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Alex Wood

Roar Guru

Joined August 2014

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Retired Prop, Boat-Race Anchor, Eastwood Fan, Bathurst Bulldog.

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Wonderful article David. It’s great to see a piece written with such respect, and genuine admiration.

Thank you for writing and sharing it.

Billy 'Blinks' Watson dies, aged 87

Thanks Brett, really solid read. Like you, despite sub-par results, I’m actually feeling pretty darn good about the Wallabies at the moment.

Yes, the losses are heartbreaking and selection roulette is frustrating at times, but then I look at Hodge, Koroibete, Rodda, Tui, Coleman and Haylett-Petty and feel we have a new generation of stars in the ranks. Add to that the form resurgence of Beale and Folau, the depth added by the routine selection of youth (Ulese, Robertson, Allalatoa) and the protection of a few old, if not as great anymore, warriors to strengthen the leadership (Simmons, Kuridrani, Moore, Genia) and I feel we’re looking better than decent in the lead up to 2019.

While the results aren’t coming, I honestly believe that both our XV and our extended squad are the best they have been in a VERY long time. Everyone wants to blame Michael Cheika, but the truth is he is possibly the only bright star outside of the player group in Australian rugby right now. The ARU is in disarray and broke, Super Rugby is a joke and plagued (in Australia) by very poor coaching indeed, Europe is poaching stars left and right and yet year by year, we build depth and introduce talent and in my opinion get better. Quite an accomplishment for the national coach and I for one am hopeful that the trajectory, if not the current position, is where it needs to be.

Wallabies leave me with song lines after Bloemfontein draw

Fantastic article Spiro. While I’m not sure I agree with replacing the NRC with a sort of ‘Champions League’ club competition, I assume the implicit subtext here is that, at least with rugby in the shape it’s in and without a major sponsor, the NRC is unsustainable.

I’m a huge supportive of the accepting and inclusive nature of rugby, particularly in the modern version; however, this should not come at the cost of the health of the game. Rugby is no good to anyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic background if it’s weak or, worse still, absent.

Our sport, our national team and our Super Rugby teams were doing just fine when we respected that a handful of heartland schools and clubs, who probably did piss a fair bit of ARU money up against the wall, were generating world class players at a rate that many of our competitors would envy. It’s not necessary to sacrifice the interests of those clubs to grow the game, it just takes some strategic effort – something which seems to be in very short supply at the ARU.

NRC sponsorship loss must convince the ARU to return to its grassroots

What a wonderful, wonderful article. It’s articles like this that started me reading the Roar, and I don’t think it’s unfair to say that it is of a quality that is at the very top rugby and sports journalism. Anywhere. Thank you Spiro.

Thuggish England get expunged from Test win record

Really, really good article Spikhaza. And while I didn’t agree with all of your conclusions, I agreed with the majority and I really enjoyed reading it. Thanks for taking the time to pull it together.

Broken Super Rugby must reform or die

Spiro, thank you as always for an entertaining and thought provoking read.

After our chat last year at the Roar party, I’m sure you know I have nothing but respect for your writing and contribution; however, as someone who has been interested and involved in weight-lifting and by association supplementation for most of my life I must admit I get a bit frustrated by the ‘dangers of creatine’ narrative.

100% acknowledge that your article references misuse and abuse, and under that caveat potential consequences are absolutely worth considering but the debate is a complex a nuanced one which deserves more detail than I can given in a response of this length. However, well beyond the question of whether or not creatine is safe, my concern is that this relatively benign organic acid gets so much air time when there are many other standard supplementation practices which (in my opinion) are far more worrying; ‘pre-workout’ supplements and using caffeine and other stimulants to enhance performance to name one.

With all that said, talk (in the comments) is cheap. I think the most respectful and hopefully interesting way to raise these questions is in an article of my own to give a counter-point, with any luck a few people will read it!

Thanks again, really enjoyable.

Daniel Vickerman's death casts a dark shadow over the rugby world

Awesome to have you back grapeseed, I always look out for your articles. Very enjoyable, thanks.

Aussie rugby in 2017: No known unknowns now left, right?

Paddy, what can I say? It has been an absolute pleasure. From the early emails when I started writing for the Roar, to a few week nights which left my head more than a little sore, you’ve been a class act from start to finish.

All the best mate, in whatever you decide to do next!

A long time in sport: Reflecting on the best of the last three years

Thanks Nick. Michael Cheika’s effort to revive the Australian scrum is one of main the factors of my overall support of him as the national coach. He has brought in talent at a frankly amazing pace and backed it up by having Ledesma come in as a specialist, and what a revelation that has been.

Whether or not he can turn this weakness into a strength remains to be seen; however, anyone who does not recognise a dramatic improvement from before he took over has a very short memory indeed. It’s not that long ago that Al Baxter was considered the best tighthead prop in the country!

