Where Eagles Snore

March 18th, 2009 · No Comments

Paul Cook’s review of episode 013
‘How many pragmatists does it take to make a rugby podcast?’
Answer: In this case - Four. One to proffer the description and 3 to concur wholeheartedly.
The Fab Four of Sen, Cashman, McKenzie & Kiss were back in tandem and fine voice for this weeks show. Ably supported by Bruce ‘John’ McLane from New York and special guest and new USA Eagles coach, Eddie O’Sullivan who stuck around for the whole show. This was a monster episode which set off on so many tangents that trying to extract the highlights for this review is doing it an injustice. Here goes!
Following in the footsteps of Episode 011’s debate on ‘Winning Tough’, the panel took part in a ‘Coaching Debate’ of which many topics were digested but the main thread running through was the fact that ‘pragmatism rules’. Unfortunately, it was concluded that at most levels in modern day sport, results are all that matter. It’s a sad but true indictment of the nature of things in an era of sponsorship deals and TV rights that the fear of losing dictates the mindset of a team and its coach and the natural ‘joie de vivre’ or ‘derring-do’ mentality of having a go and entertaining the crowd is a thing of the past.
As part of the debate, Djuro questioned the importance of a skills coach and at what age range their teaching should be best directed towards. Again, there was a reluctant agreement that, as a coach, you don’t necessarily have the time to promote an advancement of skills and basics and these areas are often sacrificed in terms of the bigger picture – winning at all costs. Eddie O’Sullivan summed it up by stating that ‘You can be a maverick, but you won’t be around for very long.’
The number of coaches needed to run a team effectively was also discussed, with Eddie feeling that 5 was about the limit. He referenced Clive Woodward, whose touring Lions squad of 2005 was the largest in history including 26 managers/coaches. A decision that backfired badly. Eddie can speak from experience as he was one of those coaches.
The specific roles required from a specialist coach also came up with Eddie stating that during his time with Ireland, he expected and encouraged his defence or forwards coaches to take part in all the sessions not just their own so as to maintain a continuity of message.
Les took this further by saying that this way of working was imperative in keeping the players minds focused on all aspects of the game otherwise they don’t connect the separate areas of attack, defence and set piece – better known as ‘the transitions’.
Both Ewen and Eddie stressed the importance of a leadership group in creating a successful team. Eddie pointed to the fortune of having Keith Wood, Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell available during his tenure that made his job a lot easier. Looking back to 2003, England had Johnson, Dallaglio, Back, Hill and Leonard et al - now we’re not even sure if captain Borthwick is the right guy let alone anyone else around him?
Talk turned to Eddie’s recent appointment with the Eagles. He certainly comes with a fine reputation from his time with Ireland being their most successful coach of the modern era having led them to 3 Triple Crowns, a World Cup quarter final and a highest ever world ranking of 3rd.
Many people wouldn’t be aware of Eddie’s previous involvement with the Eagles prior to the World Cup 1999 where he worked as the forwards coach and within the Coach Education Program. He feels that an appreciation and understanding of the American system gave him the edge of other potential candidates. He is also a systems based coach and as Bruce also alluded to, he coaches in an American style which the players respond to.
During that first stint, Eddie contributed to taking the Eagles to a world ranking of 13th. They have now dropped to 19th and one of his goals - along with qualification for the 2011 World Cup - is to improve this position and overtake countries that were previously behind them. Ironically, his first step in that direction will come against Ireland.
He agreed that having a US team in an expanded Super 14 would be a fantastic way forward but could only speculate as to the feasibility of such a project. If this sounds far fetched, Djuro reminded us that a Super Rugby team based on the West Coast of America has been an idea floating around since the mid 90s. Bruce then chipped in with his revelation that plans are also afoot for an American team based in New York and/or Boston to take part in the Magners League.
At this rate, the Magners League could end up being the largest rugby competition in the world with supposed interest in joining also coming from Argentina, Italy and even South Africa should the Super 15 talks not reach a satisfactory conclusion.
That’s an awful lot of talk about expansion involving extra travel and its inherent costs. Is this achievable in the current climate, both economically and ecologically?
Last week’s feature guest, John Smit, played a tryscoring role from the bench in the Sharks victory over the jetlagged Blues in the Super 14 match of the round. The 2 sides traded tries early on but the Sharks greater execution overall saw them force errors and finish with the bonus point.
