Auckland going through the blues

Vanilla Gorilla Roar Pro

By Vanilla Gorilla, Vanilla Gorilla is a Roar Pro


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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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    The Crowd Says (46)

    • April 15th 2012 @ 8:13am
      Thurl said | April 15th 2012 @ 8:13am | ! Report

      If the coach isn’t important whycould the blues win three titles with Graham Henry as a coach, but can’t with anyone else.

      And why could the All Black coaches get results out of Cory Jane, Nonu and Hore during the World Cup when Hammett couldn’t.

      The Chiefs seem to be doing rather well with a new coach.

      If you think coaches aren’t that important in Rugby, you don’t understand the role of the coach.

      Nucifora isn’t a great coach, btw

      • Roar Pro

        April 15th 2012 @ 2:03pm
        Vanilla Gorilla said | April 15th 2012 @ 2:03pm | ! Report

        thurl you have hit on a good point and the exact subject of my next article. That is the fact of the world cup hangover. Have you noticed that the 2 teams stacked with all blacks from the starting 15 of that side are currently in the bottom of the NZ conference, coincidence, i think not. At the moment the research I am doing currently supports this.

        The blues are similar to the brumbies that nucifora coached and the crusaders of today. here is a list of all the all blacks they had during that time

        Olo Brown
        Craig Dowd
        Sean Fitzpatrick
        Robin Brooke
        Adrian Cashmore
        Zinzan Brooke
        Andrew Blowers
        Micael Jones

        That right, all 8 players in the forward pack had played for the All Blacks.

        The chiefs got a new coach, but they also acquired SBW, who has been beastly, and Aaron Cruden who is only getting better as time goes on. It helps when you have a monster offloading the ball all the time. Look how less potent the crusaders backline is without SBW. The simple fact is that the coach cant make decisions for players during the game. Also players always perform better for the All Blacks, if you remmeber a few years back Woodcock maile it in all season for the blues and only once he was relegated to the bench for the All Blacks did her realise he needed to perform again… That isnt a coach issue, thats a player issue. My understanding of a coach, which i have done at verious levels, is that you can only prepare your players, you can not play the game for them, you cant tell them what to do and when during the game. Also the Chiefs did well under their last coach with significantly less fire power than they have this year, they lost to the Bulls in the final a few years ago

        • Roar Pro

          April 15th 2012 @ 4:09pm
          Vanilla Gorilla said | April 15th 2012 @ 4:09pm | ! Report

          the list above is the players available to Graham Henry.

    • April 15th 2012 @ 9:15am
      Onor said | April 15th 2012 @ 9:15am | ! Report

      I agree.. nucifora is average at best. the blues just dont have very many thinkers on board. Far too much muscle. why on earth ranger is on the wing is beyond me. Id say things go higher than the coaches. theres issues with the board and there have been for some time.

      • Roar Pro

        April 15th 2012 @ 2:04pm
        Vanilla Gorilla said | April 15th 2012 @ 2:04pm | ! Report

        i agree with everything you said, except for Nucifora. 3 finals appearances with the brumbies and a finals win means he must know what he is doing. He is reknowned in rugby circles as a great mind of the game whos knowledge is sought out regularly. He just got a raw deal trying to coach the blues

        • April 15th 2012 @ 3:15pm
          STU said | April 15th 2012 @ 3:15pm | ! Report

          VG,yes i think youre right.He seems to have some intestinal fortitude which is missing with some other coaches.

    • Roar Guru

      April 15th 2012 @ 11:57am
      sixo_clock said | April 15th 2012 @ 11:57am | ! Report


      Oz Rugby has the same underperformance problem with the ‘Tahs and before Ewen the Reds. Big city, big exposure, egos, politics hence things get muddled. On the other hand the Brumbies blend of youth with a coach who ‘gets’ Rugby is proving to be an awesome structure.

      While I agree that the coach in Rugby is not as influential in the heat of play compared to other team sports as Thurl highlights above some do better with the same players and it boils down to work ethic. GH probably works his butt off getting things ready, can all other coaches say the same?

