Why are we so good at the rugby?



  • Firstly, apologies to the internationals for the wanky/semi-arrogant thread title (but you know it's true)
     
    The 7s thread threw up an interesting question, what is our current dominance of the 15-a-side game built on? Some one said forwards, and the very next person said "na ah, backs bro". So why do you think we win so many games of rugby, and rarely look like losing (and even when we do, find a way to win)? 
     
    I started to have a think, and came up with a thousand reasons, but i think many are symptoms, rather than causes.
     
    On field
    The obvious ones to everyone's eyes are on field. To me our points of difference are:
    Fitness: We seem to be able to play for the full 80 every game, finishing games as quickly as we start. 
    Basic Skills: All our players seem to have good basic skills. All are very good at their core role, but then everyone, 1-23, can catch and pass, at pace, with timing. We're technically good at the ruck across the paddock as well, enabling us to apply pressure at various points of the field. I think it is a point of difference that all our players can do everything. Certainly the ability of our tight forwards to use the ball constructively helps our attack immensely.
    Ability to switch from defense to attack very quickly: As soon as opportunity presents itself, the ABs seem to be better than any other team at switching mentality, and making the most of it. Widely regarded as lethal on the counter-attack, we punish turnovers, but most especially poor kicking. 
    Well Drilled. The ABs like to play a quick game, we put pace on the ball, and use width to stretch defenses. But, they never neglect the basics. Forwards go forward, rucks are rarely ignored. Defense is never neglected. When in our own end, we exit pragmatically most times. Our set piece, especially the lineout, is spot on. We don't present weakness to exploit, while still appearing to "chuck it around". 
    Depth: Our bench is often ridiculous, with the talent we have to introduce to add impact/pace to the game late on. If someone goes down hurt, we seem to have another guy ready to step in who doesn't let the side down. Look at Moala on the weekend, not even part of the squad at the start of the series, he was an injury replacement. 
     
    In my eyes, that's our on-field difference, we have 35 fit guys who have great basic skills, who are all able to play the same way when brought in to the squad. But why? None of the above is unachievable for any nation. Why have we been able to do it better than most for a consistent length of time, while others only seem to have it for a couple of years at a time?
     
    Off-Field
    An entire structure aimed at one thing, providing excellent players for the national side. The whole NZ rugby structure is built around the national team. Super rugby is used as a proving ground, and form builder, for the international series. Players are rotated and rested when required, regardless of what their franchise may require. Workloads are managed to ensure peak performance when in Black, rather than Super jerseys (something the Crusaders know better than most). 
    Development: Holes are identified, and players are developed to fill them. We had an impending hooker crisis, Dane Coles was identified, and brought up to speed (remember the player he used to be?), and then a number of candidates were brought in to find the next back up. Contrast that to say Australia, that has had shit locks for what seems an eternity, but haven't done dick about it, or their inability to find a #8 at the moment (not a pop at you Aussies, just an observation for contrast). Look at how many players were brought through in the last world cup cycle to fill holes. A bunch of "best evers" retire, and we have a group of guys with anywhere between 15-30 tests under their belts ready to step in, and while there is an understandable drop in performance, it's not as noted as it could have been. 
    But why do we have so many guys ready to step in? Is it as simple as rugby being the go-to game for all our athletes? Are our junior development pathways that much better? Does the NPC still work as that proving ground? Surely sheer weight of numbers should work against us surely? Some expected the economics of pro rugby to eventually work against us, but if anything we are getting better. Our Super sides are nearly all strong, the ABs are coming off (or continuing) an unprecedented period of sustained success. How? 
     
    This is a little rambling, but i am interested in hearing what you guys think our points of difference are, and how they have come about.



  • Remember when we were pretty good and when 30 points up with 20 to go they would ring the changes and the shape of the team would ruin the last 20 mins.  That hasn't happened in a long time now.
     
