Knuckles-dusting

Along with its habit of sucking remorselessly on the federal fiscal teat, Darwin may soon have another sin to answer for if my worst fears are confirmed. The Wallabies’ new coach John “Knuckles” Connolly began his coaching career just across the creek from where I’m writing this post.

I don’t share the generally positive media reactions to Connolly’s appointment. I’m in Phil Kearns’ camp. When asked what he thought of Connolly, the former great Wallaby hooker said:

“My mother taught me if you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.”

My mother used to say exactly the same thing, but it never stopped her from verbally knifing someone with her very next breath, and it isn’t going to stop me now.

Connolly is a bone-headed troglodyte who knows how to churn out a tough, no-nonsense forward pack, but has shown no sign that he has the faintest idea how to coach a modern international rugby team. At least judging by his Australian coaching record, Connolly is a latter-day exponent of the 10 man rugby style for which Dave Brockhoff became notorious at Sydney University back in my own short-lived, mediocre heyday as a grade rugby player in the 70s. In those days, Uni outside backs used to fantasise longingly that their legendary fly-half Rupert Rosenblum might be in a car accident on the way to the ground and break his kicking leg. It was the only way any of them were ever going to see the ball at close quarters more than once or twice a game.

As this article in the New Zealand Herald observes:

Connolly made his name as the no-nonsense and highly successful coach of the Reds over 12 seasons, which included two Super 10 titles and two Super 12 minor premierships.

But he was dumped in 2000 amid criticism of the Reds’ dour, forward-oriented playing style and the belief Queensland under-achieved with a playing roster that included the likes of John Eales and Tim Horan.

Of course, it’s conceivable that Knuckles has actually learnt something since then, during his recent stints at Stade Francais and the English club Bath. I have no first-hand knowledge of his performances at either club. But a quick glance at the Bath Rugby Club supporters’ discussion forum hardly gives cause for optimism. Here are a few selected comments from when the news first broke that Knuckles (and probably his protege and current Bath forwards coach Michael Foley as well) would be going to the Wallabies:

At least we know the Wallabies won’t be throwing the ball out wide in the next world cup…

Yep reckon it is good for us in the Northern Hemisphere if they take over as it will be all pack and no back game!!

I’d rather MF didn’t go, but I suspect it is really just a formality now.
Can’t believe though that Oz went for JC2, seems all of the super 12/14 coaches all counted themselves out, leaving JC2 as the only option left.
Looking forward to the world cup now, if he coaches internationally as he did at club level, Oz aren’t going to be ripping sides apart with exciting back play!!
One less country to worry about.

Quite. You really do have to wonder how Connolly ever got the nod to succeed Eddie Jones. Talk about frying pans and fires. I wonder whether some of the ARU tweed jacket chappies are simply trying to make belated amends for passing over Knuckles for Wallaby coach in favour of Greg Smith back in the mid 90s. Smith was certainly a major disaster, but at least his bizarre selection and other decisions were explicable by the fact that he was unknowingly suffering the early stages of an ultimately fatal brain tumour. It’s an excuse Eddie Jones can’t trot out.

But the fact that appointing Smith was an error doesn’t mean they should have appointed Knuckles. One can only assume that some of the more perspicacious ARU types and their advisers (Rod McQueen, for instance), must be hoping that mooted backs coach Scott Johnson will be able work some magic and counteract Knuckles’ dour, forward-based coaching style. Johnson has been a big part of the amazing resurgence of Welsh rugby over the last 2 or 3 years. But Johnson can’t have any influence if the outside backs seldom see the ball. As Wayne Smith mused in the Oz:

Connolly has refused to discuss what remedies he has in mind for the Wallabies – at least until his appointment was confirmed by the ARU – but it is safe to assume he will go back to the basics that served him so well during his title-winning stints with Queensland, Stade Francais and Bath.

Like Jones, who said he would have made the set pieces his primary focus had he been retained as national coach, Connolly will make a priority of the scrum and lineout. …

Under Connolly, the kicking stat is certain to change, and probably dramatically. There is no doubt he will place far greater emphasis on kicking for field position than did Jones.

I certainly can’t argue that tightly-drilled 10 man rugby isn’t effective. England managed to fluke the last World Cup using just that strategy, albeit with the help of a fly-half kicking wizard we simply don’t possess. And South Africa have reached number 3 or 4 in the world wih a similar grinding, forward-based approach.

I doubt that it’s possible to do any better than that with a Brockhoff/Connolly strategy. Other teams now have effective counters for the approach that won England the World Cup under Clive Woodward (although I note the Poms managed to flog Wales a couple of days ago). The All Blacks remain the gold standard against which other international rugby teams are judged. Sure they have a powerful, uncompromising forward pack. But they also have outside backs every bit as exciting and capable as Australia’s and they’re prepared to bring them into play from anywhere on the field, albeit much more judiciously than the Wallabies managed under Eddie Jones. At least Eddie knew Australia couldn’t win the World Cup by copying Clive Woodward, he just didn’t have a clue how to successfully emulate New Zealand. As far as I can see, Knuckles appears to know even less. I just hope I’m wrong.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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cs
cs
15 years ago

There is much such foreboding about Ken, which I am want to join, if I allow myself to recall his newspaper columns. The bald Qld favouritism was galling. The bottom-lines I keep hearing are “keep an open mind” and “at least we can’t do any worse”, both of which I agree with.

