Warren Gatland has finally learnt to get out of the way – will Michael Cheika take note?

Nicholas Bishop Columnist

By Nicholas Bishop, Nicholas Bishop is a Roar Expert

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    When asked about what his greatest personal achievement in coaching was, Sir Graham Henry said it lay in abandoning his autocratic style in favour of something more democratic – what is now termed ‘consensus coaching’ between coaches and players.

    “I was pretty authoritarian. But it moved on after 2004, to a group of people trying to do something together, rather than two separate groups, one of coaches and another of players,” he said in Phil Larder’s book The Iron Curtain: My rugby journey from league to union.

    “Now it’s much more consensus.”

    Henry went on to say that after he had constructed the coaching framework, he then “stepped out of the way” and let the players get on with implementing it.

    Stepping out of the way could be described as the biggest barrier any coach faces in the course of his career, especially at the elite level.

    It takes different forms for different coaches, but all at some point have to front up to, and overcome their own built-in tendencies – whether they are technical, or psychological, or both.

    Michael Cheika is fast approaching this advanced stage of the coaching process. He already has some outstanding individual achievements on his Wallaby CV – a Rugby Championship win and a World Cup final appearance in 2015, plus a couple of victories over the All Blacks to boot.

    He has successfully introduced knowledge from outside the Australian box in the shape of Argentine Mario Ledesma and, more latterly, ex-All Black coach Mick Byrne.

    He has a feeling for the ‘Australian way’ of playing and he has not been afraid to adopt new and innovative systems in order to put that concept on the field.

    On the negative side of the ledger, his wins stand at an average 55 per cent and he has a poor overall record against the three sides ranked above Australia on the World Rugby ladder – New Zealand, Ireland and England (three wins out of 18 attempts, or 17 per cent).

    He has demonstrated a lack of tactical flexibility, most recently in the Spring tour loss to Scotland, after the Wallabies had a player sent off at the end of the first half. He’s also displayed a streak of stubbornness in selection, which has steadily reduced, rather than increased, competition in the two key halfback positions.

    You sense that the biggest challenge of Cheika’s coaching career still lies ahead of him, as it does with Ireland coach Joe Schmidt.

    Schmidt has long been one of the most outstanding intellects in the game, and he now has a plethora of excellent young talent to work with, spilling out of the academies in the Irish provinces and over the doorstep of the national squad like a flood tide.

    Schmidt has a tremendous eye for detail, his due diligence in the preparation for games is deep and far-reaching, and he inspires loyalty from his players.

    But despite all of his positive qualities, a nagging doubt remains as it whether he has truly ‘stepped out of his own way’ as a coach.

    Schmidt’s playing structures are lucid and effective, but during my time with England we felt there was a marked drop-off in Ireland’s performance when they were forced out to play outside of those structures.

    Wales coach Warren Gatland has meanwhile often been accused of being too conservative and rigid in his approach. The phrase ‘Warrenball’ has been deployed often enough as a derogatory catch-all to become the itch Gatland can never quite scratch.

    Wales' head coach Warren Gatland

    Warren Gatland (Mike Egerton/PA Wire)

    Up until the most recnet World Cup, Wales fielded a huge back-line. Except for Leigh Halfpenny, every one of their outside backs (typically George North and Alex Cuthbert on the wings, and Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts in the centres) were well over 105 kilos. Three of those four had the bulk and height to have played in the back five forwards in a previous era.

    Gatland’s Wales were punishingly physical and direct in both attack and defence. The forwards ran off the No.9 same-way across the field until one side of the pitch was exhausted, then the opponent could look forward to making one-on-one tackles on those massive backs when play came back the other way.

    It was simple, it wasn’t particularly Welsh, and it never bothered the Southern Hemisphere big three too much.

    But a new model Wales dominated the Six Nations between 2008 and 2013.

    Around the time of Wales’ summer tour to New Zealand in 2016, a change clicked and the obsession with size and physicality began to diminish. The biggest back of them all, centre Jamie Roberts, was omitted first from the British and Irish Lions party to tour New Zealand in the summer of 2017, and then from the Welsh squad for the international series a couple of months later.

    Maybe it was the spectre of his lack of success with Wales against the big Southern Hemisphere trio (which still stands at a meagre three wins out of 33 attempts), and a potential humiliation on the cards touring his homeland with the Lions which brought Gatland’s coaching career to a happy crisis.

    Whatever it was, Gatland started to act against his own acknowledged tendencies and step out of his own way.

    The Welsh back-line which played against Scotland on Saturday did not have one body anywhere near 105 kilos, let alone 110-kilo giants like North and Roberts.

    Even lacking seasoned international operators like Lions man of the series Davies, North and halfbacks Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar behind, as well as Lions captain Sam Warburton up front, Wales were far too good for a confident Scotland side feeding off their own improvement over the past 12 months.

    It is at this point that a more detailed comparison between Schmidt’s Ireland and Gatland’s new Wales is most revealing.

    Schmidt’s emphasis on structure often means that Ireland control the ball for long periods.

    Against France on Saturday evening, the official stats show that they made 250 passes and built a colossal 166 rucks – but only six of those passes were offloads (2.4 per cent), and there were no clean breaks created in the process.

    Wales, by contrast, made 61 fewer passes and built 80 fewer rucks (roughly half the number created by Ireland), but made more than twice as many offloads (13, or 6.9 per cent of their total passes) and broke the line 18 times.

    Where Wales attacked eight times from within their own half (with six breaks resulting), the Irish only attacked from their own end once, on the final 41-phase sequence of play leading to Johnny Sexton’s fantastic, game-winning drop-goal.

    The key to Gatland’s transformation lies in the new expectation of his tight five. Where the power of their work at set-piece and carrying ball straight ahead off nine had been primary requirements, now they are required to handle the ball and play effectively in space.