    You made me think M4L, how often in not so recent years you would hear "oh there is a forward in the back line, what is he doing there" and ineveitably the move would break down. No longer that appears to be the case. If in the back line they move or run the ball like a back.
     
    You haven't touched on culture which I think is also a huge thing.  No idiots allowed and family focused internally and externally.



  • Excellent post, was having a yarn to the old man over a brew while watching Wales. As a transplanted Scotsman he still looks in awe at how well the ABs do and as we rightly pointed out there is not a team in the history of ANY sport that has the kind of dominance the ABs do.
     
    There are people on this board who are far more astute judges than I am but it's not like the ABs have a team of "athletes" who were better than Wales who have some genuine freaks in the team ( Roberts, North, Davies for example, all huge, strong and fast ) but it's just that in terms of "Rugby players" the ABs are far and away from any other nation at the moment. Forwards doing basics but with the added bonus of catching and passing with skill ( well, maybe not so much Owen Franks ) backs with confidence and X factor ( if you didn't know who Beauden Barrett was passing him on the street you'd pick him to be a soccer player, not an All Black ).....a legacy as I alluded to above, I still can't believe they once lost five fucken tests in a row for example, but our greatest winger ever, the late Jonah, had never heard of Pinetree Meads til he actually met him so that "legacy" part doesn't add up in his case......
     
    That's part of my ill informed two cents worth anyway



  • That's true, did those guys who just left build a culture of excellence? I remember it was Ted's first challenge, to turn a pretty ordinary, booze-fueled culture around. Is our success down to Richie?
     
     
    On your forwards in the backline (but they better not kill the move, haay-ay-a-ay-ay) thing, the moment i really noticed it was a test in Ireland when Boric drew his man in treffic, threw the perfect soft pass to Thorn coming on the perfect angle for a try, and i thought "what other country's locks would combine like that?". The inspiration of Ali Williams to be more than a lanky cunt hitting rucks?



  • That's true, did those guys who just left build a culture of excellence? I remember it was Ted's first challenge, to turn a pretty ordinary, booze-fueled culture around. Is our success down to Richie?

    Ritchie and Ted/Steve IMO.
     
    All part of picking the perfect leader rather than a boss. That's what Ritchie appeared to be.



  • That's true, did those guys who just left build a culture of excellence? I remember it was Ted's first challenge, to turn a pretty ordinary, booze-fueled culture around. Is our success down to Richie?
     
     
    On your forwards in the backline (but they better not kill the move, haay-ay-a-ay-ay) thing, the moment i really noticed it was a test in Ireland when Boric drew his man in treffic, threw the perfect soft pass to Thorn coming on the perfect angle for a try, and i thought "what other country's locks would combine like that?". The inspiration of Ali Williams to be more than a lanky fluffybunny hitting rucks?

    Jones and Brooke did that bloody well back in their day too.
     
    Some point out the whole "hard working farmer" mentality as a building block for the legacy but I don't buy that as a reason cos as far as I know other countries have farms too.



  • I think that's a great question and not an easy one to answer.
     
    You've covered off a lot of it, though as you say a lot of those are symptoms.
     
    A couple of points for me is:

    1. The Pacific Island influence. A generalisation for sure, but the PI players have always loved to run with the ball. If you watch any amateur footy being played in the Islands there is sweet fuck all kicking. They have brought that style of play to NZ which, when mixed with people that enjoy a more "conservative" brand of rugby, has worked very well. Being able to play the percentages, but also take advantage of any opportunities to run the ball is what the ABs are all about.
    2. Kids. We teach our kids to run and pass before we teach them to kick. I think that makes a massive difference. And when I say "teach" I mean we tell them to have at it with little instruction. Running and passing are so much more instinctive then kicking, so you need to do it from the get go or it will be very difficult to pick up later on. Kicking can be taught at any age and much more mechanical. E.G. in this situation, kick for touch. In this situation kick for distance. Running the ball at pace and knowing when to step or pass etc are split second decisions so you rely on your instincts so much more.
       
