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

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Sport | Rugby Union - Kate Rowan

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

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