at Twickenham on December 3rd. Now is the time to blood the next generation of talent. Focus on playing style and skill level and resist the temptation to play overseas players. (Mitchell coming on for the last few minutes, having not played for months is not the way, or more accurately the Australian way!!!!
Make a statement and “go for it”, just like GWS in the AFL. I’m sure rugby supporters would get behind that approach.
It's yesterday once more?
Are England the real deal?
Are Wales serious about returning to a former playing style?
Have the Irish improved or the Springboks declined?
Rugby performance stats are drifting around like confetti at a wedding and there are lots of them.
Farrell scored 61 of England’s 106 points in the 3 test series. Australia scored back to back points only twice, England 12 times.
Eddie and England went to win the series 3-0! They found a way to do it. Long before they arrived in Australia there were rumours coming out of the England training sessions that the players were really enjoying the sessions and Eddie’s coaching style. We all know what happiness means, you do things better!
I attended all the England training sessions before the final test, sometimes twice a day. Attitude, focus, attention to detail stamped across each one. This was a squad primed to win. At the end of each session the players had time to talk to watchers or autograph-seekers. The Randwick rugby club officials (hosts) were overflowing in their praise of England’s attitude and humility throughout the week. You sensed a 3-0 whitewash. All the conditions for success, before your very eyes.
The lasting questions don’t relate to Australia’s style of play. They will always play running, exciting, flowing rugby; it’s in their DNA. It’s more a case of what next for England? Can they develop a more fluid style of play with Owen Farrell at 12? Or will his prodigious kicking emphasise the need to play field position and apply pressure?
The re-match on December 3rd at Twickenham may provide the answer. Australia will have played 11 Internationals before they play England again, and they will fly home the following day. England play 3 tests against South Africa, Fiji and Argentina in November, then play Australia. Australia will need no motivation to end an England unbeaten run.
Wales decided to revert back to the glory days of yesteryear when their playing culture was the envy of the rugby world. They would attack the All Blacks on this trip. Wales conceded 123 test points and 40 in the mid-week game against The Chiefs. You cannot turn playing style on and off
at the tap! Their playing style has been eroding away since Gareth took up fly fishing! This trip re-affirmed what we all knew.
A former Wallaby coach, when on tour, told me he used to like nipping over the border or going up the valley on a Sunday morning to watch the Welsh kids playing with freedom and encouragement. It warmed his heart. Those same kids are still there but probably doing a defence drill!!
A change of coach and coaching staff surely on the cards?
Joe Schmidt has marshalled Ireland’s improvement in recent times. The Provinces have had success and the U20s reached the World cup final. Ireland had the Springboks on toast but failed to go the distance in the second and third tests. The Irish have improved, they have depth, but the class of an O’Driscoll or two is missing.
So is it yesterday once more? Consistent wins over the Southern Hemisphere giants is the only measuring tool for a nation’s improvement. Isolated wins fuel the national pride and generate positive media support. England’s current playing squad suggests they could go through 2016 unbeaten and then win the 6 Nations relatively easily. I asked an England player what was special about Eddie Jones. He said, he makes you feel you’re the best in the world before you run out. So much for coaching! He connects with the players! His sessions are relevant! His support staff trusted!
When the performance cocktail is liked and enjoyed by the players and coaching staff alike, there is room for much optimism.
In a world where elite sportsmen and national teams ricochet around the globe with the boundaries of selection easily accommodated, maybe now is the time to re-focus on the role of the coach. At elite level, he’s 90% man-manager. Not many would disagree with that, but it’s the ones that stay in the tracksuit, close to the players, always on the grass, that get the best out of the players. The connection is often short lived, the prep and length of the tour, but not forgotten. The enjoyment permeates back to those players who narrowly missed out on selection, as well as those aspiring younger players coming out of the U20s. It is both stimulating and motivational.
Above all the enthusiasm of the “weekend” volunteer coach is fuelled, not only by the success of the national side but also the style of performance and manner of behaviour.
A foundation stone has been laid by Eddie and the squad of 2016. Let’s hope it’s not yesterday once more and rugby throughout England blossoms for years to come?
The Folau Factor
The injury to Kurtley Beale has intensified the interest in where Michael Cheika will play Israel Folau in the upcoming test series against England. The Foley, Beale, Folau combination (10, 12, and 13) for the Waratahs was starting to produce some exciting back play. Foley, the beneficiary of defences’ interest in Beale and Folau. Foley's running game a real threat. The threesome, a possible Wallaby combination, now no longer a consideration.
Cheika is nothing if not unpredictable. He always keeps something up his sleeve and Folau is right up that sleeve. He could start the first test at 15, 13 or 12. Yes, don’t be surprised if Cheika plays him at 12. The consensus is Folau at 15 with Kirundrani at 13, but Karmichael Hunt's form for the Reds at fullback has tempered that view.
Foley, Kerevi, (another Red) and Folau is another combination with Kerevi as direct as they come at 12; straight running in mid-field, a southern hemisphere trait. If Australia penetrate in mid-field they will win the series!
Wherever Folau plays he is a threat! One-on-one he creates space, by attacking the space. If he gets on the outside of his opponent he has the pace to accelerate away or draw the defender and put the outside attacker away.
The importance of efficiency at the tackle contest will surely see Pocock at 8, Hooper at 7 and Fardy at 6. Hooper’s form for the Waratahs in the recent big win over The Chiefs was world class, and that against the incumbent All Black 7, Sam Cane. In fact the Tah’s game against the Chiefs raised a few eyebrows in Sydney. Will Skelton’s return to off-loading the ball a reminder of his value, although maybe not for 80 minutes?
The Wallaby squad has key players in good form and despite the size of the squad there will be few surprises, more a case of who plays where?
England’s reputation has been enhanced as a result of winning the grand slam and because Eddie Jones has a winning track record at this level. Winning the first test will be crucial for England. The surface will be fast in Brisbane, unlike the second test in Melbourne where the pitch is slow and unstable!
I like the fact that England are scoring tries. You have to come to the Southern hemisphere attack- minded. Mentally that is the approach! Play on the front foot in attack and defence! Discipline will also be a factor. Owen Farrell is vulnerable at this level and Australia know that. He can ill-afford to spend time on the bench, if selected. England must bring their wingers in to mid-field in phase play attack. Both Nowell and Watson are difficult to tackle and the surprise element will make them more penetrative. That in itself will present a challenge to the England back-row, win the recycle or lose the game?
Quickness in support is where I expect Australia to be dominant. Hooper is electric in support. Pocock and Fardy are really strong over the ball, and both can win turn-over ball. If Foley receives turn over ball he will know exactly what to do with it!
England’s back row is still a legacy of the past. Vunipola at 8 is one-dimensional and is only really effective close to source. Southern Hemisphere teams are more mobile across the back row. When the All Blacks talked the Crusaders into playing Kieron Read at 8 they broadened the scope of the back row forwards, adding pace as well as ball winning skills. One of the 3 is always close to the ball now, down under.
Sure to be an exhilarating series and with Wales across the ditch in New Zealand some compulsory TV viewing. My advice don’t bet on an England/Wales double… well maybe $5.
The third test is in Sydney and a decider played in front of a full house would captivate the rugby market globally and give the ARU some respite from the pressure of Rugby league, Soccer and AFL.
I might just walk down and watch the outcome!
Guest Blog - Thomas Piertese, South Africa
Trip of a lifetime – Week 1
After completing Mike’s brilliant online coaching course we decided that the next step would be for me to visit Australia and learn about different coaching styles and rugby cultures. I was really looking forward to this trip but also a bit nervous of what lies ahead.
After spending 12 hours on a flight from South Africa, I was met at the airport by Mike and we manage to quickly get my mobile activated and get me settled into my room back at his place.
The jet lag was not too bad and we had our first training session with Maccabi Rugby Club on Wednesday night. What stood out for me was the good vibe the players had at practice and also their willingness to learn and get better. Afterwards we had a burger and a beer at the Rose Bay hotel, their sponsor’s pub, then the jet lag- lag kicked in.
After a good night’s sleep we visited Rose bay before having our first session with under 11’s at St Pius X College. We had some good laughs and also learned a new term from one of the teachers called “the toilet position” which I think meant to squat!!
I got the opportunity to see Francis Cullimore coach St Pius X 1st team and after that we were off to Wahroonga Rugby club for a session. All parents and coaches got involved in the session and the players really had fun. After the session we had a great steak and some beers at the pub where Mike’s son is the chef, well deserved!!!
Friday we visited the famous Bondi Beach. WOW!!!! Afterwards we had a meeting with Easts Head Coach Darren Coleman who invited me to come and watch their sessions anytime. Later we took a drive down to Watsons Bay where we had Fish and Chips where Mike’s other son works. WOW!!!
Had a bit of a rest before heading off to the Waratahs vs Chiefs game at Allianz stadium. Met Andrew Mehrtens, former All Black fly half in the pub before the game. Waratahs were good on the night and beat the Chiefs in a very exciting game.
Saturday, I was off to watch Maccabi play and really enjoyed both games. Both teams showed a lot of heart but unfortunately lost.
Sunday we drove up to Wahroonga, where I will be staying with Richard St John, Wahroonga coach, for the week.
Up to now my trip has been great and everyone has been really friendly to me and I have learned a lot.
More next week...
Lessons/advice, from Whitelock, Blackadder and Kieran Read?
In the 41st minute of last week’s game against the Crusaders, the Waratahs won a lineout on their own 10 metre line. Ten phases and 22 passes later the ball was lost on the Crusaders 22 metre line. Does that illustrate the difference between “us and them”?
At half time Sam Whitelock was asked the question, “what are you happy with?”
“Backing ourselves which is really good, even though it’s wet, catching the ball early and trusting our skills”
Ten minutes later coach Todd Blackadder said, “Good to see the boys playing with a lot of confidence and prepared to put the ball through the hands”.