    Let’s examine what this means in practice. Here Wales have moved the ball along their back-line from inside their own 22, so the next phase will have to involve their forwards:

    Both the Welsh centres plus their left wing have been consumed in the ruck, while fullback Halfpenny is standing inside first receiver Rhys Patchell.

    In the old Gatland era, there would be a pod of three forwards ready to take the ball up into contact off the pass from the scrum-half, and that process would then be repeated all the way across field to the right sideline.

    But in the new version, there are six forwards standing outside first receiver, and looking to run into gaps rather than take contact:

    #6 Aaron Shingler, #4 Cory Hill, #1 Rob Evans and #5 Alun Wyn Jones are all looking to pass the ball and keep play alive, and a superb try is only spoiled at the last with the offload from Jones falling at Steff Evans’ feet.

    The forwards were consistently positioned on the end of the second pass and looking to use ‘quick hands’ to hit soft spots in the Scotland defence. The following example is an all-in-one transfer by tight-head prop Samson Lee, not known for ball handling:

    The new set of requirements have had the effect of sending grizzled veteran ‘grunt’ Jones backs to his heady days as a mobile second row-blindside flank hybrid, and he is enjoying a new lease of life:

    On this occasion, Jones delivers a good pass, and the fault lies in Gareth Anscombe’s failure to take it. There is a sense of new-found confidence in the Welsh tight forwards as effective pieces in the attacking chess game.

    Replacement prop Wyn Jones pulls the ball back for Patchell, who releases second row Hill outside him:

    Hill is able to sell the last Scotland defender on a beautiful dummy before sending the ball out to wing Josh Adams near the right touch. Hill also enjoyed a pivotal role in Wales’ second try, connecting the forward and back lines together accurately (1:50 on the video).

    The connectivity between backs and forwards was strong throughout the game, in this instance with #7 Josh Navidi giving the offload and Wyn Jones picking the ball from Anscombe up off his toes before (almost) converting the chance:

    The icing on the cake was the final try scored by left wing Evans, after terrific preparatory work by Shingler (cut and offload) and Navidi (long pass) – see 3:45 on the highlight reel.

    However talented you are in your coaching capacity as a teacher, tactician or man-manager (and all of Cheika, Schmidt and Gatland are prodigiously talented in at least one of those areas), there comes a time where you have to undo everything you think you know and rebuild yourself from new.

    Graham Henry had to do it, Eddie Jones had to do it, and Warren Gatland is in the middle of the process. The days of Warrenball are gone and its mantra of ‘earning the right the go wide’ (by bashing the opponent physically first) is dead.

    You earn the right to go wide principally by virtue of the skill-sets and accuracy of your tight forwards in the handling game, as the All Blacks have known for years.

    It is a catch-up process for most teams in the Northern Hemisphere. To his credit, Warren Gatland is stepping out of his own way and rebuilding his coaching image, and it may yet give him a shot at the role (coach of New Zealand) that he probably covets the most.

    That process still lies ahead for both Joe Schmidt and Michael Cheika, but it will be necessary if they want to achieve all that they wish for in the world of elite rugby.

    Nicholas Bishop
    Nicholas Bishop

    Nick Bishop has worked as a rugby analyst and advisor to Graham Henry (1999-2003), Mike Ruddock (2004-2005) and most recently Stuart Lancaster (2011-2015). He also worked on the 2001 British & Irish Lions tour to Australia and produced his first rugby book with Graham Henry at the end of the tour. Three more rugby books have followed, all of which of have either been nominated for or won national sports book awards. Nick's latest is a biography of Phil Larder, the first top Rugby League coach to successfully transfer over to Union, entitled The Iron Curtain. He is currently writing articles for The Roar and The Rugby Site, and working as a strategy consultant to Stuart Lancaster and the Leinster coaching staff for their European matches.

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    The Crowd Says (237)

    • Roar Guru

      February 7th 2018 @ 4:51am
      Carlos the Argie said | February 7th 2018 @ 4:51am | ! Report

      Hello Nick!

      Another great piece and, funnily, I think that it is going back in history. All my time as a younger player I was coached to run into space and have the basic skills well honed. And only to run into contact for a specific reason. So, I have been a bit disappointed that a lot of rugby now seemed to be to run into contact and where bigger and bulkier appeared to be better.

      It is wonderful that now again passing is so important. One wonders how rugby would be if players forgot that this is good. That passing the ball is faster than running, etc.

      I do agree with you too that Schmidt appears as too structured. After the Ireland-AB game, the Irish players kept saying that they played exactly as Joe told them. In this case, it was the ABs that didn’t adjust. The French-Irish game was rather boring, I must admit, except for the ending (extraordinary). Maybe the weather helped it to be this way but I tend to believe it was Schmidt-ball…

      When I met Henry, he spoke about his “find” that he needed to become more open, just as you stated above. He was very candid. Disarmingly candid and open.

      We have seen rugby’s future, and the better teams play with a lot of the skills like the past. (With exceptions, of course).

      • Columnist

        February 7th 2018 @ 5:22am
        Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 5:22am | ! Report

        Thanks Carlos – GH learned to be open, and it came at a distinct cost to his previous ‘all-seeing, all-knowing’ coaching outlook!

        As you say, the recent developments at both international and club level in the NH in particular, owe a lot to an escape from the fascination with size and power. This is very evident in tight five selections now – a guy like Cory Hill would have gotten nowhere near selection in the previous era.

        Joe Schmidt is by all accounts a superb teacher, and therein lies his greatest strength and weakness. IMO he doesn’t know when to break off and let the players take the controls – despite the weather in Paris, that last sequence of play showed that more attacking rugby was possible!

