Coach’s Corner Issue 5: Could the Reds topple the Crusaders?

Thanks to all of the contributors of questions for this week’s Coaches Corner column. There was a lot of interest in the way that cards of both colours are becoming critical in shaping the course of some big games. Three of Wales’ five Six Nations matches featured red cards for their opponents, and there were […]

Coach’s Corner Issue 5: Could the Reds topple the Crusaders?

Thanks to all of the contributors of questions for this week’s Coaches Corner column. There was a lot of interest in the way that cards of both colours are becoming critical in shaping the course of some big games.

Three of Wales’ five Six Nations matches featured red cards for their opponents, and there were four in the final climax at the Stade de France – three yellows and one red.

Just Nuisance asked, “There’s been a lot of discussion this year over penalties and cards, particularly red cards in the game. They’ve had a significant impact over match outcomes and have influenced the course of the entire Six Nations tournament. France even accusing Wales of milking cards… Have coaches and players fully grasped the real significance of the new approach by World Rugby and how it’s going to change the way the game is going to be played in future or are they just paying lip service to it?”

Hoy added: “1) What point penalising accidents at the tackle? It isn’t going to necessarily prevent them, and 2) How changes need to be made at the ruck? Do teams just acquiesce to the situation, and give over the ball at the ruck? Do they work different tactics to shift bodies that offend them?”

In answer to the first question: I feel that coaches are still struggling to come to grips with the changes in technique, particularly at the cleanout, that are required to avoid contact with the defender’s head and neck.

Support players at the cleanout are taught to move bodies first with the point of the shoulder, and second with force sufficient to persuade the ‘jackal’ to release his hold. Removing them with the arms, by pulling them away from the ball is regarded as a passive alternative.

I examined some of the issues arising in this recent article. If there is no immediate release – of the ball-carrier by the tackler, of the ball by the tackled player – you quickly arrive at a situation with a defender bent double over the ball, which is trapped against the tackled player’s body.

Here are two versions of what happens next.

The first cleanout player (Stuart Hogg in the Scotland game, and Paul Willemse for France) is unable to remove the jackal by use of the arms alone. Hogg tries to use a ‘croc-roll’ technique on the torso of Welsh prop Wyn Jones unsuccessfully, Willemse ends up with his fingers in the eyes of the same player. Because Jones is still established above the tackle ball in the Scotland instance, another player (Zander Fagerson) has to enter and remove him with extra force, by use of the shoulder. Both Willemse and Fagerson were sent off for their trouble.

In the big Super Rugby game of the weekend, Blues prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi would probably have been red carded for a cleanout on the Crusaders’ Scott Barrett if the game had been played in the northern hemisphere.

The conversation which followed between referee Paul Williams and the TMO strained credulity.

“I’m trying to determine whether there’s clear contact from the shoulder to the chin of the red player?” said Williams.

“The contact is on the face as it goes through. It glances off the face to the body,” replied the TMO

“So, it’s a glancing blow, not directly?”

“Yes”.

If that really was a glancing blow, Lord help Scott Barrett if he ever receives a direct hit.

These issues are arising because release at the tackle area (on both sides) is not being enforced in either the letter or the spirit of the law. Until tacklers (including assists) are required to fully release the ball-carrier, and the tackled player is required to place the ball away from his body immediately, there will be little or no change, and the great clarion call of Law 15.3, that “players involved in all stages of the ruck must have their heads and shoulders no lower than their hips”, will go unanswered.

Sam Cane. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Several posters asked about the growth of the Queensland Reds’ Hunter Paisami as a number 12, with related queries about potential Wallaby play-making combinations, and the efficiency of passing from those positions.

Hoy asked, “Hunter Paisami… this bloke grows and grows each week… Is he really good? Is his game limited? Can he be the complete package? Where’s his best spot? Does it depend on the five-eighth selected?”

