CAMPO: Rugby in Australia all about size, not skills

David Campese Columnist

By David Campese, David Campese is a Roar Expert

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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.

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    The Crowd Says (94)

    • May 2nd 2012 @ 2:46am
      Manoa said | May 2nd 2012 @ 2:46am | ! Report

      I hope they kick the absolute leather off it in Canberra. It would be great to see rugby played the way it was back in your Campo. Then in 10 years time we can all gather for a reunion and talk about what a great game it was and how they attacked from everywhere and rarely kicked. Time, time changes everything,

      Comment left via The Roar’s iPhone app. Download The Roar’s iPhone App in the App Store here.

      • May 2nd 2012 @ 7:04am
        sheek said | May 2nd 2012 @ 7:04am | ! Report


        You really don’t get it, do you……….?

    • May 2nd 2012 @ 3:46am
      Darcy said | May 2nd 2012 @ 3:46am | ! Report

      Have a look at what Joe Schmidt is doing with Leinster…On arrival Schmidt vowed to make Leinster the best passing side in the Northern Hemisphere…Leinster are by far and away the most skillful side in the Northern hemisphere and are able to execute far better than anyone else.

      • May 2nd 2012 @ 10:26pm
        Banger said | May 2nd 2012 @ 10:26pm | ! Report

        Healy’s try on the weekend was a thing of beauty

    • May 2nd 2012 @ 3:54am
      kingplaymaker said | May 2nd 2012 @ 3:54am | ! Report

      There are few coaches who come up with statements about what the game could should be, and indeed few within rugby who do so. Surely it’s owrth taking some time to ask, could the game be played more effectively? And where are we getting out model of what an effective way of playing the game?

      It would seem most of the time this is not the case.

    • May 2nd 2012 @ 5:28am
      mania said | May 2nd 2012 @ 5:28am | ! Report

      again agreeing with u here campo. the drop punt is easier and to control a game learning a tight defense is easier than teaching a creative attack. coaches have way to much control and spend sessions on how the can control the game more instead of teaching the players how to think for themselves.
      how will this turn out? look at gridiron. the coach has total control, he’s miked up to the quartback and the defensive captain. tells them every move and formation. looking further into the NFL you see the coaches (subconciously) have all adopted a safe percentage gridiron mentality. 3rd and 1 yard to go instead of trying to get that 1 yard and get a reset on downs they’ll kick downfield for position and hope that the defence can hold them down there for the oppostion to kick it down field on the 3rd. its repetitive and boring. when a team does go for it on the 4th down when they fail every coach, player fan is saying i told u so.

      • Roar Rookie

        May 2nd 2012 @ 8:58am
        Sharminator said | May 2nd 2012 @ 8:58am | ! Report

        I agree with Campo and with your NFL comparison Mania.

        In the NFL, because of the huge amounts of money involved, coaches simply do not take risks, and play has become very robotic.
        Consquently many Americans prefer college american football, where up and coming coaches take risks to try and win and get a name for themselves.

        I think a similar thing has happened in rugby .. although the amounts of money are not as big, coaches are afraid of risk and choose big players, bash it up rugby and kick, and concentrate on defence rather than attack or innovation.

        • May 2nd 2012 @ 9:42am
          mania said | May 2nd 2012 @ 9:42am | ! Report

          also the similar path rugby is following is player size and a focus on physicality over intelligence. if your not over 6 foot then you you’ll have a hard time making it in the NFL. emmettSmith struggled to make the big time because he was so small. no one actually bothered to check the size of his heart. cowboys saw something in him and decided to take a chance. the rest is history
          alot of posters here point out the attributes of big strong fast players (eg fruean) but overlook the smaller smarter players (eg conrad smith).
          brains beats brawn everyday of the week. if i had to choose between a big strong player vs a smart player i’d go for the latter. the smarter player has much more potential because they arent limited y the physical. smarter players also can think their way out of trouble when bashing your way out isnt working

          • May 2nd 2012 @ 10:23am
            RebelRanger said | May 2nd 2012 @ 10:23am | ! Report

            I agree brains over brawn. I would also have Conrad over Fruean at this stage. But imagine giving brains to brawn, that would be my approach. My example would be Tana Umaga in his prime.

            • May 2nd 2012 @ 10:34am
              mania said | May 2nd 2012 @ 10:34am | ! Report

              thats my point RR. Fruean should’ve stayed at canes and been mentored by conrad. can u imagine it? Fruens physicality with conrads brains and work rate. WOW

              • May 2nd 2012 @ 11:07am
                RebelRanger said | May 2nd 2012 @ 11:07am | ! Report

                I think Fruean needed to go somewhere he could start. Not only to develop as a player but to get some starting player money. True he might have benefitted being mentored by C.Smith but he can’t have waited for him to retire. I can see why he left.

              • May 2nd 2012 @ 1:28pm
                Blinky Bill of Bellingen said | May 2nd 2012 @ 1:28pm | ! Report

                There seems to be an inference that Fruean is all brawn and no brains.

                Maybe he’s not all brawn at all.

              • May 2nd 2012 @ 3:10pm
                RebelRanger said | May 2nd 2012 @ 3:10pm | ! Report

                Frueans defensive mistakes I put down to misreads (which indicate inferior ‘brains’).
                Oh he’s definitely brawn. He’s my 13 prototype. Big and fast with a lot of offensive weapons (sidestep, fend, ability to run over guys, offload, sufficient passing skills and willingness to chip/ grubber past would be defenders).
                Plus the guy has a heart condition yet is a better athlete than almost every super rugby player. Proves he is a hard worker, should be one for the future.