        • February 7th 2018 @ 6:35am
          FunBus said | February 7th 2018 @ 6:35am | ! Report

          Just wish GH had discovered that insight in 2001 instead of 2004 – the memory of that Lions Aussie tour still rankles.

          • February 7th 2018 @ 7:15am
            Neil Back said | February 7th 2018 @ 7:15am | ! Report

            Similarly wish Gatland and Howley had stepped aside earlier when Sexton and Farrell finally ignored them and ran training for the second and third tests.

            • Columnist

              February 7th 2018 @ 7:46am
              Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 7:46am | ! Report

              Fortunately it was not fatal last year Neil!

              • February 7th 2018 @ 9:37pm
                Cuw said | February 7th 2018 @ 9:37pm | ! Report

                Mr. Bishop. what happened to ur article on 7S? i cant seem to locate it herwe ???

              • Columnist

                February 9th 2018 @ 5:56am
                Nicholas Bishop said | February 9th 2018 @ 5:56am | ! Report

                It was published too early CUW!

          • Columnist

            February 7th 2018 @ 7:45am
            Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 7:45am | ! Report

            FB, I was on that 2001 tour and it was the most intense experience you could possibly imagine. GH was totally unprepared for much of what happened and it knocked all the stuffing out of him as far as Wales was concerned.

            • February 7th 2018 @ 8:58pm
              FunBus said | February 7th 2018 @ 8:58pm | ! Report

              From what I gather, NB, it was a pivotal experience for him to become the coach he did. The Lions should still have won that series though.

              Obviously, you’ll have far greater insight than me on it, but the impression gleaned from the press, and it seemed to chime with what I was watching, was that GH beasted the players on the training paddock and they had little in the tank after Game 1. That, combined with the disgraceful taking out of Richard Hill by Gray swung the balance to the Aussies.

              In my mind, that was potentially the best Lions team we’ve fielded since 1974.

              • Columnist

                February 7th 2018 @ 9:19pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 9:19pm | ! Report

                I agree with that last comment FB, it had superb talent in many positions (even allowing for a big injury toll).

                There were a lot of internal politics on that tour (which I won’t go into). I always remember the shock of walking out of the hotel in Coffs Harbour, to see Clive Woodward talking amiably with Rod Macqueen in front of the Sky cameras! He never did the same with Graham Henry.

              • February 7th 2018 @ 10:34pm
                FunBus said | February 7th 2018 @ 10:34pm | ! Report

                Fully understand the need to maintain confidences, NB.

    • February 7th 2018 @ 4:57am
      John said | February 7th 2018 @ 4:57am | ! Report

      Hello Nick, thank you as always.

      Something that has sat on my mind is how he has managed to remain in his role as head coach of Wales for so long while enjoying “only” about 50% success. Not suggesting he shouldn’t have been kept for so long, but it seems unusual for a national Union to accept 50% for that length of time without trying someone new. Any thoughts or insights?

      • Columnist

        February 7th 2018 @ 5:16am
        Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 5:16am | ! Report

        The reasons WG has stayed so long in Wales is multiple John…

        Firstly there was a huge amount of public relief at the structure and evident sense of purpose he brought to the game in Wales after a period of chaos with Gareth Jenkins’ sacking after WC 2007.

        Secondly WG immediately put Wales on the map in the Six Nations, which tends to be the greatest single focus for Celtic supporters (and more often than not, England as well)! Wales won three titles in the 2008-13 era, and the losses to the SH were forgotten in that euphoria.

        • February 7th 2018 @ 6:08am
          Taylorman said | February 7th 2018 @ 6:08am | ! Report

          Yes he does need to have that big SH scalp and that could still come in the World Cup as some sort of swansong. I’m quite surprised Wales havent managed more wins over the years vs the SH sides as at least they have somewhat of a good structure and that showed vs Scotland, clinical finishing and mistakes punished big time.

          Home games seems to be the key to the 6N and Is it not an issue that the same mixture of home and away matches is the same every year?

          England for example always get Ireland and Wales at home every two years and with France generally off the boil lately having only Scotland and Italy away gives England a more likely chance at the title. The reverse year, last year, England lost to Ireland in Ireland but won because Ireland dropped to Scotland and Wales away.

          Just seems the current order of play, particularly this years version, favours England. For that to change someone would have to play at home twice over two years, another away twice.

          • Columnist

            February 7th 2018 @ 6:33am
            Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 6:33am | ! Report

            There’s a sort of balance in 6N fixtures Tman… For example have arguably their two most difficult fixtures at home (Wales and Ireland) but they still have to travel to Rome, Edinburgh and Paris – hard to weigh up whether having Ireland at home outweighs those three away trips…

            The big issue for WG is that although Wales have been able to win in the NH, they have played an ‘anti-Welsh’ style based on great size and power in the backs. There has been no Welsh side remotely like it in history. Now the Scarlets’ success in Europe has enabled that anomaly to be addressed!

            • February 7th 2018 @ 6:59am
              Taylorman said | February 7th 2018 @ 6:59am | ! Report

              Yes I don’t know where he got if from either. Waikato always had big packs when he played there but the backs were typically a mixture, big Arthur Stone from a few years before Gats probably the exception.

              Yes agree the 6N mix is probably as balanced as they can get it and it’s a pity there’s too many to do home and away as we do in the RC though even there we’re stuck with an order (NZ vs Oz twice first etc) that if reversed could bring more favourable results…I.e. for Oz, in some eyes where being down 2-0 almost every year isn’t the best way to start. Swings and roundabouts on that one as well.

              • Columnist

                February 7th 2018 @ 7:47am
                Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 7:47am | ! Report

                Can you imagine the outcry from the English and French clubs if they announced home and away fixtures for the 6N?… it wouldn’t be pretty 😀

              • February 7th 2018 @ 9:05am
                Taylorman said | February 7th 2018 @ 9:05am | ! Report

                Yes, seems they have much to answer for.