Ewen’s batty bid to have player initials on their backs, instead of numbers, in a competition where most people still struggle to figure out each year where the damned ‘cats’ and ‘cheetas’ and god knows what other animals the teams idiotically go by, has also prompted some fans to entertain the thought they we just might have missed a bullet.

Robert
Robert
15 years ago

Fair article, Ken. And I’m sorry you had to deal with Rupert Rosenblum clubwise; outstanding hands and a rare eye for positional play, he did possess the ability to set up a backline but chose to do so just as rarely from the occasions I saw of him. Particularly, I recall a NSW game at the SCG where all day the NSW forwards smothered the half in good ball, faithfully handed on to Rupert, and he kicked the lot of it. The crowd was livid. 10 man rugby is a betrayal of the Australian style, and let’s hope we’ve secured a better national standard since.

Happy for edification on this by other readers – my understanding of the state of play when Connolly was forcing the Queensland issue saw Qld fully financed by its own efforts, and NSW going broke (if not already so). NSW so notoriously poorly administered ended up being taken over by the ARU lest there be a national disaster. Qld remained on its own, smaller, and much more successful financially. All the while Connolly was making the case for more players in the Australian team against a trend he saw as having an improper imbalance of NSW players in it.

We could imagine then that Connolly held some pretty aggressive views about NSW and ARU in cahoots, to the detriment of what would have been to him a far more deserving group in red.

If that’s a fair summation of his time at Qld, it will be interesting in the very least to see what plays out off the field as much as on it. Either way, it’s certainly going to be a shake-up time administratively, which I feel could be a very good thing in the long term if not the short.

The question has to be asked of what will become of Connelly once he settles into Wallaby colours. He may well rise to a powerful sense of national pride, in a far more fiery way than we’ve known for a long while, creating a resurgence in support and a team spirit we’ve been lacking. This could also be a valuable winning thing – but could also end in a horrible shambles if the national team doesn’t win. Or will Connelly falter on account of his history of distaste for NSW?

It’s an experiment, and an interesting one in those regards. A winning World Cup team, or a shocking shake up?

I tend to see it as a positive either way, on account of where Australian Rugby was headed.

Strange mix though: Eddie, Ewan and Knuckles. Maybe, hopefully, Rod Macqueen’s influence is better allowed to shine on through.

cs: Did you catch Ewan’s comment aired re his rationale for doing the initials thing? Along the lines of “I’m trying all sorts of creative ways to win and that was just one of them,” passing the failed idea off? Possibly the most ridiculous comment by a coach ever heard, except that he’s a prop, and on that basis entirely understood.

Robert
Robert
15 years ago

Wish I had a better recollection of Brockhoff as a coach, Ken. Your input was illuminating. The media reports I came across drawing parallels between Knuckles and Brockhoff seemed a bit contrived, a touch patsy, and driven by an urgent need for upbeat PR.

However, I do recall the fire in the teams Brockhoff coached: Stuart MacDougall comes immediately to mind. And particularly those years saw the importance of forward supremacy – through tough no backward step spirit – established within the national team. Until then I feel forward supremacy had been kind of academic (not entirely fair to many forwards playing but it was different before then). Those years found the notches of toughness elevated enormously. The teams bristled with spirit, and player’s character bloomed.

If the parallels drawn are fulfilled, that can only be a good thing, even if we don’t win.

Obviously the professional era has curtailed player expression, yet the predecessor (who’s name has become tiresome for this very reason) dulled too much of that expression. If players today are more allowed to live rugby as the characters they are, and for want of a better word have more fun, that too is a good thing and can strongly change the team’s fortune. Perhaps Connelly being there will see to some of those things happening, which again is reason to look forward eagerly. (More than enough droning public heads in today’s Aus).

But in that parallel questions of intelligence remain, and outright idiocy at the top level resulting from bullheadedness or wanton larrikin anti-establishment stuff seem to threaten as possible as well.

Having said all that, we could just as well end up with unbridled mediocrity.

Who knows.. just bring it on!

cs
cs
15 years ago

Robert, it is pretty funny that Australian rugby coaching is dominated by props. What on earth has come to pass! Is this a NZ plot?

My optimistic pet theory on the batty initials thing is that, as Ewen has so much competition going down in his ranks this year, he wanted to get the players’ to attend their own performance rather than a mad scramble for positions, picking up some publicity along the way. Either that, or, yes, he’s a prop.

How good to start with a big one against the Banana Benders … bring it on!

Robert
Robert
15 years ago

cs, there was hope Ewen would bring stability or even a sense of it to the Waratahs, now dashed? And it is hilarious.

Yes, beaut one to start.

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
15 years ago

Well, in news closer to home, the Brumbies are going to shellack the Western Force on Friday night. I’ll be there and I’ll be happy to be there.

Not as happy as if we won but happy enough. We don’t want the Force to do too well because then they’ll poack our coach for the Wallabies.

AlanDownunder
AlanDownunder
15 years ago

Amen cs. At the Tahs-Xaders trial last weekend, the guys with the numbers were displaying the multi-skilling while the chaps freed by initials from numeric straight-jacketing weren’t exactly risking demarcation disputes.

Maybe Connolly’s Qld’s 10-man style was partly adaptation to available Qld no.10 talent. McLean, Lynagh, Spooner & Flatley are a pretty kick-happy collection.

