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The Roar

Sinclair Whitbourne

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Joined May 2017

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Thanks for the article I enjoyed it, but you have lost me with the characterisation of Foster. Make no mistake, he wouldn’t be my first choice for All Black head coach and he wasn’t in 2019. However, you commit some pretty serious errors, in my view, in your characterisation of Foster. First, you provide no criteria for assessing what makes a coach in your top 20 NZ coaches and provide no evidence to support your assertions. That makes it a discussion devoid of any substance. Second, you create a straw man in characterising Foster and that is a lazy approach. Third, you don’t do anything to look at what makes a successful head coach at All Black level.

A problem with characterising Foster as not even in the top 2o NZ coaches is that the All Black backline ran pretty well, I thought, in 2012 -2019 when he was the assistant coach with responsibility for the backs; or is that going to be airbrushed out now? Why would people like Graeme Henry and Steve Hanson risk tarnishing their reputations by recommending a bloke in 2019 that was so hopeless and why would Hanson have stuck with him over those years? Is the reason that present players have spoken out in support of him just loyalty? How does that explain past players who have done the same and who weren’t from the Chiefs franchise or Waikato? You say it is loyalty being repaid but Julian Savea was basically let go and he has come out in support of Foster, so might it not be that the guy actually isn’t a total flop?

You don’t really look at what makes a good coach, or a successful coach, or a good provincial head coach v a good international level one, or a good assistant coach v a good head coach is complex. You name Gatland as a better coach, but his record in Super Rugby is a 28% win ratio v Foster at a touch over 50% https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiefs_(rugby_union). Tony Brown in his second coming at the franchise based in Otago was 37.5% and Jamie Joseph is 53% https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highlanders_(rugby_union). Now I can make good arguments about other things in favour of Gatland et al, like JJ and Brown having the 2015 Super trophy v a single losing final for Foster in 2009, or Gatland being a successful Lions coach in 2013 and 2017 but what are your criteria? You never say.

Is taking a relatively weak playing group to a final of Super Rugby a better achievement than taking a very strong group to a winning final?

Do we consider Foster’s s 100% winning seasons with the NZ U23’s as head coach? He has a better record there than Razor at 93%, but I could defend Razor’s record by pointing out that his side only lost 1 game. Yet if you wanted to pick holes, Razor took a winning side in 2015 and then missed out on the finals of the following U20 World Cup https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2016_World_Rugby_Under_20_Championship; yet that was off 1 loss and a 1 point win over Wales seeing his side miss out on points for and against – had they scored a few more v Wales they may well have gone on to win the comp. Chris Boyd who has a better Super Rugby record (76% win rate) than Foster has an inferior record with the junior All Blacks than Foster. So is he a worse coach than Foster? Or was Foster just lucky?

Grame Henry had a very average record at times in his career – have a look at his last season with Wales and his losing leadership of the 2001 Lions. The 2007 RWC wasn’t exactly a triumph either. How was the side travelling in 2009 after losing two to the Boks? Yet in 2009 he was dealing with a very fine SA side. Does that not count?

if Smith is in your top 10, what is the criteria? Wayne Smith is an outstanding rugby brain and a gifted coach, but if you look at his All Black head coach record it was 2 seasons, 50% in the Tri Nations, clean swept by Oz in 2001, including their first win at the House of Pain and so on. Yet the same person had two Super 12 trophies as a head coach.

You also characterise Foster as ‘a nice guy’ – if you know anything about getting to the top in any field, the first thing is that you do it by being good at putting the knife in. Some people just smile whilst they do it. I doubt very much that he is a nice guy. He is a professional driven to succeed. Ask his two sacked assistant coaches if Foster is an ethical and nice guy for staying in his job whilst they lost theirs – they were his picks, remember.

The personality assessment is also very thin on substance. In my profession, law, winners come in all forms, from pit bull types to softly spoken and apparently gentle (nice) types. When I took a break and was teaching I saw the same thing.

