Captained Rhodesia 1962 – 1969
Rector of Michaelhouse. (1978-1986)
"Rugby is a thinking game – its’ not a running or a kicking game. This mania for running with the ball and playing open rugby at all costs is stupid – you must adapt yourself to the circumstances and play to your strength"
Now 50 years later Niel Jardine writes for Frosty ...
The Super 15 competition ended with a clash of the Titans. On reflection, the Chiefs deserved their victory by a slim margin for the second year in a row. So what made the difference? Rugby and most other sports turn on small errors at critical points in the game. Often, these mistakes occur when goal-kickers are off form. But in this match, this was not the case. Aaron Cruden, the Chiefs fly-half, missed a number of attempts at goal and yet his team pulled off a win. Neither side could be faulted on lack of sustained determination, vigorous defence or speed and skill on attack. The match changed dramatically in the last quarter of the game. Basic skills are vital. Tackles must be made, passes accurate, handling sure, rucking crucial, mauls compact and moving forward ruthlessly and so on.
In those last few critical minutes, the Brumbies received a penalty in front of their posts. Nick White, their scrum-half, kicked for touch. He tried for too much distance and the Chiefs had possession forty-five metres out. From this failure to kick the ball into touch, an assault followed which ended with a Chiefs scrum five metres from the Brumbies try-line. A superb link between the outside flank and Messum, the Chiefs captain, saw the latter crash over for what turned out to be the deciding factor in a closely-fought game. The Chiefs went on to score 15 points in the last 17. Another crucial incident happened earlier in the second half when Clive Rathbone darted trhough the defence and five metres out was brought down by a brilliant tackle by the Chiefs flyhalf, Cruden. No one could blame the Brumbies for their defeat; they played with passion and purpose and to a plan, which nearly came off. But the relentless determination of the Chiefs prevailed in the end. Great game!
The Kings beat the Lions at Ellis Park but failed to retain their place in the Super 15 because, taking into account the rules of the competition which hinged on aggregate points in the two promotion/relegation matches, meant they 'lost' by three points. It seems very unfair for a team which played with great and intelligent use of possession to miss out. Remember, this is a team which drew with the Brumbies away from home in Canberra.
If these things are important to you, you will notice that, increasingly, the grubber kick is used to break through the opposing backline inside the 22 metre area. Why? Well, defensive coaching has reached such a high level of effectiveness that it is difficult to score using more traditional methods such as parcelling the ball out to the wing. So those fly-halves, who know what they are doing, resort to the grubber. The best I can recall is by Kerr of the Blues who placed the ball in the in-goal area for two of his outside backs to dive on it. So what's the secret? Run at speed, feint with a dummy to open the gap, chip along the ground a ball which goes no more than ten metres. And use the 'outside foot'. Fly-halves who use the inner foot often see their efforts blocked because the gap is narrowed. As for the diagonal kicks by fly-halves to the corner flag - now incomprehensibly called a 'cross kick - it is devastatingly effective if the opposing wing is unobservant. If his opposite number is 'on the touchline' what else can be planned except the diagonal kick to the corner.
On the matter of wings, I hope to see more matches during the Currie Cup competition where wings do not routinely overrun the final pass. I know they need a flat pass so they can accelerate and and beat their opponent but it inexcusable not to get the timing right after the other fourteen players have worked so hard to get the ball to them. Finally, most 'handling errors' are caused by poor passing. Why the stats men don't record on screen the number of 'poor passes' e.g. those too high or behind the receiving player is beyond me. Any pass which causes the receiver to check his pace is a 'bad pass'. It takes all the drive out of the move. Fly-halves should pick up any low pass but three-quarters need the ball in the midriff area so they can maintain speed. Have you noticed that four out of five poor passes are given to the right? Is this because the guiding hand is the left when so many players dominant hand is the right? Are coaches aware of this and practice more passing to the right than to the left? Elementary my dear Watson.
Next week something on scrumming and the rucks. Remember I was a fly-half so don't expect too much expert comment.