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.
Joined May 2015
Life long rugby man. Player, kids coach and supporter.
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.
Generally I am not a fan of conspiracy theories, particularly of the political genre.
As we move into the limbo state before the Rugby World Cup kicks off I thought Roar readers might take the opportunity to indulge in some reflections on why die-hard followers still love the game.
First, a disclosure: I was and remain a Robbie Deans fan. He suffered enormously from being characterised as an outsider, and worse, a Kiwi.
At a time when the elite level of rugby (and I include RA) is at an all time low ebb. Even rusted-on supporters such as myself are in despair of our national team and everyone and everything about it, it seemed timely to remind oneself of what this game means to real people.
Before reading this article, let me make something clear: I’m writing this piece before tonight’s Wallabies match against the Springboks so that I can’t be accused of being part of the pack.
Following another catastrophic weekend for Australian rugby, there was one lone shining light which I believe provides a powerful insight to the problems of Australian rugby.
I was moved to write this piece after reading Paul Cully’s article in the Sun Herald on Michael Cheika.
Given the somewhat depressing state of Australian rugby at the moment I looked for some sustenance in the form of a truly great rugby experience.
I’d been thinking of contributing a piece on the woeful drop-off in the skill level of all of Australia’s Super Rugby teams for a while.
What a delight it was to pick up Sky Sport New Zealand’s coverage of the Basin Reserve Test.
I was reflecting on Monday’s moving and dignified ceremony at Eden Park to farewell Jonah Lomu in the context of a number of recent sporting exchanges between our two countries.
At the risk of sounding like – well you know what – I am presently somewhere over Afghanistan in an aeroplane.
The Fox Sports call of Friday nights Rebels vs Blues game must surely be the nadir of what was already an embarrassing season for Australian commentators.
What a truly beautiful albeit sad story. What it does tell us, among many things, is that rugby has a great capacity for long and meaningful and powerful relationships.
These pages are sometimes filled with a little vitriol but for the editor to feel able to open up on a subject so raw and recent to a bunch of rugby nuts tells you a great deal about our rugby community.
Too much life to live to worry about footy: Goodbye Benny Bear
Very good piece thanks Geoff.
Sadly there are real parallels between rugby in Australia and, at least pre COVID-19 the Australian political landscape. One of the serious problems besetting rugby is the existence of multiple layers of rugby bureaucracy. We have the 2 supposed power houses of NSW and Qld whose on field contributions nowhere near match their potential – over decades. They bicker and squabble and, as demonstrated by some of the behaviour of the NSW chairman, run personal agendas.
The most successful province – the Brumbies, basically keep their heads down and get on with creating and perpetuating a highly successful and, for players, attractive culture and pathway.
The challenge for the incoming CEO is monumental. At least he or she will have what appears to be a smart chairman. As has been pointed out however McLennan suffers from his connection with Fox. Somehow he needs to demonstrate a level of independence and integrity.
Picone, as with other self appointed ‘players’ in this political minefield – ex captains are an example, has brutally exploited a vaccum, to the detriment of his clients and Australian rugby. Maybe had there been a new (permanent) CEO in place, exercising strong leadership, backed by a strong chair. This episode might have been averted.
The Wrap: Giteau’s Law must survive, but with a twist
Just as John Arlott and Richie Benaud are (in my opinion) the 2 finest cricket commentators of my time (dating myself) I have a very fond memory of the great Bill McLaren, he of the thick Borders accent.
He too managed that great skill of light and shade. He was one of those nowadays almost non existent examples of an impartial commentator. As you observe Spiro, one of the great skills is to say less rather than more. The current vogue of much meaningless comments ‘wooompa’ – what on earth is that about – adds nothing to my understanding of what is happening.
It is almost as if commentator are remunerated by either the volume of words they utter or the loudness of such utterances.
I am quite prepared to being characterised as an old f….. and I acknowledge that sport seems to have to market itself as ‘entertainment’ but the general lack of professionalism is very annoying.
How to watch a game of rugby: Part 2
As a rugby tragic …………. I have occasionally submitted short articles on topics such as the 1972 ANU Rugby Club world (and I do mean world) tour as an example of what grass roots rugby and touring as a rugby player can be like. Whether readers agreed or not the intention was to provide a light hearted story about a bunch of pretty ordinary rugby men.
I for one would welcome such anecdotes – not ‘how about the time old XYZ got p……….. and did whatever but rather real insights into the game.
Maybe some interviews with past players about memorable matches/experiences which may have been forgotten. I watched a replay of the 1998 test at the MCG v AB’s last night where Matt Burke scored something like 24 points! It would be good to hear from someone articulate such as him.
