Wednesday Oct 28, 2009
By Chris Rattue
Whacky ideas are never in short supply when it comes to the All Blacks and the 2009 season has been an outstanding success in that regard.
The steady trickle of gadgets emerging from deep within the bunker leads you to wonder if someone down there hasn't watched a wee bit too many James Bond films over the years.
The boys are safely in Tokyo by now, presumably after travelling by bog-standard aircraft, although it would be no surprise if they'd headed there in personal, radio-controlled submarines, tracked by satellite of course, complete with hologram of Victor Matfield jumping up and down in the cabin while subliminal personal growth messages infiltrated the fully patented super air via a selection of Jordan Luck songs.
What an interesting year, especially at training. Dan Carter got to run around with a camera stuck on his head, they've done so much frame-by-frame work on Matfield jumping and catching a rugby ball that suggestions persist the All Black coaches have made discoveries about film that even Francis Ford Coppola doesn't know about, and a new piece of lineout scaffolding was unveiled with a fanfare that made you half-expect Graham Henry would launch the apparatus by bashing a bottle of bubbly on it.
Add to that the coaching grow-the-group job swap, and the mind has had ample room to boggle.
You heard the rumour here first, but there is a radical plan being developed at central control in which the All Blacks will prepare for the next World Cup by playing rugby during the 2011 season. What fresh madness is this?
Thankfully, something traditional is still leading the All Blacks. Unlike the lineout platform, it's all flesh and blood and not held together by rods and bolts - yet.
This entity is Richie McCaw, and no doubt we'll find out again on Saturday night that the whole shebang relies way too heavily on this remarkable forward of olden-day style and with an enormous heart.
McCaw came from simpler times, in hindsight, and is a reminder of simpler times still.
At about the time he was getting his hands around a rugby ball for the first time, the All Blacks' World Cup squad - the one which won the tournament - were being billeted on New Zealand farms.
You could have tried to put a camera on Grant Fox's head, and might even have succeeded, but the difference back then is that everyone would have had a good laugh about it. (Thinking about this, Foxy - for all his brilliant strengths - didn't travel around the field enough to warrant filming the sights).
As we all get excited about staying up to near midnight on Saturday for a transtasman test from the land of the rising sun, it is easy to analyse the potential outcome by rating R. McCaw as the major factor separating these two teams.
With him, the All Blacks are slight favourites. Without him, this game is a toss up.
He is, it can be humbly suggested, the No1 All Black alongside Colin Meads. If not, McCaw is only a touch behind the magnificent Pinetree.
And yet McCaw has got to where he has by methods tried and true, without the need for a camera on his head, and through appearing to relish playing the game as often as possible.
There is no discernable difference in his attitude, whether he is playing for Canterbury or in a World Cup. Every game is another one to be played with maximum skill and commitment, no matter how the body hurts.
Pertinent to suggest here that his fabulous career has been helped in the rest and rotation era by being one of the increasingly few test players who knows exactly where he stands in terms of faith from above and consistent selection.
McCaw's ball-hunting skills are quietly being questioned in some quarters, and if he ever drops off in this department, then it will be said that the human body - even his - can only hurl itself into the mincer so often.
It's not just that McCaw is so good, although that is a very big part of his appeal.
McCaw epitomises sporting values and attitudes among our heroes that those of us of a certain age relate to. He charges around as if his life depends on it, cops the bad days on the chin, doesn't bother with excuses, and is so retro that his hand signal of choice is a mere hand-shake.
McCaw could have made a fortune overseas by now, but he's stayed true to a couple of causes in this part of the world. (Most of us would have been sorely tested by the offers he has surely received.)
He is the good ship Richie McCaw, still sailing true in crazy waters.
* * *
Player power, Black Caps style, is winning general praise, and with justifiable reason. There doesn't appear to be any opposition to the players' contention that their departed coach, Andy Moles, was a decent chap who just wasn't up to the task. This has been a quiet coup, conducted with dignity. If there is a question to ask, it has to be how the heck was Moles appointed in the first place, even given that no one else wanted the job?
This column contended that John Bracewell's departure late last year was a chance to let the players stand up for themselves, and go to battle with the captain in sole charge.
In hindsight, it may have been a premature call considering the sudden pressure it would have put on Daniel Vettori, so the appointment of Moles in what has turned out to be a sort of caretaker role may actually have served a purpose.
The bottom line to the Moles situation is this: the genius cricketers of the world, and many other good ones, were not made by national coaches. These players had their own ways, their own motivation. They also found their own mentors. (Furthermore, on a similar note, Shane Warne was completely dismissive about the Australian coach of his time). Cricket is a team sport of distinctive individual performances, and it's not logical to believe that one coach can positively influence them all.
Having an ineffective national coach should be no impediment to a player reaching his potential.
Put it this way - Moles hasn't harmed Daniel Vettori's career. Far from it. The Black Caps may have removed what they see as a redundant part of their camp, but if they think it will turn their careers around, they've got another think coming. Once they sort their own performances out, then a good team coach may prove to be an asset. Otherwise, he will remain a red herring, as in the case of Moles.
The phrase that great players make a coach great is made for cricket. This is not to necessarily criticise the Black Caps for this uprising, but the perception is that they are continually looking for external excuses.
* * *
A plug here for the Skysport magazine for its interesting New Zealand rugby player survey. I won't steal their hard work and thunder except to say that among the most interesting revelations was the high respect for the Canterbury centre Casey Laulala, who is about to leave these shores. Laulala fell out of All Black favour, and dropped off the radar, as Richard Kahui became top of the pops. But that's not the way the players see it. It would be interesting to know how many players responded to the survey and from which teams.
* * *
The weekend's league action from Europe is still rattling around the brain. Staggering - Bobbie Goulding that is. If you'd posed the question which Englishman is the least likely to end up coaching the French league team, then the answer might have been Eddie the Eagle. But Bobbie Goulding would have come a very close second.
Believe it or not, France approached Goulding, out of work after an unsuccessful low-level coaching stint, offering him a $150,000-a-year job. The Goulding many of us remember was bonkers. He famously smacked around a couple of patrons in an Auckland establishment during the 1990 British tour. This is the story quietly told to explain his actions. The teenage Goulding was very homesick, with a staggering phone bill to prove it. Goulding found out his girl had been seen around his home town with one of his mates. Someone had to pay, so why not a couple of innocent bystanders.
I was helping cover the tour for a British paper and duly filed a story which extensively quoted Bobbie's dad about what a good lad his boy was. But this did not persuade wee Bobbie that the Kiwi media was doing him any favours. For some reason, he was allowed to continue on tour, presumably because it was deemed way too dangerous to put this ticking time bomb on a plane and Goulding's punishment included having to wear the team uniform at all times.
As the night wore on in a Christchurch night club, a small and menacing figure in said uniform approached me with a wild look in the eye. His advance did not seem to be in the name of having a natter. The Lions back Jonathan Davies intervened, to save Bobbie further problems rather through any love of the local media, as Davies pointed out in his lovely Welsh lilt. Crisis avoided.
As the files show, Goulding's career was littered with such incidents, including trashing a club coach's car and scrapping with a teammate. He was dead set crazy back then. He must have grown up, so good on him.
But still, Bobbie Goulding coaching France, or anybody for that matter? Amazing.
Thanx to Nancy for the link :)