Casho’s seen enough and called it already. He’s backed the Sharks to win the tournament and suggests we join him. Don’t be too hasty though. In the Highlanders vs Crusaders game – comparing these 2 matches style-wise would be like trying to equate the Sex Pistols with Tchaikovsky– Casho waited patiently for 62 minutes for the Crusaders to strike first and ‘show him the money’. Except… they didn’t and kicker Colin Slade (from now on to be officially known as ‘the Lemon’) pushed the pill wide of the posts.
Presumably another fuse was blown in Frenchs Forest.
The result in Dunedin and manner of play certainly didn’t go anyway towards enabling the Southern Hemisphere contingent on the pod from mounting a defence against the most reported quotes of any Ruggamatrix episode so far. Snoregate.
Djuro asked Eddie for his views on the Waratahs vs Reds game† and his response has been reported in every sports section of every newspaper and website in Australia since.
“I’ve got to be honest with you, I haven’t watched any Super 14 this year. I don’t agree with the law changes, they don’t do anything for me. I record the games but I just don’t have the energy to watch them.”
This is a damming inditement on the competition from a globally respected coach. His reasons were the application of the ELVs and the interpretation of them by referees in the Southern Hemisphere and particularly the amount of free kicks being awarded which disrupted the speed of the game. He felt we were watching a ‘hybrid’ game that just didn’t interest him.
This in turn kick-started a 15 minute analysis from everyone on the vagaries of interpretation, referee management, inconsistency in refereeing and how the ELV’s affect the management of the contest at the breakdown.
Ewen, Bruce and Eddie were all in favour of bringing back ‘the shoe’ - the legitimacy of using your boot to clear out a guy who’s killing the ball. But Djuro put his media manager hat on and pointed out that aggression and a fair amount of brutality is fine but that there has to be a balance and if you portray the sport as being overtly dangerous it will ultimately affect the potential playing rosters of the future.
Bruce countered with possibly the first time rugby and pornography have been used in the same sentence. The fact that he was referring to ‘rolling the wrong way, laying over the ball and taking part in a 7 second ruck’ at the time was purely coincidental!
It was a fantastic free for all covering many topics, I think it could’ve gone on and on and run for a show all on its own! As I said, I can’t do it justice here, if you haven’t heard it yet then please do, if you have - listen again! The general conclusion was that the laws we originally had in place are perfectly adequate when applied correctly so perhaps it would be interesting to get Stuart Dickinson back on to defend the referee’s role in all this.
A brief word on the 6 Nations which I’ll be covering in more depth in next weeks review. Kissy was upbeat but cautious going into Ireland’s clash at Murrayfield, the graveyard of many previous so called ‘better’ opponents. After 3 consecutively consistent team sheets in a row, Ireland opted for a few changes. Would this come back to bite them?
Likewise Wales, who named an under-strength side to face Italy. Both sides have one eye on next weeks Cardiff showdown but you can’t afford to disrespect any team in this competition.
It was interesting to hear former coach O’Sullivan sparring in cotton wool gloves with Kissy about the choice of scrum-half. Both made their cases for Stringer and O’Leary respectively and both maintained their dignity and class in doing so.
As for England v France. I told you so!
This week’s hot potatoes:
* Kurtley Beale’s lost his kicking boots and Glen Ella questions the coaching – are the Waratahs in a false position?
* Resurgent Reds become entertainment Kings of the Super 14. Are they on their way back to the halcyon days of the mid 90’s?
* Can the Western Force win at home?
* Johnny Wilkinson off to Toulon? If so, what’s the odds on the pre-match cockerel spending more minutes on the pitch than the luckless Wilko during the season?
† Regarding the dour nature of the Waratahs v Reds game, Ewen suggested that there hadn’t been more than 4pts between them for at least a dozen years. Initially, my ageing memory agreed with him until I remembered a blowout score in 2005 so I decided to do some research.
In actuality, half of the 14 Super Rugby matches between the 2 rivals have resulted in a double figure points differential with the Reds unbeaten through the first 9 years and the Tahs triumphant since - a hoodoo thankfully broken by coach McKenzie himself. A look at the scorelines is an interesting guide to how improved defensive systems have caused a gradual decline in points over the years. 6 of the first 8 games saw 40pts and often more on the board but that hasn’t happened since. These figures neatly coincide with McKenzie’s arrival at the Tahs in 2004.
See – pragmatism rules!