      As you say we have incredible depth and another big point of difference is having 23 world class players, whereas other teams have probably 6 - 10 at any given time. Which makes our bench potent as fuck. Hard to say why we have so much depth, but I guess rugby is the choice of sport for most youngsters here. My 3 year old goes on about the All Blacks, he has a black pair of shoes that are his favourite and he calls them his "All Blacks" shoes. I haven't made him watch anything to do with the All Blacks myself, that's just stuff he's picked up from other kids at Day Care etc. We are taught from a young age that they are our national team and to take pride in them 🙂


  • I think that's a great question and not an easy one to answer.
     
    You've covered off a lot of it, though as you say a lot of those are symptoms.
     
    A couple of points for me is:

    1. The Pacific Island influence. A generalisation for sure, but the PI players have always loved to run with the ball. If you watch any amateur footy being played in the Islands there is sweet fuck all kicking. They have brought that style of play to NZ which, when mixed with people that enjoy a more "conservative" brand of rugby, has worked very well. Being able to play the percentages, but also take advantage of any opportunities to run the ball is what the ABs are all about.
    2. Kids. We teach our kids to run and pass before we teach them to kick. I think that makes a massive difference. And when I say "teach" I mean we tell them to have at it with little instruction. Running and passing are so much more instinctive then kicking, so you need to do it from the get go or it will be very difficult to pick up later on. Kicking can be taught at any age and much more mechanical. E.G. in this situation, kick for touch. In this situation kick for distance. Running the ball at pace and knowing when to step or pass etc are split second decisions so you rely on your instincts so much more.
       
      As you say we have incredible depth and another big point of difference is having 23 world class players, whereas other teams have probably 6 - 10 at any given time. Which makes our bench potent as fuck. Hard to say why we have so much depth, but I guess rugby is the choice of sport for most youngsters here. My 3 year old goes on about the All Blacks, he has a black pair of shoes that are his favourite and he calls them his "All Blacks" shoes. I haven't made him watch anything to do with the All Blacks myself, that's just stuff he's picked up from other kids at Day Care etc. We are taught from a young age that they are our national team and to take pride in them 🙂

    Not sure I buy point one, nowadays it would be unthinkable to go into a test without a few hard running island players but the ABs dominated for many years before that when there wasn't a single brown face in the team........



  • Firstly, great post, well thought out.
     
    All of the above, plus...
     
    I think it starts with our 4 and 5 year olds. The basics are drilled into them at such a young age, that by the time they're grown men performing these skills is just second nature to them.
     
    Thinking about when I was growing up, I'd play rugby on Saturday morning, sometimes two games - filling in for the next grade up, or sometimes even filling in for another club. Then the afternoon was spent running around the back yard , or the rugby club with oval ball in hand, while the old man watched the seniors, with either one, or a combination of the following : mates, cousins, local delinquents, sooky hockey players, sisters....in other words anyone within cooeee.
     
    I'd say this is pretty typical of thousands of kiwi kid childhoods, and these hundreds of hours living and breathing rugby as a youngster have to have a huge hand in they way the All Blacks perform.



  • Not sure I buy point one, nowadays it would be unthinkable to go into a test without a few hard running island players but the ABs dominated for many years before that when there wasn't a single brown face in the team........

    Fair point, but my point wasn't that we always had brown faces in the team, but that the style of rugby we play is influenced by Maori (I should have said that before) and PI players. In my lifetime we have always played a different brand of rugby to up north, that has always been far more effective.



  • Not sure I buy point one, nowadays it would be unthinkable to go into a test without a few hard running island players but the ABs dominated for many years before that when there wasn't a single brown face in the team........

    In the 60s the All Blacks weren't exactly known for their running. They had a forward pack that inspired genuine fear among other nations.
     