Maybe the Wallaby scrum can rival the Bath & Stade Francais scrums, because under Jones it certainly did not. Alleged dearth of front row muscle was no excuse. Nos. 4-8 are no small part of any decent scrum.

Maybe Connolly’s concentration on the set piece will mitigate against the kind of over-coached by-the-numbers crap the Wallabies have increasingly served up under Jones, Gregan being the prime offender.

We can but hope; mightily, given the current state of NZ rugby.

Robert
Robert
15 years ago

No truth in the rumour Ewen is running the ‘Tahs on all wearing those caps with little propellers on the top?

cs
cs
15 years ago

A tough first day at the office for the Tahs, but a convincing win amid the blood and gore. NSW scored the only try and nearly got two more, while Queensland never really got close to the line. A great Tahs defensive effort, which never took a step back from a Reds team determined to put it to them.

Qld nevertheless at times looked sharp in attack, and their new no 10 (‘Barnes’ or someone) is certainly a player to watch. The Drew Mitchell-Peter Hewat by-play was amusing, with Mitchell taking a few points, before Peter had the last laugh in sending Rocky over the line.

I note that Latham of Socks Down was utterly ineffectual, as he always is in top company.

Robert
Robert
15 years ago

A win up north, a good one, and once again NSW Rugby followers are awash with belief in the Tahs – that they may keep it up. (Can hope spring eternally intermittently?)

A new national five-eighth as a long term proposition just may open the door for a fresh halfback? Two years out?

Lots of good reasons to enjoy an invigorated season of Australian rugby.

pat
pat
15 years ago

As a rugby-mad Welsh person whose daughter is married to an Aussie, I am fascinated by the differences between northern and southern attitudes towards the game. I think Wales are now in a right mess but don’t feel Scott Johnson is our long-term answer. So what are his family issues which might stop him committing to Wales anyway? In Oz, I think you have a bigger problem – high expectation! I hope Connolly doesn’t develop a 10 man game for you although your pack definitely needs to toughen up!! ‘Flair with caution’ should be the rallying call but from what I’ve seem of the Super 14 so far, you still have a long way to go. Are your players up to it? Good luck!!!

Robert
Robert
15 years ago

“High expecations”! As though foreign to the land of our fathers! I’m sure there are many in Oz who quietly look forward to the Welsh magic, Welsh flair, Welsh toughness rising from the dark coal mines to light and lilt through the valley, upon the wings of a thousand baritones, dipping only to tease a trout from the stream (if Gareth Edwards hasn’t caught them all by now), and thrill us all again.

But you are right. Once your talk is all about what you are doing wrong, rather than the buzz of what you’re doing right, the wheels of the winners have definitely peaked, and down and around ya go.

We’re hoping here that Connelly and his (probably) five man coaching team realise ten man rugby won’t win games, nor crowds, nor their continued employment.

cs
cs
15 years ago

High expectations! Never. As a part of our Australian birthright, we only expect to win the World Cup every second time.

Robert
Robert
15 years ago

That theory might be under threat, cs? Word is the constipation has now passed, fire afoot, new blood, same guts, at least one new head, raw meat instead of sushi diet, socks up and a sting in the tail – it’s a whole new look Wallaby. Could be two in a row coming up?

Robert
Robert
15 years ago

Ken, my enthusiasm is born of optimism, and certainly doesn’t represent all the scenarios in my mind. To follow yours through, as one worrisome scenario and clearly the outstanding one, validated historically, it is met in my mind with a question – what the hell would happen if (all of a sudden) the Australian rugby team plays a ten man strategy?

Imagine that on the field.. kick, kick.. what would happen? What would be the ramifications? Would there be an outcry? Or can it be justified, do you think?

cs
cs
15 years ago

I tend to agree Robert. Ken’s instinct is right, but the pull of fan expectations is also real enough, and a coach will know that he risks mounting criticism and having to walk the plank if he, say, went total 10-man pommy. We need to fix the front of the shop, and if he can do that, and stay open-minded at large, well, hope springs.

Everyone over at SA in the middle of the knight this weekend, but I reckon new Banana Bender Barnes versus His Majesty Mr Lord and Almight Forever and Ever Never Anyone Better But I haven’t Bested Bernie Amen God Himself Carter worth a peek tomoorow.

pat
pat
15 years ago

I hope Scott Johnson returns to Oz too – not that I don’t rate him but we’ve had enough foreign coaches in Wales to last me a lifetime!! I’ll never forgive Graham Henry for filling our international team with New Zealand players who weren’t even eligible to play for us. I want another Welsh coach to continue the work of Ruddock (and his team). I’d rather lose (apart to England but that’s another story) than give up our free-flowing style of play. It was a joy to watch at International level last season although it never reached the heights of the ‘dream teams’ of the 1970s!!!

I think SJ is just what Australia needs as, once your pack is toughened up, your backs will be able to demonstrate the flair they already have. SJ would certainly do a good job motivating your players as that has been his greatest contribution to Wales. He made the players believe in themselves again.

Good luck to your teams in the super 14 too. My daughter follows the Tahs but my heart is with the Crusaders. Sorry!

Robert
Robert
15 years ago

The ‘front of shop’, and its counterpart in general play as platform, is a key area where hope for me has sprung. And there may be a backlash against this serious concern for ‘total 10-man pommy’, making for greater focus on running rugby. But my concern more is the cohesion between forwards and backs. It might take some sorting.