Just random thoughts
As sport goes into lockdown, what do you want to read on The Roar?
an insightful and useful piece. It is hardly surprising that the News Corp stable of journalists are at the front of the queue in trashing rugby in this country. There should be a disclosure of interest at the commencement of each article given the current state of play over media rights.
It is indeed galling and very frustrating that the fact of our Under 20’s winning the Junior RWC basically passed unnoticed and certainly largely ignore by main stream media.
You could adopt a similar view about the relative success – on a truly global platform of our men’s and women’s 7 a side. It is debatable whether, in the case of the U 20’s for example, RA should have made more of an effort to celebrate that success and secure some more media coverage. Maybe they did – but even The Roar didn’t really get too excited about it.
Sadly I don’t have many answers but shrinking the game to a domestic one is not the answer. One of the truly great appeals of rugby – 7’s and 15’s is that it is a genuinely world game.
As an aside – you do have to wonder though when RA appoints Paul McLean as acting chair. Whatever his qualities he is representative of another era. I would have preferred the RA Board to make more of a statement by appointing someone from a different demographic. I know they are restricted because they have to draw from the current board but it does send a poor message.
The Wrap: Lazy thinking reinforces rugby’s negative narrative
At the moment there is a very unfortunate convergence of issues confronting SR in Australia.
1. the post RWC exodus of (mostly) quality and experienced players (wouldn’t the Tahs love to have Kepu back and the Brumbies Arnold , as but 2 examples). The fact is though Australia is not alone – just look across the ditch.
2. The debacle of the re-build of the SFS is hurting the Tahs badly. Sydney sports fans are a fickle lot. Tell the rugby community firmly ensconced in the northern and eastern suburbs that they have to go to a) Newcastle, b) Wollongong, c) Brookvale, d) Parramatta – good luck. Taking it to the bush (Tamworth) actually makes more sense but is financially diabolical
3. One of the 2 major print media organisations trashing the code and RA in a blatant act of self interest and Fox sacking the only (aside from Greg Clark) credible and sensible commentator in Nick McArdle and keeping the ‘incompetent ‘good old boys’ in their comfortable chairs.
4. A ridiculously early start to the season which crosses over with cricket, et al.
Kiwi friends of mine are desperate for both the Australian SR teams and the Wallabies to be competitive. They are losing patience.
A controversial observation, but Raelene Castle seems to me to be doing a good job in amidst all of this. Her board is happily about to undergo significant change – not before time.
There is hope
The Wrap: The Sunwolves and Super Rugby’s shame file
I happened to be one one of the 7000 odd at the game.
There was a very clear lack of energy and commitment from the pack. Asidee from Michael Hooper it was hard to identify any real impetus, either in defence or attack from the Tah pack. The older ‘leaders’ such as Simmons and Dempsey went missing. The backs functioned moderately well although Beale’s kicking out of hand was woeful. Too deep almost every time and so no contested ball. The ability of NZ teams generally to counter attack from broken play is a given. If you kick in general play you MUST make it count.
I don’t perceive Rob Penney to be an old style coach who is likely to go on a rant but the lack of interest/commitment is very bad.
I too was screaming from the comfort of the stand for Simmons to take the penalty shot, as were most of the crowd around me. It was not as if, even at that stage, the Tah pack was setting the world alight. Poor decision making which cannot all have been Simmons call.
There is a long way to go for this squad and the senior players (Hooper excepted) really need to step up.
The woke Waratahs need some resilience to become winners
Just to add a little fuel to the fire ……….. I wonder what the reaction of the RWC heavies would have been if the cancelled matches were to be between 2 tier 1 countries – just wondering. No change of venue/date?
Is there a conspiracy against the minnows at the RWC?
Like many other Roarers I am not a Cheika fan. I totally agree with Stirling Mortlock as to Australia being one dimensional. I think was is also apparent is that there is a chronic lack of on field smarts in the Wallabies.
One of the great qualities of the AB’s is their ability to make changes to the style they are playing on the paddock. I am sure that, in part, this is because Hansen is not a precsriptive ‘my way or the highway’ coach like Cheika and actively encourages and empowers his players to adjust game plans on the run.
Hooper is a poor captain but I am sure Cheika’s over bearing persona;lity and style is the main reason Hooper is so poor, along with the fear of copping a spray from Cheika.
Wallabies win well despite Cheika's dumb game plan
At the risk of being pedantic, I think you will find that Jock Hobbs (refer piece on David Kirk) was a flanker not a half back. Only in NZ but the late Jock Hobbs sister is married to Robbie Deans.