At the conclusion of the game Kieran Read described the performance as “outstanding; we want to play our style of footy, it’s what we’ve been doing all year.”
Unity from the player, the coach and the captain.
Michael Hooper’s post-match comments identified the areas the Waratahs targeted in preparation, built around pressure and line speed in defence, (when will we talk about line-speed in attack?) not allowing the Crusaders to get into a rhythm. Admirable preparation. To his credit he admitted the mission failed. The Crusaders skill sets, especially catch pass, and primarily in the forwards, won the day for them.
The challenge to all Australian franchises, and the Waratahs in particular tonight against the Chiefs, is how do we deal with our opponents, patience, composure and clinical execution when in possession of the ball.
The Chiefs will arguably bring a game style of greater variety than the Crusaders. They will certainly challenge the advantage line! They have craft in Cruden, excitement in Duncan McKenzie and a terrific team game sense. If skill spread is a viable grammatical term, then they have it. They use the width of the field in attack, vary their game with chip kicks, cross field kicks and have patience, composure and clinical execution with ball in hand, in attack.
The obvious answers are there for the Waratahs: challenge the Chiefs set piece! Obvious I know but you’ve got to start somewhere. Then it’s relentless defence. The pressure and line-speed that forced a win in Cape Town has to be repeated when the Chiefs have the ball. In attack, use short line-outs and don’t take time to set up! Get on with it! This is as much a mindset as a technical and tactical strategy.
When the Waratahs have the ball it’s a case of running those angled short sharp runs into space in midfield, quick recycle, punch again until either Hooper or Folau decide it’s time to make the BIG incursion. Hooper’s electric acceleration is always worth 30 metres and Folau’s outside break the best in world rugby! Then it’s a numbers game! The Tahs have to get more players in support than the Chiefs have in defence, and be prepared to make the pass you were previously afraid to make!! Because that is a major difference between us and them – they make the risky pass. The more you have success with the risky pass, the less risky it becomes!
One final observation, dynamic leg drive is vital in attack and defence!
Go the Tahs.
Tahs v Bulls
Between now and Tokyo, a "Mini 3 test Series" for the Waratahs.
The Waratahs play the Sunwolves in Tokyo on July 2nd. Between now and then, 3 games of “Super” status and “Super” quality, arguably against 3 of the top sides in Super rugby.
Tonight the Tahs face the Bulls, then it’s off to AMI stadium Christchurch, to face the Crusaders before returning home to face the Chiefs.
The Sunwolves may face a rampaging Tahs fresh from a “test series” win, or a team in re-building mode for next season, when they meet at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo.
So how do you approach games of such importance? Do you prepare for them as a group or individually? Or do you just focus on your own performance and play what’s in front of you? If you can win in Cape Town, you can win anywhere and against anybody, surely?
You can throw down the gauntlet and say let’s challenge our opponents strengths. The Brumbies ran hard and straight last week at the Bulls defence and created intense pressure; effective
recycle maintained the pressure, not allowing the Bulls to get their hands on the ball and play their way!
The Kiwi teams are a different proposition, not as dimensional as the Bulls. If you find a way to limit their effectiveness they will just look for another and have the ammunition to promote it. The number of tries the Kiwi teams are scoring from turn-over ball is increasing weekly and testimony to their ability to use the ball and strike from anywhere on the field. Mentally it is not a problem for them, and when the coach condones the style, the players are free from constraint and can attack with devastating consequences.
One thing is for sure, the Waratahs will have to defend multi-phase rugby. The Bulls closer in and more forward driven, the Kiwis, from anywhere across the width of the field. They are far less prescriptive. The key decision in defence, is which ruck to counter ruck? Pocock got it right last week. Hooper must get it right tonight.
Reaction time and agility become key words. Any sniff of a turn-over and you have to get in position quickly, shift the ball and support. The Tahs X factor players will salivate on turn-over ball, it is made for them. Foley's try against the Cheetahs, a warning too that if you focus too much on Beale and Folau, he will make you pay. Add deception to the list of key words!
Tonight The Tahs are on the launching pad. Get it right and the challenge going forward is less daunting, still tough, but achievable. They face a Bulls side smarting from defeat, yet a team who destroyed the Western Force up front through the quality of their technique and power. The Bulls will need to rediscover that form against a Waratahs pack, without the bulk of Skelton, who can be frustratingly inconsistent. Hooper’s return to form, (did he ever lose it?) or more specifically his accuracy at the tackle contest, will be the platform for continuous play and the deceptive play of Foley, Beale and Folau.
We may yet enjoy the sake in Tokyo?
Tahs in Cape Town
The Tahs now have a midfield 3 where
both individual and collective contributions can be made.
With ten Wallabies in the starting line-up there was no reason for any lack of self-belief prior to kick off. A good win was enjoyed in Perth, but that was last week! 49 points gave evidence that there is potency in attack in this Waratahs side.
Fundamentally if you are a good player you have to play good!!
Far too often the psychology surrounding performance confuses the actual issue, which is… If you are a good player, play good! If you are in the leadership group your first priority is to play good!
The X factor players for the Tahs did play good in Cape Town and there was an improvement in certain areas of team performance.
• Line speed in defence was better
• There was greater urgency in defensive re-organisation
• A willingness to scramble and work harder in defence
• Tahs were more combative at the breakdown, but fell asleep when Pieter-Steph du Toit reminded them to defend behind the ruck!
• The backs ran better lines producing scintillating tries
• Playing combinations clicked into gear, 10, 12 and13.
Foley, Beale and Folau can ask many questions both from set piece and phase play attack. Folau’s ability to take out two, sometimes three players and create space, before off-loading to a player in support, is a skill of the highest quality. Beale’s footwork is ahead of his thinking, electric at times and not coachable. All you can do is put him in a place where he can use them!
Foley's role is now that of orchestrator. His opportunities for running the ball will present themselves as the opposition's concern over Folau and Beale grows. Patience is a virtue and Foley's ability to play this card will help determine the level of attacking penetration. A potent weapon in the fight for a finals slot.
Make no mistake, the win against the Stormer’s, was a win against a smart, well-organised, young and energetic side, who played with enthusiasm and ambition. In fly half Jean-Luc du Plessis, they have a South African version of a young Jonny Wilkinson and but for the sending off of Leolin Zas may have won the game? The pubs around Newlands will have had only one topic of conversation!!
This week’s opponents, the Cheetahs have lost both games on this trip. Against The Rebels they were excellent for 60 minutes, almost “kiwi” in the way they played, but then the effects of the “long-flight” kicked in, intensity dropped, and the Rebels got home. Against the Reds, they again failed to go the distance and lost by a similar score.
The long return flight is the only threat to the Tahs' performance and another win, before the more searching examination of the Bulls in Sydney, then the Chiefs and Crusaders in New Zealand.
One final postscript, lots has been written and said about Kiwi depth of talent and rightly so, but in Folau, Beale, Kirundrani, Kerevi, Toomua and Leallifano, you just might find a useful centre pairing?
Tahs must win
“Performance without a win is like continuity without go-forward”
Losing to a side more skilful on the day is just about acceptable, painful, but acceptable and the “pub talk” afterwards reflects that. Not turning up for the first half, as the Tahs did against the Highlanders and Rebels is unacceptable. Compounded by a poor display of basic skills and you see why the Tahs have to turn up today. It’s a grand final for the franchise, a chance to reconstruct the pub talk!
The supremely confident Brumbies, 50 point winners in Game 1 over last year‘s finalists the Hurricanes, had their façade shattered by the Chiefs, last time out in Canberra.
Both teams are coming off a bye. The Tahs didn’t like the last bye! The Brumbies have had two weeks to deal with a technical, physical and mental demolition job, by the Chiefs. Both teams are hurting. Is it a case of who hurts the most wins? Or is it a case of who gets the preparation right? Two weeks is a long time! Don’t look back, look forward?
How do you deal with a slump? If the run on team lacks energy and enthusiasm, the body language will tell the story! This promotes the pub talk, “they didn’t look interested when they ran out, Jack”.
So how do you come out of a slump or bounce back from a poor performance?
Here’s a few thoughts….
• Put your faith in players who have real determination!
• Proud people make hard and determined opponents!
• The training field is the heart and soul of the club, go back to the basic training of competing!
• Make players attack the ball at training!
• Cut out negative thoughts!
• Desperation to be the first to the ball is important!
• Make sure you have the right people in charge!
• Trying to instil false confidence in players will not last!
• Promote “We are all in this together”
TOUGHNESS is what we are about.
So now we are ready to play. The Brumbies are without Pocock, but Fardy is good over the ball. So let’s take Fardy out of the game by running switches and dummy switches and try and alter his running lines in defence? Maybe Kurtley in our front line attack is best suited to create uncertainty? Hooper then has the better chance at getting to the breakdown first?
The hurt factor will ensure the Brumbies rolling maul, previously unstoppable, will be re-ignited. Courage and technique will be needed by Tahs players in getting their heads in close to the ball and driving hard early in the piece! If the maul rolls on, the psychological damage could be massive!
For the Tahs, it really is a grand final. Perth and South Africa follow over the next three weeks, before they return home to face the Cheetahs.
As a player I would like to go into this game with the thoughts of King Leonidas ringing in my ears: “This is where we fight, this is where they die!"
It really is that important.
Go the Tahs.
Mike, if you were Eddie...
QUESTION: Now the 6 Nation’s title is tucked away and relatively easily, how are you going to approach the tour to Australia in June?
Well we have to accept that winning the 6 Nations is a genuine achievement as it is very hard to do: history supports that fact! So we have to take this winning confidence down under. We know from previous tours to Australia that you have to be mentally tough down under. Woodward’s team lost by over 70pts in Brisbane. It is when you are under pressure that (and even the poor teams have a good 10 minutes) you have to be technically correct, maintain concentration and outwork your opponents until you re-gain possession and control.
