CAMPO: Rugby in Australia all about size, not skills

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Tom Carter in action for the NSW Waratahs. AAP Image/David Crosling

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It’s been interesting reading the comments on my recent column about the drop punt style adopted by most modern Super Rugby kickers, with a specialist kicking coach even weighing in with his perspective.

I neglected to mention last week that the reason for raising this debate was that I spoke with the esteemed kicker Tony Brown, who was playing in South Africa, and interestingly, he told me that the drop punt is a much easier kick than the torpedo.

The torpedo actually involves a lot of skill and runs a much lower risk of being charged down by an opponent.

And this, to me, highlights a key difference between the rugby of the past and the modern game.

These days, there seems to be little focus on the skill of the game.

In my playing days, we would spend a lot of time on areas of the game which are now not considered important. Our focus and training revolved mainly around attack, kicking, and skills.

The coaches I speak to now confirm that the focus is mainly on defence and a minor part is attack and skills.

The players are all physically massive and thrive on bashing into each other and running over each other rather than using skill to beat their man or execute on a simple backline play to put the defense in two minds.

When was the last time you saw the wingers get the ball one on one or see the attack try something different? When was the last time you saw a simple loop play executed by an Australian side or a dummy switch or dummy?

Coaches are trying to control the game from the grandstands. And kicking is just the start.

That is why NSW are still finding it hard to come out on top in tight games as players in key positions are just not up to it.

To me, this shows that all the training and preparation they do is not the answer.

I spend a lot of time these days coaching kids at Academies in Hong Kong and South Africa (not in Australia) and I always teach the kids how to do both a spiral pass and a lateral pass, and how to kick torpedo and drop punts.

You must give them options.

I also coach kids to run and back themselves and not just kick at all costs. Starting at the grassroots level, we can influence their mentality and encourage natural instinct and creative flair.

These are just basic skills in rugby. But they are tragically neglected at the highest levels of the game in Australia.

NSW were right in it at the death of their match against the Crusaders, with an opportunity to unleash a hefty torpedo kick down the ground from a penalty and position themselves for a final assault on the Crusaders line.

But where are the risk takers? Coaches don’t like them because they can’t control them!

So what happens? A drop punt that picks up some twenty metres. This is when the player should really back himself with the bigger kick, but instead, he took the easy, and safe, way out.

As I noted last week, this is a direct result of the impact of league philosophies and training techniques on the rugby world. Decoy runners are now a big part of the game, which is a waste of players putting pressure on the other team.

In league, it’s all about retaining possession. Then they kick it away. Simple is good.

Rugby teams don’t want to put the ball into space. Yet, when they do, great things can happen.

Look at the Cheetahs and Highlanders game, when the Highlanders scored several late tries. They backed themselves. That’s what it should be about.

Rather than run at the gaps, or use the ball to create weaknesses in the defence, players just steamroll each other.

It’s become a battle of the bulk, and everyone, from the fans to the players themselves, are ultimately losing.

So that’s my view. What’s yours? Oh, and this week Brumbies vs Waratahs, my prediction is: Kick, kick, kick, and poorly.

What a year 2014 has been in rugby! From the highs of the Waratahs winning the Super Rugby title, to the lows of the infamous saga that swamped our national team. What are your reflections on the year that was? What's on your Christmas wishlist for next year? If you're feeling inspired, you can share it with other Roarers by submitting an article.
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