Auckland going through the blues

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They lost again though the Blues did show more fight then they have done in recent weeks.

But two things occurred to me while I watched this.

First, the Blues are doomed for an extended period of time and apart from their impressive run in 1996-1998 they have been remarkably underwhelming underachievers, especially given they have one quarter of the countries population.

Secondly, the habit of sacking and blaming coaches for poor performances is irrational, coaches are not that important in rugby, they have less effect than in other sports, before you go crazy, hear me out.

To my first point, the Blues are awful and have been for some time now. I wrote in my previous article about the fact that they have only finished in the top 4 three times in the last 14 years and have a similar average finishing position to three of the other New Zealand franchises – around sixth to seventh.

That is pretty shabby for a team with high expectations. In reality there is something fundamentally wrong with this organisation and supporters hold on to those glory days of the mid 90′s resulting in delusions of grandeur and unrealistic expectations.

Sadly I do not have access to the inner working of the Blues organization but it seems to often that their sides revolve around a team full of stars rather than a star team, kind of like the Dallas Cowboys, all hat and no cattle. There seem to be selections based on past heroics Ala McAllister, yes he was good, but when he came back from France he appeared soft around the middle and got injured repeatedly. They picked up Nonu and Weepu. Nonu then shopped himself around in Japan rather than playing in the preseason and Weepu turned up looking like he would be starring in the next Nutty Professor movie.

There seems to be a lot of one and done players. What do I mean by this. The player in question has one good season then falls in to rugby obscurity or a European team pays huge money for them only to discover they are actually awful. Does anyone remember what happened with Ron Cribb? How about Rupeni Caucaunibuca? These are the sort of players I am talking about. They have one possibly two good seasons and then completely fall over. It almost seems there is a big city feel to this. “I have hit the big time” then they just kind of exist after that.

The sad news is that after the Blues supporters crucify Pat Lam, for supposedly failing them, the person that takes his place is going to walk into a nightmare. It is going to get a lot worse for the Blues before it gets better. Does this sound dramatic? Well lets take a walk through reality.

Toeava, the supposed rugby Jesus according to Graham Henry, continues to under perform and is injured. He has not really shown the development other young “Glory Boys” like James O’Connor, Kurtley Beale or Israel Dagg have. I would not try to build your franchise around him.

You are currently playing with the dying carcasses of Ali Williams, Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu, Daniel Braid and Brad Mika. They are old and have a lot of mileage on the clock, there is not much left in them before their play regresses significantly or they shop themselves to Europe and Japan. This is a lot of experience being lost in key areas.

Jerome Kaino is going to Japan… wait, this means in the next few years they are going to lose five All Black quality forwards. Old Mother Hubbard would be impressed how bare this cupboard is becoming.

Ma’a Nonu is going to Japan.

Piri Weepu currently has the same food consumption as a small European country. He also does not have much time left. None of this would excite me if I was a Blues fan. So just calm down Auckland. The coach is not the problem, very rarely has it been. The coach is the easiest target.

Even great coaches, like Nucifora, have failed in Auckland.

This is the point where you will be saying, “oh yeah, but that Brumbies team Nucifora coached could run itself.” there may be something to this, however, the two coaches before him had exactly the same winning percentage as Nucifora. They were privy to the same level of talent. These other two coaches were McQueen and Jones, both World Cup winners. The coaching changes in relation to this Brumbies side seemed to have little effect. This would explain why Nucifora was unsuccessful with the blues, the coached changed but the players and front office did not change as dramatically.

This leads into my second point; coaching has little effect in rugby.

In rugby the coach has little direct control over what happens on match day. The coach can set several game plans before they head out to the field. However, in the heat of battle it is purely up to player instinct. The coach can not tell the fly half when to kick, or for Ma’a Nonu to get the glue off of his hands when he sees the try line. Ultimately the person that has a greater effect on the game is the captain. The captain has continual access to all players at all times, they can change the game plan immediately. The captain can inspire and control the players during the game. The coach can only sit in the box and hope like hell that his players remember how to catch the ball.

In other sports the coach has a far greater effect. The prime example is American Football. The coach sets the defensive structure for the season. How they will run their offence, run orientated, air it out or a complex mix. The coach will call specific plays telling the quarter back exactly what to do. There are several options the quarterback can choose from within this play, but ultimately the coach calls what will happen. On defence the coach sets out exactly where each player will stand, who they will mark, whether or not they will blitz or drop back into coverage. Now that is a coach effecting the outcome of a match.

In AFL the coach has runners to send instructions out onto the field continuously and the high level of interchanges means that messages can be relayed quickly. The coach can decide who matches up on who and change that at a drop of a hat. Communication between coach and players can be achieved easily and readily.

Rugby does not have this. In rugby you set a loose fabric of the game plan, what you may do in certain situations, how to deal with the other team changing theirs. But ultimately, other than half time, the coach has little impact. The players make the calls in to the line out, the moves for the back lines, whether to pick and drive, whether or not to off load. Put simply the players are a far more significant factor in the outcome of a season than the coaching they receive.

Then comes the front office. You can not polish turd, so if a coach is given the wrong, underdeveloped players or walks into a team with poor morale and team chemistry then they will struggle to succeed. The front office is responsible for developing the game in the lower levels, employing coaches which will enhance the young talent and provide them with the basic fundamentals to be able
to contribute on the big stage. If these players have not been nurtured properly the senior coach is on a hiding to nothing and it is too late to fix it. You are dealing with damaged goods and sadly, there are not any refunds.

So what am I saying? I am saying to Auckland fans, buckle up and get ready for a rocky road ahead. This season is a sign of things to come. Firing the coach may make you feel warm and fuzzy over the summer while you wait for the new season with bated breathe, but by firing the coach you achieve nothing, it won’t fix the problem.

It very rarely does.

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