I write this article on picking my pack to play the All Blacks as someone who has long been out of the loop.
Here are a few of my thoughts on just some of the considerations that might be involved in selecting my pack.
Playing a side as competent, competitive and resilient as the All Blacks demands that enormous thought be put into your game plans and the selections to implement them.
When we look at the situation, we must determine how we can cover up what we will not be so good at and what we can do that will be better than what they can do. We have to get an edge somewhere.
Those decisions are part of how we form priorities and strategies for our game-plans. They are pivotal to the selection process as we assess the comparative strengths and weaknesses of our players.
My best guess is that the lineout is the edge – I think that this year their scrum will be good and they will be certainly competitive in the other aspects of forward play.
That being the case, I am going for four jumpers – among other considerations, we will then have the chance to contest their throws. The corollary would be that we would work hard to eliminate any consequent gaps in our lineout, as the All Blacks real lineout strength is exploiting opposition gaps.
McCaw was totally predictable. The 2011 Cup final is not the only example of the thought they use in the lineout.
The scrum will be a cover up job in which case I will pick the best scrummaging props and I will pick a back five where every player will work to become a unit with the front row now. There is no room for anyone who does not bind tight or falls off the scrum under pressure.
I could actually see a pack, reflecting the choices for the scrum and the lineouts being effective at the ruck and maul, given two conditions.
1. Everyone knows the team patterns and the communication systems work. If you have possession, you know what is going to happen next. That then gives you an enormous advantage in getting to the next ruck/maul. My own personal bias for variety with the ball is an important corollary.
2. We are aggressive. It doesn’t matter if it is their ball or our ball. For me it is not just a question of the benefits from controlled aggression. It is that this aggression is often indicative of a switched on mindset, and this is just as important and applicable in the tackle too.
Maybe a ‘flyer’ is not so essential as the All Blacks may not really have one – can McCaw really be classified as one these days? You could certainly pick a pack with a degree of mobility while satisfying other priorities. Many of my previous comments re the ruck and maul and the tackle are pertinent to this issue.
The pack I have selected stems from the application of the principles I have discussed. There are two potential problems with this application (I hope the principles are sound).
1. I know damn all about the modern game.
2. I know damn all about the current players.
I know certain players are open to criticism from the last two games. But they have talent and it is the coach’s job to extract it.
Finally, for me personally, how would my selections stand up in regard to my own personal list of some desirable qualities for individual players? Mental strength and brains?
God, I hope so – there are five national and provincial captains in the pack. Physical strength? Don’t know – I am not prepared to say yes.
Controlled aggression? There is good potential there. My selections would be as follows.
Michael Hooper has some great skills but I do not know about his scrummaging and cleaning out. Let him run riot when everyone is tired.
As for Will Skelton, the Highlanders taught the rugby world how to reduce his impact and he has shortcomings in jumping and scrummaging at this stage of his career.
I know there is a body of thought that says play both Hooper and Pocock while retaining Skelton, which leaves just two lineout jumpers, but that is not for me.
Scott Sio? I would like to see him play first up before I made a decision about him.
In brief, here are my suggestions. Cover up the scrum, accentuate the lineout and compete hard at the ruck/maul.