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As a regular a viewer of New Zealand Rugby I cannot help but to be impressed with the skill levels emanating from the New Zealand provincial rugby championship.
The ability to catch and pass under time and space pressure is excellent. Clearly coaching has gone to a new level in New Zealand where players are developing a high level standard of catch and pass skills.
This level of skill goes to almost a Harlem Globetrotting level when performed by the All Blacks.
Australia had a poor Super Rugby season. Australian coaches with the exception of Daryl Gibson, a Kiwi destined to head back to New Zealand struggled. Reds and Force coaches were sacked. The Rebels dropped their bundle at the business end of the season. The Brumbies were one dimensional – which is a worry given Larkham is being touted as Cheika’s successor. In comparison New Zealand had three teams in the semi finals with the Hurricanes winning.
Following this poor season, Wallaby forwards on Saturday night looked one dimensional and cumbersome as they attempted to plod forward in attack. The skill level gap between the teams was palpable, reflecting the Super Rugby season. The thought process or lack of – resulting in going into a match without a ball playing second rower is of concern.
As much as I have admired Cheika as coach – he is now being caught short of ideas. Clearly his coaching against England resulting in one dimensional play that England countered after 20 mins of the first Test and continued unchanged in the following Tests, resulting in a 3-0 defeat.
The Wallabies – after three weeks preparation – were dismantled in the first half on Saturday night. The All Blacks were fitter, faster and their play was multi dimensional – at times sublime. Bringing into stark relief Cheika’s Giteau Law. The older Wallabies were clearly out played by younger, fitter, highly skilled and more enthusiastic All Blacks.
Unfortunately Cheika has painted himself into a corner by his wholehearted endorsement of his senior players. Leaving him with little or no place to move, having invested so much of his coaching capital with these players.
Cheika’s short-term challenge will be to pick a side that will compete with All Blacks next Saturday. Will he have the humility to admit he needs to change course? Will he invest in the future by bringing in younger players or will he continue with more of the same and get Checkmated once again? Bringing his lack of flexibility into question.
More importantly strategically the challenge is for the ARU is to develop a coaching model that will provide the opportunity for younger coaches to attain the highest coaching levels.