My take is that like Wayne Smith, Foster has taken over at a time of transition where NZ are relatively weak in several key playing positions and where key rivals are unusually strong. Like Wayne Smith, I suspect that his strengths may be at the assistant coach level, but both had success as head coaches. If they came into their head coach roles in a different context, maybe it would be a different story. Ask Nic Bishop what he thinks about his mate Stu Lancaster – a pretty disastrous reign as England head coach, but in my view a very astute coach. His time wasn’t helped by the whole Sam Burgess saga, a situation over which he had little control, as I understand it.

Like you, I am frustrated by a lot of things at present – selections, tactics being two, but you don’t actually have to make a straw man out of Foster to make a case for change. He can actually be a highly competent coach but not be the right man at the right time. He can be a legitimate coach with a legitimate take on how to try to navigate NZ through a difficult period even where you (and I) might disagree. It doesn’t have to be a binary argument – Foster = bad, Razor =God.

Ian Foster is an ethical, likeable guy but his indecision casts a shadow on the darkness

Selections are often as much about the style the coach wants to play (and some politics), as they are about ‘quality’. The style Rennie wants to play is not one that plays to the strengths of either Nic White or Lolesio. The coach is entitled to have the players who can best play the way he wants. I don’t think JOC is a lot closer to Rennie’s style but he is closer. What is disappointing to me about this regime to date is that they have had a very limited willingness to go with younger players, even though some of them probably come much closer to being able to deliver the coach’s style.

I have said since 2020 that I am not convinced that the DR way is best suited to the Laws as presently being interpreted, or to the capacities of Australian players. However, I would just love a bit more boldness in selection so that he had the best chance to succeed.

JOC is a year younger than QC. They are both tremendous players but this is not a good game for players in their mid 30’s. They are likely to miss as much rugby as they play, at best. Selecting them just builds in more instability and it also stifles development. The way some other players (Lolesio and Wilson spring to mind) have been treated does not strike me as best selectorial practice. In and then out, being selected against NZ then not for other games, being selected for England and then not – it is reminiscent of the brilliant Australian selections around captaincy in cricket in the 1979-1984 period.

I hope JOC has a game that brings the air freshener back after he stunk up the room, but would it not be better to be having a look at someone like Donaldson or Edmed, who offer the adventure of youth and play a style closer to the DR one? For them, a year of experience at this level would be very beneficial – for QC and JOC it is another load of miles on a badly worn engine.

If the OZ side played the style I think closest to their capacities, I would back White and Lolesio. Lolesio is a much better player than he is given credit for (look at his passing to either side, watch his distribution choices at the Brumbies), he runs when he should and he is a very solid defensive player. He has a very calm temperament and he tends to adapt well in game in the Brumbies. That might be because it is a step down but it might be because they play a style to which he is suited, unlike Oz.

At any rate here’s hoping for an entertaining game, although the ref for this one doesn’t inspire much hope of a big change from Adamson wondering about looking for a chance to blow a penalty, whether it is needed or not. Good refs for a game where you don’t spend too much time holding the ball, especially in range of your goal.

WALLABIES TEAM: JOC gets redemption shot after 'stinker', Foketi's first start, prop to debut

Not surprising to see training concussions if you have played rugby. Not hard to pick up a concussion during a contact session at all. Not desirable, quite frustrating but not that surprising.

Re some posts by others – there may be an issue around strength and conditioning re the injury toll but also keep in mind that the bodies are bigger, faster and the collisions accordingly more dangerous every season. England had a lot of injured players coming into their tour, NZ have had issues. It is basically a part of the game now.

Wallabies casualty ward: Fainga'a concussion means Rennie is missing a staggering 17 players

Pretty much sums up my view, as well. I think we can disagree with a coaching decision etc. or whether a player is doing the job well enough without putting the boot in. There is a place for strong but respectful disagreement/commentary. I also saw an earlier comment of yours and thread off it re the impact of press and fan expectations, abuse etc. and agree with your general point, noting several former international players have said that whilst they weren’t going to talk about it at the time, the barbs did wound, not just sting.