    • Roar Pro

      April 15th 2012 @ 2:08pm
      Vanilla Gorilla said | April 15th 2012 @ 2:08pm | ! Report

      I agree as well. I think Graham Henry being a school principal of one of NZ’s largest schools probably helped as well, he had a significant advantage in dealing with large groups of developing and maturing young men. This is what has probably made him so good, it is something that most coaches will never have. I think White is having a significant effect on the Brumbies at the moment but it isnt as influential as other sports. Even league is more influenced by the coach. Everywhere bennet goes there is a noticeable change and improvement. The same can be said for Hasler. The coach has a noticeable effect in rugby, my main point is that the coach should not be the first one lined up and shot for poor performances

    • Roar Guru

      April 15th 2012 @ 2:38pm
      Jiggles said | April 15th 2012 @ 2:38pm | ! Report

      Really good article even if I don’t agree with some aspects of it. On the coach topic, I believe a good coach, especially at this level, is incredibly important to teams success or lack of.

      If we compare the 2010 Wallabies and All Black teams, I really don’t think you can separate them in terms of ability and skill. Beale is as good as Dagg, Ioane as good as Jane, Moore and Mealamu, Pocock and McCaw etc. Sure some players are much better such as Kaino, Carter, Genia etc. but you get my idea there isn’t really much separating the teams. They are all pro athletes playing at the elite level in a team game.

      The difference between those two teams is the game-plan they use. The Wallabies seem to be lost at times, as if they don’t understand what their role is within a specific period of the game. Additionally they don’t understand what to do when plan A comes unstuck. They don’t know how to switch to plan B (Is there even one?) or get plan A moving again. Cooper has even come out and said he doesn’t understand Deans’ plan. Conversely the All Blacks have been tactically brilliant throughout 2010 and 2011. And this comes down to the coach.

      Onto the Blues. Well I said it last week and got attacked by a number of trolls on this site, but I maintain what I said then. This squad, the 2012 Blues side, is one of the most pathetic Super Rugby team I have ever seen.

      • Roar Pro

        April 15th 2012 @ 4:14pm
        Vanilla Gorilla said | April 15th 2012 @ 4:14pm | ! Report

        yes but is this the wallabies plight an issue with the coach or the lack of adaptability of the wallabies player group. Remember Robbie Deans created the greatest franchise in the history of super rugby, from scratch. So is it his fault that the Wallabies are not performing or is the game not being taught properly at grass roots, development camps and the AIS?

        • April 15th 2012 @ 5:10pm
          Justin said | April 15th 2012 @ 5:10pm | ! Report

          Deans did not build it from scratch at all. He came in after they had win at least 2 titles and ABs out his backside to work with.

        • Roar Guru

          April 15th 2012 @ 6:37pm
          Jiggles said | April 15th 2012 @ 6:37pm | ! Report

          I think the Reds showed last year that Australian players are just as talented as any in the world, but a game plan created to suit the skills and the types of players in the team is the key to success. Australian teams are never going to beat others with slow ball and yet this is what Deans focused on for the world cup. The Irish game should of been a wake up call, but it wasn’t received.

          Anyway back onto the Blues, I think there situation is more complex then that of the Wallabies. The issue is both with the cattle and the coach. Lam has clearly lost the confidence of the group, and key members of that group don’t believe they have to put in to gain higher honours, such as Nonu, Weepu and Woodcock. I will be interested to see if Nonu gets pick for the All Blacks this year, his form doesn’t warrant it thus far, but he is always amazing when in black.

          • April 15th 2012 @ 9:25pm
            ohtani's jacket said | April 15th 2012 @ 9:25pm | ! Report

            Woodcock has been playing well since his return. I don’t think Nonu has played poorly, the Blues just need a first five. That’s been their problem for years.

            • Roar Guru

              April 15th 2012 @ 10:00pm
              Jiggles said | April 15th 2012 @ 10:00pm | ! Report

              I don’t think the Blues can really use the 5/8 excuse for either this season or last. Sure Brett/McAlister last year were no Dan Carter’s (but who is?), but they would be good enough enough choices for most teams. Anscombe/Hobbs this year are promising and certainly not the reasons for the 1-6 season.

              • April 16th 2012 @ 12:40am
                ohtani's jacket said | April 16th 2012 @ 12:40am | ! Report

                Both Anscombe and Hobbs are generic. You can’t win a Super Rugby title without a good first five and I can’t think of any side that would start either Anscombe or Hobbs.

