Happy Monday, G&GRs, and welcome to a new week on your favourite rugby news site. Today, Moaning Expat is taking a second shot at being a member of the G&GR craparazzi. One more article and Sully will owe you a set of steak knives. As usual, I’ll add a few links to news stories from the weekend at the bottom.
Buckle up, folks. This is way better than the usual Monday shite.
PLAY PERCEPTION AND JUDGEMENT
I love quotes. I have a few favourites. Nietzsche’s up there with “All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.” Jim Morrison’s favourite was, of course, Aldous Huxley’s, “There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” Another, “never argue with an idiot, your best case scenario is you win an argument with an idiot”, is always useful. Here the operable quote is “don’t vote, it only encourages them” i.e., they asked me to write an article and published it. The
fools editors at G&GR are obviously encouraging me, so blame them, not me, for these. (hehehe, editors… that’s you, Sully 😁)
A couple of weeks ago I made a comment regarding Ned Hanigan; it was a negative one, but I try very hard not to make any personal disparaging comments. A reader disagreed and commented that had I “watched the Japan games and Hanigan’s performance, he was good” (I had but I still disagreed); another agreed but lamented that his ‘development’ had been hijacked and/or hadn’t got the right management or opportunities.
It was here that I thought these things we perceive personally and what someone else sees can be as widely different as some refereeing decisions handed out this year. Charlie mentioned that even in the referee FB group there were disagreements about interpretations. Most things in life, I put it to you, are reasonably straightforward. When something is crap most of us agree it’s pretty crap, given there’s no skin in the game. Politics is hard; it’s hard to tell who’s doing a good job and who’s doing a bad one, sometimes not until decades later.
“What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you’re standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew
You’d think that as rugby’s a ‘simple’ game in the scheme of things it’d be reasonably easy to work out what was what in terms of competence. I won’t be doing any deep dive into team methods or coaching methods mainly because I don’t have the experience or knowledge to jump that far in. It’s the nice thing about rugby, one is always learning more every day. I try to represent those readers here that don’t have that experience, try to acknowledge it but still feel that they have something to say. I never try and pretend that I know everything about the game – far from it. But my love for it is something else.
Anyway, my reply to my Hanigan comment is that not only did I watch the AUS A games but I watched them a couple of times. I also watch many games (especially if we win but that’s more because that doesn’t happen that often and I get a warm fuzzy feeling) a few times and go back later on a year or so later as well. This may seem a laborious process but as play time is rather limited with the FF button you can get through a game very quickly.
If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Proverb
One of the reasons is when I watch a Wallabies game (unlike the SR team I follow) I watch with one hand in my mouth and both eyes closed. That is, I watch with bias, fear, trepidation, anger, elation and (where’s that thesaurus I threw out last week after the comments on AlleyOz’s article?) sheer terror. It is extremely hard for me to watch a game and be able to honestly comment on a player’s and team performance with objective detachment when you watch it for the first time. More power to you if you can but I, dear reader, am tragic.
My dodgy ‘thesis’ today is examining exactly that bias. Bias against a player, an opposing team, the commentators and, let’s not forget something very important, the television screen and even the close-ups and pullaways you get. I watch games twice quite often as I want to examine my own preconceptions and perceptions about what I’ve just seen. I want to see if Joe Fumbler really was crap and Brad Legend really did have a good game. This is considerably harder to do on TV than it is live or having access to a wide frame picture. Quite often I’ve gone back and seen a player that has done a couple of things well (sometimes lucky) and been lauded but keeping an eye on them specifically you find that, well, he didn’t really do much for most of the game and a couple of times he was caught out. Conversely this applies to some that are seen as deadbeat, and you take a closer look and find that, hey, that guy actually did aright. Quiet achiever and all that.
The most I enjoy watching a game is probably the Jaapies and Nearlies. I can watch a highly skilled game between two sides who like to kill each other with pure dispassion, and I believe I’m a hell of a better judge on player quality and ref decisions than a passionate Jaapie or AB person will be. First time round anyway.
