Saturday, November 27, 2010

Richie McCaw : Cheat or champion?

Critics have labelled them cheats all tour, but the statistics suggest the All Blacks and their captain, Richie McCaw, may just be slightly smarter than their northern opponents.
Forwards coach Steve Hansen says the chorus of moaning about McCaw has become boring and urged the knockers to go away and gain a better understanding of rugby's rules.
But what do the statistics say?

Since the All Blacks left New Zealand five weeks ago they indeed have been penalised more heavily than their opponents.
In four tests against Australia, England, Scotland and Ireland the All Blacks have been pinged by the referee 54 times to their adversaries' 37 offences.

But the most revealing statistic is that 45.9 percent more offending has only cost the All Blacks 27 points, while they have netted 30 from far fewer opportunities.

It suggests the All Blacks have chosen more carefully where and when to infringe, or in other words, out of range – or when the opposition is too far behind to bother with a shot at goal.
Hansen, who coaches the All Blacks forwards, is fed up with the endless potshots, this week, most of which have been directed at McCaw.

It started with former England second-five Jeremy Guscott, spread to Wallabies coach Robbie Deans, then moved its way to Ireland where flanker Stephen Ferris called for the All Blacks' openside flanker to be yellow carded more often.

In fact, McCaw has conceded only 11 penalties on tour, just one against England, three against Australia and Scotland and four against the Irish for a total of 20 per cent of his side's indiscretions.

Statistics aside, Hansen is sick to death of the issue and said he was staggered by what he believes is a lack of knowledge around the rules at the game's most crucial collision.

"Referees have to referee what's in front of them and so far they have done that, so I find it amazing that a lot of people don't understand the rules when they complain about him [McCaw].
"This guy understands the rules like the back of his hand and he knows what he can and can't do. Obviously sometimes he does get it wrong and that's when he gets penalised like everyone else," Hansen says.

The IRB has been using the northern winter to blood its second tier of referees ahead of next year's World Cup and Hansen believed they had done a reasonable job.

There would be no special chat with this weekend's referee Alan Lewis, of Ireland, before Sunday's test against Wales.

Hansen believes Deans is campaigning in a bid to pressure referees to control matches against the All Blacks differently.

But he does not think the constant barbs will make a difference now or at next year's World Cup.
"I'm extremely confident [they won't]. I've got a lot of faith in the system and the top four or five referees in international rugby are very, very consistent and that's why they're the top refs.
"I've got a lot of faith in them and you'd be misguided if you thought anything else.
"It's starting to get a bit boring isn't it, but he's the best flanker in the world and everyone wants to take him out of the game."

Hansen's personal view is that rucking would be the best way to police the breakdown, but accepts the old art will never return.
Besides, who needs it when you are smart enough to play to the rules put in front of you?

Penalties conceded on the end-of-year tour:

All Blacks 14, Australia 8 (Richie McCaw 3)
All Blacks 16, England 10 (McCaw 1)
All Blacks 13, Scotland 9 (McCaw 3)
All Blacks 11, Ireland 10 (McCaw 4)

Total: All Blacks 54, opponents 37

Points gained from penalty kicks on tour:
All Blacks 9, Australia 9
All Blacks 12, England 9
All Blacks 0, Scotland 3
All Blacks 9, Ireland 6

Total: All Blacks 30, opponents 27

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