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Preparing for the future

Zakaia Cvitanovich Roar Rookie

By Zakaia Cvitanovich, Zakaia Cvitanovich is a Roar Rookie

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13 Have your say

    It seems every team is permitted to try new combinations and blood new players in relative comfort, except the All Blacks.

    After Rugby World Cup 2015, five of our greats retired, taking 584 caps between them. The All Blacks carried on, business as usual. The transition didn’t rock any boats – the All Blacks were still winning, albeit shakily at times.

    Injury, sabbatical and life tragedies have meant the All Black juggernaut has been without key players here and there recently. This was evident in the game against Ireland in Chicago in the 2016 Northern Hemisphere Tests and against the Wallabies at Suncorp In Bledisloe III.

    If we take a look at the Chicago game, for those that didn’t know the importance of the Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock partnership, this was an awakening.

    It’s true, Ireland played a great game of rugby that day and after the last-minute loss in 2012, their eventual win was inevitable. And, dare I say, having a kiwi coach who knows the New Zealand way certainly helped.

    But the absence of Retallick and Whitelock, in addition to Jerome Kaino playing out of position, certainly increased Ireland’s chances that day.

    But what’s a coach to do? Steve Hansen’s selections come under a tremendous amount of scrutiny at home. There’s those who bay for his blood when selections go wrong, and those – maybe even the same ‘those’ – who applaud his vision when things go right.

    It’s totally a damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t scenario.

    Michael Cheika selected Reece Hodge (23 years old) to replace the unwell Bernard Foley (28 years old) for flyhalf against Japan last weekend.

    Some people wondered about Hodge, due to his relative inexperience in that position. He has played flyhalf before, but not at Test level. As a lot of people are fond of saying, club rugby or Super Rugby is one thing, Tests are another.

    For me, the reason comes down to two words, the future.

    A coach would be remiss not to be trying out new players as we’ve just passed mid-way point between World Cups.

    Players age, players go through form peaks and troughs and players get injured. Out of those three variables, the only one which can be predicted is aging.

    Therefore, there simply has to be a Plan A and Plan B – perhaps even right through to Plan Z – if a team is going to be competitive when need be.

    New Zealanders should be acutely aware of this fact. If the injury to Dan Carter wasn’t enough at the 2011 Rugby World Cup, the subsequent injuries to Colin Slade, and Aaron Cruden, should have been.

    Stephen Donald was our fourth player to don the No. 10 jersey. We were lucky to come away with the result we’d been waiting 24 years for, but it could’ve easily gone the other way.

    It’s of paramount importance we’re prepared for a similar scenario in Japan. God forbid we rest on the laurels of our depth.

    We’re proud of our depth – how often do we refer to it in rugby discussions with people from overseas? But what if that depth wears thin? We have three or four people to cover flyhalf if Beauden Barrett couldn’t play.

    While Lima Sopoga may be heir apparent, there’s also Damian MacKenzie and Richie Mo’unga. We have a couple of understudies for most positions, but do we have them for them all positions?

    If needed, would they slip in as seamlessly as Stephen Donald did in 2011?

    It’s a dichotomy that all coaches face. Nobody wants their their team to lose, but everybody wants to see new players entering the fold. There’s the rub – how does a player gain experience at the elite level if they don’t get game time? They don’t.

    Coaches have to decide which games are the right ones to give the newbies a go and Rugby World Cup semifinals, quarter-finals and finals just aren’t it!

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it to the day I shuffle off this mortal coil, I hate losing, but if it’s going to happen, I’d rather it happen on Northern Hemisphere Tours or in Bledisloe III than at the Rugby World Cup.

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    The Crowd Says (13)

    • November 10th 2017 @ 7:25am
      RedandBlack said | November 10th 2017 @ 7:25am | ! Report

      Quite right – but maybe we should add that this does not detract from the Wallabies win. You can only beat the team on the park and on that day they faced and beat the All Black test team – and played bloody well to do it. We cannot be seen to be judgemental on the Nations experimenting to catch up and at the same time excuse our own failures with the ‘development’ excuse. I know you weren’t doing that but just thought I’d spell it out for some of the more sensitive Golden Souls on here.