    For me, putting aside the professionalism of the NZRU which is a pronounced improvement from what it was at the advent of professionalism and the change inherent in the culture of the All Blacks now as m4l pointed out, it's the standard at every level of New Zealand rugby. So to stand out you need to be that much better. Any nation can find 15 athletes, some of whom are genuinely talented, but despite some nations having better athletes, they don't have better rugby players across the field. Nor the depth.



  • Fair point, but my point wasn't that we always had brown faces in the team, but that the style of rugby we play is influenced by Maori (I should have said that before) and PI players. In my lifetime we have always played a different brand of rugby to up north, that has always been far more effective.

    Same here, I'm only a few years older than you but we've all seen the grainy footage of days gone by, heard about the "invincibles" etc. Probably a few Maori boys in that team but there wasn't a PI player til BG Williams in the 70s.
     
    You hear stories about Pinetree, Lochore, Tremain etc. Much harder to name the backs from that era.
     
    Touching on what antipodean says about the athletes look at Conrad Smith.....on paper the 100kg units he regularly faced should have made mincemeat of him but how often did that actually occur ?



  • all pretty close i reckon. 
    the culture of success - and this goes way back to those early fellas - the farmers, hard as nails outdoor pioneering country people. farmers per se are largely irrelevant now, but the lifestyle - space and small population - in nz (still now, but more then) is/was very different to europe. even in auckland people have space. the saffas have the same thing with the boers but they also have a big mess to clean up.
    the way we grow up throwing the ball around means our forwards have great ball skills and can run. our backs get more opportunity to run rather than kick. the weather is better than the uk. from what i've read even back in 1905 or whenever we were running it more than the poms were used to.
    in my memory we have always had more depth than other countries - and the way bench use has changed advantages us a shitload. to be honest i don't really like it.
     
    we love the game. we watch the game, and people know the game. i played soccer first when i was a young fella, started playing and made a few rep teams so was encouraged to keep going - but i watched rugby, and knew far more about it than soccer where i literally couldn't name a favourite team or player. then when i switched and started playing rugby, i already had the skills from the endless games of touch / league / bullrush at lunchtime at school, knew the rules and tactics from watching every game on tv and talking with and listening to adults who knew the game well. it's just all through the fabric of society - i learned it before i even started playing it.



  • because technically very good. And smart, so a good option taker. And tough. And came through the NZ system. Club, NZ Universities, Super Rugby, ABs. And worked for the lot.



  • Not sure I buy point one, nowadays it would be unthinkable to go into a test without a few hard running island players but the ABs dominated for many years before that when there wasn't a single brown face in the team.........
    We dominated for a long time with what was often called 10 man rugby , I can remember in the late 70s early 80s the Aussies in particular were to starting to expose us a bit with their flair and running game .We were a bit predictable in comparison.
    And we seemed to respond after that with our own brand of running rugby aided by the Polynesian influence that added a physicality that the Aussies didn't have



    1. Kids. We teach our kids to run and pass before we teach them to kick. I think that makes a massive difference. And when I say "teach" I mean we tell them to have at it with little instruction. Running and passing are so much more instinctive then kicking, so you need to do it from the get go or it will be very difficult to pick up later on. Kicking can be taught at any age and much more mechanical. E.G. in this situation, kick for touch. In this situation kick for distance. Running the ball at pace and knowing when to step or pass etc are split second decisions so you rely on your instincts so much more.

    I think this is key.
     
    Be they props, locks or where ever, they are encouraged to run.
     
    My son is playing JB4 (U11) and there are a few kids that are superb kickers, last week in the hosing rain was the only time we said to the kids (down by 2 at the break) if you are in your 22, kick it; any other day, kids first instinct is to run, and run well.
     
    If the instinct is to kick, then is tough to change what your brain is wanting to do first chance it gets.