Forwards suffer from this bias tremendously. Their jobs are ones of pure graft. Rarely do they get the opportunity to make the news highlights with a dazzling run and try. Pure graft is not newsworthy. And quite often is unrewarded on the field (and off). Positional play is another unrewarded talent. Being in position, being ready for the pass and being a support when a break is made is quite often overlooked as the ball is only carried by one person. One doesn’t sit watching a game and comment about how Johnno is really good at being back in position or having a talent for where the ball is. One of what I believe the Wallabies greatest ongoing failures is the lack of consistent support play from a break or run. Considering we are the team that is considered the most ball in hand team of the top nations this to me was always surprising. Forwards usually secure man of the match wins often because they’ve made a stonking run, a try or something newsworthy. Very rarely because they made 60 tackles and were faultless in ruck participation and those ‘invisible’ things that are 95% of a game.
The idea in this article is to look at the perceptions and the biases we have and how extremely difficult it is to judge a person, game or coach’s merits on information which we simply do not have. We criticise Dave Rennie (insert your coach here) and we question many decisions and tactics. It infuriates us. But on the one side we think, who the hell am I?, an armchair viewer with no coaching training and a passing active participation in the game to comment on this. The bloke does this for a LIVING. My last article was about transparency and knowledge building and this one is too, to a certain extent. It always makes me happy when I understand something of a person’s decision and reasoning. The game is quick, complex and ever changing. And we quickly judge a person on very little viewing time, when we are emotionally involved and with minimal input.
I see many hard-hitting floggings of Spanners over this last series and often wonder why it becomes that way: personal. OK, he lost the chance of a Bled for us (wink), but do we really want to string him up on a streetlight and flay his balls? If any of us were Spanners and we got a surprising call up to don the jumper again, along with the cash that brings, are any of us going to say no? It takes a fair bit of guts to turn down an assignment that you probably think you aren’t up for, in any field, let alone one that he could at least put in something of a performance. I concur his presence wasn’t one that I’d pick. I would’ve written the autumn off and picked a team that I’d use to try new things or combos but I’m not a coach either. We complain about the five test grind along with an English series along with the usual 4 nations. Yet we’re furious when Rennie picks a weaker team for Italy, and we lose. We are all ruthless in our judgements.
“Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger.” Franklin P. Jones
I’ll also put it out there that all round skills are sometimes overlooked for what they actually are and how they affect the team. I was a bit of a critic of Koroibete; I felt his defence was pretty bad to be honest. The times that he had a run were great but aside from this year, and even then, early on he was a bit shaky. Is the price of someone who is a power runner worth the risk of letting in more tries than someone else who wasn’t as good? I think MK has turned a corner on that part of his game though with any luck. I believe many put MK up there was because of the blazing runs he made (which were bloody great to be honest) but the grind and speed of defence, and especially missed tackles, can quite often be overlooked in the wash.
MK has been feted this year whereas, for example, Hodge has been regularly, well not so much pilloried but certainly given a hard time. I had that impression of Hodge myself, of a player not contributing that much but I felt I was wrong in my guts, so I decided to go back and watch some games again and watch him exclusively. What I found was both opinions were right in a way: he didn’t do anything wonderful, and he didn’t do anything bad either, he was a journeyman. I’d like to see more stats and more investigation of plays and players like this in terms of the contributions they make towards the success of a team. There is no point scoring 3 tries when your defence inadequacies let in 4. When your opposition do their homework and discover your defence is solid and game is solid, they may quite often decide that YOU are not the weakest link even though you aren’t the star. And target someone like Koroibete instead in their game plan. My point here is not to diss MK or laud Hodge but perhaps open our eyes to what we don’t see in the background.
So, I do. Look for stuff I mean.
I loved the old “dead ball line’ videos, if anyone remembers those, but Squidge Rugby is great for examining games. Now watch this one for the Wales v Australia game. Don’t worry, I’ll wait for you right here until you’re done.
Ironically, Hanigan’s mentioned once doing something good and Hodge has been pointed out as lacking in a couple of things. Marky Mark was pointed out here a number of times as a star. So, I’m 1 out of three according to Squidge. I missed Hanigan’s good work; I missed Hodge’s failures and I even missed (and I’m a fan boy of MM as you all know) Markie’s great reading of the game far beyond what we saw.