Having played most of my rugby in the front-row, this is a spot where I’d like to think I know a thing or two. James Slipper has not been a world-class scrummager for number of years, if ever, and appears to have been struggling with injuries that further hamper his ability for some time. Sio is out best choice right now; however, inconsistency in broken play constantly raises questions over his selection – I feel this is where he has the most work to do. Sekope Kepu is a gem and suited perfectly to Australia’s style of play – I don’t think there is another #3 globally who can match his level of proficiency around the park while still being able to scrum with the very, very best. Kepu’s return from Europe was an imperative for any level of success in the short term and he should be treated as such.

Allalatoa is very promising indeed. His age suggests he will only get better with time so long as the balance between game time and player wellbeing is stuck. Robertson less so; however, I would really like to see him be allowed to settle into a position and really learn his craft.

My one major gripe with the Australian approach to the scrum is the willingness to play props, often young and inexperienced ones, on the wrong side of the scrum. I say ‘wrong’ side as shorthand for ‘the opposite side to where they have played most of their rugby’. At the very least this is poor tactically and at worse can be outright dangerous. In one game this year Slipper was thrown in at #3 and got simply embarrassed. Similarly Robertson and Big ‘Al have been used interchangeably as loose and tight head props which, to my mind, is not fair on developing players. Really interested on your thoughts on that last point Nick.

At any rate, that’s my 2c – thanks again for a great read.

What does the future hold for the Wallabies' scrum?

Another great article Nick, thanks! Really impressive to hear how Lancaster has approach re-building following a significant and unfortunately public failure at the Rugby World Cup. It’s a difficult thing, having fallen from the top to re-double your efforts and, in humility, seek advice from people are doing it and again seek to grow. Makes me suspect that if I met the guy, I would really like him.

Thanks, again.

Is the slumbering giant of the north finally waking up?

New Zealand are, once again, minting the next All Black captain several years ahead of when he’ll be required and giving him the current captain as a mentor. Meanwhile in Australia our current captain is of questionable ability (in that area), about to retire and there is no clear successor in sight. Fundamentally, this is the difference between Australian and New Zealand rugby – succession planning.

Crusaders name new skipper to replace Kieran Read

Really good piece Geoff, amongst your best for sure. Thoroughly enjoyed the read and a peak at the executive function of NSW rugby. Thank you.

The blueprint making the NSW Waratahs better and stronger

Of course, player wellbeing is very, very important; however, this whole “it is our number one priority” line is fast turning into a grab for the moral high-ground among sporting administrators. It is a high-priority, without doubt, but until a more pragmatic approach is taken to the realities of contact sport we’ll continue to decisions made in the name of safety with do not reflect an actual improvement.

Rugby is inherently dangerous. As is cricket. As is boxing, and gymnastics, and horse racing which is, in fact, by far the worst of the lot. And in that players will get hurt, every single person who steps on a field is aware of the risks and if they are not then they should be made aware but at some point we have to draw a line at an acceptable level of risk rather than continuously adding restrictions which detract from the spectacle. To be honest, I think we’re at that point and looking at the approach to dangerous tackles today and (much more concerning) the ludicrous amendments to the breakdown trialled in the ITM cup (see Nick Bishop’s excellent article on the topic) I think the single biggest threat to rugby is the over administration of the rules in the name of ‘safety’.

How long before scrums are de-powered completely? Or lifting in the lineout is banner? And at what point do players get to choose to take an acceptable level of risk with their own wellbeing? Many questions and, at least at an administration level, very few answers.

World Rugby: New rules to protect rugby players' heads

Wonderful article Sheek, thanks.

Chatting with some legends at The Roar's Christmas drinks

Sorry to have missed you Sheek, we’ll have to make time for a few beers at the next one!

The Wrap: Chewing the fat with Spiro, the hipsters and the seal clubber

I’m just going to go ahead and assume I qualify as part of the ‘hipster’ set, though I must admit after a rather long lunch my recollection of the later phases of the evening is less than exemplary. Either way it was a pleasure to meet you Geoff, always enjoy your pieces and keen to hear more about your latest insights into NSW Rugby!

The Wrap: Chewing the fat with Spiro, the hipsters and the seal clubber

Here here! I’ve not always agreed with Craig Joubert’s decisions (nor any referee’s) and the controversies described in this article are each true to greater or lesser degrees, but he was a fantastic servant of the game and someone who I honest believe dedicated themselves to performing the most thankless of tasks with the entirety of his ability.

Joubert is one of the few who are responsible for a dramatic improvement in the quality of test refereeing over the past decade or so, and we fans should all be grateful for that.

Craig Joubert retiring from Test rugby

Kepu and Mitchell appear to have come into the season out of shape, but where I think it’s most telling is in the lack of development in players’ physiques year to year. Best example is in positions 4 through 8; Skelton hasn’t developed physically in years, nor has Simmons nor has Carter. Dean Mumm should have filled out by now too and Coleman and Arnold just don’t have the physical stature of, say, Retallick or Etzebeth.

At their core, rugby players are (amongst other things) elite strength athletes and that just doesn’t happen over weeks and months, it happens over years and years.

