Happy Hump Day fellow rugby enthusiasts. In memory of one of my favourite TV programs, Not the 9 O’clock News, this is Not the Jones/McLennan News. Don’t know about you but I’m happy to take a break from all the BS and ongoing discussion about where things are going. They’re certainly a mess at the moment, but there’s time and considering we can’t actually affect anything, I’m happy to just let them get on with it.
Carrying on from my last Wednesday post a couple of you have provided suggestions on other positions and what these positions might need and who are the options. So here goes my completely biased opinion on this.
Halfback (also known as Gobby Prick)
The halfback is an interesting position at times and different teams use these positions differently. The halfback provides the link between the forwards competing for the ball in the tight, and the
fairies backs using that ball to score tries. Some sides like France, South Africa to an extent and Nic White, use the 9 as the team playmaker while others use the 10 for this role and the 9 just has to get the ball out there. Being an old fashioned (and just old) player I much prefer the traditional role of the 9 and let the 10 dictate play. The main reason I think this is that generally the 10 has a better view of what’s happening on the field. The 9 has to focus on quickly getting from breakdown to breakdown and slowing that time so they can look and see where things are gives the defence more time to get set. My refereeing experience has seen that the best way to breach a fast rush defence is to keep the play moving so the defence can’t get back on side and get their rush going. One of my pet hates in a match is watching a 9 bumble around and wait until the defence is completely set before getting the ball out. Honestly, it shits me to tears.
So, for me the skills required of a 9 are first and foremost, an accurate fast pass in both directions. They need to be able to pass into the space a player is running into, and they need to be able to do this both when the player is close or further away. They need good decision making skills that allow them to quickly pick the best player available to receive the ball. They must be fast over the ground, able to get into position quickly but also able to pass fast and accurately when they aren’t in the perfect position. Anything that slows their speed of delivery needs to be worked on and eliminated. Secondly, they must be able to kick accurately with both feet. While distance is not a huge requirement from the 9 accurate kicks so that they are either for space or allow for contest are a must. Thirdly, a 9 must be able to take advantage of any space and be able to both step into that space himself or move and set up his runners into the space. Lastly, a 9 has to have good defence. They will often be in a position where players are contesting the gain line in close, and they must be able to step in and defend well. While 9s are known as gobby little twatts to be fair they do need to be able to communicate well with the forwards and direct them around.
For New Zealand the two obvious ones are the two remaining from the RWC: Roigard and Christie. I personally like Roigard more (my biased Hurricanes hat) but mainly because I think he offers more of a running threat, while also having a great passing game. Christie is very much an Aaron Smith type 9, but just not quite as good. He does have a great defence but I’ve yet to see him with a running threat. Tahuriorangi at the Chiefs is another good 9. He seems to have fallen off the pace a bit, but he is a very strong running 9 and with Webster moving on he may get more time to show his worth.
Australia is struggling a bit here with 9s that are good at one or two of my criteria, but not really any with the full package. I do like Tate McDermott but he needs to work on his passing. He still seems to need to take too many steps before he passes the ball (and that cost a try in Dunedin). I’m not a huge Nic White fan; apart from his antics with the officials I think he takes the play off the 10 but doesn’t really achieve anything with it. He does have a better pass than Tate, but is not as strong in defence, doesn’t really pose much of a running threat and seems to slow the game down taking ages to free the ball. I’d like to see Lonergan step up this year as I do like his kicking, but again he needs to develop a better pass and get faster more accurate ball out from the contest. I think Tuttle has had his chances and hope to see more of Lowrens this year and see what he has.
The fullback is an interesting position. A lot of teams are looking at this guy being a 2nd playmaker who steps up to the flyhalf position at times and is able to direct play. Certainly, the ABs have had some success with this playing Richie Mo’unga at 10 and Beauden Barrett at 15 and the tactic of starting BB at 10 and then bringing in RM and moving BB to 15 has produced some great rugby over the years. Regardless of this the 15 needs some serious skills. They’re often the last line in defence and need to be able to position themselves well and be a very good tackler who can kill off an attacking play and prevent a ball from being grounded. They must be very good at taking a high ball under pressure and also be able to kick long and accurately. In addition, they need to be able to read the play and know when to come in and where so that they can receive the ball in space and make an attacking play. The fullback needs to be able to communicate well with the other players in the backline and understand what they’re doing so they can support their play.
For New Zealand I’m hoping to see Will Jordan move back to 15 for the ABs as well as Crusaders. I think he has the best all round skills to do this and I also think we’d be able to see more of him in attack if we did that. In addition to Jordan New Zealand has Ruben Love at the Canes and Shaun Stevenson at the Chiefs who can also step up and be very good.
For Australia I actually like Kellaway and I think he’s the best 15 here. I think his issues in the RWC were more about dumb league coaches who don’t understand rugby having stupid game plans and that if Australia actually gets a decent rugby coach, then he will be able to play better. I do like Jock Campbell, but I think he needs to develop better defensive skills and make better decisions. I’m not a fan of Petaia at 15 and TBH think he’s been given so many opportunities to show his promise, and not delivered, that I’d question his mental application. Maybe Tom Wright at a push but I really can’t see past Kellaway as the best option with Campbell as his backup.
Special request before the current rock show: what do we actually want in a coach? Not necessarily the Wallaby coach, but a rugby coach. Obviously the first thing we need is someone who understands the game of rugby. Someone who can see the contest for the ball and understand the nuances of the play and what is happening in those dark spaces. We want a person who can understand the strengths and weaknesses of his players and define a game plan that matches those strengths and weaknesses. We need a person with good communication skills who can articulate his game plan in a way even the props understand and one that can inspire the players to play this game plan. Ideally the coach should have a good understanding of the laws and how the referee applies them. They need to be able to watch a game and pick out what is happening and why so they can then identify ways to counter either the referee or the opposition. We need someone who is clear in their speech, who knows when to go hard and when a softer approach is better.
The coach needs to understand his/her own weaknesses and identify people with the skills in those areas, so they complement each other and create a better overall team. While the ability to motivate the players is essential, the coach needs more than this in the golf bag of tricks.
For New Zealand I think we’re seeing most of this in the current AB coaching team. Whether Robertson can take his Super Rugby success and bring that up a level to the ABs remains to be seen, but I think he’s in with a show. I’m not 100% behind his team with my main issue being MacDonald coming in from Auckland. I thought that he was poor there (anyone who thought RTS would ever be a good rugby player shows a very limited rugby brain) but maybe he’s better at being an assistant – I certainly hope so.
For Australia I really don’t know. I think that after the way Rennie was treated Australia will struggle to get an international coach from another country. As for the current Australian coaches, I don’t actually see anyone or any team of them that has the experience to take the Wallabies forward. I think there’re enough good coaches who can develop on the job, but with no seasoned head coach this could be a hard journey. I’m not a fan of Cheika and I blame a lot of the fall of the Wallabies on him and his coaching. I think he’s a very good motivator, but I think has limited rugby intelligence and seems to operate on a “More Mongrel” and “Go Harder” sort of play to cover up on a poor game plan. His selections of both players and assistants along with his game plans were poor and a big part of the decline of the Wallabies. Maybe getting in some senior old coaches and having them mentor a head coach might be a solution but either way I think this is a real problem.