“I didn’t fail the test. I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.” Benjamin Franklin
I have great sympathy for the invisible man. We use this term sometimes as a bit of a disparaging remark but sometimes it can be quite the opposite. Note: the best refereeing is when no one notices the bloke. How depressing is that? The more perfect you are the less people see you. Ouch.
The main reason I loved Quade (even when many here hated him), and he wasn’t playing very well too, was because I felt he was an extremely unselfish player. I never once accused Quady of not passing the ball to get the try credit. Or pushing the envelope we can all say perhaps but of hogging and big noting himself? Not in my perception. In fact, once or twice he passed a ball when he really should’ve placed it himself. Bizarrely enough he’s seen as this ‘individual’, uncoachable dynamic player, but I actually saw him as team first sort of bloke. I’m not here to dive into that wormhole, however, I’m just pointing out my perception of Quade and others. And I’m not saying I’m right either.
Why do I see Hanigan as a drag on the team and others see him as good? Why do I see Hodge as not too bad at all and others can’t stand him? Possibly because I’m just shite at picking plays, players and granular tactics but I know I’m not the only one. Why did I see the rise of MM from quite a long time ago and not many else did? Why am I seeing things that others don’t and vice versa? And I’ve hung my hat on a few players over the years and had my heart broken like a jilted bride.
Why does DR |(supposedly) see Lolly as not good enough for the autumn games when many on here see him as a far better option than Spanners? What’s he seeing?
“I’m so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I’m saying.” Oscar Wilde
As to bias and perception, try this for an experiment. We judge and comment and report on a team’s success or failure in two completely different ways – win or lose and those judgements are quite brutal. The Wobs lost to France and Ireland by a point and then three. If we’d won by a point and three the reviews of the coach and players would be significantly different. Not by a tiny bit which was the margin difference in the game. I’m always frustrated by how different this can be: if you lose to a team on the death by a bit of a lucky move realistically your review of the game should be just that. A hell of a lot more positive than it is. Or would you?
“Any man that dies with more than 10 grand in the bank is an idiot” Errol Flynn
If you want to try this (a bit silly I know) rhetorical experiment: ask someone to choose a minor game or even a big one and tell you a game score that is close but not the final result. Then watch that game to the final 10 odd minutes. Then write a pretend report on the game with what team was in front at that stage as the winner. Then watch the end and write your report again if the other team wins.
What I’m trying to point out is that the perception of how the team played later varies dramatically (mostly) to what the final result is. If the team that was behind by a point or 2 and wins at the death the report will be significantly different rather than a ‘win at the death’ different. The perception of the players will be different.
I listen to many podcasters and commentators talk about the scorecard: it’s quite low for the autumn internationals. Andrew on the G&G Dropped Kickoff gave the Wobs a 4.5/10. I personally think the injury toll coupled with a five test series and everything else that DR has had to deal with and coming out with 2 wins and 3 losses, but specifically losses by bugger all of nothing points difference, isn’t too bad an effort. Personally I’m rather quite pleased with that record considering there were 15 players out who’d be first picked. And a couple of games in we lost almost another team’s worth and by the end we were down to Australia C. And we played 52 men. Why do I see that as pretty positive and others as shite? Again, I’m far from saying I’m right and you’re wrong, I’m just fascinated how perceptions differ. But that’s my perception of the tour.
Who’s a player (or a game) that you’ve loved (or hated) but days weeks or years later had a change of heart, not because they’ve played better/worse but your perception was ..ummm…
wrong… not right… a bit harsh or even too forgiving?
Maybe I’m just the eternal optimist about the Wobs so I better end on something optimistic:
How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. — Anne Frank
OTHER RUGBY NEWS FROM THE WEEKEND
Dr Evil approached by Hammer for possible return to Wobbly Rugby
Gary Gold steps down as USA Eagles coach, paving the way for more coaching roulette.
What does the new Super Rugby Pacific deal mean for MP and the Drua?
World Series Sevens continues in Cape Town.
Happy Monday, folks. Thanks again to Moaning Expat for his work.