Kirk has become a very successful businessman and now lives in Sydney
The Roar's 50 greatest players in Rugby World Cup history: 50-46
For the record the much maligned Robbie Deans coaching success puts him ahead of Eddie Jones, Ewen McKenzie, Cheika and Templeman. Bear in mind he ended up taking away and almost 3rd string Wallaby team on the Spring tour to the UK as a result of a massive injury count.
The Wrap: Devious New Zealand plot to destroy Australian rugby exposed
Nostalgic but nevertheless a great read. I was on a family holiday on the mid North Coast, the night of the QF. When Gordon Hamilton scored that try I punched the exposed brick wall in the lounge room and opened up several knuckles!
I confess to be of an ‘older’ generation but it seems to me that some past of the current malaise of Australian rugby has to do, ironically, with the influence of professional rugby. Despite some of the rhetoric it often seems to me that for some of our Wallaby team members a test match is just another game, another $12K match payment, and life just rolls on.
It is, like the Sheek, becoming very hard to feel inspired or proud of our national team. The boorish antics of the coach set a dreadful role mode.
"We're taking Bill back home!" How the Wallabies won the 1991 Rugby World Cup
As ever Nicholas a good read.
A couple of points.
1. I may be wring but little attention is paid to the contribution of Laurie Fisher to the Brumbies set up. By all accounts he is the intellect behind the coaching aspects of the Brumbies. Pocock for one is glowing in his praise.
2. While on coaches and coaching style, I return to a long running theme of mine, namely the measured, and calm approach of Messrs McKellar, Wessels, and Thorn. Contrast this with the hysterics and histrionics of our national coach
3. There is a real test of RA and their new selectors looming. As many have remarked will Cheika get his way and persist with the good old boys or follow form.
For my part I am very pessimistic about our prospects at RWC. I have advocated sacking Cheika for 12 months on the basis that we have nothing to lose. Clearly that will not happen. Nevertheless, be adventurous, innovative and bold (!!!!) and follow form
Take note, Michael Cheika: Canberra must be the Wallabies' power base in 2019
For mine he ought to be regarded as a Wallaby great. He has demonstrated extraordinary courage, great skill and great composure. He is, in my view, the outstanding flanker over the ball of his era, including McCaw et al. He has, on more occasions than I can recall, saved the Wallabies on defence in their red zone with a turn over.
There is good reason why the All Blacks in particular and New Zealand Super teams have attacked his neck in recent years.
Were it not for Cheika’s blind commitment to Hooper as both a No 7 and captain, Pocock would, in my view, have also ranked as one of the better captains of his generation. His maturity, calmness and deserved respect from opponents and referees has not been exploited by the Wallabies since Cheika took over.
I have no doubt Pocock’s more cerebral approach to life and rugby put him at odds with Cheika.
Finally, he is just a thoroughly decent and principled and thoughtful individual – characteristics in very, very short supply in professional sport of any kind these days.
Go well Poey
David Pocock leaves behind a legacy as big as his shoulders
A related aspect of this (as ever) insightful article is that of goal or place kicking.
I cannot fathom why, Australian goal kickers, across the board have a significantly poorer success rate than almost all of their counterparts – certainly in NZ.
Surely this is a matter of technique (first and foremost) and practice. Wilkinson was notorious for spending hours outside team training practising his goal kicking – and it showed. I am generlly not a Foley fan, he sits way too deep in the pocket, he gets deeper when under pressure and his kicking out of hand is of the ‘kick and hope’ variety and your tats bear that out. That said there is no serious alternative. Cooper blew it against the Tahs and showed how he can easily targeted he can be and that by a provincial team let alone a team like the AB’s. That being the case surely to goodness he can invest or be told to invest time in the ‘Aldred technique’ or whatever it takes to improve his kicking.
Why the Wallabies will be kicking themselves in 2019
As ever an insightful and well reasoned piece. Your contributions always make great reading. I was not aware of Carwyn James ‘torture’. I do recall him as a gifted coach with remarkable success with the Lions.
Last year Matt Burke, surely the best or among the best Wallaby FB’s of all time , wrote a piece on Folau. Now some will see this as reconstructing history in light of Folau’s current travails. Burke observed, much as Nicholas has, that while Folau is very talented, good under a high ball and a good broken field runner he nevertheless
is a very poor kicker
has poor positional play
rarely if ever gets involved in contact (read ruck and maul)
Contrast his performance with that of Ben Smith, who regularly turns up at first receiver, does all of the things Folau does not do and only suffers by not being as aerially good as Folau.