              • Roar Guru

                April 16th 2012 @ 1:31am
                Jiggles said | April 16th 2012 @ 1:31am | ! Report

                Anscombe has been one of the more consistant Blues players this year, he will also improve with age and if he had a pack giving him clean ball. Anyway him at 5/8, or Hobbs for that matter, is not the reason why the Blues are sitting in 14th place. I’ve been impressed with the 5/8s in New Zealand this year in general really. All have deficiencies in their games, but they are young so time is on their side with regards to improvement. Cruden, who I have thought overrated in the past, is really stepping up.

              • April 16th 2012 @ 10:16am
                Colin N said | April 16th 2012 @ 10:16am | ! Report

                I think it’s harsh that you call Anscombe generic. He was the stand-out New Zealand under-20 player and has shown plenty of promise. But it’s alway going to be difficult for a young guy to come into a struggling outfit.

              • April 16th 2012 @ 10:51am
                ohtani's jacket said | April 16th 2012 @ 10:51am | ! Report

                Beauden Barrett faced the same challenge with the Hurricanes and their backline has been one of the most exciting in the competition. The Blues sell themselves on running rugby. Anscombe isn’t a running first five and would be better suited to the Crusaders than the Blues.

              • April 16th 2012 @ 9:00pm
                Colin N said | April 16th 2012 @ 9:00pm | ! Report

                But the structure of the Hurricanes this season has allowed Barrett to thrive. It’s also allowed Savea to thrive as well, who despite his talent, really strugged last season.

                Anyway, the Blues’ pack are failing to get quick ball, there is too much chopping and changing at scrum-half to get any continuity which doesn’t help who is playing at 10. The backline alignment has also been all wrong which admittedly Anscombe has to take some blame for, but tbh all the players are lacking confidence atm and they don’t seem to know what each other is meant to be doing.

                It’s interesting to note that Beauden Barrett was full-back for the under-20s and Anscombe was the fly-half and, although Barrett was earmarked, Anscombe was the one who stood out. Perhaps Barrett has adapted quicker to Super Rugby, but I would suggest the problems run deeper that that.

        • Roar Guru

          April 15th 2012 @ 6:38pm
          Jiggles said | April 15th 2012 @ 6:38pm | ! Report

          Also Wayne Smith should take credit for a lot of that success at the Crusaders, not Deans.

          • April 16th 2012 @ 3:11pm
            Winston said | April 16th 2012 @ 3:11pm | ! Report

            And the chiefs too

      • April 16th 2012 @ 3:30am
        Onor said | April 16th 2012 @ 3:30am | ! Report

        yea.. too many “no brainers” in the blues team. The difference between the AB’s and the wallabies is the Allblacks know how to play tuff. Get stuck in, do the hard yards and get their hands dirty. Wallabies football is almost too “backs” orientated. Only once have I seen the Allblacks pack play second fiddle to the Wallabies pack in the last 5 or so years, and that was their tri nations win last year. The first 20 minutes the forwards rolled up their sleeves and got stuck in. If the wallabies wanna beat the Allblacks.. they need to get some hard nut players with big balls who wanna go out there and absolutely beat up the allblacks.. in the rucks in the mauls in the clean outs and in the scrums.. but the breed of aussie forwards have barely any mongrel in them.

    • April 15th 2012 @ 2:45pm
      RebelRanger said | April 15th 2012 @ 2:45pm | ! Report

      VG what do you make of playing Wulf at 15 and Munro on the wing against the Rebels.
      What of the inconsistent selections at 10? What does this do for anyones development?
      The immediate introduction of Weepu, Nonu after they showed no loyalty to the Blues by either going to Japan during pre season or showing up out of shape? What does this say for the culture implemented by Lam?
      What of the insane substitution of Anscombe for Hobb with the game on the line and 10 minutes to go?
      Why haven’t the Blues played structured rugby? If the players are just not buying his game plan then why hasn’t he just selected those that will and bench the others?

      Personally I think Lam should go. I don’t think this will lead to immediate results but we need to bring in someone that will immediately change the culture of the Blues. I don’t mind a few losses next year if it means we are not making the same mistakes.
      How do we go about clearing front office? The addition of Weepu was doomed from the start as we already had a good halfback and upcoming 10’s that needed game time to develop. With the come backs of Mika and Daniel Braid they have probably sent future All Blacks to other teams and stemmed the development of guys like Luke Braid.

      Many problems at this franchise and no one solution. New coach is a start.

      • April 16th 2012 @ 11:13am
        RebelRanger said | April 16th 2012 @ 11:13am | ! Report

        Thats what I thought haha