  • I think confidence is the key. 
    Any sport is about getting in that 'zone' where everything you do just seems better and easier. Nearly every AB in every game seems to be in that zone, even the debutantes who have no real claim to it. You see it when out of form AB's seemt o thrive in the AB environment,. they havent suddenly found form, they arent being helped by other players.. it is all mental.
    Where does the confidence come from? A winning history and clture and the the knowledge that the 22 guys in the team with you are all confident bastards in the 'zone'. You always elevate your game when yuo play with such people, even average players up thier game. Not because the others make them look better, but because they know they are good, they know the team mates are good, they know they are in the best team in the world. 
     
    You cannot fake or manufacture this sort of mentality, the Aussies show it in numerous sports.



  • Christ there’s so many reasons. I’ll just concentrate on the macro rather than the micro (micro being the current AB management and NZRU leadership since approx 2004).
    Macro being the structre, traditions and culture etc .....
    · Traditional rugby structure: Club > Provincial > (modern times) Super Rugby > All Blacks
    · Cultural reasons: rugby being national sport means it is adopted earlier by kids, and attracts top athletes
    · Grassroots coaching reasons: How kids learn. 10 a side, barefoot rugby back in the da, rippa rugby now a days.
    · Climate reasons: we are neither a wet weather country nor a dry weather country. We are both and our players skills and coaches approach are adaptable by the week.
    · Subsitution changes: Since 1996 (when tactical subs became allowed) we have had 21 man rugby morphing into nowadays 23 man rugby, rather than 15 man rugby gives us a huge advantage over say Australia, Wales, Ireland etc – and means Scotland and Italy etc will never in my lifetime even challenge NZ.
    · Rules changes: Rugby opened up since the 1992 law changes, since then NZ have become far more expansive than our traditional approach of the previous 80 odd years. This also coincided with the bulge of pacifica talent starting to work its way through the system. IMO NZ pulled away at this point from our traditional peer South Africa.
    · Touch rugby: no explanation needed (although this also coincided with the late 80s and early 90s change to expansive rugby and all round skills). Again differentiates NZ from South Africa.
    · Physical playing conditions improvements: Synthetic rugby balls, and improved grass/turf fields. Again coincides with about the 1990s and NZs pacifica population’s greater influence on our rugby style. Again something I attribute to us pulling away from the saffas.
    · Professionalisms unintended consequences on NZ rugby: The constant churn of the ‘not quite made its’ or the ‘on the declines’ to Europe actually has a positive effect at the elite level. Although it pains me to admit this as I would much prefer a professional 12 team NPC than 5 Super Rugby teams (if we could afford it). But you no longer get the modern equivalent anymore of e.g. a John Kirwan circa 1993 and 1994 holding back a younger better player. But I will contradict myself and also stray into the micro reasons a bit. The huge part of the 2007 to 2015 success was the retention of the core of experienced all blacks (who all just retired) – while the Hosea Gears and Julians Saveas of this world let nature take its course on the periphery.
    Edit: although this also almost derailed our 2011 World Cup when we got down to our 7th choice first five. Hmmmm.



  • How many of us walked to school with friends/family and passed a ball on the way? Or were pretty much glued to a rugby ball which you'd just pass, kick, throw around on a daily basis.
     
    I remember we used to make up games to try and kick or pass through a hole in a fence or some other kind of challenge. Not to mention playing forceback to hone your kicking skills. At college every spare moment was for playing touch or league/scrag (easier than setting up lunchtime rugby) and if you didn't have training you probably had a pick up game at the park.
     
    That all adds up and by the time you are growing and starting to find out if you are a back or a forward you've got a skill base to work with. 
     
    One team I played in always had goal kicking challenges after Tuesday or Thursday practice - and there would always be that one toe-hacking prop or lock who was dead keen to be the kicker on sat! ha ha awesome thread man, this has taken me way back :good1:



  • Oh! There is no class divide in Rugby that some other countries have. (England and to a lesser degree, Aussie)