“Is the poor catch and pass we are seeing an indicator of a systemic problem in Australian rugby and why is it not improving with players who have nothing else to do except train and get better?” JC Masher

“Can you explain why so many professional rugby players cannot pass effectively; or if they can pass, they struggle to pass both sides? The added issue is the failure to support the runner and be ready to take a pass or support the breakdown. Is this just a coaching failure or is it something else?” stillmissit

Passing off the left hand is often a litmus test for naturally right-sided players who are trying to cut it as a second play-maker. There were a couple of good results off the left hand for Hunter Paisami versus the Force.

Suliasi Vunivalu is able to take the first looped pass more or less in stride, so attacking momentum is preserved; the second ‘shoulder ball’, to James O’Connor wrapping around the play, also shows excellent touch.

There were two malfunctions off.

In the first instance, there is some space to work with down the Queensland right, but Hunter Paisami has to turn his body in the direction of the receiver and ‘wind up’ for the pass in order to find his (potential) target, Jordan Petaia. The time-lapse takes Petaia and Vunivalu past the ball, before it is ever released.

The second instance illustrates the same technical flaw on a much shorter delivery.

The pass does not fix the defender in front of Paisami (Jake McIntyre), who is already looking towards the attackers outside.

Compare Paisami’s body-shape to that of Richie Mo’unga, delivering the weekend’s outstanding example of a left-to-right pass at the end of the game between the Crusaders and the Blues.

Mo’unga is passing east-west across his body, while keeping his shoulders resolutely north-south and square to the defender. The tackler is fully committed and therefore cannot shift out towards the free attacker.

The passing play had been preceded by a phase where Mo’unga was in support of the ball-carrier, and finished by cleaning out Caleb Clarke one-on one.

Another cache of questions widened out the debate to include James O’Connor and Quade Cooper!

“I’d be interested to see a breakdown comparing 10s that play flat to the line, and those that stand deeper. What are the benefits of each and what works best against the current defensive systems?” KiwiHaydn

“Now that we’ve seen the Reds game-plan, and how they approach matches and work as a team, now from the 2021 perspective what’s the conclusion about how well Quade Cooper would fit?” Ankle-tapped Waterboy

“I would really appreciate an analysis on James O’Connor’s best position. I am a firm believer that he had more positive impacts as a centre than as a 10, especially for Australia.” Bourkos

One of great attributes of the Quade Cooper I remember was his ability to vary his position in relation to the defence. When it was dense and organised, he could drop back and kick or distribute; with quick ruck ball he could take the ball to the line and drop off an offload or inside pass to his support.

He tended to function better without another play-maker alongside him – so, in the Reds 2011 championship year, there were two hard line runners (Ben Tapuai and Anthony Fainga’a) in the centres. If Quade was still at Ballymore now, I’d guess he would enjoy playing with the Paisami/Petaia combination, or even better – with Samu Kerevi at 12 and either Petaia or Paisami at 13.

In contrast, James O’Connor prefers a Matt To’omua alongside him to take on some of the burden in the kicking game, and act as the extra pair of eyes reading play as it develops.

Hunter Paisami

Hunter Paisami. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Another set of questions orbited around the titanic tussle between the Blues and the Crusaders from Super Rugby Aotearoa. The Roar’s own Monday Maestro, Geoff Parkes asked: “Will be interested to get your take on where the Blues are at, and the wee bits of precision they need to take their game another step forward. And let me know if you can recall seeing a better pass, on the run, off the left hand, than Mo’unga’s for the final try.”

JC Masher added, “How do you see coaches defending the rolling maul and what do they need to put in place to have it work?”

The driving maul from lineout is an excellent example of why the Crusaders’ discipline in delivering sound fundamental technique is still superior to any other side in New Zealand, and the vast majority of other club/provincial teams worldwide.

The Blues maul is driven backwards about ten metres at a brisk trot, the Crusaders score a try. The behaviours of the key men in the drive – the receiver and the lifter-cum-lead blocker just behind him – are like chalk and cheese.

These two players have to lock in tight and provide a sharp ‘tip of the spear’ for the drive to succeed. For the Blues, the connection between the receiver (Hoskins Sotutu) and his outside blocker (Patrick Tuipolutu) has been fractured, and they are pushed out of the maul before it ever sets.