          • February 7th 2018 @ 7:08am
            David said | February 7th 2018 @ 7:08am | ! Report

            The current fixture list probably does play into England’s hand a little bit, but the home/away rotation has been exactly the same since the very early Home Nations championships in the 1890s. Naturally over the years it’s benfitted different teams in different eras- right now, Twickenham’s a very hard place to come to, because of England’s improvement over the last 6 years, but that’s certainly not always been the case. Between 2004 and 2012, England never once won both of their home games in a year they had Ireland and Wales visit Twickenham (an ‘even’ year), only won in France and Murrayfield twice each- 2008 in France, 2004 at Murrayfield, and both in 2012. 2012 was the first time England managed 3 away wins in the 6 Nations ever, and 2016 was only the second time. (Conversely, in that same period, they only ever failed to win all three home games in an ‘odd’ year once (2005, when they lost to France)).

            Nothing can be taken for granted in the 6 Nations Tman. Especially not an away game. Murrayfield and Paris are never guaranteed away wins for England no matter how friendly an ‘even’ year may look to us.

            • Columnist

              February 7th 2018 @ 7:48am
              Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 7:48am | ! Report

              England at Murrayfield could yet be a banana-skin, despite Scotland’s problems in Cardiff…

              • February 7th 2018 @ 8:25am
                Lostintokyo said | February 7th 2018 @ 8:25am | ! Report

                I was surprised that Scotland did not do better on the weekend. I thought they were on the up big time. I suspect too a few banana-skins for visitors (opposition teams not the poor fans) to Murrayfield.

              • February 7th 2018 @ 9:07am
                Goatee said | February 7th 2018 @ 9:07am | ! Report

                Nice read, Nick

                ‘England at Murrayfield could yet be a banana-skin, despite Scotland’s problems in Cardiff…’

                Totally, agree with this… though, if they don’t win on Saturday (at Murrayfield) against France, their belief and new-found collective confidence will take a massive dent, IMO.

                Which ofc, might make them even more dangerous… I can see it now, on the giant screen above the stand on match-day when England visit…. ‘Scotland expects every man (all 80,023) to do his duty’. Substitute the World War One, image of Lord Kitchener – with William Wallace (sorry, ‘Mel Gibson’) and you’ll get the picture.

                On a separate note, how good is this ‘new kid on the block’, James Ryan destined to become? His performance against France, suggests that he’s one to lookout for during the remainder of the tournament. Around a year ago, I read an article where S Lancaster stated that in his view, Ryan’s potential and ability was in the same category as Itoje’s. I think Henderson is destined to become an Irish ‘great’ and Ireland have produced some all-time great players down the years. Could their locking partnership, in your view, potentially develop into a dominant one?

              • Columnist

                February 7th 2018 @ 9:13am
                Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 9:13am | ! Report

                To Lost & Goatee –

                At this stage I’d be more inclined to see Scotland’s performance as a blip on the radar – if they lose against France at home, it will be largely back to the drawing board (even with all their front row absentees).

                James Ryan is a superb prospect, and prob a future Irish captain. He could already start for Leinster too! The combination between he and Iain Henderson looks a very promising – not least with the England game looming at Twickenham…

              • February 7th 2018 @ 9:36am
                Goatee said | February 7th 2018 @ 9:36am | ! Report

                ‘The combination between he and Iain Henderson looks very promising – not least with the England game looming at Twickenham…’

                Yes… and I would imagine the pair are already on the ENG coaching staff’s radar, particularly Borthwick’s.

              • Columnist

                February 7th 2018 @ 9:40am
                Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 9:40am | ! Report

                Borthwick will be rewinding those lineout clips ad infinitum!

              • February 7th 2018 @ 9:49am
                Goatee said | February 7th 2018 @ 9:49am | ! Report

                I think what you meant to say was ‘Borthwick will be UNwinding watching those lineout clips ad infinitum!

                Personally, I like to unwind watching full-match highlights, or perhaps, a TV Box set . Each to their own..

              • Columnist

                February 7th 2018 @ 9:51am
                Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 9:51am | ! Report

                Jeez – what a form of relaxation 🙁

              • February 7th 2018 @ 10:14am
                Goatee said | February 7th 2018 @ 10:14am | ! Report

                Ha ha! As I said Nick, each to their own…

                Having said that, I and countless others on this site, particularly appreciate the diligence, application and expertise that you bring to this area!

              • February 7th 2018 @ 10:22am
                mzillikazi said | February 7th 2018 @ 10:22am | ! Report

                Sure hope so……cartload of banana skins would do well IMO.

              • Roar Guru

                February 7th 2018 @ 3:14pm
                The Neutral View From Sweden said | February 7th 2018 @ 3:14pm | ! Report

                On a separate note, how good is this ‘new kid on the block’, James Ryan destined to become?

                On the same subject, I was really impressed with Dan Leavy also.
                What are you feeding the boys for breakfast at Leinster Academy? Barb-wire? TNT? 😉

                Gotta be a pleasure to work with an organization that produces that much talent.

              • Columnist

                February 7th 2018 @ 5:00pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 5:00pm | ! Report

                To NV (below)

                Yes the fact that it’s home-grown (and mostly from the surrounding area) give it a feeling of added substance. The vast majority of players do not want to play anywhere else (including Isa Nacewa!)

              • February 7th 2018 @ 7:56pm
                Cuw said | February 7th 2018 @ 7:56pm | ! Report

                it is a great pity that becoz of a couple of caps for Fiji , he has not been able to play anywhere else .

                i will love to see the powers bring in a rule that will allow players who have less than say 5 caps for one country to play for another country (provided they fulfill other relevant criteria and a cooloff period – say 5 years).

                i mean what a waste guys like Nacewa , Halai , Masanga , Saili … et al. now guys like Seta Tamanivalu and george Moala will join that club.