QUESTION: How do you stop Australia scoring tries?
Against France the deep alignment of their attack caused us some problems! Our backline was sucked towards them and the French backs got around the outside. We should have employed an up-hold and drift defence. When our forwards were in our defensive backline they should have drifted earlier as they don’t have the pace to go up first. Keeping the tackled player off the ground will nullify the ground work of Hooper and Pocock but we have to get a support tackler in on the ball early. We have to re-establish solid go-forward scrummaging, especially as Itoje and Kruis are good at applying pressure/stealing ball at the lineout.
QUESTION: How are England going to score tries?
We have to respect the ability of Hooper and Pocock to win turn-over ball wide out. I like the idea of more switch plays in attack to concentrate the Australian back row defence closer to source – staying on our feet and driving forward, before moving the ball wider. Using our wingers in mid-field from first phase and in phase play will also be deceptive and cause a change in defensive back row running lines.
QUESTION: Which positions/combinations concern you in this England team?
Nationally we don’t have a convincing ball winning No7 at the tackle contest. At the World Cup we paid a heavy price. Haskell, Robshaw and Vunipola are effective close quarter battlers but we need each or all three in other areas of the field at times. Itoje is our best inside support player, and from the second row! If Australia chop-tackle Billy Vunipola at source, this will affect our go-forward close in and produce slow ball for our backs? Billy needs to be a foil as well as an attacker.
QUESTION: Can your bench players change your style of play?
We have depth and in Manu Tuilagi a player who is strong in the 10/12 channel. He could influence our style at the expense of Ford or Farrell. Mako Vunipola replacing Joe Marler gives us more ball movement but his scrummaging is suspect to refereeing interpretation.
QUESTION: You have a policy of a less prescriptive approach to playing the game. Are you happy with the player’s response to date?
Sure am. I like to create a working environment where players have more say in the decision making process, giving them the freedom to explore the practices at training as well as playing off learned instinct during the games. We will have to be more instinctive and direct off turn-over ball when we play the Southern Hemisphere teams. Our reaction times have to improve in both attack and defence as well as our overall team mobility. We have to run and keep running for longer periods!
QUESTION: What changes will you make to your training program between now and the tour to Australia?
We need to find time to improve each individual player’s skill levels. Players need to be multi-skilled and improve all facets of their game. Clubs can help in this process by devoting time during the week to personal skills sessions as well as core skills sessions.
QUESTION: Can England win the series?
I think 3-0 is a real possibility. We are a group with growing self-belief as well as playing capability. Plus the Australians have failed to show any respect for us as a team by playing the tests in the smaller stadiums! Maybe now we have won the grand slam they will wish they had chosen the bigger venues?
It's Jones, not Beckett
It’s Jones not Beckett, “Waiting for Manu”
Is Manu Tualagi the answer to England’s performance and team play development? Billy Vunipolas bullocking runs close to the origin are tying in England’s 6 and 7. As a consequence England have no back row support when they attack out wide. Manu’s ability to both go forward and more importantly stay on his feet in the 12 channel may enable England to win quick ball and play closer to the advantage line, run some damaging late unders lines, before going back out to utilise the blind side winger and full-back.
Both Ireland and to a lesser extent England relied on second man plays in attack from 1st phase and the depth of Ireland's second man plays encouraged England’s line speed. If you don’t get penetration you are in deep trouble and usually tackled well behind the advantage line! If line-speed is replaced by drift defence you are usually herded towards touch.
Jones is producing winning performances but at the back of his mind lies the Pocock/Hooper threat in June and he knows any real progress will be judged on the outcome of England’s three tests against Australia. Committing those two and recycling possession will be England’s mantra for development, as both Australia and New Zealand can go forward in the 13 channel, so denying them turn over ball is crucial. Daly’s arrival from the bench on Saturday and Manu’s rehab suggest a priority, because Ford is still learning to handle the pressure even when given good ball in the opposing 22!
Wales v France was another 6 Nations disappointment. Wales are a culture in decline and what’s more alarming is they are educating the young players of today into a style of play contrary to a playing tradition once admired globally.
Legends of the past betrayed by pretenders of the present.
Some years ago I saw Law, Best and Bobby Charlton run out to play at Elland road against Leeds United. I queued for four hours. The moment they stood in the tunnel was spine-tingling. As they 'glided' out onto the pitch four hours of waiting was replaced by wonderment and expectation. When Edwards, John, JPR and Gerald Davies ran out for Wales the spine tingling expectation transferred to the oval ball game, even when watching on TV.
Grandfathers sat grandsons on their knee and watched and explained with pride the skills on show, how, “using the ball was a blend of understanding with attitude; of team awareness with individual virtuosity; of practised patterns with spontaneous reaction.” Well, maybe not in those words...
Yesterday’s palate has been replaced with line-speed, tackle count and meters gained, because the commentators are devoid of content. How long can they exaggerate mediocrity? Occasionally the camera focuses on the back of the stand where a posse of coaches and analysts, bland in expression survey the scene. There is something strangely odd about seeing a former Welsh forward with the face of a thousand scrums tapping a computer keyboard. Then the gods of selection lean forward for a closer look.
Wales versus France was once the romance of the game, anything was possible and seldom were you let down. Yes it was believe me!
Cotter gets his first win and he deserves it. The improvement at the tackle contest and the production of quick ball has enabled Stuart Hogg, Scotland’s most effective and adventurous attacker to demonstrate his skills, footwork in particular. Go – forward is also high on the improvement list and this has led to an improvement in close quarter support and straight running. Scotland are a force now and will run all teams close!
Italy plateaued off some time ago. They have improved and are worthy members of the 6 Nations but basic errors let them down. Simple passes go to ground, let alone the bad ones; which you still have to catch! The patterns of play are very evident, but Italians are more skilful below the waist than above it. You only pass with your hands in rugby not your feet.
And of course they have Rome which more than compensates for a loss!
The break will allow all the coaches some time to look at Super rugby and enjoy the go-forward and try scoring!
Brutal rugby storm approaching! Due to arrive March 20
I’ve always believed it hard to predict against the French, however I’m forecasting a brutal final
6 Nations game in Paris on March 20 when they entertain England.
In a game poorly refereed by Jaco Peyper, France sent out a brutal warning to future opponents. This may be a French side in transition but they have already agreed on one thing, they will hit hard in the tackle, early or late! Ireland couldn’t cope with it as France worked Jaco out very early!
Kicking is a skill and kicking to score a theme of work. Biggar chipped over, Roberts jumped and tapped back, Davies ran to score. After 20 phases in and around the Welsh 22 Russell used a drop punt with reverse rotation for the winger Seymour to score. Both kicks acceptable. Unfortunately the first 24 minutes of the second half resembled a game of Aussie rules, then Roberts crashed over for a try. Players then decided to pass the ball instead of kicking it and we had an interesting final quarter with 2 rugby tries! Good to see North running freely and Taylors line onto the ball a beaut, for his try. Some of the catching of the high ball was also first class and very Aussie rules.
Cotter has improved Scotland out of sight but how he needs a win!
So where are England? They are yet to start their best team. Itoje at 6 looks a done deal if he can strip a bit leaner? There is considerable depth and the final team looked better than the starting one. Last week Mako showed sleight of hand, this week it was Billy! Look again at how Billy moves back and out when the tackle contest is developing to find space to create the little circle ball, Farrell and Ford finish off.
Support players are also anticipating the ball carrier going to ground. If he can stay on his feet and they can keep him going forward it will attract more defenders and create space elsewhere.
Ford needs to stop making spiral passes to players 3 metres away above chest height! As an International 10, I think he is a 7s player!!
Farrell has improved as a 10 for Saracens this season so I’d be looking to move him back to 10 and find a 12? Joseph needs that space out wide.
England’s lineout failed to function and when that happens Hartley’s discipline is challenged elsewhere. The French will have made note.
Playing depth is England’s trump card. Jones knows this and his shuffling of the pack, (cards not forwards) will produce an efficient side, but March 20 may not be about efficiency and skill?
A final word on Italy who are bringing through young players. Their switch plays back down the short side tested England and they had continuity and go forward throughout the first half. A lack of depth and moments of madness proved their undoing. You can never gift sides’ points but for 40 minutes they played really well.
As for the drop goal, the recipe still needs some refinement.
Two 10s doesn't equal 12, but two 7s might work?
England won and that’s important in the 6 Nations, but what can we glean from Eddie’s first team performance?
Ford played like he does for Bath and their backs don’t score tries. He badly needs a hard running 12! Progress in the 12 channel creates shape for the backs to operate. Joseph can’t run the “old Jeremy Gustcot” overs line because the attack is so flat. Both wingers have try scoring ability and it was good to see them looking for the ball, but why did Watson grubber kick through in the opposing 22? I know, I know, but let’s build pressure? Farrell kicks goals and always gives away at least one silly penalty.
England’s first try was a penalty at the scrum to Scotland as Care was in front of the ball when he obstructed Laidlaw and created the hole for Billy. The second try was a coaching lesson from Mako! He almost ran the perfect circle ball line to create the try for Nowell. As it was it was more sleight of hand. Ford can make this play. I’ve seen him do it for Bath recently and it is a penetrative play but he isn’t learning from it! Wasps do it effectively with Eliot Daly. Used correctly the circle ball is more specific than the loop, creates an overlap as well as affording the receiver the acceleration option into space, because the ball carrier holds the inside defender.
Up front it was very much culture and tradition. Eddie had decided it was going to be that way because Cotter has Scotland better at the breakdown. Apart from Hartley, Eddie picked a pack who got stuck in! Physical rather than creative yardage. Hartley’s throwing in is accurate but the colour of his kit (clean) as he leaves the field mirrors his involvement elsewhere, same when he plays for Saints.