For the Crusaders, the relationship between Sam Whitelock and Joe Moody is as tight as a good bass-player in a rock band. Moody has advanced his position all the way around Whitelock’s back to ward off any interference:

The wider aspect worth observing is just how solid the Crusaders are in the decision-making spine of the team, at numbers 2, 8, 9, 10 and 15. I can think of only one Blues player at those spots (Sotutu at number 8) who might break into the Canterbury starting line-up, and the comparison in the halves was especially harsh at the weekend.

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A couple of weeks ago, Roar regular The Late News asked about goal-kicking: I often wonder about goal kicking. What do coaches generally do? Do they observe a player first then aim to work on improving their technique, or do they impose their views from the outset? Or is it quite variable?

I cannot really improve on the answer Phil Larder gave me, when asked about Dave Alred – probably the best kicking coach of the professional era.

“I took Dave down to the local ground and he showed me what he could do. I’d kicked over 100 goals in three seasons for Oldham RL, but it quickly became obvious Dave was on a far higher level to me. Although he was smaller than me, he quickly demonstrated that he could kick the ball much further than I could.

“He was more consistent and exact with his preparatory routine, and his body was like a perfect machine: from the waist up virtually motionless, the bottom half working like a smooth and easy pendulum through the ball.

“It was no accident – he always seemed to hit the sweet spot and be accelerating through the ball at the point of contact. Mud or no mud, time and again he picked the ball clean off the top of his tee and sent it fizzing towards the poles. It was as if the external conditions did not matter to him at all.”

No wonder Alred has also become a swing coach to some of the best golfers in the world: “I feel like a voice in the wilderness at the moment. Most people video people’s mistakes and say: ‘We need to do this.’ How about showing them what they did right? Across sport and in life, the threat of failure is much bigger than the joy of achievement. I’m trying to reverse that.”

Great words.

Doctordbx asked: “Why aren’t more teams aware of the 22 and running the ball out of it at restart. It immediately puts them in a place of having to clear and keep the ball inside the field of play. A few times I’ve seen teams take the ball inside their 22, and then go through a couple of rucks eventually exiting their 22, and then punting it back to the opposition to run it back at them. Why don’t these teams look to set up the clearance ASAP?”

Many teams look at exits as an opportunity to attack the chasing side when it is at its weakest. Oftentimes the defending team will drop three or four players into backfield duty expecting the kick, and that leaves only 11 in the line. Sometimes there may also be a forwards side, and a backs side at the first ruck, and that the exiting side an easy target for attack.

Ambitious sides like Glasgow (under Dave Rennie), Bristol (under Pat Lam), and even the Wallabies in their last season under Michael Cheika, achieved a lot of momentum by taking the ball well outside their own 22 before making the decision to run or kick (infield).

Many thanks to all who contributed by asking a question. I will endeavour to reply to those that remain unanswered in future issues!

Source : The Roar More   

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Setting up Australian and Pacific rugby for growth and success

To grow the game, fans need good-quality rugby played by meaningful teams. This is why the NRC has failed. Although enjoyable for rusted-on rugby fans, the quality of rugby was significantly lower than Super Rugby and didn’t have the engagement of fans the comp needed. Unfortunately, given the climate, it may never be possible to […]

Setting up Australian and Pacific rugby for growth and success

To grow the game, fans need good-quality rugby played by meaningful teams.

This is why the NRC has failed. Although enjoyable for rusted-on rugby fans, the quality of rugby was significantly lower than Super Rugby and didn’t have the engagement of fans the comp needed.

Unfortunately, given the climate, it may never be possible to establish a meaningful second-tier professional rugby competition in Australia. Growing the game’s attendance and participation needs to be as imperative as having a successful national team.

Detailed below is a possible blueprint for Australian rugby moving forward. A lot of these ideas are not my own and have been cherry-picked or altered to fit into what is objectively the best possible outcome for Australian rugby and its supporter base.

Professional rugby in Australia should operate across three windows.

National championship
Similar to this year, an Australian domestic championship should occur that will run concurrently with the Aotearoa championship and the Japanese Top League season.