              • Columnist

                February 7th 2018 @ 8:19pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 8:19pm | ! Report

                That was the previous rule in the amateur days CUW, but the current lawmaking is moving in the opposite direction… Once you commit, you commit – no second guesses….

              • February 7th 2018 @ 10:40pm
                FunBus said | February 7th 2018 @ 10:40pm | ! Report

                Could be, NB. However, I’ve thought from before the championship started that Scotland wouldn’t do as well as most were predicting. I think they’re better set-up to deal with a more open, ‘unstructured’ game. Wales beat them up on Saturday, and Scotland didn’t have the heft to go up the middle and suck Wales in before spinning it wide. I don’t know where the players will come from to change that against England.

                However, Murrayfield won’t be for the faint-hearted. An evening kick-off, so everyone half-cut after being in the pubs all day. It’s bound to be windy, cold, and probably wet. Pipers on the roof and everyone screaming about William bloody Wallace.

                Can’t wait – but then again I’ll be watching it from the comfort of an English pub.

              • Columnist

                February 7th 2018 @ 11:49pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 11:49pm | ! Report

                In keeping with the topic of the article, I don’t think Scotland had the tight five to run, pass and handle as well as their Welsh counterparts.

                Add Nel/Fagerson, Marfo/Dell, Fraser Brown (and Richie Gray) to the mix and it all suddenly looks very different.

              • Roar Guru

                February 8th 2018 @ 5:57am
                Harry Jones said | February 8th 2018 @ 5:57am | ! Report

                Add 2 Saffa props!!!

        • February 7th 2018 @ 9:02pm
          FunBus said | February 7th 2018 @ 9:02pm | ! Report

          Wales’s record against the Aussies is the one that puzzles me. A few years back (and arguably even now) the Aussies were vulnerable to physical sides that could get over the gain line and attack them in the pack. That seemed to fit the Gatland style perfectly.

          • February 7th 2018 @ 9:10pm
            Fionn said | February 7th 2018 @ 9:10pm | ! Report

            I’d say we’re vulnerable to everyone now.

            A few years ago? I’m not so sure.

            Under Deans we had a winning record against all of our rivals, I believe, aside from New Zealand, Scotland and perhaps Ireland.

            We didn’t really get long enough with Link to tell.

            I think our weakness was more against smart teams who frustrated us. We were pretty good against physical, strong teams like the Boks, Wales and England from 08-13.

            • February 7th 2018 @ 10:43pm
              FunBus said | February 7th 2018 @ 10:43pm | ! Report

              Wouldn’t be the first time my perception was awry, Fionn.

          • Columnist

            February 7th 2018 @ 9:12pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 9:12pm | ! Report

            There were several games in that period that Wales could, and arguably could have won – they were that close on the scoreboard and on at least a couple of occasion came down to the last play of the match. But Wales have never cracked that SH hoodoo, except for beating the Boks at home for the past coupla years…

            • Roar Guru

              February 8th 2018 @ 5:59am
              Harry Jones said | February 8th 2018 @ 5:59am | ! Report

              The Fakelings; not even Boklings. Let’s see the Boyos beat the Erasmus philosophy

              • Columnist

                February 8th 2018 @ 6:28am
                Nicholas Bishop said | February 8th 2018 @ 6:28am | ! Report

                How are you feeling about the England tour at this stage H?

              • Roar Guru

                February 8th 2018 @ 8:26pm
                Harry Jones said | February 8th 2018 @ 8:26pm | ! Report

                Alarmist like GP

              • Columnist

                February 9th 2018 @ 1:47am
                Nicholas Bishop said | February 9th 2018 @ 1:47am | ! Report

                Alarmist like GP

                That’s very dangerous H. The world could split in half.

    • February 7th 2018 @ 6:02am
      GALATZO said | February 7th 2018 @ 6:02am | ! Report

      Hello Nicholas. Few in the rugby world could understand Gats’ persistence with the good doctor crashing it up test after test. Maybe he thought you couldn’t play SH style rugby in the NH. Then Eddie comes along, does exactly that, and Gats gets on board. BTW, great win for you guys on Saturday. I think there were something like ten Scarlets in the Welsh team. They played like the Scarlets and ran away with the game. Could it be we’ve seen the last hurrah of dreary keep-it-tight, play-not-to-lose international rugby?

      • Columnist

        February 7th 2018 @ 6:29am
        Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 6:29am | ! Report

        Most of Gatland’s sides up until the Wales job began emphasized power, size and fitness G (think Wasps for example). One of his first changes with Wales was to introduce 20+ conditioners under the supervision of Craig White who literally knocked the Wales players into shape!

        Virtually a zero percent rate of success with that approach against SH dictated a change, and to his credit WG has made it, esp with the trial laws which have noticeably increased the speed of the game and breakdown ball specifically…

        Good luck to him when he gets back to NZ 😀

        • February 7th 2018 @ 7:07am
          Taylorman said | February 7th 2018 @ 7:07am | ! Report

          Talk of Hansen wanting to stay on if he wins in 2019 here as well. He’s 58 so has a few more years and really…what would he do other than regret leaving?

          I bet even Henry regrets stepping aside and McCaw! He seems to have to run across mountains to expend all that energy. I bet he really misses waking up Sundays with all the bruises, sprig marks on the back etc big time, when it was part of his life for over twenty years.?

          • Columnist

            February 7th 2018 @ 7:49am
            Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 7:49am | ! Report

            Would Hansen be invited to stay if they don’t win in 2019 though Tman?

            • February 7th 2018 @ 9:12am
              Taylorman said | February 7th 2018 @ 9:12am | ! Report

              Probably not. Don’t think he’d be condemned as some have in the past as we’ve been there done that to our coaches but it would probably depend on the nature of the loss.

