It is not surprising that Bob Skinstad would be backing his broers, what was surprising however were some of the insights he gave as to why he thinks the Wallabies might be struggling. Over the years it seems that Bob has never been short of an opinion, but it is a considered opinion that is based on reasoned thought.
Speaking exclusively to G&GR Bob gave his views on the contentious Pocock v Waugh debate, the Wallaby scrum, Robbie Deans’ future, what the Wallabies must do to be successful and the outcome of Saturday’s test between the Wallabies and Springboks.
In relation to the Pocock vs Waugh debate, Skinstad didn’t hold back.
“I think it’s a tough one, I think Robbie Deans has got so many things he is trying to do. He has to stamp his own authority on the team, he’s got to lead the team and he’s got to get the team to believe in him.”
“I don’t think he wants to fight battles on the home-front and as much as I love Phil Waugh, he’s a top, top man – but he is a very strong leader already within the Wallaby camp so I think that Deans is thinking where can I sparingly bring my guys through”
“I think Deans has weighed it up and Phil and David are similar players so he has probably judged them on 5 or 6 key areas. He might have had Phil on the bench but he’s got David on the bench as Pocock is going to a Wallaby in his set-up for longer”
“Having said that I don’t know if that’s valid as Phil will still be around at the next World Cup”
There has also been plenty of talk about the Wallabies building toward the next World Cup. Although Robbie Deans has never talked about anything beyond the next game, the fact remains that rugby is moving toward a four year cycle that is so prevalent in soccer.
While not totally agreeing with the argument that teams as such don’t necessarily build toward World Cups, Skinstad certainly thinks coaches do.
“I’ve seen coaches fail because they are planning five years ahead. In a South African context, Jake White was literally one drop goal away from being fired (before the 2007 World Cup). At Rustenberg we (The Boks) came back and beat New Zealand with a last minute drop goal by Andre Pretorius. Andre Pretorius hasn’t disappeared out of the system, but Jake White has.”
“I don’t know if the team builds as such but coaches certainly do. It’s great to have a four year plan if you’ve got a four year job, but if you’re not winning games, well? Some coaches impose a phasing process but it doesn’t always work as teams tend to wax and wane in terms of the intangibles that make winning easy”
So the obvious question a statement like that poses, is Deans’ position under threat if the Wallabies don’t start winning? To this, Skinstad totally disagreed.
“I think the best thing the ARU could do is to say Deans has got the job regardless because he’s got pedigree and it will come right. They will build well next year and they will be devastating in the World Cup year. The rest of the world is probably hoping they (ARU) go with someone else as the new guy will have to start building as well.”
The simple fact is the Wallabies aren’t winning games. They are not exactly getting thrashed but they seem a fair way of the pace in terms of their major Southern Hemisphere counterparts. It is an interesting parallel to where the Boks were a short time ago when Peter de Villiers took over. Skinstad was quick to point out what he thought lead to the dramatic turnaround between then and now.
“I think de Villiers has had a big role to play there. I’ve spoken to a lot of the senior players, and his greatest role has been to pull back as a coach and let the players take charge.”
“All of his nuisances and what the rest of the world sees as being funny has deflected attention from the players”
“In the past South African coaches were ego based, they had to be in our environment. The big, strong, boorish, my way or the highway, I’m in charge style has changed. Peter has come in and said “it’s my way, but let’s have a look first” and a couple of series wins later, the guys are saying well maybe he does know what he is talking about.”
In every press conference this week the questions have invariably turned to the scrum battle with the Wallaby and Bokke camps having very different views as to where the problems lie. Skinstad himself was quoted in the press as saying he couldn’t understand some of the decisions that were made last week, and the Bokke pack was being harshly treated. I asked him if he thought the Wallaby pack was the real deal or if they had been given an unfair leg-up by the officials.
“I think they are a very good scrum but to be honest Phil Vickery has held his own for ten years and one-on-one, man-on-man, The Beast broke him. I can’t in all faith see the Wallaby tightheads are three times as strong as Phil Vickery.”
“The scrum hasn’t changed, the situation hasn’t changed, the packing hasn’t changed, the calling hasn’t changed and suddenly the guy (Beast) is being forced to scrum in?”
“I was quite open and honest about it, I don’t think we (Bokke) are blameless, but I’ve played Currie Cup with some weak scrums and the talk was always how can we nullify them (the other pack), as opposed to how do we smash them”
“I don’t think John Smith is out of his depth as a prop, he’s not. He can stand up to a Sheridan or the like, so I just can’t see how Robinson or Alexander are suddenly, out of nowhere, the worlds strongest scrummagers. I think the Wallabies are very good scrummagers, but the interpretation (from the referees) is a factor.”
It is hard to find weakness with the Saffers, but that is what Deans must do and implement a game plan to exploit that weakness as the Wallabies strive for a win. Not an easy task, but for someone with an inside knowledge of the Boks, I asked Skinstad if he was coaching, where would he look for such a weakness.
“I don’t know as I can even think about such a thing, that’s sacrilege!”
“The Boks are a team built on combinations, self belief and understanding of each other. I think if you are going to unlock them you have to attack these combinations so you have to try and get into that space”
“You have to try and fracture something. If you could somehow put pressure on their lineout or like the Wallabies did very well, put pressure on their scrum. You have to use that as a sort of multiplying factor, one weakness and then grow it. I don’t think you can have a tactic of trying to take them on in five or six areas as they are very strong.”
There has been so much talk from the Wallaby camp about how close they are to getting it right and it is just little things that are hindering their potential to beat the best in the world. I asked Skinstad for his assessment of where he thought the Wallabies were at and where they needed to improve, not only for the rest of this year’s Tri-nations, but also into the future.
“In terms of results they might be a bit off the pace, but these are five and six point results. Some of the greatest teams in history go through their season by only winning by one or two points”
“They are losing by small margins but in hunting terms they are only two clicks of the scope away and suddenly everything is in focus and you’re done, I don’t think they’re far off.”
“I think they’ve got an amazing attacking capability but I don’t think they’ve got the perfect combinations. I’ll be interested in the Genia and Giteau combination. I think that’s what Deans has been looking for because he had Marshall and Mehrtens, then Marshall and Carter, sort of Larkham and Greegan-esque.”
“I think if they continue with the combinations it will all slot into place. The back three are really dangerous but they are moving them around. They are struggling with the second row and the balance of the backrow. Rocky is brilliant, George Smith is brilliant, but they are struggling with the balance”
Ok Bob – who’s gonna win it?
“I think it will be the Boks because they want it more at the moment. The Wallabies are worried about their place, they’re worried about their future, they are worried about what the newspapers are saying. The Wallabies have a lot of outside factors.”
“The Boks are only worried about winning the Tri-nations and being the greatest team ever.”
And by how many?
“No idea! You only have to look at the history books, the Boks have never won here so they will sneak a win. Both teams will give it everything but the Boks will sneak a win.”
Righto, Skinstad is a biased Saffer! – so I asked a neutral, Tiaan Strauss, someone who has represented both the Boks and the Wallabies who would win.
“It will be gold and green, or green and gold, who knows!”
Maybe the fact Strauss handed out the Bok’s jerseys this week suggests he wasn’t quite telling the truth.