Interesting, as with Cheika and Moore, Eddie took off the captain before full time. A little mind game?
If England continue to pick Vunipola at 8 they will have to play a tight game close to the support because Haskell and Robshaw can’t support wide out at the tackle contest and you would not play that combination in June in Oz.
Scotland have improved as mentioned, but lack “class” at 10, 12 and 13 and at the start of the second half were awarded a penalty, in front, 22 out at 6-7, but ran the advantage.
Both sides will mention accuracy and weight of pass in review. Some of which was appalling! A reflection on the frenetic start to a game. A game which had little shape.
Then there is the referee. As studio pundit Tom Shanklin said “you have to plan for them also” ... all agreed?
Wales started with two number 7s and this may become a trend because stealing the ball at the breakdown is a vital skill. New Zealand did it 54 times in the World Cup.
If you like intensity, passion and lots of phase play then Ireland v Wales ensured your money well spent. However multiple phase rugby without penetration has to be a concern and sadly a Northern hemisphere problem!
Backs aren’t attacking the inside shoulder and the drift defence is winning! In the 78th minute Payne defended 4 Welsh backs because no one attacked his inside shoulder and squared him up before passing! In the 64th minute Sexton ran a loop, behold… penetration!!
Generally running straight in support, then angling in to receive the ball holds your defender and you receive the ball in space; gives you a chance to penetrate. As it is the second man play is becoming the easy option in phase play attack and the drift defenders just escort you towards the touchline.
All attack would be easier if there was more go forward at the tackle contest instead of this monotonous run into someone and go to ground! The more defenders we can involve whilst going forward the more space we create elsewhere! Forwards with footwork or the ability to spin going into contact stand out! Faletau demonstrates it occasionally but it is not used enough. Let’s at least try to get the ball beyond the advantage line.
Inside support was also absent without leave. Only once did I see an outside break attempted, followed by a lower body tackle and a pop ball to an inside support player. Devastating if done correctly! I wonder how many times it is done at training.
The missing skills in the two highlighted games were on show in Paris although spasmodically. Inside support and offload lead to the first French try and France continue to stretch the boundaries of basic technique. Don’t ever be surprised by French flair as it comes in many forms. They are masters at close quarter support play and when looping on to the ball in support they generate real pace. So discard the coaching manual when you watch them.
Italy’s coach Brunel is widely and well respected and Italy produced a coached performance with verve and unpredictability as well as organised forward play. I liked the way they ran behind the ruck or maul to change the point of attack.
Both teams will ask questions of their opponents.
On the Italian menu this week, “how to prepare a winning drop goal”.
Coaching – a year without support?
Would the game of rugby union be played differently if all the coaches in the world took coaching sessions without the use of support equipment for one year? No tackle shields, scrum machines, running harnesses, etc. Is the equipment dog wagging the performance tail? If coaches went out on the field with just some rugby balls and the players, would the game be played differently as a result? Would we produce a better product to coach, play and watch?
Just as squads of players have grown in number, so has the number of support staff. There is almost an inexorable march towards an NFL-type organisation with coaches for the various aspects of play; defence, attack, scrum, lineout and kicking coach. A whole army of conditioners, analysts and medical staff, which now includes psychiatrists/psychologists and lifestyle gurus. In the NPC in 2016, two referees will be trialled on the field – potentially another step towards more stoppages?
Could we reduce the number of support staff if we adopted a more, ‘themes of work’, approach to our coaching sessions? Coaching topics such as: creating turn-over ball and using it; kick chase and counter attack; chase the ball support play, and more. The relevance of this speaks for itself. This is a coaching approach closer to the game and team play in particular, and it allows a coach the time to develop the session in the direction of effective team play.
The game itself is a stop start affair, littered with periods of high intensity. Continuity that can last for around one minute but more often less, and in total a game of around 80 minutes, once a week!
In a recent four-game International tour by England to New Zealand, three tests and one midweek game had an entourage of over 75 personnel which included players and support staff. All flying business class – the cost astronomical.
New Zealand play the best rugby, closely followed by Australia. By best I mean a support-based game with fluency and continuity – all 15 players contributing. There is little evidence of large numbers of support staff and they play the game in a way that suggests a relevant transfer from the training field.
A player’s focus should be on team play when he takes to the training field – about how well the team can play and how he can contribute. Understanding his positional role as well as the general aspects of the game – for example, support play – will ensure he can contribute to a more exciting game.
If players move from one coach to another, one collection of required equipment to the next, every training session, this will minimise concentration and understanding of team play. Even now there is a predictability in the way the game is played, especially by teams, in the northern hemisphere. All teams in the Aviva premiership box kick down the line from around their own 22 metre line, and have a look at how often a player with the ball runs deliberately into an opponent, without any thought of evasive footwork. This a direct result of running into a player with a tackle shield at training. Would he do this at training if no shields were held by defenders? Of course not, he would use footwork; it is less painful.
Kick tennis is returning. In a recent game between London Irish and Northampton Saints there were six kicks inside the first 46 seconds with the sixth going out on the full! The kicking coach and the analyst were rubbing their hands with glee as they had something to do on the following Monday, to occupy their time.
Maybe that is the crux of the problem? The players and support staff are full time professionals and therefore we have to find work for them to do during the week.
If we said all training sessions were about team play and we dealt with aspects of team play within the session, i.e. themes of work, we could utilise the time more effectively and the session would be closer to the outcome we want to achieve; a fluent support-based game with action and involvement for all. A greater chance of the game being played well on Saturday as it would be an extension of the training field.
I’m saying to the clip-board head coach: “leave it in your office.” By all means plan, but coach by feeling and passion… need a shower afterwards! Coach more, not less, with the players.
In conclusion if we want to focus more on team play we should be working towards the following:
• Each player has to be aware of his potential contribution to the team. Choosing when to, and when not to, make a contribution is important.
• Players should be aware of their team mates’ contribution in a pattern that produces a score and of his team mates’ limitations.
• In some patterns of play either or both individual and collective contributions will be made.
Exciting team play can well be summed up as…
“Using the ball is a blend of understanding with attitude; of team awareness with individual virtuosity; of practised patterns with spontaneous reaction. The blending is elusive and short-lived”.
A year free of coaching aids may well go some way towards achieving this model and redefine the relationship between player and coach.
My 5 Point Plan for English Rugby
1) From 13 years upwards all players to run faster at training sessions. We are far too slow to react and support whatever is happening. Engaging SAQ International would be my start point.
2) Establish a new “Finishing school division” between the Aviva premiership and the Championship. This would be for Premiership 2nd teams with a stipulation that you have to include 5 players under the age of 20 in your starting line-up. Games would be played on the same day as the first XV, before the main game but not necessarily on the same pitch?
3) Replace the league system below National leagues with Regional Merit Tables to cut down on travelling and generate more localised rivalries. Players do not want to spend 4 to 5 hours travelling to play social/competitive rugby on a Saturday.
Clubs in Merit Tables not allowed to pay players!
4) Promotion to the National leagues has to be based not only on performance but playing structure at the club and financial sustainability.
5) Establish Regional Coach Education centres to support, direct and guide the coaches who work on a Sunday morning producing future stars. Less emphasis on certification more on “How to coach effectively on the grass”.
There's a team in there somewhere
The Wallabies are getting there! But each game they play unearths both pleasure and pain. Phipps and Foley can’t handle pressure… very evident. Pocock and Hooper together worked, but without a big ball carrier can they maintain the workload? The scrum looks more solid without Skelton and the driving maul will have raised a few eyebrows “up North”. Folau is a threat but the Kiwis dealt well with his catching and running from the high ball. Game management remains an issue but Giteau eases that problem?
9/10/12 are still work in progress. White, Toomua and Giteau could fill those positions?
The Cheika-Larkham synergy I like. They are both “go forward” characters and that will be exemplified on the field. So direct confident runners with “presence” have the best chance of selection? Goal kicking remains in several hands.
Of the All Blacks? SBW didn’t cement a spot, Nonu and Fekitoa ahead. Carter ineffective and overall they were just below their best; squandering some chances. BUT they make passes that others daren’t, so they remain the most potent attacking team. The Bledisloe test in Auckland on Saturday is the acid test for the Wallabies. They haven’t won there since 1986!!
If they win, they can be considered genuine contenders. England under Johnson did it in Wellington before going on to win the chalice in Sydney. Winning in NZ remains the benchmark. Many teams go there with skill and strategy but the pressure unravels them.
Wales and Ireland began their games of exploration. Wales cannot beat Australia with that pack, and at Twickenham? Ireland look good, Earl and Heaslip impressive and overall the team ran hard and straight. Both teams will make changes for the return in Ireland but Ireland have the “scrum” and Wales the “worry”.
What of England? We wait in anticipation of… ?
OK everybody, let's attack!
If you had to score one try in your life it has to be Elliot Dixon’s. Everything I love about rugby was captured from the time he received the ball, to scoring. Sometimes it takes “every sinew” in your make up to achieve your goal, what a try!
This was a final that re-arranged the coaching manual. Certain words were thrown out early in the piece. Hesitation, negativity, fear, apprehension, composure, all tossed out quickly. Certain words grew from lower case into capitals quickly, CONTINUITY, SUPPORT, INTENSITY, BALL MOVEMENT, and RE-ALIGNMENT... At times frenetic, always exciting, edge of the seat stuff, good to be watching, especially live!
At the 15 minute mark, The Highlanders attacked down the left hand side and into the 5 metre channel. All close quarter techniques and skills were on show, pop passes, switches, spins, rips, rolls, keeping the ball moving forward down the channel, until the maestro Arron Smith decided it was time to play elsewhere. He is doing for rugby what Lionel Messi does for soccer. You are never isolated as a Highlander, when the hint of loneliness falls upon you, Smith arrives, demands the ball and continuity prevails. Messi does the same, he wants to help. That’s what great players do, they help by adding their brilliance, removing the pressure.