      • November 10th 2017 @ 6:09pm
        Zakaia Cvitanovich said | November 10th 2017 @ 6:09pm | ! Report

        Good point. And you’re right, I didn’t mean to take away from Australia’s win in Bledisloe III at all. They played better rugby and they won. End of story.

    • November 10th 2017 @ 8:15am
      Davo said | November 10th 2017 @ 8:15am | ! Report

      That’s the problem with winning too much! Expectations get raised too high, supporters become intolerant of any losses whatsoever, and it becomes very difficult to experiment and build depth.

      This is where mastercoach Cheika is so clever. By deliberately losing all those games against England last year, it gave him much freer rein to experiment and put together a side to win the next World Cup!

    • November 10th 2017 @ 9:21am
      Old Bugger said | November 10th 2017 @ 9:21am | ! Report

      Good read ZC so I figured, I’d throw a spanner in your development approach regarding an article I read the other day, by Paul Cully. His approach, is for NZU to consider making approaches to Nelson Asofa-Solomona’s Mgmt team to see, if he’s interested in pursuing an RU career and then perhaps, an AB jersey.

      The kid is 21yrs old, he’s an absolute monster on the paddock (2m+ height, 120kg+ weight) at prop and during his childhood years, he played RU before he played RL. I believe his first game of RL was in Melbourne, for the Storm Jnrs but, that’s beside the point. More important, is I understand his current Storm contract, ends in 2020.

      I think, if there’s a chance that the current AB locking, No6 and No8 stocks, look to become considerably thin post 2019 RWC, then surely, it would make sense for NZU to at least, make some enquiries with NAS’ manager.

      Watching him during the NRL season and currently for the Kiwis in the RLWC, it looks to me like a fait accompli, to ask the question. I am presently liking what I see being displayed by Sam Lousi, for Wellington and the Canes considering his early attempts over the ditch, for the Tahs after his RL seasons with the Warriors Jnrs, weren’t even, a class above the cut. And yet, his season last year was IMO, one of the best seasons I’ve seen from a player, who wasn’t given much confidence from the sideline.

      Who knows – perhaps, the ABs engine room could be in the hands of a couple of ex-RL players, in 2021-22?? It’s a thought, don’t you think, that’s worth looking into??

      • November 10th 2017 @ 10:21pm
        Cuw said | November 10th 2017 @ 10:21pm | ! Report

        Storm seem to have some good really big guys.

        I think Matt Duffie came from them , right?

        ” Who knows – perhaps, the ABs engine room could be in the hands of a couple of ex-RL players, in 2021-22?? It’s a thought, don’t you think, that’s worth looking into?? ”

        oh i think there are enuf young guys from U20 coming thru. its just a matter of getting noticed and then the opportunities.

        I mean a guy like Isaia Walker-Leawere if put in the path will make it to the NZ team post 2019.

        but then u will also have one or two Brian Alainu’uese s , who will in time play for another country. he was 2.02m and 135kg , when he left for Glasgow from Waikato becoz the chiefs did not offer him a super contract.

    • November 10th 2017 @ 12:00pm
      zhenry said | November 10th 2017 @ 12:00pm | ! Report

      A young NZ journalist, no doubt her name will start appearing on Fairfax media.
      She is getting plenty of encouragement from fellow journalists on here.
      The ABs have tried out new players with exceptionall comfort, seamless.
      Of all the major rugby nations NZ has blooded more new players, with little disruption to their winning ways.
      Losing 2 games in the last 2 seasons, is a small price, considering injuries, and the very unusual wrong selections for the Chicago game.
      OK NZers take loses very badly but the
      unremitting stress of the year long rugby calendar makes not ever losing an insurmountable task, especially for the ABs always being involved with the Super Finals.

      Most AB selections have been spot on ZC, give an example of ‘baying for blood’ re selections. There has been discussion about the midfield with Sonny Bill being more contentious but not ‘baying for blood’.
      The rest of your article states the obvious in a waffling kind of way.
      Your last article attempted to put the media on a pedastle, which I took exception to.
      NZers need to be very wary of their foreign media and be aware of the folly of selling it off in the first place. The rampart pressure of the advertisers and intelligence agencies makes sure corporate media ( and unduly influencing the public media) keep the propaganda of neoliberal economics (corporatism) before their readers.”