My guts on the overall thing is we might go too far the other way from the stats-tech-head Jones, and lose either an edge or a lot of that technical need. Somehow Knuckles will have to balance his raw rugby, non-modern ways with the huge technical requirements of this era. It appears to me at the moment to be about the mix: forward play and back play, fire and stats. Getting the mix right might be a problem for him. There’ll be no shortage of people wanting to get into his head about it, too.

And here’s hoping the backline is not chopped and changed incessantly – the opposite, in fact.

pat
pat
15 years ago

Do you think that Knuckles will be able to toughen up your forwards enough to take on the big guns who seem to favour 10 man rugby while still giving your super backs the opportunity to express themselves? He wasn’t able to do this at Bath despite the talent he had available. I had high hopes of him at one time as Southern Hemisphere coaches tend to be unorthodox and innovative but I found him one-dimentional and the teams in the UK who were coached by him seemed to go backwards!! Maybe with the right support coaches, he will re-invent Australian rugby but will it happen in time for the World Cup?

Robert
Robert
15 years ago

‘One dimensional’ is an apt term, Pat. And I think a lot of us have those same questions.

I doubt anyone is looking at Knuckles as some sort of Wallaby saviour. He’s not regarded as a coaching leading light, which acknowledges the many shortcomings expected, and which throws up the question then of whether he will be supported, or undermined (happens, sadly), due to his own doing or others’. So what input will he provide? What will be the mindset he engenders? There’ll be no problems, I believe, with the heartset.

Regarding the ‘toughening up of the forwards’ issue, it’s fair to say we know what tough is, but it’s not our natural style. Wallaby packs are remarkable over the years for their toughness, when that toughness shows. Contrast that to the AB’s where only once can I recall a forward pack quite lacking in toughness, remarkable thereby for its absence. And so too England.

As Chris says, it’s about the front of shop platform. Knowing with the current crop we won’t be formidable, if we can at least solidify it, we can win games. The fact Connelly is a forwards-oriented coach throws the whole focus of his success onto that platform. That’s a different focus from Jones’. It is hard to imagine Connelly will accept anything but an extremely solid forward pack.

Apart from focus, there is the real difference of Connelly’s passion. Jones had it, but it was intellectualised, compartmentalised. Different from his time at Bath, Connelly is realising a lifelone dream here. This is big for him. And he knows the Wallabys have been underperforming, and anyone who lives by team spirit and not the team stats will know what is required to lift our boys – Connelly I believe knows this well. I think he’ll release the players’ individual joy for the game more, too, for want of a better way of describing that passionate, spiritual process of playing from the heart and spirit and not the head.

Add that strengthened team spirit, that individual liberation, that changed focus on the pack, and that adds up for reason to hope our forwards will be toughened.
Though we lack stand-out props, tellingly. (Perhaps that will be once again our failing).

Given the heartset; as you say, Pat, it will be about the support coaches, and the overall mindset, which Connelly himself will be responsible for.

Robert
Robert
15 years ago

Just to qualify. Toughness described there is not about the ability to take a hit, but to enforce it. Bind that principle into a cohesive platform, in set play and general play, and that’s what we’re all talking about and seeking.

As we don’t have the outstanding props to do this, it has to come from what is created in forward spirit, and that change of focus enhancing the individual need to do what has to be done. That we’ve managed it on occasions in the Jones’ era proves we can do it.

For the sake of commentary, I’d like to see a new halfback and five-eighth, to help along with the new coach(es) shatter the ‘old’ styleset and allow for fresh energy to flood our game. Risky, and taking time to develop, sure.

And regardless, I’d like to see a new captain. If the forwards do solidify, and become potent, a backline captain would help oversee the gameplan, as the game unfolds. Failing that, it might make sense to give the leadership to a forward who will set the example for it to occur, and to reinforce the forward focus we need as base. Then choose a VC out in the backs for the strategy.

Larkham has been brilliant for Australia, yet it is hard to imagine he’ll be at peak two full seasons from now, given what was his body won’t fall apart completely.

The two weeks after Super 14 until Wallaby time are concerning, as making these changes could leave us vulnerable and lose that energised refreshed team spirit we stand to gain. So it’s all not easy. I’m for taking the risk.

pat
pat
15 years ago

I agree with you Robert about taking risks. I feel that in the Northern Hemisphere too we are all so scared of losing that the same old patterns are repeated leading to the same old mistakes and the same old questions are asked.

In a world where instant results and instant success are paramount, it is probably no surprise that there seems to be little building for the future in our rugby teams. England are now so terrified to introduce anyone new that they fall back on Lol to try to save them from defeat (and it didn’t work against the Scots). In Australia, I find it amazing that, given the quality of the super series, more strong contenders for the national shirt have not appeared. You seem to have been relying on a small pool of players for quite a while.

Do you think Connelly will bring in new blood and accept that they may take some time to bed in or will he stick to the same format while attempting to shore up the pack by using different tactics if not different personnel? Also, do you think that Scott Johnson will join the Aussie coaching team or do you feel that the pull of being No.1 (albeit in Wales) will be too strong a temptation to refuse? After the abmismal showing of my national team on the weekend, I’m not sure there are many over here who want him as coach now but that’s a different issue!!!

Robert
Robert
15 years ago

Do you think Connelly will bring in new blood and accept that they may take some time to bed in or will he stick to the same format while attempting to shore up the pack by using different tactics if not different personnel?