Is there a difference between “knowing” you are going to win and “thinking” you are going to win? Only once in my humble playing career did I know my team was going to win. It’s a subconscious feeling, suddenly three days before the final I “felt the win”. Was that the factor behind the Highlanders win?
If you didn’t watch the game but were given the stats afterwards, you would have said Hurricanes by 20? Did The Highlanders “know” they were going to win?
If both sides go out to play the game with skill and intensity, who cares about stats! Stats bore me! If you let them influence you they will take over your life! Can’t cross the road today, Monday is a bad day for “run overs!”
Precision is vital when scoring in tight situations. Saveas slight over-read of the pass put him half a metre ahead of where the passer thought he should be ... dropped ball, two metres out, no try. I know we can say, the passer should have looked and you have to catch bad passes, but neither happened!
All Black selection re-enforced? Is Sopoaga over Barrett? Broadhurst is old school, he runs straight and hard. Dixon is a throwback to the days of the relentless All Black back-rows, the great ones you could throw a blanket over as they devoured the field in support or hunt of the ball. Maybe the unavailability of Ardie Savea hurt the Hurricanes?
The last 3 games of Super 15 have been a privilege to watch and inspiring. I hope coaches everywhere look at their sessions and up the ante! More skill and quickness in every session.
Now it’s the Rugby Championship and a close look at the squads. Wallaby selection has raised more than a few eyebrows; no Luke Jones, James O’Connor or Liam Gill. Experienced props, Robinson and Alexander left out? Some Northern Hemisphere lips being licked at the prospect of inexperienced front row opposition? The upcoming games will give us some indication of future success but at the moment and on the back of the last three Super 15 games, New Zealand’s playing style puts them “winning the final” but who will they play?
Thoughts please and why?
The best are the best
The two teams who have played the best rugby throughout the season won the semi-finals. Nine tries to one says it all for the Kiwi teams. The Hurricanes played “blistering rugby” and could have had 3 tries in the first 10 minutes, so much for the negative effect of the week off! The Brumbies magnanimous in defeat refused to accept the effect of west to east long haul travel. Those who have experienced it know its effect!!
No team could have lived with the Hurricanes! I wrote some words down while watching, pace, accuracy, quickness, re-alignment, enthusiasm, support, individual skill, passion, consistency, fitness, development, they had it all and more. To think that Ardie Savea and Brad Shields have not made the All Blacks big group squad is bewildering. If you hesitated in attack, Shields belted you from the inside and it was a no-contest if you had or didn’t have the ball with Savea at the tackle contest. There is a new wave of young talent coming onto the radar in New Zealand and it is exciting. I would pay double to watch Milner Scudder play!!
I know experience can be a deciding factor in selection as can loyalty, BUT experience has to be playing well!! Players in their mid-twenties with the “tools of their trade” are potent/durable weapons in competitions, rather than one off tests. Just look at Dane Coles improvement over the last few seasons. Have the All Blacks got the balance right in the squad?
Across the ditch the Highlanders outscored the Waratahs 5 to 1. I’ve watched all the Waratahs games live and this season, they have lacked consistency, despite an almost Wallaby team! Why? Too many overseas contracts signed? Too many “I’m in the Wallabies squad”? That missing 5% of raw desire that they had last year? Against a team with self-belief and belief in each other. Plus opponents have nullified the Tah’s attacking threats, especially Folau. As imperious as he is in taking high kicks, defenders one on one are taking control of his footwork. They channel him to step inside then belt him. Foley remains their Halfpenny, but Australia will need more sustained field position to take advantage in the World Cup.
Arron Smith is the Lionel Messi of rugby! Blink and he won’t be in the same spot when you look again. He has the skills, he sees the opportunities, he mesmerises defenders and when he makes a break he knows someone will always be on his inside!! He is forcing his team-mates to play at a higher level because that is where he is!
Apart from State of Origin rugby league matches, Australian spectators are generally lacking in raw passion. At the Waratahs they sit and chat or read the programme. Last night they came alive. As Potgieter left the field for 10 minutes R & R after taking man and head in preventing a try; “Joubert is a wanker” reverberated around the stadium. I had an immediate flashback to visits to watch Leeds United play in the late 60’s and 70’s. If you didn’t join in the venomous vitriol, you risked a head butt!!....”you’re a wanker ref”, I usual said. Someone even tried to start a Mexican wave as Lima Sopoaga converted the penalty try but it petered out around the 22 metre line. Highlander’s penalty kicks and conversions were booed. What next, pie throwing?
The final is a 50/50 but I’m going for the Hurricanes by 12 in the game of the season and the final, rightly so.
Internationally Australia play South Africa and the All Blacks in the next two months. All three sides will use all their players in rotation. I have pencilled in Pocock and Fardy at 7 and 6 against England, which puts Moore as captain and hooker, but the other 5 forwards are the problem. Foley and Folau also start in the backs … some shuffling needed with the rest?
The coaching synergy between Cheika and Larkham may be Australia’s trump card. If that works they have a chance of winning the pool of death?
The improvement in England’s U20s performances over the last two years has been widely applauded “down under”. However this was not a vintage display and I now have reservations about any sustainable “cultural change”. England in the first 3 minutes had a productive counter ruck but then made poor use of the ball, this was followed by another productive counter ruck but with good use of the ball. Then a standard out to in line by 12 and the first try. Well done. From then on we had a drip feed of deteriorating performance.
England’s scrum produced penalties, as did the driving maul but England’s field position and possession failed to produce points or enough of them!
New Zealand have a style of play and they will continue to play it come what may. Overall it produces one on ones somewhere; having gone wide left, then wide right, occasionally with a ruck in midfield. The basis is composure on the pass, re-alignment, footwork and leg drive in and through contact, hence their first try! This style isolates defenders and produces miss-matches, then you can be in trouble.
England’s passing and back play lacked fluidity, sure there were some second man plays but Southern Hemisphere teams deal with them each week so we needed some more angled runs, switches and loops (of which I only saw one) at the advantage line.
In the second half England’s forwards decided to play in the backs and run into the opposition in mid-field. The backs also had a go at this. It’s not always wise to do this to Kiwi teams stacked with Islanders, it gets painful and unproductive.
England’s back 3 did not exist as a unit. Instead the full back returned kicks by running straight and getting tackled.
New Zealand did not change their exit strategy from their own 22 all game yet England failed to apply pressure to the ball receiver often a few metres from his own line. Surely someone had to target and accelerate at this man regardless of where the ball was coming from.
England introduced some more “huge” forwards in the second half, but the game has never been played in the gym!! New Zealand had more playing “nouse” and despite being reduced to 14 men for a dubious yellow card, you felt they knew how to win this. Their half-back was a replica Arron Smith, at every breakdown as it happened! Any turn-over ball was shifted very quickly to the players who could use it.
England and New Zealand could contest the World Cup final in October. Much can be learned from this match ... Can it, or will it? Run hard, run straight, win quick ball and do it again and then move the ball and do it somewhere else, add a few switches, loops and keep the ball going forward. Try!!
Super 15 is climaxing and performances in Dunedin and Cape Town this weekend suggest a quickness and pace which is ahead of anything I’ve seen in the Northern hemisphere! If this translates to International level then the cup will stay down under?
Straight Line support
Stringers try for Bath was a beaut! Burns to Lowe to Stringer. Straight line attack, support from depth off the shoulder. Against any other team it would have made my weekend! The previous night I watched the Waratahs play the Crusaders in a re-match of last year’s Super 15 final, same venue, same hybrid game, meagre crowd, only 26000. I have a feeling old and not so old former Canterbury and Kiwi forwards will be cursing this lateral attack of the Crusaders. Forwards isolated in mid-field trying to catch pass under extreme pressure, gifting the opposition turn over ball. New Zealand rugby is about forwards driving forward and backs running straight isn’t it? This was another hybrid game of 15 man touch/tackle, concede the contest, and defend like a RL team.
Baths first try against Leicester was classic NRL second man play, 5th tackle attack, perfectly executed. When you think you can make a tackle, the ball is passed to a second receiver. If you don’t drift “you’re dead”. Leicester have had a condensed defence all season and Bath got round it easily!
In fact Leicester and the Crusaders both had the same lack of penetration/go forward at the tackle contest and found it hard to score or create space out wide, thus only an individual could spark an attack/penetration. Neither had that player!
Sam Burgess is probably exactly where he should be after his time in Union, one level below national level as a 6. You sense his presence is more valuable than his technical contribution, at present! As a coach you would love him in your squad!
The Fords picked up both awards and rightly so. Mike understands the Union/League synergy and George has improved his game awareness, although I raised my eyebrows when he was under some of Leicesters more intense pressure?
Quickness and pace excite. Watson is dangerous if you kick badly to him or he decides to go looking for the ball. Folau used to be like that? I think the World Cup contest will be between the back lines of England, New Zealand and Australia. (Then there is always Halfpenny).
Northampton Saints; did they pay a price for not playing their full side last week? Maybe not because this was a fierce contest with all the combatants “up for it”. Saracens turned up to win. Laws looked as though he’s lost a few kilos? The Vunipola’s remain powerful, and the depth available to Lancaster of go forward, forwards, almost dictates tactics. England’s catch and drive will be powerful. Farrell reminded everyone he can kick accurately and under pressure. I think Sarries may be too tough up front for Bath in the final. Has the makings of a classic with power, pace and cleverness all in the playing cocktail.
There is no doubt looking up “from down under” the quality of player and play from U20s through to full International has improved greatly in the 9 years I’ve been in OZ. Both the semi-finals were compulsive viewing with the balance of skill and physicality just right. (For me anyway).
