Monday, August 27, 2007

Mitch has a beef with Burger

Monday, 27 August 2007

Springboks flanker Schalk Burger is the real villain at the breakdown that World Cup referees should target for illegal play, not All Black Richie McCaw.

That is the staunch view of McCaw's 2003 World Cup coach John Mitchell, who rates the Kiwi No.7 as one of rugby's most intelligent players.
McCaw, the All Blacks captain for the World Cup in France that starts on September 7, has been constantly criticised for stretching the laws of the game at the breakdown - and no more so than this year in the build-up to the Cup.
But Mitchell, now Western Force coach after being axed from the All Blacks following the 2003 World Cup semi-final loss to Australia, said he thought the attacks on McCaw were a ploy to ensure tournament referees judged him harshly.
"There are people out there who are creating a focus on him," Mitchell said.

"Burger is one person you want to focus on. He doesn't keep his feet well. He plays right on the line. But I don't think he is as accurate as Richie in that area.
"[Richie] is very long in the upper body, so his greatest asset is that he keeps his feet as long as he can. While you are a fetcher of ball, if you keep your feet, you are going to get more favourable decisions than ones that go against you.
"When he is told to release, or given a chance and he has created the slow ball, I guess half of his body doesn't roll away. That's the thing most opposition coaches and opponents get annoyed with."
However, Mitchell warned that McCaw should be better as a ball-scavenging flanker in France because of the added focus that has been put on him.
"He reads his ruck drill pretty well. What I guess the punter in the lounge doesn't quite see is that rucks do form and also go," he said. "Once the ruck forms it is not just a continuous ruck. Sometimes there is another entry. He is very good at reading and sensing those things. He makes good choices.
"Through his maturity, he probably gives away less penalties than he has ever done in the last 30 metres. But he will be highly motivated going into this World Cup.
"[Referee] Chris White, in the last World Cup semifinal, pinged him four times in a row at the breakdown. He will look to be more accurate at this World Cup."
Mitchell said the All Blacks' woes of 2003 would help McCaw's captaincy in France. "He raises the bar and is a very intelligent man," Mitchell said. "That is reflected not only in the way he plays his football in terms of adapting and adjusting his game. He [also] flies an aeroplane and plays the bagpipes and all that kind of stuff. He gets that balance.
"He is also ably supported by people like Aaron Mauger, a good leader, Reuben Thorne [who] will be an excellent foil for him. Anton Oliver will also.
"And when you have Jerry Collins on your left side most of the time, it is handy to have. And Chris Jack."
Mitchell said the All Blacks would not make the mistake of underestimating what was at stake in the event of a semi-final clash against Australia.
"[After] the experience a lot of those guys had in 2003, they will respect the occasion so much more," Mitchell said.
He warned against assuming Australia's win against the All Blacks in June was to the Wallabies' advantage. "That has to be helpful, but in some ways it probably made the All Blacks learn," he said. "[They have] probably gone back and had a good look at things."
Mitchell also predicted the benefits of the All Blacks re-conditioning program would kick in during the tournament. "There is going to be a physiological boost at some stage," he said. "The All Blacks would like to believe it is going to be in the knockout rounds."
While Mitchell last week said he wouldn't seek a head coaching position at test level until his Force contract expired in 2011, he admitted that "something still burns deep within" because of the semi-final loss to Australia in 2003.
And he said he rated "getting a team up the next week to win a third and fourth play-off" against France "to play something totally meaningless" after that loss as a massive feat.
"It was very important to us as a group. [It was] about the All Blacks jumper and the character each individual needed to display to go on to this World Cup."
But Mitchell said he had never looked at the bronze medal he and the side got for winning it. "I've never opened it up. It's at home. But I don't know what it looks like."

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