Maybe it’s just me, but with several rounds of Super Rugby AU and the NZ version behind us, I can’t help but observe the significant skills gap between the two competitions.
This is a big generalisation, I know, but it is part of a trend for some years now.
It highlights the challenges faced by Rugby Australia. Whether it is the ball-handling skills of NZ forwards, the variation in back line plays or any number of other pretty basic skills, it seems quite stark.
Let’s take 2 examples with an acknowledged focus on backs.
1. Halfback play
Australia is not currently blessed in this department but why is it that Australian halfbacks seem unable to execute box kicks with the accuracy of Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara and Brad Weber?
Admittedly some NZ halves such as Finlay Christie are not great, but if you compare our best – Joe Powell, Tate McDermott and Jake Gordon – the Kiwis are a mile ahead.
Similarly, compare the passing of Smith and Perenara in particular with their Australian counterparts. Not only do the Kiwis manage to get much more distance and accuracy (in front of the ball runner) but if you watch Smith and Perenara they almost always pass directly off the deck. There’s no George Gregan shuffle for them.
Australian halves seem incapable of passing from the deck without at least one or two steps. Both these skills surely are just a matter of practice – or am I mad?
2. Designated kicker performance
Compare both the kicking from the tee and out of hand of the higher echelons of the NZ competition such as Richie Mo’unga, Beauden Barrett and Aaron Cruden with the likes of Matt Toomua and James O’Connor.
The stats for NZ kickers off the tee from last weekend revealed that all of the designated kickers were at above 80 per cent.
Similarly the kicking out of hand by designated Australian kickers invariably is aimless and thoughtless. Very little has been done to exploit the ridiculous 50-20 law.
Jonny Wilkinson was notorious for putting in hour after hour of kicking practice of both kinds outside team training. Again, surely this can and must be replicated by Australian players.
The Tahs would have beaten the Brumbies last weekend had their kicker converted at least one of the more straightforward goal kicks, which he missed.
I do wonder at the commitment of some elite Australian players as well as the instruction from their coaches when it comes to relatively basic skills, which can be improved with practice.