The supply line of young emerging talent is on show in Italy next month. I saw the last one in Auckland and was very impressed.
Finally “Down here”, The Hurricanes play great footy and will be the major threat to the Waratahs retaining their title I think?
I watched the Waratahs v Sharks live and the Tigers v Saints within 24 hours. I was looking for any indicators as to how Michael Cheika’s style of coaching would compare with the Northern hemisphere’s slower more forward constructed approach?
The first observation was the commitment to a more varied attack around the breakdown/tackle contest by teams “up north”, probing as Ben Kaye aptly described it. The Waratahs play very lateral with the ball getting out into the 13 channels and have big runners in mid-field but occasionally they are vulnerable to an assumption that they can retain possession with limited numbers in the t/contest. They also like the “little” pass around the back of the next receiver to a looping player. The smart defenders just let them do it and drift on to the next piece of action. Against a team that decides to suddenly blitz, this may become a problem? Will the Wallabies adopt this Cheika style of play?
Tigers played more on the front foot than recently and this is “their “mindset. They are a team cultured on intimidation and in your face relentless “footy”! Slater's selection at 6 gave the forwards a little more guile and added to the line-out options and security. A point that will have been noted by the England selectors, basically a Tom Croft role with more umph! I always felt Ed could be a No 8 somewhere down the line?
Cheika has a style dilemma for the England and Wales pool games. A former Wallaby told me they need a big robust hard running 6, but where is he? Morgan ran over Hooper to score last time they met. Pocock is better close in, Hooper better wide out. Can they play Pocock at 6 and Hooper at 7? They would get tied in at the tail of the line-out? Without a consistent flow of ball from set-piece Australia will struggle and if the scrums on the Saints line are anything to go by, Australia could lose players to the bin. However having said that, former Argentinian forward Mario Ledesma is in the Cheika coaching camp with a very succinct brief! If Australia get any sort of parity they can beat Wales, but England at Twickenham, I don’t think so.
Moving the huge forward Skelton into a role closer to the breakdown may be an answer. He is currently a giant trying to get going in mid-field, but the defenders are on him quickly now and he is not very effective. I think Australia will make greater use of their wingers coming into the line than before. The surprise element is their X factor! Beale's presence and performance is very predictable and if he makes the squad his contribution will be from the bench. And no-one will kick directly to Folau!
So the question remains can Australia find a style to beat England and Wales on less than 50% possession? Certainly against England more Wallabies will be needed around and closer to the ball, and they need a scrum half who is prepared to run into the tough narrow spaces? Wales will pressurise the Australian attack with line-speed. Australia will hope for quick ball in all areas and shift quickly any turn over ball.
Field position and the driving maul will be potent coaching considerations. At this moment in time my 1-2-3 in the pool, England, Wales, Australia unless Halfpenny gets injured!
2015 Rugby World Cup developments
Anything exciting happening? Well we now know that big players, play big, in big games! Mitchell and Giteau are walk-ins to the Wallabies squad after their European performances. I don’t think G Smith will make it? Giteau at 10 could be a real bonus as he can play the 13 channel and is a better inside runner than Foley… food for thought. He’s played a lot at 12 so he’s used to being the 10s eyes.
Lancaster wasn’t at Twickenham so maybe no place for Abendanon and Armitage? Tough call this as Pocock is ahead of Hooper especially close in over the ball for the Wallabies, that’s his real strength. Armitage may be ahead of Robshaw in that department but Robshaw is the captain? Unlike most down under I’m not a Stephen Moore fan! He’s too loose for my liking, the odd 10 metre fresh air dash doesn’t do it for me. I need a hooker with his head in the trough! He’s captain though?
The driving maul and catch and drive will be huge attacking tools for England/South Africa and Wales. This area will be a genuine concern for The Wallabies. If Pocock/Hooper gets tied in England will get penalties and play on the front foot. Wales will also be keen to utilise Roberts’s line breaking skills off driven ball! And of course they can get 3 points from anywhere in their own half consistently!
The All Blacks have depth in most positions so the loss of Cruden won’t raise the pulse too high but if he was joined by Barrett it might? Ardie Savea and Brad Shields could easily be 7 and 6 on current form. One thing for certain, the All Black bench will maintain and enhance the playing style and their reserve 15 could beat most first 15s.
Refereeing appointments will be closely monitored as will directions given to Referees. There are some differing interpretations especially at the tackle contest. Kiwi ref’s can be very lenient. The recent Brumbies v Waratahs was a free for all at times, refereed by Glen Jackson. In the final analysis players will do what they have to do to gain control. All scrums going forward will be rewarded!
Where will the excitement come from? Back 3 play on kick return? The unpredictable French? Argentina beating the All Blacks? Or will it be a conservative World Cup, scrum/lineout/catch and drive/field position/penalty?
The added factors; the Twickenham factor and a passionate home crowd. Surely worth points and the odd refereeing decision? If the Wallabies get through the pool stages they could play with real freedom but the Waratahs current style won’t win a World Cup if it transfers to the Wallabies under Cheika. Props will have to play close in or your team will be back peddling and yellow cards distributed like confetti.
My final, England v All Blacks. Punch and counter punch, but like Pacquiao v Mayweather with a similar outcome?
The level is not important, the quality is!
I had a free weekend so went to watch Eastern Suburbs, (my former club) play Norths. I saw 3rd, 2nd and 1st grade play one after the other. The quality was excellent and the 1st grade game probably in the top quarter of the Championship in England, certainly the back play was!
Norths fly half Josh Kay, just 20, played with a maturity and game understanding way ahead of most Premiership fly halves. Kicking, running, passing, with plenty of variety. I contrasted this with the long periods in the Claremont v Saracens game where neither fly half directed play and brought the best out of his team-mates. Rugby needs skilful fast men and huge forwards on the hoof, scattering all before. Basic catching was a challenge for some in this encounter.
“Game plan” is a terrible phrase. Sure we need starter plays, but let’s see what opportunity they present! Saracens when they went behind in the second half suddenly started to play effective rugby. Why not in the first half? Their robotic style contained them.
Fly halves are about creativity and finding ways to penetrate defences. An Aussie fly half and Europe’s form centre (James and Fofana) found the key for Clermont. Once the door had been opened, Saracens had to use another “game plan” and couldn’t find the right key, so lost!
Incidentally how many fly halves in England would have seen the chip kick opportunity? Ford and Cypriani? Yes! So they’re one and two for the World cup, agreed?
If we have talented young players we have to let them play. Josh Kay’s, (Norths) instinct and skills will see him go a long way… maybe overseas? His decision making off the field will revolve more around coach and playing style than money I hope.
The second semi- final badly needed a Josh Kay. This was a shambolic affair with either Goppath, Leinster or Michelac, Toulon, unable to construct an attack of any quality, and it wasn’t until late in the half that there was any semblance of continuity and support play. Botha did little for South African I Q. Too many passes were made away from the advantage line so the defence had an easy ride. Giteau not once ran into that 10/12 channel on a late unders line, which he does so well. Hence the game lacked shape and was punctuated with ineffective kicking. And let’s agree, the ball is out of the ruck as soon as the scrum half touches it with hand or foot?
Leinster after a poor start got back into the game because of some good technique work and that is a reminder to all coaches that good execution of the basics will never let you down and more often than not rescue your performance when under pressure. Every club should have a 60 minute skills and basic technique session somewhere in the weekly programme. When I coached OMBAC in San Diego, I introduced such a session on Monday nights. They said, “no one will come”… well over 40 did and we had a great time!
Meanwhile, extra time arrived in Marseille and provided a better game, albeit a short version and we did have 2 tries. The usually Habana and a perfectly executed driving maul.
I hope Clermont win the final if only for Fofana and Abendanon? Then Cooper will replace Michelac.
Downturn and Downtime
If Australia don’t win the RU World Cup and the current exodus of players to Japan and Europe continues, then post WC could be a challenging time for RU over here. Sport profile is so important. Where you sit on the local and global map has relevance where sponsors are concerned. (My suggestion of Sydney 12’s below)
Will Genia is the latest Wallaby to sign an exit paper, this time to Stade Francais. A recent returning Australian international told me that playing in France is a cultural and playing challenge. What you do at training midweek may have no transfer to the performance on Saturday and conversely the training you do midweek may not reflect or relate to the previous performance. Quirky to say the least, but having coached in France I get it! If you get a coaching gig in France just coach support play and see what happens.
As a player you can adjust your playing style? But can you adjust mentally?
Genia may have been better to sign for Clermont who became the second French side to dismantle Northampton Saints in the Champions Cup. Using quick ball and playing on the advantage line, with Australian Fly half Brock James positioning himself astutely to completely take out the Saints back row, Genia would have been at home… in France!
Saints did themselves no favours by kicking, when they needed possession and continuity! Fofana gave a lesson in running lines and support play to Luther Burrell who needs to get his footwork back and attack the inside shoulder.
Abendanon the former Bath full back now staring for Clermont, sent a timely reminder of his ability to see a support line from the back.
Why do the commentators think that teams can kick their way back into a game?
Leinster’s backs have played with flair and variety this season, but Leinster needed 6 penalties to get past Bath who scored 2 tries. Ford is looking more composed by the week for Bath, and Eastwood's decision to make long cut out passes has probably put an end to his World Ccup claims. Watson “can play” 15, so that will have an impact on England’s back line selection. Many will say Bath are developing as a team and a squad, but this was a win they should have secured. If you are good enough to win… win!
Wasps have terrific playing spirit but Toulon had the experience and the know-how. A common denominator in all the English team’s performances is the inability to see running line options. Not the ones from set plays but the ones from support play in broken field. In the 70 minute Wasps missed a simple switch 5 metres out, which would have put the try scorer under the posts!
