“A real shame”: Scott Robertson laments the “gulf” between NZ and Australian rugby

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson laments the undeniable gulf while Michael Cheika says Australian rugby has been “welcomed to first grade” after New Zealand sides again dominated Super Rugby Trans-Tasman. The Queensland Reds’ record 63-28 loss to the Crusaders in Saturday’s battle of the respective Super Rugby champions made it two perfect rounds and a 10-0 […]

“A real shame”: Scott Robertson laments the “gulf” between NZ and Australian rugby

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson laments the undeniable gulf while Michael Cheika says Australian rugby has been “welcomed to first grade” after New Zealand sides again dominated Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.

The Queensland Reds’ record 63-28 loss to the Crusaders in Saturday’s battle of the respective Super Rugby champions made it two perfect rounds and a 10-0 head-to-head record for New Zealand teams.

It followed a heavy loss for the Brumbies, while the NSW Waratahs suffered a franchise-record 10th straight loss and defeats for the Melbourne Rebels and Western Force ensured Australian outfits occupy the bottom five spots on the ladder.

A combined score of 416-214 across the 10 games, with an average margin of 20 points – even with the Brumbies’ and Force’s two and one-point losses last week – has swallowed up the feelgood factor that had built in Australian rugby ahead of Tests against France in July.

Robertson believes the Reds, the new benchmark of Australian rugby after pipping the Brumbies in the final a fortnight ago, have all the pieces but not the intensity to match his well-oiled champions.

“The Aotearoa was tough, brutal and the guys talk about it like playing Test matches,” he said of the New Zealand competition they won.

“I would have liked Australian teams to knock off a few of the Kiwi teams to make the ladder a little more even.

“There’s a gulf isn’t there, which is a real shame.

Damian McKenzie of the Chiefs shakes the hand of Darcy Swain of the Brumbies. (Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images)

“The rest of this comp’s really important for Australian rugby to show a bit for their supporters.”

Former Wallabies coach Cheika wants to see an immediate response but admitted the Reds, who went 8-1 through the domestic competition including the final, had been toyed with by arguably the world’s best provincial outfit.

“We had a saying in the old days, ‘welcome to first grade’, and it was first grade tonight. They were top quality,” Cheika said of the Crusaders on Stan Sport.

“They play like a piano accordion; they spread you out, then tighten you up, then spread and tighten you up again.

“The Reds got a bit rattled, started following the Crusaders around and they’ll lead you on a merry dance.

“We’ve been pumped alright, but you just have to fight back next week, get over it and get back up on your bike and win the next game.”

Reds coach Brad Thorn, who won a title as a player with the Crusaders in 2008, said the result was proof a purely domestic format was not the answer.

“I’ve said all year we need to play the New Zealanders if you want to get better,” he said.

“Tonight you get a punch in the face, but you sit in the locker room afterwards and think, ‘that’s it, that’s where we want to be’.

“We need to play these guys, we want to play them and we want to win.

“But there’s a team that’s far superior tonight and you’ve got to wear that … welcome to world-class, now you’ve got to get in the ring with them.”

The Force play the Hurricanes on Friday while on Saturday the Reds host the Chiefs in Townsville, the Waratahs meet the Crusaders in Wollongong, the Brumbies visit the Blues at Eden Park and on Sunday the Highlanders host the Rebels.

Source : The Roar More   

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The rest of the rugby world has left Australia behind

Does anyone else remember the opening weeks of the Super Rugby Aotearoa rugby competition in 2020? World Rugby’s new breakdown directives had not only been adopted with relish but for added measure New Zealand Rugby decided that sides would also have to be demonstrably onside in order not incur the wrath of the whistle. The […]

The rest of the rugby world has left Australia behind

Does anyone else remember the opening weeks of the Super Rugby Aotearoa rugby competition in 2020?

World Rugby’s new breakdown directives had not only been adopted with relish but for added measure New Zealand Rugby decided that sides would also have to be demonstrably onside in order not incur the wrath of the whistle.

The result was penalties galore, heaps of stoppages, more turnovers at the breakdown than you could shake a stick at and the big men of the forward packs struggling to get to rucks on time to legally affect their clean outs. I recall my very own Highlanders in Week 1 conceding as many ruck turnovers as we would in half a season.