I understand the frustration and the passion but at the end of the day, for fans/supporters this is actually just a game; I absolutely love it and can’t easily imagine a life without rugby but even so, most of my time is spent doing other things. We can well do with keeping some perspective.

NZ rugby has enough talent to turn this around

That is exactly where Adamson should spend his time. Just please do not let him near an actual game!

WILL GENIA: How Wallabies should react to Quade shocker, potential 'superstar' and 'incredible' backrower excel

I am basically in agreement with you but not on the characterisation of Foster. He isn’t my preferred choice and he wasn’t but he is a good man, he was a big part of the 2012-16 good years when he was a selector and backs coach and whilst I don’t agree with a lot of the selections etc. I don’t think that makes him a mug, or unworthy etc. I mostly feel a lot of pain for him, to be honest and those around him (not least the guys who took the fall recently) and a degree of frustration, because I am not sure the diagnosis I think he and Hanson and others arrived at is right. I feel similarly about Rennie, who I think is a very fine coach and a really fine human but I think he is not working with Oz. I am not sure how much say he actually has in selections but I think there is a real disjunct between his vision of the game and the key decision makers being selected. I don’t think his vision is really well suited to the talent on offer, nor is it a good % play given current ref interps but I get no pleasure out of things not having gone well. I guess I am basically a bit of a softy.

The Wrap: Two different ways to skin a cat as Wallabies and Springboks draw first blood

There was some great rugby in between a virtuoso whistle performance; Adamson may also be the most recondite referee going about. I think a star of the show like him should play solo and not be distracted by having 30 unruly musicians on the stage with him. I was waiting for him to start referring to the maul as a ‘loose scrum’ and the 7 as a wing forward.

It was lovely to see QC hold that last pass until the perfect moment. I think I would have to go back to Ella for a player who combined the skills and instincts with more discipline than he was ever credited for. However, I don’t think it is a positive move to have what is likely to be a 35 year old player recovering from one of the worst leg injuries you can have at the RWC. Younger players have struggled with this injury – Justin Marshall was never the same after his and he was younger.

I am a huge fan of Lolesio, in no small part because I think his temperament is so good for the position. However, the way DR wants to play is not a good fit for Lolesio. The coach is entitled to set the direction and he should be given playmakers who are closer to his style. Selection hasn’t been a happy area in DR’s reign, which may well not be fully within his control. DR plays a fairly bold style and the selections need to match. I don’t think the risk/reward is likely to work for DR, but he is entitled to be given what he needs.

For DR he probably needs non-Brumbies at 9 and 10, because their (very successful) style could not be much more different to the DR approach. Now that isn’t my view as to how the side should play under the current refereeing interpretations but he’s the coach. His side probably needs to look to NSW or QLD in the 9 and 10 positions to play his preferred style. QC was pretty close to Aaron Cruden in style. Who is the Oz player closest to Kerr-Barlow? Jake Gordon is possibly that player, although we don’t really have physically abrasive 9’s in Oz and probably haven’t since Farr-Jones. Edmed is probably the 10 who is closest to the DR approach now that QC is out. Be bold, make the selection calls and I agree with Genia – stick with them to give them time to develop. Even though this is not how I think Oz are most likely to succeed, we have our man and we need to support him.

WILL GENIA: How Wallabies should react to Quade shocker, potential 'superstar' and 'incredible' backrower excel

Agree – I think we need to encourage the ref to communicate to the players before whistling up a penalty, which means the players have to be responsive. It’s a tough game to ref but if the ref is communicating and being as consistent as possible the players can adapt.

The Wrap: Two different ways to skin a cat as Wallabies and Springboks draw first blood

Yes but he was in the other game and he was blowing penalties for everything in a performance that should get him into on of the top ref positions at the next RWC. The ratio of carrier no immediate release to tackler no clear release was also still pretty well in favour of the defending side.

