Super 15 - 22/23 May 2015

I received a query relating to my plea for ‘micro-coaching’ of backline play. What exactly?

Well, as I indicated last week, attention to fine detail of all aspects of three-quarter and half-back performance – insistence on very, very high standards of accuracy in passing, handling, kicking, off-loading, defence and so on. I must say it looks as though some NZ coaches are already approaching levels of ‘micro-coaching’ that aim at perfection or as close as they can get. There are fewer and fewer errors by these teams. The demands of their coaches are high; they appear to accept nothing but the best. 

This is borne out by the results NZ teams achieve in the Super 15 competition. Good though some of the SA and OZ teams are, they lag behind as units. To give one example of how relaxed SA backline coaches are – not all of them of course – in a list of the top ten players who ‘offload in the tackle’ and therefore retain possession, there is not one SA player who qualifies! Who’s minding the shop??

Look, let’s be fair. The Cheetahs have shown the flair on occasions, the Stormers too, the Lions increasingly often. What about the Mapoe try after a bewildering series of passes and running lines with Faf de Klerk in amazing nick again! The Lions were in magnificent form and bear out their coach’s view that ‘on the day, any side can beat any other in this contest.’ Johan Ackerman and his coaching squad come across as thinkers with little or any hubris or, indeed, over-confidence. Ackerman is modest in victory and generous in defeat.

I did go on a bit about the ‘spin pass’ last week, but I think I’ll stick with my opinion. The spin imparted has limited value, so far as I can see and I’ve watched carefully. Again, nearly all poor passes in the six matches I watched went ‘to the right’(!), even the appalling effort by Dan Carter, who is left-handed/footed, - yes, an exaggerated spin-pass - which was snapped up by Horne of the Waratahs for a try at a crucial point in the game. Nearly all tries, except for those scored by the Highlanders, Lions and Waratahs came from errors or the bounce of the ball (e.g. the Bulls’ two tries vs the Blues for example). Foley’s great individual effort with a gathered chip to seal the match against a predictable Crusaders team, was one of the exceptions.

Someone else asked if I thought we would/could win the World Cup. I quoted Johan Ackerman – see above – but added that on current form, we are just nowhere close enough. We accept too much careless and shoddy play. I mentioned, in this regard last week, W.S. Gilbert of Gilbert and Sullivan fame. He complained that a singer of one of his lyrics was inaudible for three words in a solo song. 

Well, let’s continue with the musical comparison. Take playing the piano. There is no teacher who says after her pupil has played a piece with a number of note errors, ‘Well done. Not bad. You got 70% of it right. And for your scales, you got 80%.’ Piano teachers are only interested in 100% accuracy of note and basic interpretation. To accept anything less is to let down the learner. And don’t tell me rugby skills are harder! With the piano you are playing different notes with each hand.

As to other sports, I think our coaches and players need to approach the game more as professional golfers do – enough, point made.

The Highlanders were bound to beat the Force I thought, just too much talent and flair, and so it turned out. No surprise really. I watched as Ebersohn kicked again and again and again in a vain effort to ......well, I don’t know really....’gain ground?’, ‘play in their half?’ His one shining moment was a brilliant break early on and he needs to be encouraged to vary his play more. His performance reminded me of some of my worst days as a flyhalf, kicking away good ball because the mindset was negative, especially against sides like N.Tvl. Mind you I played most of my rugby without a coach and any detailed planning until the end of my career was very limited. Des van Jaarsveld made a big difference and then the arrival of Alan Sutherland from NZ produced a sea-change with the likes of Ian McIntosh, who went on to become a great student, analyst and international coach.

In Salisbury, after I had stopped playing, I had a couple of talks with Denis Fry, former Bishops, WP and Springbok flyhalf about the pivot position. As a schoolboy at Selborne College, I had watched Denis play twice for WP vs Border. His skills were immaculate – both feet, hands, passes, decision-making, linking. I must say, with perhaps some bias, that I didn’t think he was a better player than Border’s Boet van Rensburg of Buffaloes, an outstanding player who never received the recognition he deserved. It always helps if you play in one of the bigger centres.

Denis was big on running the ball from everywhere. When I queried this, he told me he had always played behind dominant or strong packs. At Bishops, he played in only one defeat from under 14 to First Team! By contrast, my highlight at Selborne had been as a member of an unbeaten Third Team, coached by Neil Emslie, who went on to become a legend as coach of the Ist XV for many years. Allan Gray has donated a sports facility at Selborne and named it The Neil Emslie Centre. I did play a season for Seconds and had a couple of games for the First Team. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that if I had my career over again, I would take a far more positive approach to attacking and be far less defensive.

Back to the Super 15: once again Spies turned down a kick at goal in the 75th minute which would have given his team a bonus point and three or four more minutes to attempt a try. He’s no captain. As for Pollard, talent is not enough. It’s an 80 minute game and he’s just too erratic at present. I hope the Bulls can come away with a win this coming weekend.

About the two ‘bloopers’ in matches over last weekend, the less said the better, except by the players’ coaches who should say a lot. James O’Connor’s dreadful hack into Ungerer’s belly for him to clutch his solar plexus as he scored, was farcical. But it’s obvious O’Connor’s no kicker. His body position is awkward, his head isn’t still, he holds the ball too low. He’s a great runner. Then there was the half-time whistle incident of the Rebels who tried to run the ball from their tryline against the Stormers. Poor Scott Higginbotham didn’t know what to say about that in his post match interview.

So the Hurricanes continue on their merry way, playing with resolve, concentration, style and great forward momentum. I can’t see them losing, but it’s a funny game when the chips are really down.

Neil Jardine

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