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The force is with James O'Connor, not the Brumbies

Expert
13th March, 2011
80
3614 Reads

James O'ConnorTime was almost up and the Crusaders were ahead 52 – 10 when the television cameras rather cruelly showed a shot of the Brumbies coach, Tony Rea, looking as bewildered in the stands as his players were on the field.

The Brumbies have now made their worst start ever to a Super Rugby season after four rounds.

The loss to the Crusaders was the second worst ever suffered by a Brumbies side.

It is history now that the Brumbies actually won their first match of the season against the Chiefs, with Andy Friend still in some control as coach.

Friend’s control was significantly undermined for the match against the Rebels. He did not give the half-time talk, for instance. The Brumbies just lost to the Rebels with a bizarre refereeing decision by Jonathan Kaplan enabling the home to sneak their win.

Without Friend, the Brumbies scored four tries to one against the Reds but were booted off the park by Quade Cooper.

Now we have the debacle at Nelson.

What are we to make of all of this?

The first point is that Friend was very harshly treated. Second, the Brumbies board which one presumes endorsed Friend’s axing by CEO Andrew Fagan has been remiss in not having an experienced head coach ready to take over the side.

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Tony Rea was a rugby league player. His role at the Brumbies was as defence coach. Defence is the one part of rugby union that is similiar to rugby league.

Many coaches steeped in the rugby league game make excellent rugby union defence coaches. Les Kiss and John Muggleton come to mind.

I do not know of any successful rugby union head coach who played most of his career as a rugby league player. Chris Anderson comes to mind as a very good and successful rugby league player and coach who had a mediocre career as a head rugby union coach.

The main point here is that rugby union and rugby league are very different games. They have a different mind-set to them. Different principles about how to play properly come into play for the different games. My feeling is that unless a coach is steeped in the traditions of their game they don’t have much chance of being successful in the other code.

It works both ways, from league to union and from union to league.

Alan Jones is the second most successful Wallaby coach (after Rod Macqueen). His Wallabies from 1984 to 1986 were arguably among the greatest Australia has fielded.

But he was not a success as a rugby league coach.

The Brumbies, at this point, have an extremely weak coaching staff. Rea is acting head coach, holding down the job presumably until the Brumbies can find someone foolish enough or needy enough (Jake White, perhaps) to take on the ordeal of managing a side that has a history of knifing their coach.

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Then there is Stephen Larkham, a great player, as the backs coach. Larkham has had minimal, if any, coaching experience.

Justin Harrison, who finished his playing career last season, is the forwards coach.

I don’t want to canvas his behaviour on and off the field during his career but in my opinion, and it is an opinion shared by many thoughtful people in Australian rugby, Harrison should not be coaching in an Australian Super Rugby franchise.

Mark Caputo, the former Wallaby and Brumbies stalwart hooker, is the scrum coach. The scrum was the only area where the Brumbies were competitive against the Crusaders.

At the end of the debacle against the Crusaders, Matt Giteau launched a remarkable attack on some of his fellow players: “We need to be more personal in our reviews, we need to name people that are lazy, so that people are accountable when we are doing our reviews.”

These remarks, in a nutshell, sum up the stupidity of the player-power model. If players won’t accept tough but justifiable criticism from their coaches, how will they ever accept them from each other?

The Brumbies board and CEO need to answer this question: why was a player publicly commenting on his fellow players, surely this is the coach’s responsibility?

Moreover, part of the problem with the poor performances of the Brumbies is related to Giteau’s insistence on playing number 10. For about the 50th time on The Roar I’ll make this point: Giteau is not a mature, match-winning number 10. He is an occasional runner. Very occasional these days in fact, especially in broken field play.

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He has technical weaknesses in the way he lines up and distributes the ball as a number 10. A couple of weeks ago Rod Kafter showed some vision of the way Giteau runs across the field with his back half-turned to the defence. This style means that his own backline is dragged across the field. This is easily defended by a sliding defence.

Kafer point out that a number 10 should present both shoulders full-on to a defence. This forces the defence to hold rather than slide in case there an inside cut is made. Larkham was an expert of confronting the defence in this way.

But, from the evidence of this season, especially the Crusaders match, no one has been able to get Giteau to correct this fault.

I would make the point that if he been coached at St Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill, the famous nursery of Wallabies, he’d never be crabbing across the field. Joeys inside backs line up facing their halfback. When they move forward the angle of their alignment automatically take them on a straight line up field.

James O’Connor isn’t a Joeys old boy. But he plays as if he were one.

His performance against the Blues (a lucky draw for the visitors) was one of the finest performances of an Australian number 10 since … Stephen Larkham was in his pomp.

O’Connor got his backline moving. He took on the defensive line. His broken field running was electric, including a sensational chip and re-gather which led a little later to a crucial Western Force try.

He organised the attack and defence brilliantly. His own tackling was superb. One flying tackle on Isaia Toeava (who was equally as brilliant) saved a try and possibly the match. And his goal-kicking was deadly accurate.

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This was a complete package of number 10 play that is beyond Giteau and the current Wallaby incumbent Quade Cooper. If O’Connor continues in this form I don’t think Robbie Deans will have much option but to make him the starting number 10.