My first sales manager always used to tell me; ‘Don’t come to me with problems, come to me with solutions’.
With all the bitching in recent weeks and column upon column of views regarding the ‘favouritism’ the All Blacks enjoy at the expense of the Springboks and Wallabies I was again reminded of that very important line I learned as a 19-year old.
South Africans of course have been the most vocal but that is to be expected when you sit on the bottom of the log without a single point, but there has also been murmurs from Australia and New Zealand that there might just be an issue at hand here which needs to be dealt with.
The issue, or problem of course, is the perceived belief that the All Blacks cheat.
Well let me not beat around the bush with the issue, the All Blacks do break the rules but from where I sit the fact that they do not get caught says a lot more about the Springboks and Wallabies than it does about the All Blacks.
The controversial area I am referring to is mainly the ruck so let’s deal with what they do there first.
In the last couple of years the focus of referees and the media, and even spectators have been around one player, or one position – the fetcher. The obsession with this player has reached astronomical proportions infamously making its most controversial appearance first with Jake White and his quote and belief on what fetchers does for him in his team every Sunday.
Since then enough column inches to go to the moon and back has been spent on the issue and the player, from George Smith, Richie McCaw, Heinrich Brussow, Pocock, Louw and many, many more and their role and their ‘importance’ in the game of rugby.
They are usually labelled as ‘cheats’ or the guys that push the letter of the law the furthest.
The effect of this was immediate. In recent years we had law changes, law variations and the flavour of the month now is law interpretations… All basically focused on the same thing and largely focused on one specific area, the ruck or tackled ball situation, the domain of the animal they call the ‘fetcher’.
Since it became fashionable to focus on these players it also became very easy to base all problems, or perceived strengths and weaknesses on these players. The recent rumblings being no different in my view.
Now to come back to the All Blacks and cheating.
Breaking the laws is wrong, there is no question about it, but for my money, you can only be called a cheat if you get caught.
Personally after studying all the games in the Tri-Nations this year so far, I came to the conclusion that the All Blacks are not cheats, in fact, I think they are bloody clever!
Before I explain let me share a secret with you…
Any coach or management team worth their salt spend hours and hours studying the laws, the current trend with the application in the laws, their own team, the opposition and also (believe it or not) the referee.
Now if you believe this is done only to identify strengths and weaknesses in opposing teams and players you are living in cuckoo land… Any possible advantage that can be found in the laws, law interpretations and trends in application are also identified.
Let me give you an example. The All Blacks knew Craig Joubert, one of the top referees in the Super 14, awards 80% of penalties at the ruck against the defending teams. They therefore knew that Craig’s focus is 80% on the defending team and more importantly, the defending fetcher or players who play directly to the ball to steal it, or slow it down.
In other words current trends in law application is placed directly on the ball and players directly on the ball at rucks or tackled situations. Just think to how referees want to see this ‘daylight’ from tacklers, have to make call on tacklers and arriving players etc., etc.
The All Blacks identified this in Craig (and most referees as this is an international trend in law application) and came up with a plan, the plan was quite simple – gain an advantage, even if a bit unfair, or against the laws in areas around, or away from this point of focus to benefit ourselves. How or what did they do? Well quite simply they tasked specific players at the ruck or tackled situation to disrupt, obstruct and generally spoil opposition players away from the focus point (the ball) to gain an advantage. They identified by clearing players a meter or so further than what they normally would, or a meter or more away from the ball than they usually would, they gained a clear advantage in disrupting defensive structures, momentum and lines of opposition teams… Genius!
They identified that by gaining an advantage at a crucial part of the game, the ruck, where it is unlikely they will get penalised because it is seldom seen given the current trends and focus, and you know what, bloody good on them!
This now leaves us with my opening line and ‘problem’ for South Africa and Australia…
Well first off there is no point in bitching about a team or coach if they managed to identify something to benefit them before you did. It says more about you than it says about them.
Also, you are mainly left with two options, or solutions…
Either you try and beat them at their own game or devise methods to counter this or even beat them (yes Peter at times you do coach players to cheat!), or you make the whole world (most importantly the IRB) aware of exactly what is happening and put pressure on them to ensure that the area you feel ‘cheated’ on is better policed!
You see, you are actually only a cheat if you get caught…Tweet