The Wrap: Two different ways to skin a cat as Wallabies and Springboks draw first blood

There was one in the H2 where the Bok 7 tackler had his arms all over the ball whilst Marx scratched about the ground in front of the ball as NZ were hard on attack and the scoreline hadn’t blown out. How does the carrier release when the ball is being held by the tackler on the ground?

It isn’t a case of NZ wuz robbed; this has been an issue for several seasons and planning should accommodate the obvious interpretation issues. One can also look at the lack of accuracy in NZ clean out (something that I felt really stood out in the one view I have had of the game) and too often losing the first, or subsequent collision – i.e. the carrier not making ground, or making some but the support not cleaning out and/or being bumped off.

I didn’t think the refereeing early was very sympathetic to NZ, though it evened up as the game went on. But the refereeing issues were nothing new and by now I expect a well coached side to have worked out how to better deal with the known issues. It’s a bit like watching Oz sides at the present in terms of struggling to adapt to law interp changes. Long sigh of frustratrion.

The Wrap: Two different ways to skin a cat as Wallabies and Springboks draw first blood

Enjoyed the article, thanks.

Are the players really there to play a hard grafting game against the sides like SA, France, England and Ireland but the selections, playing structures and game plan are not using them, or has the coaching group since about 2017 recognised and responded to a reality – that in key positions the ability to play grinding rugby isn’t really there and the point of difference still lies in moving the ball away from contact and using superior athleticism, heads up decision making and skills to break opponents open?

Something that I think is hard to argue with is that skill levels are not what they were and the loss of Wayne Smith from 2017 seems to have had a big impact. However, something also seems not be working at the next levels down as well.

The other thing that I find noticeable is that the style that is being attempted is one that has a very high risk profile in the present refereeing environment, where tackler release is sporadically policed (at best), whilst an eagle eye is applied to carrier immediate release.

On the failings many are claiming re Taylor, Cane etc. it might be worth looking at what is happening with the players either side of them. For example, my take is that Taylor’s performance was actually impacted by the loss of a lineout option after test 1 v Ireland (when the lineout stumbles everyone blames the hooker, but it is often more complex – the lifters, blockers, jumpers and caller are too often absolved of any responsibility) and in defence, a high proportion of Ireland’s point scoring raids were initiated by busts aimed at the seam where All Black props were slow to adjust positionally. This was forward on forward, not speedy back in space on prop. Taylor was having to do a lot of work to cover spaces where his props should have been.

I agree that the cupboard is far from bare, but this is a period of adjustment that has a lot of similarities to my eye with 1992-1994, 1998-2002. There’s a search for players and systems. Let’s hope that Robertson doesn’t turn out to be as difficult as Mitchell and Deans proved to be – success but also impossibility of management.

NZ rugby has enough talent to turn this around

I haven’t had the time to re-watch the game but I’d like to look at the structure being used for the forwards and whether it is the best use of the types of player on hand. Aside from the fact they seem to be standing out of rucks a lot, I wonder if the 1-3-3-1 is being used too rigidly and with the wrong players in each grouping.

I also think Frizell, who is a fine player, kind of emblematic of the present situation. He does some fantastic things (including his line and speed to be on hand for the try off Clarke), but also gave away a silly penalty and muffed a so-so pass at the end to concede a try. Can a different coach get on top of this (because Frizell was hardly alone in doing a Paul Kelly – ‘All The Dumb Things’)?

I have defended Foster from claims he was not a real option, or qualified etc. whilst maintaining he wouldn’t have been my choice. It seems it isn’t Manichean enough for some readers.

I don’t see how Foster can continue – this is very reminiscent of Hart in 1998 (but without Hart’s success in 1996 and 97 as head coach). I don’t see how Robertson could do worse and I suspect he might be able to at least reduce some of the tendency to make silly errors and lose focus. I also doubt he would select the same back row or use the same kicking game or have forwards stand out of the ruck as much.