      • November 10th 2017 @ 6:20pm
        Zakaia Cvitanovich said | November 10th 2017 @ 6:20pm | ! Report

        My last article was about the coaching role and what it entails, off the field. I discussed the way coaches conduct themselves in media conferences. After re-reading the piece I don’t see that I put the media on a pedestal at all. That comment actually surprises me because while I’ll commend a well-written, fair piece of journalism, more often or not I’m critical of many of the articles written.
        Sorry if my article “states the obvious in a waffling kind of way”. It’s my opinion and my writing style… I’m happy with both, but I’m open to the opinion of others.

        • November 11th 2017 @ 7:50pm
          zhenry said | November 11th 2017 @ 7:50pm | ! Report

          You actually said in your last article that if coaches can’t handle the media well, they shouldn’t be coaches.
          Don’t disagree that you wrote about the detail of coaches off the field and how they deal with media but in doing so the subtext and way you wrote gave the media undeserving kudos; as exemplified by your comment, in essence, that media skill is more important than coaching skill.

          • November 11th 2017 @ 8:27pm
            Old Bugger said | November 11th 2017 @ 8:27pm | ! Report


            Nah mate, I disagree.

            If you want to be a national coach, then it means that you are always, a target for media queries… comes with the territory.

            The issue with ZC’s last commentary is that most coaches tend to believe that they should NOT, be targets of media queries……I mean, who are these finger tappers to ask me, the national coach, any such queries???

            And quite simply, that is the problem. A national coach is responsible for what happens on the paddock whereas a sports reporter, is responsible for what is conveyed to the general public. If the coach doesn’t like what is being conveyed, then an obvious opportunity is provided, to respond.

            Hansen, had a huge problem with handling the press, during his assistant days under Henry. Thankfully, both Ted and Shag recognised the issues and gave Shag an opportunity, to correct his manner. The correction IMO, has worked wonders now that Shag, is HC.

            If it wasn’t for the constant reproaches from the media, then quite frankly, I don’t believe Hansen would be the same respondent as he is today, as AB coach.

            Oh and btw, it has nothing to do with his coaching ability/skill cos I think, he’s certainly achieved, in that respect.

    • Roar Guru

      November 10th 2017 @ 2:14pm
      Ralph said | November 10th 2017 @ 2:14pm | ! Report

      It takes a dollop of luck to win a RWC and the injury/experience/depth problem is the main culprit here. All a coach can do is create structures and game time to encourage depth to the extent the team can manage it.

      There are, of course, officials and sickness that can both tip you up as well, but very little can be done to prepare for those beyond that same strategy of building depth.

      In the end, should any team go into the final using their fourth string number 10 (or other key position) I predict they are unlikely to win it.

    • November 10th 2017 @ 2:21pm
      Jake said | November 10th 2017 @ 2:21pm | ! Report

      “It seems every team is permitted to try new combinations and blood new players in relative comfort, except the All Blacks.”

      oh boo hoo. Those poor, bullied kiwi’s. Must be so tough when everyone is against you. Cry me a polluted NZ river.

      • November 10th 2017 @ 8:36pm
        Old Bugger said | November 10th 2017 @ 8:36pm | ! Report


        Nobody should cry unless, it means you intend to hide the inadequacies of your own, national coach. Building player depth and ability, doesn’t require a polluted NZ river. It just requires some common sense about the objective of being involved, with a national rugby union side.

        And that is, to be successful at the next RWC tournament. It just seems the current WB coach, has been pursuing success rather than building his team’s, player depth.

        Tell me if you believe, that over the past 2 seasons, everyone seems to have agreed, with Chieka’s selections?? If not, then IMO, you contend that building depth is not necessary, to the advancement of your own team.

      • November 10th 2017 @ 10:29pm
        Peter said | November 10th 2017 @ 10:29pm | ! Report

        Stupid snark at NZ rugby, totally disconnected from anything the author actually wrote.

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