Pat, looking at it in terms of rebuilding, that would make sense I’d have thought. Nick Farr Jones has an interesting view on Giteau here:

http://www.rugbyheaven.smh.com.au/articles/2006/02/27/1141020025816.html

Nick would know how long it takes to train for specialised halfback play, so in his thinking giving Giteau one year at Waratahs in the halfback spot as contender for that test position either shows a huge belief in Giteau or an acknowledgement that the position requires a change of focus on skills. Hard to imagine Giteau perfecting the passing game in that short time.

Giteau draws mixed reactions, but I agree with Farr Jones on him at halfback. He’d punch the running game out well, and would have the right feeling for what the outer backs need, and where they’d be. I’m not convinced on how well he’d read the game overall from halfback, but he’d have a go more often than he’d coast, including and especially when the teams’ backs are to the wall. If he could learn the passing game, he’d be useful there indeed – reminiscent of Steve Merrick style of play. Yet without those passing skills, as he is now, we’re back at square one.

I can’t help feeling new test halves would need two seasons together to settle.

Let’s hope Super 14 throws up new halves who force the issue. (And delivers a small herd of props).

The latest I read about Scott Johnson was he’d already committed to Wales for the remainder of this season, then to the Wallabies as backline coach. Perhaps that wasn’t certain? Fair perhaps to wonder also if he’d view that Wallabies position as a step towards the top job here? Maybe that wouldn’t augur well from what you’re saying.

Robert
Robert
15 years ago

Cordingly and Giteau opposing each other at half would be terrific for both of them, agreed. And that contest may translate well to intercheability at test level. (Cordingly was my personal choice ahead of Gregan ages ago).

I find Nick Farr Jones’ statement interesting, coming from a specialised half, and not unrelated to your ideas, Ken. To have confidence enough in suggesting Giteau I believe Nick is acknowledging the change in skills focus (in the game style as we’ve lately come to know it). It also suggests the validity of test match experience over specialised skill. Both of these point to the risk averse professional agenda. Where the nursery system is now is indeed hard to say. Who owns what? Who loses what?

To me that’s one of the disappointing elements of the professional era, something we’ve lost. It was a brilliant nursery to grow through the under 7’s and on thru the representative ranks; each rep team held the player’s heart and yet the next step beckoned powerfully. Inspiration flowed naturally from top to bottom and vice versa. And sideways, too.. to play alongside players in rep teams otherwise opposed held a beautiful symmetry, which was taken back again in later matches when opposing again.

Now, for Nick to say Giteau could play halfback at test level so quickly shows the piecemeal nonquality of the professional era, and cuts off the natural energy of the nursery. The ‘who owns what who loses what’ scenario throws the focus onto loss, not gain.

But I wonder if our test style has been hijacked, and set off on the wrong path, for Nick to say those things. Ripping backlines, attacking from set play with the aim to score not only have validity in the modern era, but serve to shred an opposition’s reading of your game in the attempt. Under Jones we saw fifteen phase rugby, with the hope of scoring by capitalising on an individual break. I see now other international teams are seeking only to score from counterattack.

The fact remains that the ball beats the man. Spinning quality setpiece ball through the hands early is the holy grail of rugby and should be maintained. No need for it to be the only plan, but I believe the plan should at least a pillar built into it.

This requires then the skills of the halves to be sharp, and would disqualify Giteau until fully trained and proven in provincial grade.

On that basis, I would agree entirely that Giteau should be tested at provincial level, improving his and Cordingley’s play [or their counterparts], and establish absolutely the setpiece attacking backplay pillar, and have them both required to deliver for it. To me, though there are doubts with Connelly, that is where Australian rugby has a golden future. There are simply no stats that can counter that sort of creative style. Yes, revert to phase play if needed during the game, but let’s plan to run it creatively together, not just individually.

pat
pat
15 years ago

How I enjoy your comments about creativity – it seems to be in short supply in the northern hemisphere at the moment. Even the French seem to have losttheir way and, on current form, I cannot see them lifting the world cup next year, even if it is being played in their own back yard.

It is interesting to see that the majority of national teams seem to be going through a period of transition and, apart from New Zealand, all seem to be struggling to develop a style of play and a group of players who will offer the chance of success in the world cup – by being adventurous and different.

I think that having a new coaching set up can often be the fillip that a team needs to spark them into playing a brand of rugby that wins games and entertains the fans – look at Wales last year. The problem seems to be in the lack of consistency and the ability to continue to surprise the opposition. Doing it once is ‘easy’, keeping on winning is hard!!

Do you feel that a lot of teams are of similar ilk these days and so cancel each other out? I notice it happening in our 6 nations championship this year and it will be interesting to see how it pans out for you in the tri-nations.

I would love to see Australia taking a few risks this year although fear of losing does seem to constrain teams (and coaches) and long term development is often sacrificed for instant results. If Giteau can grow into the No10 shirt, then I think you will be on to a winner as he is certainly the sort of player who could free your back line and open up gaps for others to score. I know that, in a team sport, no indivual is more important that the whole, but fly half is such a pivitol position that a ‘general’ is needed here. Is Giteau the man for the job? Only time will tell.

pat
pat
15 years ago

Thanks, Ken, for that information. I can see the dilemma you have regarding competition for the No10 jersey. I agree that it is good to have a few players fighting for a position. You are luckier in Oz than we are in Wales at the moment. Apart from Stephen Jones, we don’t really have anyone who is able to step up to the mark. Henson is a spent force, Nick Robinson suffers stage fright on the big stage and Ceri Sweeney (currently injured) has been playing centre for his club.