However, it should also be remembered that Robertson took over a very good Canterbury/Crusaders side and then did exceptional things with it. Is the national group of similar quality? Of all Robertson’s work, I think this year was perhaps the best, because it was comparatively one of the weakest Crusaders sides I can recall and that might be a pointer to what he might be able to achieve with a national side in transition and some real lack of ready-made excellence in depth in key forward positions.

The Wrap: Two different ways to skin a cat as Wallabies and Springboks draw first blood

Agree. Adamson is a star with 46 session men in his big band but he must be the centre of attention. I have a lot of patience for the very difficult job that refs have but some, like Adamson, make it a hard game to watch.

If I was coaching a side and knew I had him, I would definitely play a low possession game, a lot of short contestable kicks in their 1/2 and a lot of long kicks for touch in my half.

Something that continues to be notable is that whilst carrier immediate release is being policed with zeal, tackler release is not. This was the case in both games. It makes building rucks possible, but very high risk. Much safer to play like SA, France, England. Before people start with Ireland as the opposite I note they tend to kick out of their half, then build rucks in the opponent 1/2. They also tend to play pretty close to the ruck. And they and their provinces still lose to France and French sides. I would just love to see a more balanced approach that allows the carrier a moment to release and requires the tackler to keep hands etc. off the ball once the carrier is on the ground. There are lots of ways to play rugby but at present the refereeing interps really mean there is only one that has the % in its favour.

The Wrap: Two different ways to skin a cat as Wallabies and Springboks draw first blood

Good on him for having the courage to own up to an issue and put the team and his own welfare first. Wishing him well and a speedy recovery. Fans might do well to consider the demands of this sport; the combination of mental and physical wear and tear are huge. Wishing his replacement well – big shoes to fill (and I say that as someone who thinks Hooper is a fine rugby player but also not without drawbacks). A decade of test rugby at 7 is a phenomenal effort in this day and whatever one thinks of his work, his wholehearted commitment can’t be doubted.

Wallabies blow: Hooper OUT of Argentina series amid 'mindset' battle, Rennie says skipper 'clearly been struggling'

The majority of the decision makers/playmakers are not from possession based backgrounds – they are Brumbies (and aren’t the largest proportion of the team Brumbies?). Most of the play runs off Nic White, which works well at the low possession Brumbies and rather less well at the high possession style national side. When QC isn’t available (and at his age he is likely to miss a lot of games), the 10 is also from a low possession Brumbies. The full back has often also been from a low possession Brumbies. It is a major clash of styles. It isn’t about who is a ‘good’ player, it is about who can most efficiently execute a given style. Part of the genius of QC was that he could basically do it all, except play as a highly physical, League style 2nd playmaker a la JOC.

As for ‘all fit’, Kerevi has a history of significant injuries. He’s a wonderful player and one of the few in this country who has steadily improved in his deficit areas over his career – he was a terrible defender and has improved enormously there; he has developed a much better set of short distribution skills as well. In the game as it is today, having all fit will happen rarely.

I don’t agree that Oz can’t develop a better set piece. They also don’t have to be exactly like one side or another. At any rate, high possession actually requires you to have at least one area of dominant set piece, or else you haven’t got the supply to achieve possession, let alone high possession. Ireland are a high possession model and they have a pretty decent scrum and lineout. When Oz played high possession well they had a serviceable scrum and a dominant lineout.

Set piece capacity can largely be trained by skilled coaching. Compare Ireland’s player numbers and ours and their set piece (even allowing for some imports) didn’t just come as the end product of the lovely Irish weather and lots of vitamin B.

From the outset there has been a mismatch between selections and how the coach seems to want to play. I am all for giving the coach his way – although I don’t think his way will work, once he’s been chosen he should be given what he needs. He should be selecting decision makers who fit the style he wants – that would probably mean picking a set of halves from other than the Brumbies and, possibly same at 15. It wouldn’t be popular, but so be it.