              We also know the scales are more balanced these days and a loss might just be a catalyst for change just to try something new. I certainly wouldn’t mind him staying on but would also be open to a change if he lost.

              We don’t have the north south auck Canterbury angst we used to have… I.e when Henry was re-elected over Deans…mores the pity…as coaches move around so much these days.

              • Columnist

                February 7th 2018 @ 9:14am
                Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 9:14am | ! Report

                Hansen has been around the AB’s for how long? Twelve years now… That’s an awfully long time in international coaching of any kind. I personally would be very surprised if took on another term.

              • Roar Guru

                February 7th 2018 @ 3:26pm
                The Neutral View From Sweden said | February 7th 2018 @ 3:26pm | ! Report

                To me, it seems that Hansen is the right man in the right place. He comes through as the Alex Ferguson in the rugby world. And his track record with the AB’s is just ridiculous, one of the most successful managers in sport. Period.

                If he loses his drive or the AB’s has absolute shocker in Japan, well then it might be time to look at a new name, but if the AB’s continue to only lose one or two games per year, but goes down in the semis or the final in the WC to an worthy opponent after an epic encounter (think France 1999), I can’t see any real valid reason to look for someone else.

                Winning three times in a row is a massive ask, even for a dominant team like the AB’s.

              • February 7th 2018 @ 8:03pm
                Cuw said | February 7th 2018 @ 8:03pm | ! Report

                @ Nicholas Bishop

                how long was Sir Alex at ManU?

                how long is Wenger at Arenal?

                i know they are exceptions , but looking at Wenger’s case – one does not need to win anything over a long period to be at the helm 😀

              • Columnist

                February 7th 2018 @ 8:23pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 8:23pm | ! Report

                Well that’s the club game in a different sport. Very few rugby coaches get to be ‘institutions’ like those two at international level, and you prob cannot ‘belong’ to a country in the same way as you can a club.

              • February 7th 2018 @ 9:03pm
                FunBus said | February 7th 2018 @ 9:03pm | ! Report

                Only Sir Alex carried on winning things, though, CUW.

          • February 7th 2018 @ 3:49pm
            mzillikazi said | February 7th 2018 @ 3:49pm | ! Report

            Was talking to someone in NZ last week, and they told me you would not recognise Richie now, he has lost so much bulk/weight. They mentioned the running he has got into….have not checked that out yet, but assume it is competetive ??

            • February 7th 2018 @ 4:19pm
              richard said | February 7th 2018 @ 4:19pm | ! Report

              He is doing triathlons ( has done the coast to coast),presumably to keep fit.One thing you can always say about McCaw,he is one highly driven individual.

            • Roar Guru

              February 7th 2018 @ 4:28pm
              The Neutral View From Sweden said | February 7th 2018 @ 4:28pm | ! Report

              I follow Richie on Facebook, and it sure seems that he is very active. I recall an interview (on BBC I think) a few months where he said he trains harder than he ever has before because he doesn’t know what to do with all energy he usually spent on rugby.

              One can’t help wondering how he would fare if he made a comeback today…

            • Columnist

              February 7th 2018 @ 5:03pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 5:03pm | ! Report

              Seems to be the case with a lot of the top ex-players. When I met him, Martin Johnson said he was just over 200 pounds, maybe 60 pounds less than his playing weight. Not so much protein and carbs?

              • Roar Guru

                February 7th 2018 @ 6:58pm
                The Neutral View From Sweden said | February 7th 2018 @ 6:58pm | ! Report

                Maybe less protein and carbs, but it could also be the fact that he for sure need less rest and downtime compared to when he was playing. As everyone knows who has been deep into fitness, muscles grow when you rest. If one trains every day, especially running, bike riding et al, it is impossible to build or keep muscle mass.

              • Roar Guru

                February 8th 2018 @ 3:21am
                Carlos the Argie said | February 8th 2018 @ 3:21am | ! Report

                Nick, it is very hard, I assure you know, to maintain those huge muscles. The amount of work and eating you must do is work. And the easting has to be healthy.

                It is quite easy to reduce the weight bearing work and increase aerobic work and lose muscle mass. You mentioned somewhere here the case of Halfpenny where he cut some of the weight work and even gained agility.

                The note from the Non Neutral Swede, as usual, is misleading or incomplete.

              • Roar Guru

                February 8th 2018 @ 3:43am
                The Neutral View From Sweden said | February 8th 2018 @ 3:43am | ! Report

                Oh, is the little Argie dog barking again? And this time you are even more pathetic than I thought was possible.

                Voff voff!

              • Columnist

                February 8th 2018 @ 4:05am
                Nicholas Bishop said | February 8th 2018 @ 4:05am | ! Report

                Yes Carlos, I distinctly recall watching Halfpenny trying to chase down a break unsuccessfully a few years ago – he was slow and musclebound and light years away from the agile athlete who had first burst on to the international scene years before… Now he’s lost some of that mass and regained a portion of his elusiveness 🙂

    • Roar Guru

      February 7th 2018 @ 7:06am
      Sam Taulelei said | February 7th 2018 @ 7:06am | ! Report

      Hi Nick

      What I noticed watching the game was not only the change in Wales attacking formations as you mentioned but also how they defended.

      They were happy to let Scotland perform their moves and wouldn’t rush out the line as Scotland wanted. For all of their ball movement Scotland made very few line breaks.

      Great game to watch, looking ahead to their game vs England will Gatland stick with the same XV or make changes. Rookie flyhalf Rhys Patchell didn’t look out of place at this level.

      • Columnist

        February 7th 2018 @ 7:51am
        Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 7:51am | ! Report

        They were happy to let Scotland perform their moves and wouldn’t rush out the line as Scotland wanted. For all of their ball movement Scotland made very few line breaks.