I read an interesting article in one of our papers this morning some of which I would like to share with you. It relates to England but I think it is relevant to a number of nations at present.

‘Rugby’s high priests of ‘winning ugly’ are in retreat but don’t hold your breath for an outbreak of artistry as England will doubtless roll out the same old heavy weaponry in Paris and try to bully the hosts. England are rumbling back towards the dark age. A rhino pack tries to scatter the Celtic herd and width and ingenuity are mistrusted. Playing like that they will need a miracle to win the World Cup. They need to be reminded what the game is about. A lack of dynamism and mobilty in the back row is compounded by sterile muscularity in midfield but it goes much deeper than that. The best teams find ways to open up a pitch. England look to close it down.’

Given that Connolly gave us a master class in this ‘demolition crew’ type of rugby which all but destroyed Bath’s beautiful, flowing, inventive style of back play, I do hope he does not intend to get your national team playing in such a sterile manner. I hear he is in the UK at the moment finalising his coaching team so it seems like ‘bye, bye’ to Foley and Johnson. Bath is already a better team under Brian Ashton, I suspect Wales too will rise again with a Welshman at the helm.

Robert
Robert
15 years ago

Connolly will certainly disappoint (and anger) a lot of people in Australia if he dumbs our game down, Pat. Our running game, developed through the Ellas era and which was fair to say had arrived and become established as our natural style, had a couple of hiccups with coach misfortune (Greg Smith was a shocker), but was terribly dissected under Jones. It can’t stand dumbing down, on top of that. Must live in hope.

However, on a very positive note, one of the great joys of rugby is to watch it grow and turn and reflect. As a game it really does embody creativity.

It began, I believe, with kicking out from the full allowed all over the paddock, then reverting to the 25 yard line. And so on.. from no lifting in lineouts, scrum changes, ruck and maul changes.. some good, some not so good.. but all the while rugby was seeking to explore itself. What other sport does this? And can do it, as rugby can? There may be some.. I can’t think of one just now.

It’s not just about rule changes. It seems to me to be an inherent need it has, to reach into its corners, or depths, bring back an idea, give it light, and explore it on the field. It’s highly evolutionary. From that creative perspective, rugby has been a delight.

At the moment, it appears to me to be an explorative journey through ruck and maul phase play.. loosening up the ‘breakdown’ so as to give more air to the ball. (Part of this could be the effect of tv pressure, requiring the ball to be more visible, and one reason why rugby league has played well for itself on tv). This flattens the advantage line, making it harder for backs to attack. And so the exploration of seeking to score from counterattack.

I can’t see this current incarnation lasting overly long, if the top international teams have counterattacking as their prime scoring agenda. Yet it’s fascinating nevertheless. It will take one top team only to tighten the forwards (laterally, that is, across the field), and spin it out thru the backs as a prime attacking agenda and once again the game will metamorphose.

Where will it come from? I recall a short moment when England!! planned and played running rugby, and buzzed us all out happily. Anything can happen, as long as they keep singing hymns and arias.

cs
cs
15 years ago

I’m not sold at all on Tryer Cordingly as a test player, but I’m right behind Nick Farr-Right on Giteau. Gits has all the skills and more, but gets beaten at fly-half and centre, when he gets beaten, only for size, and he’s almost exactly Gregan’s size.

I respect Robert’s comment about giving him provincial experience in the position, and also reckon Nick naturally under-rates this experience. Farr-Right was a very quick but often shit server, and his career owes quite a lot to Noddy’s awesome hands. There is a trade-off here that the Gregan nay-sayers won’t admit. George gives much better service to Bernie than Nick ever did to Noddy, but, yes, the trade-off is that it’s slower.

Gits, however, bristles with all the finest of the fine skills. I’d use him off the bench to replace Gregan, instantly.

Robert
Robert
15 years ago

I’d use him off the bench to replace Gregan, instantly.

So polite, Chris. You’d put him nigh-night, is what you really mean.

How long since you had a halfback for breakfast? Staple diet, with a dash of second five, no? Or you prefer wingers on toast down the sideline?

(Pat, beware the looseys who can type two words together mate.)

cs
cs
15 years ago

As a no 8, I couldn’t get to the halves, but, yeah, used to love cutting down wingers, Robert.

I reckon you’re being too precious. Gits has had heaps of experience at fly-half, and has played half-back before. Sure, I wouldn’t throw him in to start against the Blacks, or to start against anyone for that matter. But if we were in a comfortable lead, or a definite loss, I’d blood off the bench immediately.

Incidentally, I’ll get my first live look at the Tahs tomorrow … and in a very special bonus for us much put-upon rugby fans, it starts at 3.30 in the arvo! Whacko!

Robert
Robert
15 years ago

Certainly being precious, Chris, and indulgent as well. Must say though that the fine art of specialist halfback play is a thrill to watch. I do lament its absence these last years here, and have concern for the younger players coming through as that standard has changed. To me it is an anchor point of quality running backline play and securing that specialist passing game at the moment would help guard against 10 man pommy – a slow passing halfback necessarily alters the way the game is played, forcing it back into Jones’ style of hitting it up through the centres ad nauseum, spreading forwards through the backline, to do same, and so on. My fear with as now Gits is, though he’d be exciting in his own right, we’d have a stronger tendency to revert to that style of play.