I believe (though I can’t reference it) that Cheika said of players recently after Super Rugby this year that they came into Canp Wallaby ‘out of shape’. If that’s true, for athletes at that level, nothing he could have done in the International window would have corrected that.

Is this really the Australian way?

Thank you Nick, for another excellent article. In combat sports there’s the concept of ‘efficiency of movement’ and as well as the tactical dynamics you’ve described I think it must be considered when we talk about the (at times mindless) pursuit of the ‘Australian Way’.

Kicking is an efficient way to move the ball up field. What might take 10 or 12 phases with ball in hand can be achieved with a flick of a talented kicker’s boot and the ability to effect a turnover when in the opposition’s half. Endless lateral movement and running the ball mindlessly is exhausting for players, particularly the big boys up front and it a thorn in my hand that Cheika’s way doesn’t seem to acknowledge this.

Of course, one could argue that defending is more tiring to players than attacking as it the common assumption in coaching; however, I think there are thee reasons this does not apply to the Wallabies:

(1) Australia’s counter attack relies (possibly incorrectly) on huge amounts of lateral movement. Players are running many meters across-field both with ball in hand and to make it to rucks on the wings which is exhausting.
(2) Australia’s bench depth is weak, and players usually join later than the bench of the opposition which further exaggerates the effects of exhaustion.
(3) And this is a BIG one. I’ve held the belief for a long time that, Australia does not have a world-class strength and conditioning program at either the Super Rugby or International level.

Developing elite strength, power and fitness takes years and from what I can see every international season Australia starts off behind the competition on this front… It is unacceptable in any variation of the game, but particularly if we’re going to rely on running our opponents into submission. Just my 2c.

Is this really the Australian way?

“Pick a bench that you want to use”.. Ken speaks the truth.

Five talking points from England vs Wallabies Spring Tour Test

Thanks Nick, really enjoyable read and a top-notch summary of the areas that made the difference and earned Ireland a well-deserved victory over Australia on the weekend. I can’t express enough how much I agree with your comment on the relative trajectories of the two sides, I think Cheika’s long term is looking promising and I just really hope the media and the executive at the ARU don’t execute him so soon that we never get to see it come to fruition!

On a side note, if rugby was to move to a multiple referee system (in the style of the NFL, as suggested by comments above) I would be very disappointed.

Rightly or wrongly, the influence of the referee and style/s of refereeing are part of the fabric of our game. Nigel Owens, Roman Poite, Wayne Barnes, Jaco Pieper and Craig Joubert are all stars of our game in their own right, bringing their own interpretations and style to the match and that is something that makes rugby unique. To see them replaced with a faceless officiating team (beyond the three man team that exists today) focused on getting the interpretation perfect is besides the point, there is an inherent responsibility that sits with the referee to let the game ‘flow’ which essentially means ignoring non-material infractions and setting the line (described so eloquently in your article) at the point best for the match being played.

With the advent of professionalism, things like this that add character to our game are increasingly important and while we all like to whinge when a close game goes against our side we secretly all know that 95% of the time the best side wins, particularly if the skill gap is big enough – the All Blacks prove that every time they take the park. It’s important that we have a soul judge of play, and having more than one soul judge is just…. well, pointless.

Just my 2c, perhaps I’m just a sentimental idiot but I would hate to see that aspect of our great game be cast aside.

Breaking down at the breakdown: Wallaby woes in contact against Ireland

Don’t think it was your column Geoff, but for the record I was using amateur as a generic term to describe any Roar writer who doesn’t have paid-Expert status (myself included), certainly wasn’t intended as an insult to the author!

The grand slam: Don’t dream, it’s over

Technical analysis, biography and pure opinion equally valid and entertaining forms of journalism. If you don’t like someone’s style, don’t read it; you’re not the only reader on the Roar and there are many thousands who have preferences different to yours.

If you think that the depth of player and coaches personalities doesn’t add colour and intrigue to the contest for many you’re out of your mind. Why don’t you ask the UFC how their marketing was going before the struck gold with TUF? And realise that, in fact, getting fans to invest in the inter-personal narratives is the only things that matters to the casual fan.

The Cheika and Jones battle will be better than the game

Agree 100% Chooka, what a game! No real losers there and definitely not us fans.

On a side note I read an interesting amateur article on the Roar theorising that Cheika’s post-match comments are not-unintentional and the coach is looking to pull focus away from his side an towards himself so the players can just get on with the rugby. Is it true? We’ll almost certainly never know, but I can’t help but think there’s more than a hothead going off like a cannon to what we see with Cheiks.

The grand slam: Don’t dream, it’s over

It’s a fair broken record to spin, one that Nick Bishop (who I rekon is the best technical rugby writer going around) has brought a lot of attention to on this site and hopefully in the broader rugby community. Truth is even Cheika has relented on his obsession with running rugby at all costs and realised the importance of tactical kicking… structures and systems, what I see from the Wallabies is structure and systems and that’s what make me happy.

You can’t build an empire on a foundation of clever with a framework of talent, structure and systems are key to consistency.

The grand slam: Don’t dream, it’s over

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