With Ireland’s tour of New Zealand just around the corner, I thought I’d take the opportunity to name my All Blacks 23 for the…
How many coaches have you seen make rugby more complicated than necessary? How many coaches have you seen come up with weird and wacky experiments when they don’t really need to?
Rugby is complicated enough. Keep it simple.
With that in mind, here are my suggestions for fixing the Wallabies:
(Over the next month or so.)
1. Select the team based on merit
Sift through the Super Rugby statistics for the year and play the most deserving (allowing for games played, injuries etc). Don’t play favourites, don’t worry about x-factor, if they’re good enough, they’ll make the grade.
2. Respect the basics
If you can’t win at least your own scrums and lineouts, then you have little chance of winning the game. Respect the set pieces and find the right people to win them. If that means finding props from Georgia and giving them a Super Rugby contract, then so be it.
3. Play people in their right positions
It can take years to learn to play a position properly. It’s also hard enough to play a position well that you know inside out, let alone a new one in a Test match.
4. Defence, defence, defence
Everyone must learn to enjoy the physicality. They shouldn’t care if they never even have a run with the ball. Treat kick-offs (or any general kick in play) as a chance to punish the opposition.
Defence is an attitude. They shouldn’t care if they have to tackle for the whole game – enjoy the opportunity to punish the opposition. Get a dedicated tackling coach from the NRL.
Positional defence is another area, separate, but intimately tied in with tackling ability. Get a guru for that as well. Once this philosophy is in place, then worry about attack.
Be unpredictable, don’t do the same thing twice in a row. There are so many simple ways to mix it up. Be creative. Be innovative. Where would Steph Curry be if he listened to the people who said don’t go for three points, better to bank the safer two points?
Get the best coach from a football code that utilises the skills required – kicking, passing, marking, offloading, breakdown and so on (An AFL guru would help – hey, that’s one box ticked!) and practice, practice, practice until all the skills become second nature. This should really start in the schools (see the longer term initiatives below).
7. Zero tolerance for bad behaviour
The Sydney Swans have this right, and it helped them to win a premiership. It doesn’t matter how good a player is, they should be appropriately disciplined for discretions that bring the game or themselves into disrepute.
No favourites, no argument, full stop. Doing anything else is a recipe for a team disaster.
8. Focus on the positives, forget the negatives
Everyone knows when they’ve stuffed up, they don’t need their noses rubbed in it. Only show clips after the game of any positives from the game. Even if the clip is only five minutes long (or less). The aim is to build towards an 80-minute tape of positives. And everyone wants to be on that highlight reel.
Medium term initiatives
(Next 12 months.)
1. Build confidence by getting all of the short term initiatives right
Wen confidence is up, suddenly passes start sticking, tackles are made, and moves come off. Skills that once were lost are found.
Like the All Blacks, individual players become more or less irrelevant, the system remains in place to build confidence, and that is irreplaceable. Nothing beats having a confident team on the rise.
2. Team philosophy and culture
The Kiwis play like they want to make each other look good. The Wallabies play like they each want a highlights reel for their next contract negotiations.
New Zealand have it right, because they know if they all make each other look good, then they will all share in the rewards. The sooner Australia understand and adopt this approach, the sooner they will once again be a formidable team.
3. Divorce politics from sport
How hard can that be? It will just take some gumption. I get that NSW has the biggest market, therefore must have the biggest percentage of players in the national team, the most ARU player top-ups, and so on. Queensland is probably next, followed by the Brumbies, Rebels and the Force (they have all the odds stacked against them).
Just pick the best players in their rightful positions based on merit, not state, or any other arbitrary criteria.
Longer term initiatives
1. The ARU’s top-down approach is likely to blame for the current state of affairs
AFL has kicking comps, NRL has touch footy, and football has other programs in schools. It’s a full-on war for hearts and minds, and rugby is coming a distant last.
Time for a bottom-up, systematic approach to get into as many schools as possible. I don’t know where the money’s going to come from (perhaps from the new, winning Wallabies Test match gate receipts?), but if it doesn’t, then rugby will continue to decline in Australia.
2. Find a bottom-up approach that works and copy that
New Zealand is a fine example. Every school kid plays rugby to represent their school, then their club, their province, their state (or similar) and then their country. From the bottom up, they are focussed on that black jersey.
Let’s mimic the New Zealand system – it seems to be working. We need a task force to analyse every part, and then a plan to implement it here.
3. All levels of rugby report up through the ranks to the top level
The Super Rugby coaches should report to the Australian coach. Difficult to do in these days of privatisation, but again, New Zealand are making it happen.
4. Instil systems and processes that makes player selection largely irrelevant
It doesn’t matter who plays in the position (as long as they’re selected on merit), the game plan and systems remain the same. If a superstar happens to fall into the mix, then that’s an added bonus.
That is why the All Blacks can get down to their fifth-string fly-half and still win a World Cup. The players move on, but the system remains.
Does anyone really believe their players would be as effective if they turned out for the Wallabies? No, they’d be good, but it’s the opportunity to play in the All Black system that makes them shine. Conversely, Israel Folau would flourish under the New Zealand system.
5. Find national coaches who keep it simple
Keep it simple in every facet – selection on merit, game day plan, season tactics, and long term strategy (including succession).
This holistic approach is more constructive than arguing about player – or, for that matter, coach – selections. Just like a good team makes the referee’s decisions irrelevant, put the systems in place to make selections largely irrelevant.
The ARU need to set up a task force, from all relevant walks of life, to plan for at least the next 12 years with realistic and achievable annual and four-year targets.
The objective should be to put systems and processes in place that will ensure the Wallabies are on or around the world number one position on a consistent basis.
If the ARU doesn’t change their current systems and processes, then the only real option is to vote with the feet and tear the whole system down. If people stop going to Tests and watching on TV, then revenue will collapse and a whole new approach will be needed. This may happen naturally anyway.
We play the All Blacks more than anyone else, and have a unique opportunity to learn from the best in the world – we shouldn’t waste it.