Glancey I thought refereed this game sensibly and is a contender for the World Cup final, unless Ireland get there first!
Over the last few years I’ve seen many sides try to close a game down by repeated pick and drives in their own half!! Then they get penalised and the opposition kick the winner. Quite frankly it’s “dumb/stupid” play. Racing paid the price. Earlier their intensity and technique suggested they would win. But both technique and discipline faltered, then stupidity let them down. Their coach will not have slept. Saracens are organised and will be hard to beat as they are playing like a team with a point to prove!
Hard to look beyond Toulon v Clermont in the final though?
Finally my suggestion to the ARU. Please put on “The Sydney 12s” in February at the Alliance stadium in Sydney. Model the competition on the Auckland 9s over a weekend. Super 15 teams, playing 12 a side. 5 man lineouts, 5 man scrums. If Australia win or don’t win the World Cup we need to fill a void with something different?
Plus it’s walking distance from my place and holds over 40.000.
Changing times, good and bad
After a day with schoolboy rugby, I wandered down to watch the Waratahs v Auckland Blues. A meagre crowd of barely 16,000 on a beautiful evening. As the game developed I began to ask myself how these two teams might go against Scotland, Italy, Northampton Saints or Saracens. The Alliance stadium holds over 40,000 and is used by Union, League and soccer. Of the three, Union lacks the passion and 16,000 is poor crowd for the S15 champions! At the other side of the World Saracens play Harlequins in a club game and 84,000 rock up! Sure you can say London has the population but not too many years ago the Waratahs averaged over 30,000. If you lose street cred, you lose the spectators.
Marketing is so important. Without effective marketing your sport can languish and your spectators become disillusioned! New Zealand are proven marketeers. The Auckland 9s have been a huge success, and the Kiwis have recently got hold of the next Americas Cup for a meagre $10 million, from under the nose of the Aussies.
Watching Saints v Wasps and Saracens v Harlequins, I’m thinking rugby union needs to talk to rugby league and get a handle on a World Club challenge/series. Let’s see how two S15 teams go against two Aviva premiership teams, the two finalists from both competitions.
Rugby League, often viewed as the poor relation because of its limited International playing base, is way ahead in its willingness to explore new ideas.
This year’s Rugby Union World Cup in England will generate huge playing interest and if England make the final there will be a tidal wave of new young players signing up at clubs. Engaging the youth of any nation is vital for your sport and healthy for your nation’s lifestyle.
Back watching the Waratahs v the Blues and another re-set scrum tempts me to go for a beer and chips. The scrum is still moving around as I return with both! Time to do something about it!! As the referee leaves for the half-time break to a cacophony of abuse, I have no doubt the Waratahs will get the bulk of second half penalties.
I recently attended a seminar by Brendan Morris, the operations manager at SANZAR. He stated it costs $10 million to run a S15 team. Some of that needs to be spent on keeping me in my seat!!
I have a Coaching Themes card, to help me think and plan sessions.
• No Static play- Go forward at all times.
• Support play, stay inside the ball.
• Kick chase and counter attack.
• Creating turn-over ball and using it.
• The tackle contest is a win/loss situation, the balls the target.
• Attacking skills.
• Phase play attack and defense.
• Right to left attack – Left to right attack.
Some key words to assist my thinking.
Dynamic- acceleration – accuracy – relentless – technique – agility – concentration – talk – talent – technique – explore – innovate – express – instinct – work rate.
When we woke up to the sunshine and clicked onto the internet for the scores, eyebrows were raised down under. Try after try after try!!
Some crazy play and some exhilarating play by all the teams.
In the space of 80 minutes Wales got everything wrong then everything right. After 40 minutes they were losing! Individual, unit and team play very poor. Then they had a chat at half time and with the help of some Italian capitulation they ran amok, partly assisted by the Italian desire to play with their feet and not their hands, stop chipping please!! The Welsh scrum also started to go in the right direction!
This performance has shifted the emphasis from Folau v Halfpenny at Twickenham in the pool game to, “well if Wales play like they did in the second half they will beat Australia by running rugby”….?
Ireland had too much know-how for Scotland. They varied their game well and always went forward usually behind O’Brien who was outstanding at 7.
The player who lifts the World Cup is not only a good player, but usually an outstanding leader on the field, Johnson, Eales, McCaw, Piennar, etc. Paul O’Connell might be the next? He is relentless in his work rate. The rest follow him. Ireland won lots of quick ball and attacked close in, wider out, then very wide and Scotland were guessing, where next?
Scotland are playing better rugby, but you need backs who can attack the inside shoulder and understand the implications. Man-for-man Ireland were better players. Cotter will stay I hope, but the addition of Gregor Townsend may help the back line?
France can pick anyone and play any way they want. They frequently got round the outside of the England defence more through eccentricity than orthodox play. This will require some video discussion by the England coaching department. Some work needs to be done on Luther’s running lines onto the pass, he needs to attack the inside shoulder off a late unders line more often. If he does, he’ll create a support line and occasionally go through himself.
Young’s is getting to the breakdown much quicker and his game is on fire. Look at his support lines for his first try. He was like a fish swimming up a stream, constantly reading the flow.
England are still a power team. If you play them it will be physical.
So the uniqueness of the 6 Nations is proven once again. It can be a competition of poor quality and tedious play, historically positioned; then suddenly for no apparent reason produce a day like Saturday. Or was the reason for the drama that tries had to be scored!! If that is the case then all the teams are playing below their potential and that could be a warning for teams from the Southern Hemisphere.
Then there is passion and desire both on and off the field! It’s worth points I’m sure. The Northern Hemisphere has buckets of it and it will help the teams.
Finally in all major rugby competitions around the world, the scrum going forward wins the penalty!
Cheika hasn’t appointed a scrum coach yet for Australia, but I’m betting it’s an Argentinian!
The great joy of watching rugby in Italy and Rome in particular, is that after an appalling game you can wander round the town and immerse yourself in its culture. It’s like getting your money back for a poor performance.
A player I once coached has just returned from a few years at a top French club. He told me Saturday’s club game was seldom a representation of what happened at training!! So now we know. Do not plan when you play France as they could and probably will do anything. Italy’s feet are better than their hands so soccer is the main sport. Obvious after Sunday's dropped passes!
The start of the second half of the Highlanders versus the Waratahs was as far away from Italy as you can get both culturally and in performance. It was rugby at its very best. Skill- go-forward and continuity, breathtaking at times. Afterwards you just want to talk to someone about it! You tube it please.
Three teams can win the six Nations next weekend, but can either win the World Cup? I don’t think so.
Creating and seeing opportunities is one of the missing factors.
Wales are defence, work ethic and Halfpenny. They did score a try when Williams ran around a slower defender after the defence had stood too tight. Ireland played poorly but should have won at the end! The scrum is now a lottery. How Barnes arrived at his final two scrum decisions I don’t know? The team that wins the World Cup will have to play the referee out of the game.
Schmidt will console himself with that and ensure Ireland start better against Scotland and that might necessitate Owen Reddins inclusion?
In the southern hemisphere both S 15 and International teams are more likely to run from their own 22 be it from scrum, line-out or phase play. On two occasions Brown kicked with the defence outnumbered from his own 22. The right winger was way back in defence. I presume he didn’t see the opportunity or he was playing to orders? Teams down under would have seized on that opportunity and created continuity. If your team plays this way there is no decision making for the forwards, you get away from the line-out, out of the scrum, off the floor and support the play!!
I wrote of the importance of selection some weeks ago and of balance in the back row. I frequently get asked why Laws is not playing at 6. He is damaging out wide, has a good engine, hits hard and is very effective at the line-out. It would free up another powerhouse to be in the second row or a genuine footballing second rower like Ed Slater?
Saturday's back row lacked continuity. Haskell gets lost, Vunipola is a one run/rest man. Robshaw works really hard but world class 7s are quicker to the ball and over it. I like his honest approach though.
Scotland caused England real problems by playing like a Kiwi team, not as good, but asking questions of the English defence. I think England have the squad but selection and continuity will be long discussions!
Some players to look out for from NZ, not currently in the team: Ardie Savea (7), James Broadhurst (5), and Brad Shields (6) all Hurricanes. Man of the WC tournament prediction…Malakai Fekitoa.
“If you run a loop someone has to run straight after the transfer, running an unders line onto the ball works or simple catch pass BUT you have to straighten the line of attack to create space on the outside”.
What are the odds on Scotland beating Ireland….?
Cultural voids and winnings in detail
Scotland, Wales and France are in a cultural void. There playing traditions are floating around in history. Scotland have made technical improvements under Cotter and at times resemble a New Zealand provincial team, alas without incision and acceleration and the fiery red-faced rucking we used to identify with Scotland. Remember, this is the Nation that forced the Romans to build a wall and then lifted its kilt to wave a bare arse at England. Now they are more technical than red-beard. Cotter has to get the mix right or he might be tossed over the wall. A couple of “wild men” in the forwards are needed.
Wales are more concerned with defence than attack, a travesty; daffodils are wilting. In the 54th minute Jonathan Davies received a pass down a wide short side, 20 metres from any defender! He kicked it down field with the accuracy of a 3 wood directly into the hands of the French full back, who promptly put it into touch 5 metres behind from whence it was kicked. Davies spent most of the game racing out of defence at 13 to force France to play back inside or allow Lopez some chipping practice. Wales are playing for Halfpenny’s right foot, more will be needed to beat Australia!
France upset me! I see them floundering in a sea of uncertainty. Briefly, just after half-time, the forwards go forward, off-load, go forward, off- load and the pulse quickens. (I know from my time coaching in France how much they love doing this at training), then the backs get it. In the dying seconds they completely butcher a 2 v 1, 10 metres out by running back inside into the cover defence. A nation soaked in instinctive flair and style reduced to pass anywhere and run anywhere.