              • May 2nd 2012 @ 4:44pm
                dcnz said | May 2nd 2012 @ 4:44pm | ! Report

                Robbie F said after the match there are a lot of subtleties at play in a game and he is working on that.

                Or you could just zero in on Tom Carter and run over or around him….sorry that was a bit low.

        • May 2nd 2012 @ 9:13pm
          Altus said | May 2nd 2012 @ 9:13pm | ! Report

          What are you talking about.
          The NFL has never been as attacking as it was last season. Of the 5 quarterbacks in history with seasons of 5000 yards passing, three happened last year and another QB had more than 4900.
          The NFL has its problems, but coaches not taking risks isnt one of them.

          • Roar Rookie

            May 3rd 2012 @ 3:30am
            Sharminator said | May 3rd 2012 @ 3:30am | ! Report

            Watch some U.S. College football and you will see the difference .. they try moves with lateral passes, recievers also passing the ball, running on the last down. etc. Things you dont see in the NFL because it is considered too risky.

            • May 4th 2012 @ 2:14am
              Altus said | May 4th 2012 @ 2:14am | ! Report

              I do watch College football and it is entertaining.

              It is also entertaining for the same reason that rugby was entertaining in the 80s. The defence cant be compared to the NFL. It is one of the reason why some QBs with stellar College careers can’t make the grade in the NFL. It will be very interesting to see if Heismann winner RG3 makes the grade at the Redskins

    • May 2nd 2012 @ 5:33am
      BennO said | May 2nd 2012 @ 5:33am | ! Report

      Well look, I dunno Campo. It’s hard because I can think of examples where there have been great sequences of passing (the opening 30 seconds of the tahs v rebels a week or so ago is one) but the idea that it’s all size doesn’t stack up to me. Granted I haven’t been able to watch too much rugby this season but let’s face it, there aren’t too many big boppers in the current wallaby backline who are there to steamroll the opposition. Ioane, the one player who could be accused of being big, is known for his evasive running not steamrolling.

      You ask where are the risk takers…if Beale and Cooper aren’t taking enough risks for you then I don’t know if anyone ever will. It’s absolutely true that the game plan for the RWC was boring and risk free. No argument from me, it was very disappointing. But there are at least these two risk takers in the game, one is out injured and one seems to be playing behind a beaten forward pack, but they’re there and they’re rewarded for playing that way when they can.

      • May 2nd 2012 @ 9:38am
        RebelRanger said | May 2nd 2012 @ 9:38am | ! Report

        Kurtley Beale chipping the ball every chance he gets ins’t taking a risk its stupid. I hate JOC but I would say he takes more chances than Beale. Though he’s a ‘look-at-me’ type of player. Beale has been very dissappointing this year.

        • May 2nd 2012 @ 1:35pm
          Blinky Bill of Bellingen said | May 2nd 2012 @ 1:35pm | ! Report

          I feel likewise about Beale but maybe that’s because he defected from the Tahs. 🙁

          In fairness to him, I reckon he may just come good with some more game time. However he needs others around him that can make a difference. Otherwise he seems to feel the need to try and do it all himself. Now with JOC out that could go into hyperdrive.

          But I have to agree that his bloody chip kick, while it’s probably okay at club level, is a dud of an idea at Super level and fatal in Wallaby colours.

    • May 2nd 2012 @ 6:38am
      Hugo Verne said | May 2nd 2012 @ 6:38am | ! Report

      Campo, there are players who are just as diminutive today as they were in your playing days.
      The difference is that your old halfback, NF-Jones, or Mark Ella, didn’t work out in the gym on upper body strength and small guys like
      Will Genia and JOC do because that’s the modern way. I would have thought your pet peeve (still hate cats?) would be kickers who leave the ball infield on a penalty. It makes me throw my shoes at the screen. You see it again and again any weekend, and what type of kick are they using? A DP. If they went to a torpedo, as you recommend, and were willing to settle for 35 meters instead of trying for 50, a lot more possession would be retained and I could leave my sneakers on. With the unpressured time a penalty gives him a kicker can launch a torpedo accurately, and it will sail over any opposition players on the sideline well into touch. Not only Tony Brown thinks a DP is more accurate – so does DC and Wilko. But if you a good kicker, and a team’s kicker is supposed to be something of an expert, you’ll know how to give a torpedo a long, straight ride.

      • May 2nd 2012 @ 7:33am
        kingplaymaker said | May 2nd 2012 @ 7:33am | ! Report

        Hugo but look at centres for example. Matt Tait in England was considered too small to be a centre at 90kg despite being a brilliant runner, and his career has effectively come to a close because of it. Wales fielded a monstrous backline this year, the two wings giants, while even large backrow forwards are often considered lacking physicality compared to even more massive rivals.

      • May 2nd 2012 @ 9:29am
        Rugby Diehard said | May 2nd 2012 @ 9:29am | ! Report

        Hugo – I couldn’t disagree with you more. I get so frustrated by kickers taking the easy 25 m kick rather than going all out for 50 or 60m. The difference was perfectly highlighted by a mark Gerard kick for the rebels from about 45m out the other day. He went all out achieved a 5m line out from which the rebels scored. Sorry cant remember if this was waratahs or blues game!

        • Roar Pro

          May 2nd 2012 @ 12:11pm
          sittingbison said | May 2nd 2012 @ 12:11pm | ! Report



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