Where this competition differs from other posts and articles are the teams playing. This competition will feature all five current Australian Super Rugby franchises and an Asia-Pacific side based in Western Sydney. This team will draw players primarily from the Pacific Islands and Asia as well as players with similar heritage and play half its games at Parramatta Stadium and the others between Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Hong Kong, Singapore and Seoul.

Along with the inclusion of this team will be the Moana Pasifika team into the Aotearoa championship. These competitions will be played as they are now, with a home-and-away round robin format plus two finals.

(Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

Super Rugby
Super Rugby will be the second part of the season. This competition draws influence from the European-style tournaments in that sees the teams split into two pools. The championship pool will be played by the top three ranked teams from Australia, New Zealand and Japan following their domestic seasons. The cup pool will also be run featuring the last three team from New Zealand and Australia and the next three best teams from Japan.

It has been noted in recent media reports that the top six Japanese teams could compete with Super Rugby franchises. This format would give an opportunity for the top teams to test themselves and for the corporate element of Japanese rugby used to boost the Australian and New Zealand Super Rugby franchises.

Each team will play each other team once other than the teams from the same national championship, creating an eight-round competition followed by two weeks of finals rugby.

All up, for the Australian and New Zealand franchises these two competitions will take up 16 games and potentially another four if your team plays both sets of finals. This is up from the old Super Rugby season, which was 16 games and three finals. I believe this increase of a single game is minimal in regard to player fatigue as teams won’t have to travel to South Africa or Argentina.

But what about the NRC and Fijian team in Super Rugby? The financial constraints around hosting a Super Rugby team in the Pacific Islands will lead the competition to considerable risk. Even though World Rugby will be helping fund the franchise, it has not been announced how long that experiment will last. The last thing Super Rugby needs is to create a competition only for teams to fold or be abandoned again in a few years time.

That is why hosting these franchises in Auckland and Sydney is the best outcome. The best way to develop the island nations is to create or recreate an Australian academy competition that can run as a semi-professional competition at the same time as the National Championship and Super Rugby.

The Australian academy teams can play against Fiji academy, Samoa academy and Tonga academy as a second-tier competition. These three academies will then feed the Asia-Pacific and Moana Pasifika franchises, creating a wider net for Pacific players and greater depth when moving between amateur and professional rugby.

(Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

Representative season
Finally, the representative season is where I would make the biggest changes (hold onto your hats). Following the traditional three-Test inbound series would be the new Rugby Championship.

The current Rugby Championship would be completely deconstructed and replaced by a tiered Six Nations structure similar to that used in the northern hemisphere but with promotion and relegation – basically a single round robin format – but this new competition would include a final and promotional playoff game. If Australia and New Zealand wanted to play each other for a second Bledisloe Cup, that could also fit in.

Initially the top tier would consist of Argentina, Australian, South Africa, New Zealand, Fiji and Japan, with Tonga, Samoa, USA, Canada, Uruguay and Hong Kong in the second tier. What was a six-game championship would now be only five games for teams that did not make the final or the relegation game. Conversely you could have a seven-team comp with three home-and-away games.

Okay, that seems simple enough, but what about all the Australian players sitting around while the Mitre 10 is on?

Here is where the mooted ‘origin’ series will be placed, but without the drum banging of the league version. This will have more of a city-versus-country feel, with smaller stadiums (initially) without Wallabies and in mostly regional centres.

This series will be contested between three teams: New South Wales, Queensland and a ‘Combined States’ team. This competition is to ensure the best Wallabies-eligible players are still fit and playing if needed in the national side and to get players looking for national honours and a chance to shine in a representative set-up.

Players will play for the state for which they played schoolboy rugby. If they did not play schoolboy rugby in Australia, they will play for the combined team. These teams will play each other home and away. Players not involved in the competition would go back to club rugby, of which most would have already been playing during a lot of the season.

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Each team will play two home and two away games. New South Wales and Queensland will play in places like Newcastle, Tamworth, Wollongong and Townsville, while the combined team will rotate between Canberra, Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne – this is to make up for the lack of international games awarded to those cities during the international windows. Rugby should be the game loved in regional Australia nationwide.