Tight five: What I want this TRC for the Wallabies

The Cheika thing is really built around an aversion to ‘crap’ kicking – kicks that lack a strong chase and simply hand over possession, often those mindless hoofs down the middle of the field that gift space to the opposition to launch counter attack. As such, removing this helps short term results, but it doesn’t take long before oppositions work it out (i.e. Otago/Highlanders in 2015 and test sides from 2016 on). Argentina have a very fine pack of forwards who can also help secure/maintain a high possession game, but watching them v Scotland (a very enjoyable series) I think they will struggle against the best sides (which Oz are not), when their source of possession is more effectively contested. Immediate release really makes high possession styles high risk. It works for Ireland and Irish sides (mostly) but it is noticeable that the low possession style France and French sides have had the number over the Irish. Cheika is a very good 2 season, transformation coach. His strengths are motivation but that is a short shelf life product.

Oz v Arg are evenly matched. Should be a cracker.

And I am with Peter K on Rennie. A fine coach and he is confronting a pretty so-so talent pool, but the style he seems to want to play isn’t matched by player skills/instincts and it still looks very Chiefs 2012-13 but the law interps have moved on. None of this means sack the coach – for a start there isn’t an obvious alternative and it may well not change much. I would still love to see Jake White given the job, but in time perhaps locals will emerge from amongst the group of Oz coaches, including the outgoing Brumbies one, the NSW and WA ones and don’t discount Larkham (I shudder when I think of his Brumbies sides), who may have progressed/evolved in Ireland and who may have a lot of political backing.

WILL GENIA: Wallabies should have beaten England, and can win TRC, but Dave Rennie must start getting better results

There are still a lot of points in this team (in the way one wants them to be), but it’s not the side I would select in a number of key roles. However, the thin level of cover in many important positions is also an issue. I will be interested to watch the players to try to gauge what the feeling is like because it didn’t look great in that third game v Ireland. Here’s hoping for an enjoyable contest.

All Blacks selection: Are these the 23 players who will save Ian Foster’s bacon?

He had a memorable contest with Chris Roche for the openside role; good as the latter was, they got it right with P. Hard to think of a big game where he didn’t deliver, even when others had an off day. Thanks for the article.

'Without peer': What makes Simon Poidevin one of my favourite Wallabies

Agree but hardly compares with the critical decision not to send Toutai Kefu off for treating the irritating Irish 6 head as a punching bag (from memory whilst said nuisance was being held by another famous Wallaby), or the outstandingly bad ref call v Scotland in 2015. By comparison I thought in 2011 they got the rub v SA (the issue I recall was over the legality of Pocock’s work) but really didn’t get it v Ireland.

One thing that is noticeable in knock out tournaments is how some teams seem to lead a charmed life with the officials in any given tournament. Without it you need to be a really, really good side.

Love or loathe him, Hooper’s legacy will be forged in France

Thanks for the article.

You are probably right but rugby is the ultimate team sport and his record really reflects the travails of the team in which he plays. Sometimes good, occasionally very good, often very flawed.

He reminds me of early 1980’s openside Roach who staged a losing battle against Poidevin for selection. Roach was a fine player but the general judgement (and I think it was correct) was that in the contest with Poidevin at test level he brought more speed but less impact. Since Pocock retired it has been a bit like the Roach v Poidevin situation but without a Poidevin.

His strengths have always been a huge work rate, good linking with the backs, surprisingly hard hitting in the tackle and leading by example. He is a test quality openside. His weaknesses have been less physical presence over the ball than some (but note he can still be very effective, especially with the present focus on immediate release) and there is an argument that he is a bit like a high rev motor with low torque.