Let’s move on and maybe, just maybe, we might see a little more creativity in a poor performing WB backline.
Finally, Folau clearly lacks judgment on a number of levels, he is arrogant in not considering his team mates and coaches and seems (to me) completely indifferent to the outcome of his actions – which, it has to be said, he gave his word not to repeat.
Can rugby really embrace diversity?
Hear hear Spiro.
Like many rusted on Wallaby supporters I was, last year, in despair. Not merely because of woeful on field performances but because of Cheika’s stubborn and obstinate approach to selection.
I hope to God the long called for addition of selectors addresses the points raised by Spiro. We should not be too optimistic however. Cheika has proven incapable or unwilling or both to change course and direction. Indeed his one dimensional approach to coaching is one of his major shortcomings. At this point of the RWC year, and given Wales impressive win over England at the weekend, we have nothing to lose. Go for a new broom. Energetic, enthusiastic new blood without any sense of entitlement.
The Wallabies need to drop some of their Waratahs stalwarts
All sensible and constructive points. Which is why Cheika will not go with any of them.
I and many others I believe now despair at Cheika’s one dimensional approach to selection and playing style.
In addition to his stubborn reliance on his ‘key’ players his refusal to blood not only back up half backs (and I use the plural deliberately) but almost as critically his refusal/inability to develop back up 5/8’s defies belief. We are critically exposed at 5/8. Instead of bringing along some younger specialist 5/8’s he persists with playing generalists such as Beale and Hodge and Toomua. Surely to goodness under Larkham’s tutelage (!!!!) they can bring on some specialists. I know the cupboard is bare but all the more reason to give some back up 5/8’s exposure. I do wonder about Larkham, as a coach he seems to make a great ex player and not much else. Our backline generally lack basic skills (passing on the wrong side, passing under pressure, passing at all (Folau)).
The best thing that can happen to Australian rugby at the moment is quite frankly for the Wallabies to come back 0 from 3. Only then might sanity prevail over excuses and hype.
Three opportunities for the Wallabies to experiment. But will they be taken?
I agree with your analysis. What is of more concern and, for me, sums up the serious shortcomings of Michael Cheika and his coaching group is the discussion I very recently had with an ex Wallaby. This ex Wallaby knows and gets on with Cheika. This is relevant because it means Cheika was open and (presumably) honest in his conversation with this ex Wallaby. When asked how Cheika was going to deal with the poor on field performances in 2018 and prepare for RWC 2019, his response was ‘I don’t have a very skilled playing group so I am going to make sure we are the fittest team at the RWC.’
A truly and profoundly depressing statement. Our one dimensional national coach ‘s whole strategy to the current malaise of the Wallabies is to make them fitter. This is shocking on a number of levels.
1. Does he not think each of the more competitive teams (SA, Ireland, England, let alone AB’s) won’t be striving to be supremely fit.
2. Is his plan B so limited in scope that he ignores upskilling , selecting more skilled players .
3. Cheika has had the core of this team for 4 years. Why can’t Folau kick with one foot let alone his left foot. After all wasn’t ‘Mick the Kick’ hired, among other things to improve the kicking out of hand skills? Why can’t most of our backs pass as well on their ‘wrong side’ as their natural side? Why can’t our hookers throw to line outs accurately? Why does Ned Hanigan (sorry to single you out Ned) telegraph that he will not be unloading by burying his head and tucking the ball under his arm. Again, I thought Mick Byrne was supposed to bring the AB forwards sublime ball handling skills to the WB set up?.
Personally I don’t buy the proposition that our talent pool is so poor that our only strategy is to employ a better fitness regime. The dire lack of basic catch and pass skills, among others can be corrected, even at elite level. Send these professional players up and down the paddock 100’s of times if needs be until they learn to pass on their wrong side, to put the ball in front of the player,
and employ soft hands for pop passes?
I am heartily sick of hearing the post match mantra of ‘we did x better, we were all committed, we only needed a few passes to stick’ That is nonsense and it is treating the ever diminishing pool of hard core supporters (since that is all that is left supporting this team) like idiots.
I really am on the verge of giving up, particularly since RA itself has no Plan B and is clearly hostage to Cheika.
Michael Cheika needs coaching help, because plan A is not working for the Wallabies
I completely agree with Rah Rah. In a piece I subscribed on Saturday but posted on Sunday I sadly predicted not only the outcome of the match but also the likely drivel from Cheika and Hooper.