As Voltaire so appropriately said:
“Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her: but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game”
Italy got a win! And would have won more convincingly if Parisse, the commentators’ favourite, had remembered he was wearing the blue of Italy not the black of New Zealand when he aimlessly flung an inside one hander to nobody!! A host of Kiwi back rowers would have been there, but not the Azzurri!!
Joe Schmidt the Irish coach is developing team play and producing a winning team through attention to detail. Each time they play you feel the improvement. At the breakdown they out-played England, who had trouble moving any Irishman who was over the ball let alone O'Mahony. You get the feeling that each player is aware of his potential contribution to the team, Henshaw a case in point. This was an All Black model performance and exposed England’s frailties. Haskell and Kruis floundered and in space looked lost. The old chestnut of a pure number 7 raised its head again! Ford is not a Halfpenny so forget the missed kicks. Only Wales have a Halfpenny. The key to England winning this game appeared seconds before the break when Burrell ran hard and straight, made metres, recycled ball was quick and catch pass almost put Nowell away to score. Alas it wasn’t repeated. England will need to do “a Schmidt” on the construction of a new back-row. When the All Blacks moved Read to 8 they added some serious pace in support of a ball winning 7 and a tough hard running 6. England need to find that balance and quick.
This game however was a level up from the earlier two, thankfully.
Re-align quickly to continue the attack, but you don’t always have to re-align at a steep angle. If you do, you allow the opposition time to manipulate the space and re-organise in defence. “Killer” passes are made in the face of the defensive line so be prepared to put your foot on the throttle, run hard with accurate catch pass, switches or loops, right on the advantage line when you re-align in attack.
Six Nations quickies
3 Kiwis, 2 Frenchmen, 1 Englishman.
Angles, switches, loops and wingers
Ulster players, under new coach Les Kiss, (former Australian RL winger) will enjoy his coaching. On Saturday the backs ran angles, switches, loops and involved the blind side winger on numerous occasions, so clinically that Cave (13) scored 3 tries. Ulster played with passion and enthusiasm and were winners from the kick off. In fact Leicester’s Burns started the game with an appalling kick off and the first half deteriorated from that point. Basic catch pass accuracy deserted Leicester. Only Matthew Tait looked happy for Leicester and it showed in his performance. Unfortunately he’s heading off to Bayonne next season. By half time Ulster had drained Leicester’s enthusiasm. 17-0. As expected the second half was a closer affair but with Leicester needing 3 more tries to add to Thompston's and with Ulster a man down, Leicester had a line out 10 meters out from the Ulster try line in the 71st minute; the Leicester players “trudged” to the line out. Workers returning to the gulag moved with more enthusiasm. Sad end to the European campaign.
Another Southern hemisphere coached team, Leinster played some outstanding attacking rugby in the first half against Wasps. Their attacking structures from both set piece and phase play very penetrating. Wasps could not pick the receiver as loops, switches, dummy switches and second man plays rained down on them. Against Harlequins last week, Wasps had shown remarkable resilience, they showed it again in repelling Leinsters 5 metre attacks. (Incidentally I think attacking from 5 metres should be a coaching theme of work). Only Daley’s in and away to release Wade late in the half suggested Wasps had more to offer after the break only 20-6 down.
After the break Wasps forwards produced more ball but the Wasps backs repeatedly ran across field and failed to attack the inside shoulder, squandering several attacking opportunities. A few stupid long cut out passes suggested the forwards were Wasps only hope. Taking the “medieval” route Wasps won a line-out close to the line, drove hard and battered away at the drawbridge until it gave in, try scored, kick converted.
Five minutes later a new drawbridge was battered down from a similar catch and drive, try scored, kick converted.
Sadly neither side could produce a successful set up for a drop goal. Good game, good crowd, but oh the pitch!! 20 – 20.
Harlequins demolished Castres (no comment needed).
Toulon easily got passed a weakened Scarlets who played without possibility of advancement.
But sport is exciting because there is always a surprise around the corner.
Racing Metro demolished Northampton Saints at Franklin Gardens and once again Dylan Hartley watched 10 minutes of it!
French teams will continue to sign overseas world class players, (Nic White, Brumbies, signs this week for Montpellier) and continue to improve. So don’t be too surprised at this result. I looked for some complacency in Northampton’s attitude but came up with Racing being a very good team. They came to play from all areas of the field and had plenty of ball movement. Roberts demonstrated why he will be a problem firstly against England, Feb 6th and later at the World Cup against England & Australia. Racing’s try down the right hand 5 metre line in the second half was reminiscent of the great close quarter support play from French teams of the 70s! More please. For Northampton, they have depth, (I like the replacement hooker) but will need a full squad if they are to get passed Clermont away from home.
In a somewhat turgid affair Clermont got passed Saracens. This game lacked the fluency of the Saints/Racing game, but Davies in the centre for Clermont mirrored Roberts’ performance for Racing. Far too much is being made of Lopez, (Clermont 10) He sits in the pocket when he should be hitting the line. Hodgson looms as England’s Stephen Donald and if the special circumstances rule is used, Abendanon could replace Brown. Stefan Armitage (7 Toulon) could force Robshaw to the other side of the scrum with Billy V at 8?
The buzz at Bath failed to ignite against a well organised Glasgow who played with great style and passion. Their back play from set piece was outstanding and their first try included the blind side winger, angled runs (Dunbar looks great) and support play. Terrific stuff. The one in the second half even better and when the try scorer put the ball down there were 5 Glasgow support players within 5 metres of him!! Perfect!
Sadly for Glasgow recent injuries had affected their forward strength and Baths scrum got on top and it kept them in the game. 2 penalty tries and some late desperate defence got them home.
A word about Ford. He needs a strong 12 beside him; not only as a player but also as a game reader, similar to Wilkinson and Greenwood.
His passing is accurate but spiral, and often the weight of pass puts pressure on the receiver. The decision to play him may depend on Joseph’s continued improvement albeit at 13. Combinations can transfer to International level?
Can any England team make it to the semi-finals?
You wouldn’t think enthusiasm was a factor in high level performance. It should be a “given” that all who take part are “up for it”. Sadly it is not the case. A gauge of an individual/team's enthusiasm can often be assessed by their attitude to defending and defence.
A former World cup winning coach once said “if you really want to make tackles, you will”. Sure you can be outsmarted by constructive attack and technical flaws can be exposed but to be out-enthused is unacceptable.
Tigers kicked off the weekend's European games (and thankfully they are on TV out here) full of passion and enthusiasm early in the game. This should be a consistent trait not just a reaction to a previous poor performance against Quins the week before. Therefore a tick for enthusiasm, but a cross for the way they are exposed by teams who win the contact and attack around the corner; Northampton did it, as did Scarlets, both with simple catch pass. Quins sensed a lack of enthusiasm for Tigers kick chase and Yarde took advantage to run untouched down the middle to score. No passion or communication or enthusiasm to chase the kick.
Munipola’s return and his ball carrying penetration will greatly enhance Tigers run in! Parling was never far away and his pick and drive off Munipola’s breaks, really smart.
Saracens had a convincing win over an unimaginative Munster, whose half back used the game for box-kick practice. Saracens have a healthy and enthusiastic kick chase, it’s organised and effective, but the half backs kick too often, especially when they have centres who can run straight and/or attack the inside shoulder. Hard to beat though!
Wasps put a huge amount of planning, effort and enthusiasm into stifling Quins limited attack. For almost all the first half Quins attacked down a 30 metre channel, down the centre of the field. When penetration into the Wasps 22 happened, on 4 occasions they kicked the ball unproductively into the in-goal area. Care decided it might be wise to move the ball wide and attack the 13 channel, by using long cut out passes, which the recipient, usually the winger had to catch 2 metres above his head and occasionally behind him. You would feel mortified if your U 12s did it, let alone International players!!
Toulon have good players and destroyed a weakened Ulster.
Clermont, post Cotter, look in good order and got past an awkward Sale.
Bath having failed the Welford Road test (Leicester Tigers), arguably produced the performance of the weekend away at Toulouse. Toulouse top the group but have been inconsistent. From the kick off the Toulouse chase indicated Bath had a chance. Toulouse were “flat”, Bath “up for it”. The rest fell into place. As a player you sense both moods, the opposition’s intensity and your own. Bath played on the front foot in attack and defence and were always one step ahead. Indeed Bath's back line has some potency and the midfield orchestrated by Ford is re-invigorating Bannerman out on the wing, he’s scoring tries. Some weeks ago I suggested second man plays had to be more condensed, the players closer together. Bath did just this and created space out wide which tormented the Toulouse wingers. Hence Joseph looks effective at 13 and plays like a 13! When you bring players into the attacking line from behind, the passers have to become immediate support players. When Eastmond scored off a Bannerman pass he wasn’t alone! Great support play.
A quick word about dummy switches, they hold defenders and can be played closer to the defensive line and a better option than second man plays I think?
In my final game Northampton overcame the Ospreys for the following reasons. Their game management and composure under pressure has improved. They were quicker to, and more effective over the ball in both attack and defence. Their cover and drift defence minimised the space the Ospreys had to attack in and overall Northampton’s work ethic got them home. If I had one criticism it is that they turned/ran back inside on occasions when the opportunity was out wide.
The Ospreys should be better! They have the players but were a disjointed group. Never tight enough as a forward unit and didn’t put enough men in to the tackle contest to be a threat around the breakdown.
As we approach the 6 Nations and the World Cup, my 8 years coaching in the southern hemisphere has taught me this: that both NZ and Australia have respect for the quality of players in the northern hemisphere but not in the ability of the selectors!!
England have more quality players than ever before and more coming through. (Two U 20 World cup wins). They have strength in depth in most positions and a mixture of youth and experience.
But can they pick the right team?
Wales’s v England will go some way to answering that question, both announce their squads this week.
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