        This was probably a sensible move because Finn Russell likes to make his decisions right on the ad-line and he makes better ones the closer he gets to it… We’d noticed the same aspects in Leinster’s prep for Glasgow, so not surprising to see Shaun Edwards do something similar!

      • Columnist

        February 7th 2018 @ 9:42am
        Geoff Parkes said | February 7th 2018 @ 9:42am | ! Report

        Patchell is obviously in a good place right now Sam. His engagement to Meghan Markle seems to be bringing out the best in his rugby.

        • Columnist

          February 7th 2018 @ 9:44am
          Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 9:44am | ! Report

          Haha Geoff – I see what you mean !all redheads look the same! Ooh. But isn’t HRH left-footed?

      • Roar Guru

        February 7th 2018 @ 3:42pm
        The Neutral View From Sweden said | February 7th 2018 @ 3:42pm | ! Report

        Gatland named the team yesterday. Same XV and only one change on the bench (G North comes back).

        • Columnist

          February 7th 2018 @ 5:04pm
          Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 5:04pm | ! Report

          Pretty sensible selection, gives Wales a shot at coming up fast on the rails NV…

          • Roar Guru

            February 7th 2018 @ 7:15pm
            The Neutral View From Sweden said | February 7th 2018 @ 7:15pm | ! Report

            Yeah, this selection must have been one of the easiest Gats has ever made I reckon.

            Will be very interesting to see how Gats will play his hand when everyone is fit.

            Early days, but it is fascinating that all four Home Nations seems to have really good depth and they all have 1-2 clubs/regions that they can build there Test sides around.

            An interesting comment I heard from Gatland was that during Christmas he was back home in NZ and one night he had dinner with Grant Fox, who told Gats that inside the AB’s camp they thought Wales was by far the toughest opponent they played during the fall.

            Are you going to Twickenham NB?

            • Columnist

              February 7th 2018 @ 7:17pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 7:17pm | ! Report

              No won’t be at Twickers NV – you?

              I do recall that Wales seemed to control a lot of the game against the AB’s, but couldn’t make it count. Good signs though.

              • Roar Guru

                February 7th 2018 @ 7:45pm
                The Neutral View From Sweden said | February 7th 2018 @ 7:45pm | ! Report

                I wish, but I live in Chiang Mai (Thailand) so it will be tricky…
                All the bars down here close at midnight (that is when England-Wales kicks off local time here), but thank God there is French Hells Angel who has retired down here and loves rugby and has a not so legal after-hours bar, so that is where I will be (will be good fun with lots of Welsh and English fans among his regular customers).

                As I recall the Test in November between Wales and the AB’s, it was two players that saved the Kiwis bacon. Rieko of course (2 tries and 2 assists) and Cane (who was a Terminator… he never ever quits).

                P.S. The French Hells Angel was NOT happy when Sexton nailed his droppie. But he is gent (sometimes) and treated a couple of Irish boys with champagne after the game (smart business I say, cause those Irish boys stayed until dawn and tried their hardest to drink the bar dry LOL).

              • Columnist

                February 7th 2018 @ 7:59pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 7:59pm | ! Report

                Your French Hell’s Angle sound like a gold mine find NV – and in an amiably sleazy setting. Enjoy 😀

              • Roar Guru

                February 7th 2018 @ 8:22pm
                The Neutral View From Sweden said | February 7th 2018 @ 8:22pm | ! Report

                In many ways, he is class (but with some questionable morals sometimes, but hey, who is perfect in this world?).
                Last summer, at a really busy night, he and I had a long rugby chat and we ended talking about that semifinal against NZ 1999. He got so pumped, so he turned off the music and put on the second half of that game on all TV-screens.

              • Columnist

                February 7th 2018 @ 8:25pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 8:25pm | ! Report

                He got so pumped, so he turned off the music and put on the second half of that game on all TV-screens.

                Now that’s he kind of landlord we need around these parts!

            • February 8th 2018 @ 4:04pm
              Taylorman said | February 8th 2018 @ 4:04pm | ! Report

              Well they didnt play England or Ireland so that’s kinda obvious isn’t it? Did like Canes effort that test.

      • February 9th 2018 @ 1:34am
        adastra32 said | February 9th 2018 @ 1:34am | ! Report

        As well as the stupid errors, Scotland’s turnstile defence was key to Wales winning: the scenario resembled the drubbing they received at Twickenham last year. I can’t imagine England’s defence being so beneficent this weekend.

    • February 7th 2018 @ 7:07am
      Cynical Play said | February 7th 2018 @ 7:07am | ! Report

      So Nick, do the Wallabies have the forwards to have it? The “skill sets and accuracy of the tight forwards in the handling game” that is.

      Of the current WBs.. Coleman yes. Kepu yes. But who else? Do we have a ball playing ‘8’? Some say Naisarani in time. Some say Valentini in time. But who of the current squad? Are the Arnolds too big to be truly agile and fit in this regard. As Wil Skelton found out, being big has it’s down sides. Dempsey maybe? Big Jordan at ‘2’ maybe but he is raw.

      Such skills aren’t gained in WBs camps. They are ingrained from years of playing that way, and that’s why NZ do it so well. Wales played a magnificent game but it will take several more to convince me that that wasn’t the WBs style of ‘one-off’ great games.

      Cheika has time. Ireland loom large and should be a most enthralling tour.

      • Columnist

        February 7th 2018 @ 7:54am
        Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 7:54am | ! Report

        Kepu and Simmons are the only tight forwards who can handle and pass consistently well CP. Adam Coleman does not fit into that category yet. The WB structure also predisposes to more forward phases off 9 than it does 10.

        Ireland is shaping up to be a truly engrossing prospect!

