There were many reasons that the world’s best side couldn’t beat the Wallabies in conditions that favoured them on Saturday night, but the biggest thing to take out of their performance was the lack of go-forward from Kieran Read.
For a player who many see as the best no. 8 of all time, which I bitterly dispute, he really hasn’t had a great couple of weeks.
Read is a major talent and a rare specimen. He has achieved a great deal. At one stage I even thought he may have begun to surpass both Sergio Parisse and Zinzan Brooke as the best 8 of the past 25 years.
Unfortunately he has stopped carrying in the tight and only really plays a wide game – a cardinal sin for an 8.
In a rain-soaked match you need the supposed ‘best ever’ 8 to step up. He made a decent amount of tackles and chased one kick well, but he failed to stamp any authority on the match when in possession.
Read touched the ball 14 times yet made a total of five metres with ball in hand, all of which were in the second half. In fact it wasn’t until the 48th minute of the match that he actually took the ball into a tackle. The other three times he carried the ball into the defence he made little impression.
On the 10 other occasions he had possession he immediately passed the ball and on most of these occasions it was to a player in no better position.
In 80 minutes of wet weather rugby he simply did not front up with ball in hand. Parrise or Brooke would have rolled up their sleeves and made a likely match-winning impact on that game.
On Saturday Read’s team needed him to revert back to the old Read, the one who would frequently make two, three or four metres up the middle. These days he is all about the finishing and we are seeing none of the tough stuff with ball in hand.
The problem is no matter what he does he seems to gain praise. The Fox Sports commentary team showed a highlight package of him at halftime, cooing like love struck teenagers at the fact that he at one stage chased a kick and blindsided Kurtley Beale. That’s great but they failed to recognise that in a huge match, the game after Wycliff Palu had outplayed him in the Super Rugby final by dominating in tight, he hadn’t yet taken the ball into contact.
He ended up making fifteen tackles, which is very good, but I counted only two as dominant. He also missed two tackles and was involved in six rucks. Considering how much possession we had I’d expect these defensive stats. But four runs and five metres from fourteen possessions is poor.
On the other hand, Palu made 12 runs for 36 metres gained, with four passes. Now that’s more like it! Palu also made seven tackles, (five of which were dominant), one missed tackle and five ruck involvements.
It was a similar story in the Super Rugby grand final where Palu had an even bigger impact on the game than Read.
With Read seemingly hell-bent on only playing like an extra outside centre no matter the conditions these days, he is currently inferior to Palu, despite that athletically speaking he needn’t be.
Read also remains inferior to Parisse, who combines the same raw strength, stamina, speed and flair out wide as Read does, yet has the deft skill and go forward in tight that Read does not.
If Parisse had immigrated to New Zealand as a teenager he would be regarded as one of the greatest players to have ever laced a boot. Of course he didn’t, and because he plays for lowly Italy he will probably never get the credibility he thoroughly deserves as one of the most complete footballers we’ve ever seen.
Parisse carries a club-standard Italian side almost on his own to competitive international feats, such as occasionally toppling one of the Six Nation giants, and he always produces stellar performances against the big three southern hemisphere nations which generally go unnoticed.
Parisse is the best 8 of the professional era bar none. If we swapped Read into the Italian side I doubt he’d have made the impact that Parisse has, yet if Parisse had played in Read’s place on Saturday the All Black’s would’ve won comfortably.
It is time for the rugby world to reassess Read’s standing in the game. He gained an IRB player of the year award by being a flat track bully. He needs to improve because the other nations are catching up to the All Blacks and there will be slimmer pickings out wide as a result.
He should start by getting out some videos of Palu and Parisse or perhaps just some video of himself back in the days when he played like a genuine no. 8.