How the team goes in France will be dependant on the coach having a miracle run with a 35/36 year old flyhalf and an injury prone 12 who is one of the few world class players in the side. It will also depend on the coach finding some breakthrough that has so far eluded him and, likely, for a good run with the refs as happened in 1999 and 2015 (everyone needs that to some degree) and probably a slight change in the interpretation of immediate release. At the moment the side is firmly in the second echelon and getting beyond the 1/4 finals would be a very fine result.

Love or loathe him, Hooper’s legacy will be forged in France

Thanks for the article. It does look like the coach has had trouble finding the players he really wants or thinks can play the type of game he wants. Injuries and COVID haven’t helped. He is a very good coach but I am not convinced he has been able to accept the need to adapt his preferred style to the capabilities of the local scene and I am wondering if he will do that before the end of the present RWC cycle. Sometimes you have to cut your cloth to suit. I suspect we will continue to see lots of turnover in the key positions, including, ultimately, coach. He has brought a return of some much-needed dignitas and gravitas to the role, but results have not been good and it looks like one of those situations where everyone has given it a good go but it has not worked. Such is life.

Tight five: What I want this TRC for the Wallabies

There is plenty of talent in League, some have rugby background but League is essentially a game for 13 backs, whereas rugby is won in the forwards. In rugby forwards win the supply (scrum/lineout, ruck and maul), they also maintain the link between phases (ruck and maul) so that backs have ball to use. We have a useful pack but are short of world class players in many positions there and it is in creating a truly dominant area of set piece (at least one of scrum and lineout – the great Oz sides of the past usually had a decent scrum and a world class lineout) and a more punishing presence at ruck and maul that Australia needs to focus. Which League players would do that?

The other big issue for the national side is the style of game not matching the skills and instincts of most of the key playmakers and that isn’t something that League players address either.

For the provincial sides, WA and Melb still need stronger scrums, both arguably need a more consistent 10; QLD need to accept that kicking is actually very important and that a malfunctioning lineout is a problem and NSW are probably tracking quite well but could also use a bit more beef at scrum and in the locks, whilst the Brumbies are the one side who could possibly use a dynamic attacking threat in their backs, because at present they could use a little more attacking dynamism because they score steadily but once behind they struggle to catch up. They are the one side who could probably make something of a League back, but why not use the funds and time to develop a rugby player?

The two games have very different cultures and they are now only distant cousins – the change from one to the other is rarely easy, rarely works as well as it is hoped and the main area of similarity that I can see is that both have a largely unreported overlap of coke use and, who knows, possibly some match fixing of the spot type. The latter comments are just stirring.

Target potential over stars: Suaalii a strong option but rugby can't repeat past mistakes in hunt for NRL converts

Really enjoyed the article, many thanks. As with so many areas, law changes will introduce another set of issues, but I agree that the game needs to ‘thread the needle’ by finding the narrow path that addresses potential legal liability, maintaining the integrity of the game and being seen to do what can be done to manage risk so that the supply of players doesn’t dry up as parents and schools refuse to have their children play the game. All of these tie in with the need to find a solution that maintains the commercial appeal of the game, because without money the game will really become a niche activity.

My biggest reason for optimism is that if boxing and mixed martial arts can prosper, rugby should be able to survive as well. The difference is that you need 2 people for a boxing match, not 30+ as with rugby.

A strict liability approach to head contact and a 20 minute red will still produce some absurd moments but will shift the burden off on field refs and across to the judiciary. God knows that is a lottery as well at the moment, but hope springs eternal that it can be made more consistent. I was initially opposed to a 20 min red for the reasons advanced by opponents in the NH, but without it we will be in the present loop where it is an on field lottery, as you say, and where there are so many clouding factors (the video ref of the night, the noise from the home crowd, the desire not to be the person who decides the game etc.) that are not helpful to making a good decision. As you note it distracts attention from the real issue – taking meaningful action to keep the game alive by keeping those who play it alive.

