Everything is possible. That’s all I said. The perfect sit-on-the-fence answer. Doing pitchside media Monday, somebody asked a ‘Would you consider…’ question about the All Blacks in the future.
Some added two and two and got 22. It’s one of the things I liked better about how the media operates in France. They run the transcripts of interviews, so you get to see the question and the answer. Context is king.
I don’t have a big masterplan under the bed at home to pull out and look to see where I am in my career. Genuinely I don’t. We are getting on a flight to Brisbane in three hours, we have a training session before that and a management meeting in eight minutes. We play the Reds on Saturday night. That’s the focus and when that’s done, we will get to Sunday, wipe the slate clean — what we did well, what we didn’t do well, here’s the plan for next week.
I don’t need to be the big picture fella at the Crusaders now. I am not in charge of recruitment. What I am in charge of — getting the backs firing to the best of their ability, getting them competitive — I hope I control quite well. There are a few changes in the backline this week, so that’s spiced things up.
Hopefully you’ve seen Crusaders’ winger Manasa Mataele’s try-creating offload last week against the Hurricanes. While you’re admiring that, don’t lose sight of Richie Mo’unga’s anticipation to get between two defenders and take the pass. The pleasing thing there is we train for this — obviously not for ridiculous offloads like Mataele’s — but in unit sessions we work hard on KBA (keeping the ball alive).
For reference, I watch basketball’s capacity to keep the offence alive. Some of the space they work, and work in, to create the ‘separation’ is incredible, especially in the tight confines of a court. All of a sudden, they’ve worked a lane or an open shot. We are looking at that too. Manasa was one v. three Hurricane defenders but the touchline was arguably a bigger threat than any ‘Canes.
These are bodies of work you only see sporadically, but usually to deadly effect. Or alternatively, when they don’t come off as planned. When people come around to judging the box kick — particularly Ireland’s excellence at it — maybe an explainer is called for. The goal is to get the ball back, not kick it away to the opposition. You do that and you’ll end up defending, especially in Super Rugby, as we found out against the Blues.
One of the big rocks of Ireland’s game over the past couple of years has been a really good percentage in terms of box kicks recoveries. At the moment, the accuracy is gone, the intensive kick chase has gone, all of which means Ireland has less time in possession, which means they are having less dominance around the rucks. Hence, they are giving the opposition more opportunity to hurt.
Some have short memories. In 2018, Ireland were box kicking as much, and they were winning back the ball. At the moment, the carrot of the kick isn’t there for the chaser. You are then coming back to skill execution. The wingers are only as good as the hang time they’re chasing.
Because Conor Murray’s dip in form is playing out at national level, it’s forgotten that he has had issues at Munster before and emerged as all class players do. He worked out a few creases in Rome on Sunday, finding more rhythm as he went. Some of the ball he got in Rome was tripe. It also speaks a lot for his fortitude that he can take over the kicking duties from Johnny and do it seamlessly. Murray is dependent on his front eight, but over the course of three Six Nations games, they really haven’t had the attacking rhythm to keep them on the front foot. There’s a conscious sense around the Ireland dressing room that they are underperforming. You can see it. Lads seem to be fighting the perception as much as the reality.
You’d hardly think Ireland came away from Rome with a bonus point victory, and they were given the extra lick of a Welsh win over England. So does the Irish management consider getting out a spreadsheet next week with the stats on South Africa, New Zealand, England, Wales, and Ireland on it, and compare and contrast their results consistency over the past 20 matches? That blows this unhealthy perception out of the water.
Over that period, Ireland are performing the best of any side in the world. They’ve lost 2 of the last 22. How powerful is that on an overhead projector in a team meeting? Facts trump negativity and destroy that undercurrent of ‘there’s something wrong with that Irish set up at the moment’.
Even the disappointing news of Joey Carbery’s hamstring injury has context. Clearly the timing of that injury is very unfortunate from his perspective. The way he’s been going, Carbery would have been a necessity for management to get on the pitch against France and Wales.
He recovered from an error really well against Scotland, his move to Munster and his performances there means that this Carbery clamour has become more and more of a live issue.
I’ve been there, I know what it’s like, believe me.
I wouldn’t have said that six months ago.
With the top three northern hemisphere sides all down a game now in the Six Nations, there’s a delicious state of uncertainty about world order in a World Cup year. The unseemly haste with which World Rugby is looking to push through a new World League should not be at the expense of quality test match rugby.
Already, leading players are voicing their strong concerns in that area. Knowing the difference between quality and quantity is fundamental.
Six months out from the World Cup, any one of top five nations could usurp each other. Much depends on the dynamic of those rivalries.
If Wales were to meet New Zealand right now, you’d still think they’d struggle, despite Saturday’s glory game. Whereas if you say Ireland-New Zealand, it’s a far tighter game.
Similarly, Ireland-South Africa is different to England-South Africa. I think England will beat the Boks. The last two rounds of the Six Nations will deliver an intrigue beyond the destiny of the championship. This is reassessment week in management meetings. What to tweak, what to reinforce.
France, our next opponents, have a win under their belt, and the manner of it was quite good. It helps when the management picks players who play in those positions a lot. Does Brunel go for consistency or change? Their capacity to play as individuals is good — Ntamack has given them energy — but where they are consistently being challenged is their shape and their accountability in transferring a game plan to the pitch.
They would be the weakest of all the major nations in this regard. Bastareaud and Fickou is a good midfield combination, but it’s up front where they need to be more disciplined and accurate.
I don’t do the bars and café scene around Christchurch much, but last Sunday, rugby people here were impressed with Wales and Warren Gatland. Still, the world moves on quickly.
There’s a lot of Super Rugby in our orbit down here, so we move on very quickly. We’ve the Reds on Saturday night in Brisbane.
And I’ve a meeting in eight minutes.