Many were those without foresight, wailing, gnashing teeth and bleating for a return to the old ways. I am sure they are all writing pieces complaining about something else now.

Such was the disruption that in an interview Ben O’Keeffe said the referees association went back to NZR and the teams to ask if the ultra-strict application of the law was what they wanted. The response was ‘carry on as you have been. Our players and coaches will change, and the outcome is evident’.

In the northern hemisphere, in the English Premiership, there was a perhaps surprising show of solidarity with laws that would undoubtedly speed up the game, led by excellent referees like Luke Pearce.

The Premiership were having their own issues with the new directives as late arriving forwards to rucks still felt the need to contribute to a lost cause, indiscriminately flying off their feet into breakdown. The result was a riot of red and yellow cards accompanied by the expected bleating of ex-players telling all and sundry how it wasn’t like this in their day.

But the game quality in the Premiership is now light years ahead of where it was.

(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Having had a look at the New Zealand experience, it certainly looked like Rugby Australia blinked, took an entirely different approach to the directives by not wanting to trust the rugby public and apparently chose to ignore the new refereeing approach.

And thus, the teams and the players carried on as in past years: lots of players off their feet slowing the ball down, jacklers were rewarded when they had no chance of lifting the ball, sealing off when ball carriers are isolated, ball carriers neither placing the ball quickly nor correctly.

But most importantly, the pace of the Australian game stayed exactly the same when in every other comp in the world it was visibly increasing.

The change in game tempo is best illustrated looking at our northern counterparts. The Six Nations went from unwatchable to entertaining in a single year as first France and then Ireland, Wales and Scotland recognised the upside opportunities of ball movement under the new officiating.

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We now have coaches in France and England using catch phrases like LQB (lightning quick ball) and KBA (keep ball alive). Surely that can only be a good thing for the sport, as opposed to past associated acronyms of PAG (pick and go) and TSW (try to stay awake).

And the issues of the late arriving inaccurate clean outs? They are not gone but massively improved in short order, because the associations and the referees did not relent. Players learn quickly when the downside is losing.

But back to our little corner of the world, eventually most closed societies end up having to have contact with the outside world and this is where the risk of things going pear-shaped crystallises and so it has been with Trans-Tasman rugby.

The breakdown is the singular most dominant part of our game with about 150 incidents per match, and shackled by the approach of the domestic competition, the Australian sides are visibly struggling in this critical element in a number of ways.

George Bridge of the Crusaders charges forward

(Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

First, they are conceding turnovers on the ground for fun, at a ratio of more than 2-1 in the opening round and possibly worse in Week 2. The Highlanders picked off the Force by something like 10-1 on the ground by my admittedly biased count. The Crusaders totally neutered the turnover threat of Fraser McReight without having a recognised seven on the park.

Second, the decision making of the Australian Super Rugby sides of when to commit to a breakdown and when to leave alone has been poor.

But again, they are being faced with pictures at ruck time they simply have not been seeing in their domestic comp. Attempts to join to slow a ruck result in being a man short in the D line as the ball spits out the back of an attacking ruck.

Third and perhaps most importantly, when faced with sides who produce quick ruck ball, you need to be super flexible and rapid in your defensive organisation.

The pace of the NZ sides’ flat attack is something not seen in Australian Super Rugby for the last two years, and it’s almost impossible to adjust to in a couple of weeks. The conceded try count should surely be evidence enough.

All three elements will no doubt improve. Being in camp helps with that, but it’s a steep curve to climb in short order.

I genuinely feel for the players and coaches. If a trade off was made to not take a penalty deluge and likely resultant media and social media outcry last year, then 2021 Trans-Tasman has been, so far, the very expensive cost of that decision.

Get the best two Australian breakdown referees – that is Amy Perrett and Angus Gardner – into camp with the players as soon as possible, give them all printouts of the World Rugby directives, and get them to blow the pea out of the whistle at every training session until player behaviour changes.

It has to, because the rest of the rugby world has already moved on.

Source : The Roar More   

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