The Wrap: 'This is World Rugby's problem to fix and the longer it takes, the more the sport will be damaged'

Many thanks, greatly enjoyed this. I found the Argentina v Scotland series to be very engaging rugby, whilst I found the Oz v England series turgid. If Argentina truly believe in themselves (and we don’t have a metric for that!), from what I have seen this could be a very interesting series.

The using the kick to advantage stat was interesting. I thought Argentina generally applied good pressure around their kicks, or used them to good advantage for territorial gains (real ones). I want to see Petti and Lavanini re-united in the locks, v Arnold and whomever for a truly royal battle at the lineout. I can see the kicking duel and lineout as being two areas where one side or the other might be able to forge an advantage. The creaky Oz lineout needs Arnold. If Argentina get on top there as they did v Scotland …

How do the Wallabies and Pumas look ahead of the Rugby Championship?

Player power can go too far but for me it is a philosophical issue – I think those who do the work are deserving of a say in running the organisation; they often have valuable insights and sometimes more than the execs. However, the Brumbies in 2004 could be seen as an example of it going off the rails – there is an argument that some big names banded together against a coach looking to get slightly ahead of the curve on bringing on replacements for ageing stars. That would be an example of self-interest you allude to.

I also think that there is what people (including players) will say in public, what they say in public and what they don’t say in public and what they will say ‘in confidence’.

I don’t think you have raised any issues of character, by the way.

The concerns about Mitchell and Deans were about more than the RWC semi loss. Again, I don’t know whether they were well founded or not, but given subsequent history they may have had substance. I still remain troubled because, like you, whatever the concerns, it had been a very successful coaching and player group who lost one match based on confronting a team who were really ‘up for it’ on the night (much as I thought NZ were in 2011 v Oz in the semi) and who might have been near impossible to beat that night (I still recall the opening minutes when NZ looked like they were piling on the pressure and it was surely going to be another 50 points – some extraordinary tackling was all that held them out).

I want to emphasise that I am not a supporter of Foster v Robertson. Nor am I an opponent of Robertson. I can see a legitimate case for Foster existed in light of what I can also see may well have been legitimate concerns about Robertson arising out of the interview process. I have consistently said that if these concerns were well founded I think they could have been managed.

And I agree, many who are excellent as AC’s and/or selectors, for various reasons, don’t make the step up. Others do. I also agree that past record can’t count for nothing, even though the requirements at test level involve many different elements. I will also always be of the view that politics play a big role in selection at this level. However, I don’t find the case for politics as the determinant in this case to be as persuasive. It relies on too many contradictory things. Wily politicians who make political calls that were clearly going to be unpopular to put up a candidate who was apparently always going to be a failure. Who would do that? A new CEO who was a team-mate of Robertson who now for political reasons supports an apparent clear dud (Foster) who will dog his term as CEO? Henry, a man who had no connections with Foster, being willing to tarnish his own legacy by being part of a political coup to insert a useless minion?

Much more logical and much more probable (but also not certain) is that Robertson performed so badly that the panel (some of whom may well have been Foster advocates) felt they had no choice but to appoint the next best option. That also fits with Henry’s comments post event. On the balance of probabilities, based on the limited info available, that seems to me the best explanation. It doesn’t require vilification, it doesn’t require setting up straw men, or implausible theories that require wily politicans not being wily. In time, as more information comes out, other explanations might gain more traction and it doesn’t rule out other explanations now. I just find it more plausible. Shades of grey are less soothing for people wanting (I don’t say you are one) something to nurse whilst they have primal scream therapy, which is what I see a lot of the commentary as being. I will finish by noting that I am pretty sympathetic to a comment by Hamish Bidwell, who whilst acknowledging that Robertson could be pretty incomprehensible in his communications noted that it didn’t seem to have hurt him much with the Crusaders. I agree subject to my caveat about the top job having some very different requirements, where it might be more of an issue. Communication also wasn’t the only issue identified.

The Wrap: New Zealand rugby lurches from bad to disastrous

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