Spoke with a mate who caught the Reds in action last: reckoned Cordingly to be a stand out, and Barnes was brilliant indeed. Very welcome stuff.

Tahs at home, little ripper.. could be quite physical by the looks!

cs
cs
15 years ago

Mixed press reviews on the Tahs, I notice. Yet my reading was that it was a very strong performance from the boys, and a big step up from last week’s debacle. There were several noteable occasions when the Tahs forward power really showed up, which is a thrill live – and this was also a tactical victory, for the SA team clearly had a policy of minimum ruck ‘n’ maul commitment, which Ewen exploited right up the middle. Tiquiri, Turinui and Hewatt also had great games in the backs. The buzz at the ground however was all about the evident strength of the team up front, even minus Rocky. There was certainly enough for Tahs fans to stay real interested, so far.

Robert
Robert
15 years ago

Bit of relevent info here on Giteau, for the record. In a quick quote, he prefers inside centre, and Ewen views him at outside centre.

http://www.rugbyheaven.smh.com.au/articles/2006/03/08/1141701575196.html

Robert
Robert
15 years ago

Sorry, that’s Connolly who views Gits at outside centre, Ewen at 5/8.

cs
cs
15 years ago

Beats me Robert. Remember, this guy is almost exactly the same height as Gregan, and even allowing for continuous improvement in his silky skills and acceleration, I can’t get past the memory of England throwing around like he was a matchstick in the world cup final. He belongs behind the pack or fly-half, I’m sure, and suspect that the main reason he shines for the Brumbies at 12 in the provincials is that he is outside Bernie at 10. Cripes, Bernie can even make Sailor look good! Hell, he could even make me look good!

Robert
Robert
15 years ago

I agree Chris. It’s always a huge concern putting in a smaller No 13, but as you say, Gits is a proven rag doll out there. And you’re dead right, Gits has shone due to Larkham.

I could have a stab at what Connelly is on about, and it could be considered reason to have heart. Gits has a very particular running style, low and compact, and his angles are also sheer. Even his stance is particular, showing an explosive potential with those inbuilt angles. At fly half, those angles just don’t work. Pappy had similar angles but his running style was much more balanced and his choices more varied. At a stab, Connelly might be seeing Gits’ style out there at 13 helping to cut inside – his slight inside angle – which can be devastating: it straightens the attack (why Gits is also good at IC in the right lineup) and allows for inside breaks, but it also throws open the room for the winger should there be an offload, especially a creative one. Take away Gits’ size, or, pretend him bigger, and you have a classic creative 13. Why I say that’s heartening, if that’s a correct stab, is that Connelly would be thinking of running!!

However, yes, straight to halfback and train him up. Why not have that explosive energy right there? His kicking game would suit halfback, once he learns to kick over his head, and his angles and style all work at halfback, slicing in and around the ruck or bulleting up the short side. Add his skills and experience of offloading at speed under pressure, and he’d be pretty deadly. (Did I say he had to learn the halfback pass?).

But at 5/8, it’s just a total waste. Wrong angles, he’s uncomfortable – looks it, says it – and what for? To explode straight into the pack – his natural angle? Or to waste that exploding, send it out wide, and then run like hell like any other bugger to back up before being effective? Gits at 5/8 is just all wrong. And then there’s Barnes! A specialist, and obviously a natural and gifted sportsman, ideally suited for fly half. I understand he rep’d Australian Schools at rugby, league, and cricket! That’s the sort of 5/8 we need.

Robert
Robert
15 years ago

Just noting an earlier comment there, Ken, regarding Gits’ creativity. You’re right, in that his creativity at 5/8 is greatly diminished, and as Chris has said, is only brought to life outside of the brilliance of Bernie. It’s a different sort of creativity at half he has potentially, which translates well also at 13, provided you have the top speed and the balance out there at that speed. On the latter point, Gits might be wanting. How often do we see him run to ground, once his angles and explosion is spent? That has to be harnessed and used before it gets spent, and that points to halfback.

cs
cs
15 years ago

You’re a cruel man Parish!

Re Robert’s “And then there’s Barnes!” I noted in that linked article how Tuney already has no doubts he’s going to be a Wallaby. As we’ve all noted from the glimpses he’s already shown, he’s definitely one to watch. Obviously, all the other provincial coaches have also studied the early vids, and he’s already being targeted to good effect, failing to finish his last two games and missing last week altogether through injury.

Barnsey (it’s good to have another ‘Barnsey’) is now going to have to learn that there is no place on the paddock for a playmaking 10 to hide, if he’s to be a Bernie of the future. This is one of Bernie’s great strengths, i.e the guy can never get enough footie per game, no matter whether it’s attack or defence and no matter what the risks. Anyone see the man dive on that ball late in the second half last weekend? The antithesis of the posing back. Talk about ticker! Take note Barnsey.

Robert
Robert
15 years ago

..there is no place on the paddock for a playmaking 10 to hide
..the guy can never get enough footie per game

That’s picked it, right there. Go Barnesy. (The ‘Berrick’ brand isn’t too bad, internationally. Who ever gets called Berrick? He’s gotta be good!!).

And on that ‘no place to hide’ thing, is that you being a Number 8 again, after your brief stint at five-eighth? ….Sheesh, every forward wants to be a five-eighth, even props: you can see them at training doing little airswipe field goals, still.

Incidentally, on Number 8’s not getting to the halves.. true. But as a halfback I happened across the odd Number 8. Still hurts, made moreso by that slippery slope.

