Six lessons Robbie Deans must learn (Part 2)
Since becoming the coach of the Wallabies, Robbie Deans has made several mistakes. In hindsight, many of these were avoidable and must not be repeated if the Wallabies are to return to the pinnacle of world rugby.
This is part two. Here is part one for those that missed it.
LESSON 5: Selection Policy
Give youth a chance immediately.
Like Sir Graham Henry (who has admitted as much) Deans played it safe in his 2008 and 2009 selections. He picked too many experienced but underperforming players at the end of their careers. These players continued to underperform.
It was not until the second European squad was selected in late 2009 that he began to grasp the task at hand. Unfortunately for Australian rugby, this took him two years.
We now have depth and plenty of youngsters coming through.
The Reds rode on the back of youth to the Super Rugby crown last year. The Brumbies have only three Wallabies in their squad but lead the Australian conference and may well finish third on merit.
As a guide, anyone now aged over 27 is under the selectors’ knife. They include Rocky Elsom, Moore, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Benn Robinson, Alexander, Vickerman, Brown, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Sharpe, Hodgson, Palu and Drew Mitchell to name a few.
If they continue to play well, they should become the backup to the younger players. The pressure for positions improves player performances.
Just as you don’t pass the ball to where a player is, you pass it to where he will be, so too, you don’t build a 2015 Rugby World Cupn> squad based on players who are at the right age and in form now.
There are already 15 players who are clearly going to be part of the 2015 campaign. They include Genia, Horwill, Beale, McCabe, Cooper, McCalman, O’Connor, Horne, Higginbotham, Ioane, Barnes, Slipper, Phipps, Simmons and Pocock.
To that there are others who are currently fringe players of 2011 but coming into their prime: Dennis, Mowen (but maybe too little to late), Turner, McKibbin, McCutcheon, Palmer, Vuna, Daley, the Fainga’a's and Tapuai.
The youngsters finding their way but already impressing include Gill, Kingston, Foley, Tamane, Hooper, Lachie Mitchell, Sautia, Sam Carter, Coleman, Pyle, Mogg, Toomua, Lance, Harris, Hanson, Morahan, Davies, Charles, Dellit, Cummins, Shipperley, Wykes, Luke Jones, Inman, Lealiifano and Zac Holmes.
Outside Super Rugby, there is also a generation of potential lining up each week in the Shute Shield.
Getting rid of the ‘dead wood’ is a painful process but must be done for a number of reasons. Firstly, these players have been part of many failed campaigns and this attitude can only infect the youngsters. Secondly, they will not be at their prime in four years time. Finally, they are occupying positions and using valuable game time that would be better used by the youngsters.
I am encouraged that Deans has had a clean out of coaches. I hope that he brings this rigour to the selection table.
LESSON 6: Tactics, tactics and tactics
The strategy and tactics must be simple. Ensure that the player skill levels are at their maximum. Select the A grade team and announce it as such.
Give them until the end of the Wales series, four games, to prove that they can perform. Then remove the underperformers, slow learners and slackers.
Don’t weaken one position to strengthen another position. With so many utility players available, depth is not a problem, but the selection process is more complex.
The folly of playing without the necessary experience and depth at number seven in the 2011 World Cup was crazy.
The lack of a coherent and consistent back line strategy was a major error.
Firstly, there was limited use made of ball in hand play. The preference was for the one size fits all style of forwards out in the backline and the lack of precise, structured backline play, particularly from set pieces.
Initially, Deans could not even rely on the backs being able to pass the all accurately. Graham reskilled them in this department. They can now all catch and pass.
Whether it is Cooper, Beale or Barnes at 10, they can all throw flat accurate passes. Pat McCabe summed it up before the world cup, when he said that he just ran into the gaps and “Coops” would get the ball to him. Very true.
Here is the barometer. From set pieces, watch to see how many backs are doing something to distract the defence. This must be happen every time.
Most international teams play the same way. The advent of professionalism has seen a massive increase in the availability of game data. Lost in the wash up has been the clever, spontaneous and skilful play that is merged with subtle changes mid game.
The players are very fit and physically strong. Strength and fitness are no longer game winners. They just qualify you to enter the competition.
I strongly encourage Robbie Deans and his fellow coaches to look back at the reasons for the success of previous campaigns. Innovate on the basis of these proven approaches. Nothing is new in rugby anymore. But there is a range of previously successful tactics that went out of fashion but still remain effective in the modern game, because they comply with the fundamentals of the game.
You do not need to reinvent the wheel – look to the past and see what was successful. Adopt this into the modern era. Just ask Apple – the iPod is just a modernised version of the Walkman.
The key areas from which a truly competitive advantage can be gained are with the mind and the heart. The players need to be armed with the knowledge and confidence to vary tactics. Their hearts need to have been tapped to such a point that they will play for their country with every sinew of their being.
Robbie Deans and the next crop of Wallabies can win the major trophies and the next world cup if they learn from the mistakes of the past.
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