Innovate or perish

It’s really hard to gauge where we are at against the opposition we have faced over the last 2 weeks. But I guess most countries are in a very similar position in that regard.

The forwards have been the biggest issue for 3-4 years now and we seem to be in gradual decline there still, even though we have publicly acknowledged this is the area that we are focussing on to turn around and bring physicality back to our pack.

I haven’t seen any real evidence of this and I do wonder what would happen if we meet South Africa on a day when their pack is on fire.

It has got me wondering about the direction of All Black rugby and New Zealand rugby overall. Specifically, how does New Zealand rugby strategise for the development of the professional game, the style of play and also the type of player we are producing for international rugby?

I always assumed this direction was done through the All Blacks mgmt and coaching but it seems like we are out of synch with the way the rugby world is going in a number of areas.

Firstly, the forwards we produce for the All Blacks for a long time now are much leaner than their counterparts in the NH and SA. We all know we don’t produce the same amount of big men as these sides traditionally but we seem to be continuing down the leaner, mobile type of players even though rugby has changed - it’s slower, with more stoppages and it becomes harder to fatigue teams as we once used to be able to do.

This approach was found out against a fired up England in the RWC semi final. It was an embarrassing loss. One glaring area was the work of England’s tight 5 compared to ours. Set piece as well as in the loose.

Secondly, we have never solved the rush defence problem that first presented itself against The Lions. Other teams have managed to score tries against those defences but it is still our kryptonite. The dual playmaker was a desperate attempt by Hansen in my view as he realised he couldn’t win the World Cup after the Irish loss in 2018. Ironically our best performance came in the qtr final against Ireland. But, by then, it was evident that getting up for 3 big games in a row were beyond that All Black group.

Thirdly, defence. Why have we not employed the same type of rush defence that we have so much trouble with? I get it is perfect against NZ and other teams don’t try to play like we do but surely if we find it so difficult why are we persisting with other defensive structures that do not provide the necessary solidity or turnover options. We might understand how to attack it better if we used the rush defences our opponents use against us.

I actually can’t recall the last piece of innovation that Come out of NZ rugby that had the rest of the world trying to catch up. Interesting how no one has adopted the dual playmaker from RWC2019.

Then I wondered whether it’s because of our set up? Hansen’s last gig as a head coach was 2003 before taking the reins in 2012. Foster’s last gig as a head coach was 2010.

Is being an asst coaches for so long in an All Blacks environment really the best preparation for leading the All Blacks? A side always under pressure to be the best side in the world?

It seems very insular in its thinking to me that we have coaches wrapped up in a largely All Black winning bubble, for a long period of time, and then expect them to keep ahead of the rest of the world. Hansen ran out of ideas (and motivation?) after the Lions series and the loss of some all time great All Blacks after 2015. To expect Foster to be the man to bring the All Blacks back to the summit of world rugby is probably asking far too much of him.

What’s the answer? Is it time to ditch the continuity? Do we need a coach with more recent head coach experience, do we need to change the way we condition players, particularly forwards? Do the All Blacks/NZ rugby need to learn more from NH rugby to improve/change our approach? Have we fallen behind other countries/clubs in innovation?

The answer to all of these questions seem to be a resounding ‘yes’

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