      • February 7th 2018 @ 3:55pm
        mzillikazi said | February 7th 2018 @ 3:55pm | ! Report

        I have not yet watched Ireland France fully, but I would not want to see the WB’s take on Ireland at this stage. I think they would “cream” us. I think a lot of very careful and dedicated preparation before June is needed.

        • Columnist

          February 7th 2018 @ 5:05pm
          Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 5:05pm | ! Report

          Ireland is just the right test at the right time MZ. They will be very tough to break down and will give the WB very little for free, so it promises to be a real contrast of styles 🙂

        • February 7th 2018 @ 8:28pm
          Fionn said | February 7th 2018 @ 8:28pm | ! Report

          mzillikazi, I plan on going to at least two of the Tests (Brisbane and Sydney) and the only thing I can say is if we lose the series toe England, and even if we lose 0-3, it won’t feel as bad as it did against England.

          • Columnist

            February 8th 2018 @ 3:04am
            Nicholas Bishop said | February 8th 2018 @ 3:04am | ! Report

            …the only thing I can say is if we lose the series toe England, and even if we lose 0-3, it won’t feel as bad as it did against England.

            See you’ve been infected by 6N tribalism Fionn!

            • February 8th 2018 @ 10:58am
              Fionn said | February 8th 2018 @ 10:58am | ! Report

              Nick, I have my Irish citizenship, I’ve lived there, if the Wallabies have to lose to anyone Ireland definitely isn’t the worst loss… Aside from the inevitable comments from my family 😛

              • Columnist

                February 8th 2018 @ 5:08pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | February 8th 2018 @ 5:08pm | ! Report

                Comments from the family are survivable – my Mum was Welsh and my Dad’s from Norfolk, so England-Wales games were seldom harmonious affairs in our household!

              • February 8th 2018 @ 11:44pm
                Fionn said | February 8th 2018 @ 11:44pm | ! Report

                Yes, I can imagine…

                And it take it you’re always behind Wales?

      • February 7th 2018 @ 9:10pm
        Pavid Docock said | February 7th 2018 @ 9:10pm | ! Report

        The Arnold twins have shown they are willing to toss the pill around. The accuracy of which will improve in the coming Super Rugby season.

        • February 7th 2018 @ 9:11pm
          Fionn said | February 7th 2018 @ 9:11pm | ! Report

          Lukhan Tui also.

        • Columnist

          February 7th 2018 @ 9:13pm
          Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 9:13pm | ! Report

          Keep an eye out hey!

      • February 8th 2018 @ 11:21am
        MARTO said | February 8th 2018 @ 11:21am | ! Report

        All Tahs will make up the Wallabies pack or Ex Tahs ,so we`ll be fine ..

        1 Robertson
        2 TPN
        3 Kepu
        4 Coleman ( rebels)
        5 Simmons
        6 Hanigan
        7 Hooper ( C )
        8 Dempsey

        • February 8th 2018 @ 1:57pm
          Cynical Play said | February 8th 2018 @ 1:57pm | ! Report


          the broken record keeps playing… playing.. playing…

          • February 9th 2018 @ 2:37pm
            MARTO said | February 9th 2018 @ 2:37pm | ! Report

            Tell me i`m wrong Cyclical. You know it will happen…….

    • Roar Guru

      February 7th 2018 @ 7:16am
      Kia Kaha said | February 7th 2018 @ 7:16am | ! Report

      Thanks, NB.

      It’d be nice to have some insight into why these coaches developed such a conservative game plan.

      Was it a fitness thing? Or the perceived calibre of the players? Or an evaluation of the types of opposition they were likely to encounter?

      The 6N has changed in recent times with bigger scores but there’s still quite a few games where the victors have to grind out a win.

      Schmidt’s philosophy was that mistakes give the opposition opportunities and the offload is the likeliest candidate for a costly error.

      Similarly, Warren Gatland had the likes of Leigh Halfpenny holding back in the line because coming up to enter the back line meant a counterattack could be a danger.

      Cheika’s gameplan is not as conservative but it is often equally one dimensional. There is a lack of malleability and that hurts when the opposition get in front.

      Henry recognized his authoritarian approach didn’t work well with players like Nonu. He emphasized the importance of contributing to the team but someone like Richie could take on the burden of individual responsibility and push himself to greater heights.

      Trust is crucial if you are to step back but so too is an unshakable belief in your players. Modern coaches are held accountable for the team’s performances and it’s tempting to think a hands-on approach is going to get the best out of your players.

      But rugby should be instinctual as much as it is planned. There should be a clear plan for specific moments but there should also be times where the players need to make judgment calls based on what they see in front of them. And that can’t happen if you don’t allow that to happen.

      • Columnist

        February 7th 2018 @ 7:58am
        Nicholas Bishop said | February 7th 2018 @ 7:58am | ! Report

        Fitness and size were two aspects WG looked at when he first arrived in Wales. Our outside backs tended to be small – think Shane and Rhys Williams and Kevin Morgan – and our forwards could be big but it was not always productive weight!!

        So for a long time he focused on introducing bigger, fitter units with more specialized tasks. Ian Gough used to be there simply to hit rucks, for example.

        Interesting that Ligh Halfpenny seems to have dropped a lot of the muscular definition he had a couple of years back, and he’s a bit more agile for it. When he first came on the scene, he was almost as elusive as Shane W, but that was lost almost completely in the weight room 🙂

        • February 7th 2018 @ 8:12pm
          Cuw said | February 7th 2018 @ 8:12pm | ! Report

          yesss and probably contributed to his leg injuries as well.

          there were articles about the Wales training regime – tough workouts punctuated by cryotherapy.

          the issue with artificial bulk is u need to constantly pump iron and eat the calories.

          it robs the natural flex and speed after a while.

          look at someone like The Rock – he has eaten and pumped up so much for the film characters , doubt he can run a 100 in 20 seconds.

          before injuries affected , he was a college level american footballer.

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