There is absolutely no doubt that Cheika is in siege mentality. He is not listening to anyone and seems to think by constantly blathering about how passionate he is and how committed his lads are with somehow compensate for the chronic under performance and break down in skills and execution this team is suffering from on his watch.
Cheika has lost the rugby public. Readers and contributors to The Roar are the rusted on supporters of rugby in this country. To read the columns and contributions here over most of this year is depressing. RA and Cheika have no-one to blame but themselves.
Progress starts by fixing things that have fallen off along the way
Nick, as ever insightful. To me one of the key points of difference between the Australian teams and the NZ teams lies in coaching. Your remarks about Luke Whitelock being ‘encouraged’ to improve his ball handling skills is telling. Equally telling is the fact that both Toby Smith and Angus T’aavao (sic) – neither of whom were regarded as having any meaningful ball handling skills during their respective Australian stints have significantly upgraded their handling skills since returning to NZ. How is it so? I suggest smart, thoughtful and consistent coaching – consistent in ensuring that across all of the franchises it is clearly understood that all forwards must have a certain base standard of ball handing (think soft hands etc) skills.. When was the last time Hanigan looked like passing.ers
Contrast this with one of Michael Cheika’s ‘favoured sons’ Ned Hanigan. It is a dead give away for defenders when Hanigan (at least lowers his body height) and tucks the ball under one arm and attempts the preferred Michael Cheika forward attacking mode of bashing it up!.
As I have observed before on this forum, the spine (8,9,10) of the Wallabies concerns me but the absence of ball playing forwards and a line breaking No.8 is of equal concern. Where is there evidence of our Australian coaches taking a Luke Whitelock equivalent aside to insist on up skilling of core skills.
Pieces of eight: Why New Zealand still rules the high seas of rugby
Having watched the 6 Nations matches thus far I am not sure I share the view that the Lions will get the jump on the AB’s.
There are a couple of observations, firstly the ball handling skills of the respective forward packs. The AB forwards from props to read at number 8 have developed their handling skills to a level which matches that of many backs. It is very rare to see AB forwards go one out. It is very rare to see any UK 6 nations forward pack adopt anything other than one out. Even allowing for New Zealand grounds being heavier than we in Australia are accustomed to I believe this is a major point of difference.
Secondly, it seems to me that, with few exceptions, UK 5/8’s lack the creativity of the likes of Beauden Barrett. The English 5/8 George Ford must be a candidate for the Lions role along with Johnny Sexton. Ford consistently props to pass and seldom takes on the line. Sexton has more to offer as a running 5/8 but given Ford’s prolific goal kicking it may be that Gatland will go with Ford. This represents another weakness in the potential Lions team.
Finally I do wonder how the Lions will deal with the intense scrutiny of the New Zealand public. It is one thing to have a World Cup on UK soil but quite different to be exposed to the very parochial NZ rugby supporters – just ask Quade Cooper!
All Blacks' slow starts make Lions favourites for the first Test
My 29 year old son has had some dealings with Granville High School.
They have no – yes zero rugby at the school. Not too many years ago their girls team won the Richard Shaw Shield (equivalent of Warartah Shield). AFL and soccer are the football games of choice.
The lack of any serious focus or interest in schools rugby outside the private schools is scandalous. NSW rugby points the finger at ARU and ARU (impliedly) sees itself as primarily responsible for elite rugby.
My son is attempting to kick start rugby among a mainly Arabic school community. It is early days but I will keep Roarers posted on the response from the rugby administration who is charged with promoting the game we all love and have invested dollars and passion in.
Rugby must balance two paths to growth in Australia
In the early stages of Cheika’s Wallaby coaching time I made the observation in this forum that I had concerns about his histrionic style. I subsequently acknowledged the great success of the Wallabies at the 2015 RWC, for which Cheika had deservedly been championed.
I do now however repeat some observations about truly great and successful coaches. In my time the most successful Wallaby coach has been Rod McQueen. In NRL the stand out is Wayne Bennett. Steve Hansen, love him or hate him, is a truly outstandingly successful coach. Lisa Alexander as coach of our national netball team has been equally successful.
They all share some basic common traits.
They (at least to the observer) are phlegmatic, they are low key, they are not given to overt outbursts of emotional behaviour. They are adept at managing the highs and lows of the professional athlete and they bring a high level of EQ to their role.
The ARU has so nakedly abdicated the management of our national team to Michael Cheika I have no doubt he will continue on as the Wallabies coach. He may destroy a new generation of players and in doing so their supporters.
ARU alert: Has Michael Cheika gone rogue?