OPINION: Who would be a coach?
The wonderful weekend of rugby just passed, both here and in the northern hemisphere, proved what a frustrating job it can be.
You can put in days and days of video analysis, you can be up there with the good shepherd in your pastoral care of the players, and still end up as a chump. Players let you down and referees let you down. What a life.
So who would be a coach?
The answer would appear to be about half of New Zealand. Has this land ever been so blessed with coaching expertise.
When Steve Hansen retires as coach of the All Blacks, there will be a queue of the world's best to take over. And they are all New Zealanders.
At home, Dave Rennie would have to be at the front of the queue. For much of last season the Chiefs got by on what Wayne Smith called ''smoke and mirrors''.
On Friday night they did it again. The Chiefs front five was pulverised in the scrum and lineout. Key players were out through injury. Others retired hurt. The ref turned against them. The crowd screamed blue murder. And yet still the Chiefs won.
Their defence was brilliant. Particularly astute is the way they have adapted Robbie Fruean into the system. The Chiefs picked Fruean up because the Crusaders wouldn't give him security. He felt a little let down after all his heart problems.
The Chiefs made Fruean welcome and they adapted their system, because however fit Fruean becomes, he is never going to defend like Conrad Smith. He doesn't have the stamina. So the Chiefs have Fruean defending on the outside where he targeted Israel Dagg all night. After a tackle, Fruean doesn't have to hunt the ball, but just drop quietly into a defensive holding position on the short side.
At one point of the match against the Crusaders, Aaron Cruden identified a defensive shortage and streaked from one side of the pitch to the other in order to make the tackle. Cruden gets through some mileage. He was disappointed to lose the ball short of the line at the start of the second half, but if you track the metres he covered to make the supporting run, it was a hell of a journey.
The Chiefs are never going to ask Fruean to do anything similar. He is an impact player. They want his energy in the tackle. They want his energy for bursts like the one that led to his try. They even want his energy for the short scramble back, and Fruean made a couple of key interventions in the match. What they will not ask Fruean to do is to cover from side to side in defence. So they put him in a holding pattern and conserve his powers.
But what to do about Cruden? He is the most influential player in Super 15. He is a leader, a playmaker, a defender. Can the All Blacks really leave him out at the World Cup? But then there is a bloke called Dan Carter. It is a coach's dilemma. Who would be one?
Todd Blackadder can point to all the goal kicks that the Crusaders missed, but then he selected the bloke with the iffy percentage from last year. Blackadder might more reasonably ask why the southern hemisphere refs are suddenly allowing the 9's to feed the scrum again, to his side's disadvantage, when there is still a contest going on in the north. But then Chris Pollock's penalty count was 8-1 in the Crusaders favour in the final 45 minutes or so. Imagine what the Chiefs might think if they had lost.
The other home coaches still have a way to go. Two years ago Mark Hammett's Hurricanes went to South Africa where they were battered by the Stormers tight forwards. At the weekend the Sharks repeated the dose. Why hasn't this been sorted out in all that time?
Jamie Joseph has ground to make up after the troubles of last season and Blues fans will wonder how on earth John Kirwan's men started so badly at the weekend. The short answer is the 9 and 10. Kirwan's selection at 10, where the Crusaders have a stockpile, looks suspect. Chris Noakes gave up the first try. And where was Piri Weepu for the second. The answer is, yet again, the talented half back has turned up overweight and slow. With Weepu and Benji Marshall and the returning Ma'a Nonu, I wonder if Kirwan is being too indulgent.
So the real challengers to Rennie are Warren Gatland and Joe Schmidt. Gatland we know about, but I am starting to wonder if his skills are transferable. The All Blacks aren't any international team. They have to win AND play like Manchester United. The last bit might be a stretch for the man who coaches Gatball.
Schmidt looks like coaching gold. With a decent crack of the ref he would have beaten Hansen's All Blacks, who he outcoached, Gatland's Wales, who he outcoached, and drawn with England. The ref assessor told Schmidt that Nigel Owens missed two penalties against the All Blacks before the fatal penalty and the head of refs told him that the final penalty award was a mistake. On Saturday Craig Joubert missed an obvious England hand in the scrum that would have allowed Ireland to draw level.
Who would be a coach?
Schmidt and Rennie would be, especially if they had the All Blacks, the easiest and the hardest job in the world. Both men value people and they believe in discipline. Both men are astute analysts and they get good people around them. Who knows, they might even be coaching against each other when the Lions tour in 2017. The future of New Zealand (and British) rugby is in good hands.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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