Regarding depth, a quick scan of the Super Rugby websites reveals roughly 50 players, a number that is growing each year, currently playing Super Rugby AU are eligible for the Combined States team, with about 11 of those hypothetically unavailable due to Wallabies commitments. A starting 15 could look something like this:

  • Cabous Eloff (unsure of eligibility at this stage)
  • Lachlan Lonergan
  • Pone Fa-amausili
  • Seru Uru
  • Rob Leota
  • Brynard Stander
  • Carlo Tizzano
  • Pete Samu
  • Ryan Lonergan
  • Lewis Holland
  • Solomone Kata
  • Kyle Godwin
  • Ilaisa Droasese
  • Toni Pulu
  • Mack Hansen

I’m sure New South Wales and Queensland fans would love to see some of the players that have left those states return and play in the colours the grew up supporting.

While it differs from the league version – a point I admit will be hard to sell to the casual viewer – it creates a step up into a representative environment for players. This would hopefully create higher quality rugby than seen in the NRC and draw on the historical patriotisms of each region. Imagine a Combined States teams winning. Absolute scenes.

Following this would be the traditional northern tour consisting of a larger squad with the top Origin performers and Wallabies.

To grow the game rugby must target the minority groups for viewership and players. The NRL and AFL already hold relevance over middle Australia. Rugby should target the European expat community, country Australia, the Pacific and Kiwi community and the Asian community while maintaining the older affluent stakeholders.

This strategy might take time to get results, but it’s rugby’s best chance for growth in Australia at the moment. That’s why it would be a great idea to have the Asia-Pacific team based in Western Sydney, to draw from those demographics while offering an opportunity for elite rugby players outside Australia a chance to play in a high-quality professional competition.

School-age rugby
For school-age growth there obviously needs to be a change to the narrative that rugby is for only the wealthiest private schools. There definitely needs to be a push back into non-rugby-playing private schools – easier said than done.

However there also needs to be a real effort made into the public school system along with girls 15-a-side rugby. This can be done through the ‘sports schools’ scattered throughout metropolitan areas. Rugby needs to think outside the box to get these schools competing against each other in 15-a-side rugby even within condensed competitions. This will be easier if a televised component can be added into a sports public school competition along with the mooted television of GPS schoolboy rugby competitions.

Club rugby
The club rugby season would be played much as it is now, with the various tournaments throughout the states. Ideally these would conclude with the semi and major finals being played in the gap between the end of Super Rugby and the representative season.

From these competitions clubs would qualify for the five-week Club Rugby Cup. Of these, 32 teams from across Australia (depending on finances) would compete in a straight knockout tournament. The competition would consist of eight teams from New South Wales, eight teams from Queensland, four teams from the ACT, four teams from Victoria, four teams from Western Australia, two teams from South Australia, the champions from the Northern Territory and the champions from Tasmania.

In regard to regional teams, I’m unsure about the quality of rugby in various states outside of their premier competitions. However, if deemed good enough, I would love to see champion teams from those areas participate. You could maybe reduce the Shute Shield and Hospital Cup clubs to seven or six each to include these areas.

This competition would obviously need to be funded from somewhere, as the initial travel costs would be extreme. Stan Sport would be the ideal partner if it could cover the initial cost. These players would not be paid, but travel expenses would be covered. If any profits were made, these would be pumped directly into grassroots rugby through the premier clubs or potentially through the state governing bodies focusing on infrastructure development, community engagement and general club expenses.

I have heard many lukewarm responses to this idea. If it were played after the premier competition final games, when teams were still on a high or clubs were looking for revenge as well as the chance to test themselves against the best from around the county, it could make for exciting viewing.

Although I acknowledge that many people couldn’t care whether Brothers or Rats are the best team in Australia, it would mean a huge amount to the supporters of those clubs. History and memories will be made as well as lifelong supporters of the game.

Conclusion
Rugby Australia should be looking to provide this format to the fans of rugby in Australia. These ideas give meaningful competition and pathways to amateur and professional players while providing access to the Pacific, Asian and regional communities.

No doubt many people will challenge this, and I’m sure this format is flawed somewhere, but this is the best way for Australian rugby to move into a brighter future.

Source : The Roar More   

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