Robert
Robert
15 years ago

Apols, Chris, it was outside of Larkham at IC. Enjoy..!

cs
cs
15 years ago

Mate, I had a rather simple No 8 methodology. In the loose play, rage around with the forward pack (I’ve never found anything so much fun in life as being part of a rugby forward pack). In the defensive set pieces, break as quickly as poss and head straight for the corner post, covering the defence of my own backs (secretly hoping someone would fail, so I could clean them up, especially if they were a half-back on the slope). In the attacking pieces, fantasise about being a Number 10 and grab the ball from the scrum base or back of the line-out whenever I wanted to have a run, and at least three times a game. Yep, no standing out in the blooming backline or anything complicated for a Number 8 in those (good old) days!

Robert
Robert
15 years ago

With you completely. Number 8 was an art form, pure and majestic.

(I was supposed to be with you, on that, above, and fully appreciated what you said.)

Bugger it. Must relay a story from the (good) old days. Pull up a pew, tucked away here in the Club, and feel it as you will.

Twenty minutes into the second half, score competitive, and it’s been on all day. The winger, an extreme finisher of high regard was hooling down the sideline. The play had started way over on the other side of the field, ten yards (then) out from the 25, and spun through the backs, setting this winger free. He had the fullback to beat, with a long belt to the try line.

We saw it from the crowd, which gathered on the one side of the field, that being where the clubhouse was. It was a good crowd, rowdy and buzzed by the “it’s on” arvo of no nonsense ACT rugby. I was kid, and had played in the morning, and like the rest of ’em watching, riveted.

The winger outsped the fullback, with forty yards to go and an open line. The crowd was screaming. Then, fell silent. The players, too, stopped, and fell silent, as wide eyes as one, players and crowd alike, saw the opposing Number 8 was doing just what you said. It was cover defence out of the book: except for one thing. That, was a young man called Steve Rawlings.

Rawlo was a legend even then, at just 18 years of age. He’d played Australian Schoolboys, and was on his way, everyone thought, to full Australian colours. At that age he’d singlehandedly taken out much older and experienced players in the senior game. He’d played against Wales, when ACT beat the then invincibles [which included this winger], and tore courageously into them, again and again. Later, people came to learn he’d been pulled out of a nightclub at 5.30 that morning to do it. That was Rawlo, huge on everything.

Rawlo knew cover defence. And he hurt people.

In the silence of this particular moment, you could see him leaving the forward pack way over there, with that winger in his aim. He was big, fast, and mad. Could he get him?

Thirty yards out and everyone realised he just might.

Fifteen yards out and you could hear them, two men, only, hurling towards a moment of destiny, in a contest where only one would win: the sound was the sound of a full herd in stampede. Bodies were at stake. The crowd must surely have been holding their breath.

In the last moments before the line, which I recall like yesterday, the winger, well beyond the stage of shitscared, and totally committed blasted the last bit of focus up from somewhere deep inside and one stride, two… launched himself towards the line, right in front of us, the corner post three yards to his right. Flying, and then above the line, and over, in the air.

Then he was hit.

In the air. Rawlo had launched a millisecond – he’d not have seen when, it’d’ve been instinct – and had flown, man missile, those last yards.

The impact bent the winger around him, the sounds shocked us, two now locked together, one crumpled the other missile-like and flying still, but now in only one direction. Rawlo had won. Both landed way, way out of in-goal touch, a lost, breathless planewreck mess.

In those days there were St John’s Ambo’s, who tended to each of them. Neither moved for a full fifteen minutes. The winger did not return.

It was a legendary tackle, the best I’ve seen. It’s still talked about down that way.

Years later, I had the gift fortune of coaching Rawlo. A thorough gentleman and a true champion. He was older, but onfield just the same. One night we talked about the tackle, and he gave his side of the story. The winger was marked, in his mind, simple as that. And, he said simply, “it hurt.”

Just a day at the office, as you say, Chris.

cs
cs
15 years ago

Beauty Robert.

You know, that’s how League 8s also once played, or at least how one J Raper did, who I only saw live once, as a boy at his first League game. Three times he came from nowhere to take the opposition wouldbe try-scorer, along with the corner post. I can still remember wondering what had happened, and looking up at all the old blokes around me, who just looked at each other with big smiles and said “Raper”.

Robert
Robert
15 years ago

Sensational.

No doubt about it, a corner post cover defence tackle on a screaming winger is a showstopper. Who’d be a winger?!

Glad you enjoyed the story. I’m sure you knew exactly what Steve went through in making it. He played a lot at breakaway, too, and he may have been playing there at that time above, not sure – but it was a classic number 8 cover angle. Just as you know, once the ball left the halfback’s hands he was off, and had it booked in. I imagine a number 8 taking out a winger through the corner post would be like blood to a rogue shark.. once tasted, gotta have it. (Surely wingers nightmare over it). Great to know you lived it.

cs
cs
15 years ago

“booked in” captures it all. Great rave down rugby lane, Robert.

I’ll do an overview of the super 14 so far sometime next week, for I’m getting mighty shirty about Greg Crowden’s off-field obsessions and continuous putdowns of what is for mine a tremendous competition. What does this guy want? Continuous all-singing all-dancing rugby? All I can think is that the bloke’s never packed-down or collected a corner-post in his life. In the meantime, it’s four-and-a-half hours till the Tahs face up again. Bring it on!