Saturday, February 14, 2009

(catching up my delay....) Blackadder's balancing act

The Press
Friday, 06 February 2009

As a player, Todd Blackadder was never short of support among Crusaders fans.

Many viewed him as a hard-nosed grafter that was prepared to work himself to the bone on the field, one that would never contemplate stepping back from the nasty stuff, and the sort of bloke who would probably be decent company over a beer afterwards.

Now Blackadder is back in Crusaders territory, but this time with the responsibility of being head coach of the most successful franchise in the history of the Super competition.
As a player he helped build the Crusaders into the juggernaut they are today: he played 71 games for the franchise between 1996 and 2001 and won three titles as captain. He had to deal with pressure in that role, but getting down to business on the field is a world away from watching from inside the confines of the coaches' box.

Adding to the heat on Blackadder and his assistants Mark Hammett and Daryl Gibson is the expectation that they continue the legacy left by Robbie Deans.
For the record, the Crusaders won two Super titles under Wayne Smith between 1997 and 1999 and five under Deans from 2000.

Although the Crusaders have lost a handful of players, including Dan Carter (France), Greg Somerville (England), Ali Williams (Blues) and Mose Tuiali'i (Japan), Blackadder has still been left the bones of a side that knows how to win titles and is capable of winning more.

If he is sweating about the prospect of having to prove himself as Deans' successor and the demands that the Crusaders will again be the beast that all others fear, Blackadder is hiding it well. "I enjoy the privilege of being a coach of the Crusaders. This is the people's team and I understand that. I have never, ever felt it has been a burden or that I am under pressure. I understand all that. If things didn't go well, for example - and I know that they will - it wouldn't be for a lack of trying, I can tell you that."

As a player, Blackadder, now 37, could be an uncompromising brute. He was brought up in the amateur age of hard knocks when players were not afraid to sort out their own disputes and were not under scrutiny from a plethora of TV cameras. Be it at club or provincial level, opponents that messed with Todd Julian Blackadder in the pre-professional era did so at their peril.

As the skipper of All Blacks, Crusaders and Canterbury teams, he was also not afraid to march out of the line and challenge referees if a call went against his men.
As far as his supporters were concerned, Blackadder was just exercising his democratic rights as skipper. Fans from the opposition camp often thought otherwise - that he was using his reputation and bulk to intimidate referees.

Now he will operate in a different world; one where he has to make difficult selection decisions of a different kind. It is also a world where he has to be mindful that he could bruise players' feelings with too many harsh words, yet he also has to be prepared to let them know he is no pushover.

"I would like to think of myself as balanced, a little bit of everything," he says. "And there are times when you need to be all of those things.
"It's like any sort of relationship and it's where you are in it. It's about give and take, and my heart's always in the right place. I'm pretty direct. I'm not a wordsmith. If something needs to be said, then I will always say it."

He also adds that when he speaks he does so for a reason, that there is always a goal in mind. All coaches are different. Some have a reputation for letting go with a tidal wave of words, while others say very little.
Striking the balance, Blackadder reckons, is the key.

"It's always for the betterment of the team or the individual. I never talk down to people and I always think I treat people with the utmost respect, and that's how I expect to be treated myself."

The three Crusaders coaches are in the unique position of coaching some men they have played alongside. In 2001 they were members of a Crusaders team that also included Leon MacDonald, Brad Thorn and a young Richie McCaw.
But if Blackadder has to make difficult decisions that could impact on a player's career but help the team, he says he will have no hesitation. "It's a part of coaching and if I was afraid of making those decisions I would not be coaching."

Since playing his 128th and final game for Canterbury in 2001, Blackadder has been involved in coaching with Edinburgh, Scotland and Tasman and was a technical assistant with the Crusaders in 2007.
At the Crusaders he will oversee the coaching operation, with Hammett and scrum coach Dave Hewett working with the forwards and Gibson taking care of the backline.

Deans might now be the head coach of the Wallabies, a country that caused Blackadder some heartache when he was All Blacks skipper in 2000, but he is not out of bounds if the new Crusaders coach wants advice.

"It is a new regime and we are just getting on with it. I have caught up with Robbie a couple of times; once was during pre-selection and we talked about the process and the pros and cons. I know him that well in that it's just enjoyable to have a coffee with him, and Robbie has said he has an open door policy. If there is anything I would like to discuss and if I needed to I would certainly do that. I would never cut my nose off to spite my face, you know."

Away from the field, Blackadder, like Deans, likes to take his jet boat for a spin or hop on his motorbike to help clear his head. He says he does not miss playing, especially when he thinks of how sore his body was the day after matches.

"I exercise and try and keep myself fit and healthy. More for the mind, than the body. I enjoy all the things that life provides like the jet boating and I enjoy a bit of off-road motorbiking. I usually have a go at anything and I enjoy that balance."

Rugby coaches have to love the travelling life, as do their families.
Wife Priscilla has moved down to Christchurch with Blackadder, but they have retained a house in Nelson where they were based while Todd coached Tasman. Their eldest daughter, Shinae, is working there and son Ethan is enrolled at boarding school.

For any professional sports coach whose livelihood depends on how many points their team accumulates on the competition log, learning how to deal with the stress and demands is part of the job.

"It is not easy at times," Blackadder admits. "But it's part of doing the right thing by this team as well; you have to be sharp in this role."

And sometimes solutions appear when coaches start to unwind, he says. "Usually the best ideas just pop into your head (when not thinking about rugby). If you are mulling things over . . . well, the definition of insanity is doing the same things over again. You only have to switch off and leave it alone and if it comes to you, it comes to you. If not, ask the question and try to get some stimulus that way."

Given the success that Deans had during his nine years in charge, it is unlikely Blackadder will radically change the systems and ideas that he introduced: "This is a very successful team and we have looked at the framework of what has gone really well, and we have stimulated some areas of opportunity."

Another article sent by Izzy :


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