Dave Rennie and I were conducting a coaching course recently overseas and it was an eye opening business. Faith is a curious thing. If you absolutely believe in one thing, it is very difficult to see the light, even when it’s shining in your face.
We showed a clip of a team in their defensive 22. The opposition open side winger was a mile back and the opposition full back was on the other side of the pitch. Everything pointed to space in the wide channels.
We asked the 120 coaches in the room who would kick it from this position on the field. 120 hands went up.
“But look where the winger is, look where the full back is. Are you sure you want to kick it,” Dave asked.
“Yes,” said 120 hands, maintaining their adopted faith.
We then ran the clip forward. The team attacked the space that the wing had left and scored a try under the posts.
“Who would kick it now?” we asked.
120 hands went up into the air.
That episode was proof of how entrenched coaching positions have become. If you watched the last 100 games of top flight rugby around the world and broke down how many passes and how many rucks were needed before teams scored, you would soon find out that endless phase play does not equate to try scoring.
It sounds obvious, but the best way to score a try is to recognise the space in the opposition defence and attack it. Will Greenwood was the best of the lot at that. He knew what to look for and had the clarity and the skill to exploit it. I would have loved to have coached him.
And I suspect that Greenwood would love to have played at the Quins of today, because they are breaking the mould in Europe. They would not be out of place in Super 15 rugby. Scott Johnson and Michael Bradley and Gregor Townsend are bringing some of that attitude to Scotland.
I would much rather my defence were confronted by big earth shifters who run straight, because then it’s just a matter of courage. The world is full of big, hard runners, but there was only one Jonah Lomu, even though we seem to have spent the past 20 years looking for the second coming.
The guys who are nightmares to defend against are the likes of Aaron Cruden, Quade Cooper, Matt Giteau, Will Genia, Kurtley Beale and Tim Nanai-Williams. They are unpredictible, creative and they don’t give their cues away. They will run a couple of plays to push the defence towards a pattern and then they will pick off the hole in the pattern.
Most southern hemisphere sides play with a mood of optimism. Too many northern hemisphere sides are set up to minimise mistakes.
There are opportunities all over a rugby pitch and often the wide players are best placed to see them. They then have to let the men inside know that there is a whole new opportunity out there. Then it is all a question of trust.