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There has been a lot to digest in Australian Rugby this week.
Scott Johnson. In William Wallace style he united the clans of Scotland, and now he’s Rugby Australia’s newly appointed director of rugby. His ultimate challenge will be to set up Australia to deliver long-term success.
Announcing the formal agreement between Super Rugby clubs and the Wallabies, over which Johnson will preside in his new role, Rugby Australia chairman Cameron Clyne said, “We need to get to this model. This is a proven model, it demonstrates success”.
Okay, demonstrated success, I’m on board. Just one question: What exactly is the proven rugby model?
What I hope Clyne is talking about is the successful New Zealand model – there is effectively one style of play in New Zealand.
The All Blacks don’t over complicate things; they play traditional positions and expansive rugby. As pointed out in an insightful article by Roar pro Steiner, in January, the All Blacks have a backline that uses traditional flankers, No.10 and No.12. They do not have dual playmaker pivots like rugby league in No.10 and No.12. The All Blacks also have a balanced forward pack.
When under pressure it is better to have simpler systems than highly complex ones. As Steiner notes, “Complexity creates its own stress – especially under physical and psychological pressure”.
The Wallabies and the Super Rugby teams need one game style. Players can readily be interchanged into these positions. Entire states can perfect this game style. The proven winning game style is that in force in New Zealand.
New Zealand Rugby has a vice-like grip from the top right down to clubland. Whereas Australian rugby has silo-like mentality at club, Super Rugby and Wallabies level, New Zealand Rugby is like the Musketeers – all for one and one for All Blacks. From the All Blacks to clubs, Kiwis share rugby knowledge.
Do you want to know why the All Blacks have been successful? When a New Zealand Super Rugby team figures out how to defeat Australian teams, they spread the word, and fast.
As noted by Steiner, in the Super Rugby semi-final in 2015, the “Highlanders used a smart kicking game to defeat NSW in their Super Rugby semi-final and denied the Waratahs field position and the go-forward they thrived on.” This knowledge seemingly transitioned to the All Blacks in the World Cup. The next domino to fall was Super Rugby.
So how do the Australian silos strike back? By fighting fire with fire. By sharing knowledge and progressively creating mega clubs in each state.
The easiest way to conceptualise this is in Queensland. There were nine Brisbane clubs and seven Country clubs in the Queensland State Cup. If the nine Brisbane clubs and seven country clubs were to merge with Queensland Rugby Union to create one mega club, suddenly Queensland rugby would become a powerhouse once more.
The nine Brisbane clubs play the game style of the NRC’s Brisbane City. Seven Queensland clubs play the style of the NRC’s Queensland Country. NRC teams Brisbane City and Queensland Country play the same game style as the Queensland Reds. The Reds play the same game style as the Wallabies.
Translate this across the states and we’ll have a coherent game style through which knowledge is shared. This generates a player and coaching pipeline.
We don’t necessarily need Rugby Australia merging with all the states; the states can remain independent. The important glue will be Scott Johnson, who will be the master overseer of the talent pipeline for the Wallabies. He will work with the states to devise systems to fairly rest players and divvy them up between Super Rugby teams.
For the All Blacks to be the best, they need a pipeline of talent. However, it is not so much the players who are the focus as the coaches. Before the Rugby World Cup Steve Tew, New Zealand Rugby CEO, said “If you don’t produce good coaches, then you won’t produce good players.
“You need great coaches to produce great players. The coaches have to come first.”
This is the next area of weakness Rugby Australia and the states need to focus on, and it will be quicker under one national game style.
It will also help to connect with the community. The Reds are invisible. I don’t see them attending local school events or getting to know their community. That’s not the case in New Zealand. Anecdotally, we regularly hear about All Blacks visiting local schools.
Money is also a factor. The All Blacks franchise is worth a fortune as a recognisable brand. They are a revenue generator, and money, as they say, makes money. This money is ploughed back into rugby fields across New Zealand.
If clubs can unite and become successful businesses, shared earning would be pooled and the player pool would be fairly distributed.
What do you think about this unified model approach?