It’s all about the coaches

Rhys Bosley Roar Rookie

By Rhys Bosley, Rhys Bosley is a Roar Rookie

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    A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article titled ‘Australian needs a champion team not a team of champions‘.

    In this article, I suggested that instead of cutting an Australian Super Rugby franchise in the hope of saving some money to develop grassroots rugby, the ARU should be limiting salaries for ‘star’ players to no more than a set amount, say $500,000 a year, with the savings being directed to improving coaching through recruitment and training of coaches.

    This was based on observations that despite their ‘star’ playing stock, the Wallabies are now on par with teams like Scotland, with the only thing that has changed being that the Scots have recruited a better coach.

    Well, we have just witnessed a Super Rugby final which irrefutably demonstrates my point, as it was played between two teams with very recent head coaching appointments and rosters heavily featuring players few had previously heard of.

    First was the Lions, who hadn’t made a finals series since 2001 under the guise of the Cats, hadn’t been at the top half of the table between 2001 and 2015 either and were relegated for coming last for the 2013 season. Then, in 2016, when new coach Johan Ackerman arrived, the Lions roster of no-names stormed the competition with an exciting brand of rugby that got them into two finals.

    Lions coach Johan Ackermann

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    The second it the Crusaders, the previous dominant team in Super Rugby with seven series wins until 2008 when five-time winner Robbie Deans left the franchise. That is more than three times the number of wins achieved by any other team in the competition, with the coaching appointment of Todd Blackadder leading to nine years without a title and the team dropping to seventh on the competition table in 2015 and 2016.

    Given that their roster at the time included the All Black captain and a sizeable chunk of their starting squad, this represented a distinctly substandard period for the Crusaders. Yet in 2017, with their new coach Scott Robertson and many of the big-name All Blacks gone, the Crusaders have just won the Super Rugby title for the eighth time.

    Seriously, how much more evidence does Australian rugby need that good coaches are far important to winning in professional rugby than star players are? The experience of the Lions surely shows that better coaching will resolve the supposed depth problem that having five Super Rugby teams creates for Australia, with good coaches turning former nobodies into good players.

    We know the benefit of being able to dig deep for talent, the hooker injury crisis of 2014 when Ewen McKenzie successfully used previous unknowns Nathan Charles and Josh Mann-Rea being evidence of that.

    I understand thanks to feedback on the last article that the player’s collective bargaining agreement stipulates that players are entitled to 29 per cent of gross player revenue.

    However, the agreement is due for renegotiation at the end of the year and I don’t see why reducing the share of gross player revenue, while stipulating that salaries will only be reduced at the very top end, is an insurmountable obstacle.

    With players as good as Sean McMahon reportedly being offered packages of around $350,000 a year, it is clear that vast majority of professional rugby players in Australia are being paid nothing close to half a million.

    Therefore, it would be in the interests of the majority to vote for a limitation of that nature if it meant keeping a team and their jobs.

    On this issue and others, the Aussie franchises need to stop persisting with a failed, celebrity player based approach to rugby, when there are obvious solutions being demonstrated overseas.

    Spending money that would otherwise be spent on big name players on coaching all our players to success is one of the biggest lessons we can learn, so just do it already!

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