Blackadder summons All Black spirit for Bath’s European challenge
The New Zealander thinks his ruthless approach brings the best out of his team, writes
Rugby and the Champions Cup final, which will be hosted at St James’ Park in May, were far from the minds of Tynesiders when the tournament was launched at the home of Newcastle United on Wednesday.
Rather than speculation surrounding whether Newcastle Falcons would make it out of a pool containing Toulon, Edinburgh and Montpellier after a poor start to their Premiership campaign, all talk was whether their footballing counterparts would survive in the Premier League. The connection between Newcastle United and the city’s residents is almost spiritual. A similarity can be drawn with New Zealand, where rugby and the All Blacks are linked on a level beyond sport.
So, it was apt that a former All Black, Todd Blackadder, the Bath director of rugby, was giving his thoughts on how English and northern hemisphere rugby differs from that of his home country. For him, a lot of the contrasts are in the attitudes.
As he spent his later playing days at Edinburgh, where he also worked as an assistant coach, it would seem the former lock is well placed to make the comparison.
“At home, guys just want to be better, they will do whatever it takes to get better. For example, the discipline on the field is not giving a penalty away, the discipline is to do the same things over and over again. It is ingrained in New Zealand players,” he said. “It is so competitive, they are fast learners and they listen. Here, it feels a little bit like we are trying to lead you to drink water out of the trough, why are we making you do something you should want to do?”
The 47-year-old’s role before arriving in England was as coach of Super Rugby outfit the Crusaders, where his squad included World Cup winners Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and current New Zealand captain Kieran Reid.
Having arrived in Bath for the 2016-17 season, Blackadder believes changing player mindset is an ongoing process. “You need strong leadership where they won’t tolerate mediocrity from each other,” he said. “All those things take time. Even [getting to the point of ] having a decent conversation about performance takes time. People tend to take things personally but I just need you to do the job and do things to the best of your ability. When you don’t do that, I have a problem.”
Does Blackadder believe a young Kiwi would react differently to that sort of conversation to an English player? “Everyone always needs a kick as well as the pat on the back and encouragement,” he said. “I don’t think all New Zealanders are the same but the ones that have a real vision go on and become really successful.”
Bath’s pool contains defending champions Leinster, Toulouse, who boast four European titles, and two-time winners Wasps.
“It was described as the crazy group because there is firepower right through it. I see it as a great opportunity,” Blackadder said. “You want to be up against the best, so why not Leinster, Toulouse and Wasps?”
As if to confirm his views, the All Blacks pulled off a 32-30 victory over South Africa at Loftus Versfeld weeks after the Springboks had won 36-34 in Wellington.
Their thrilling comeback was capped by two excellent kicks from replacement fly-half Richie Mo’unga. First, a touch-finder following a breakdown penalty gave the All Blacks a line-out five metres from the try-line.
Ardie Savea burrowed over and Mo’unga waited until the clock had crept past 80 minutes before splitting the posts to convert. His team had not led at any point before that final strike.
Competitive streak: Todd Blackadder demands that players learn quickly