Go back to school to find the secret of All Blacks’ genius
Ingrained culture of the game and the freedom and fun of touch rugby in every PE class produce a skill-set that does not come naturally to a nation of football lovers
In New Zealand, so I am told, you grow up with a rugby ball in your hands. If you are walking down the street or hanging around outside a bus station, you are throwing passes to your mates. When kids are in PE at school, it is the same story. They play touch rugby.
In England, the opportunity to have fun is framed around football. I get that. It is our culture. Even at Premiership clubs, trust me, coaches will attempt to lighten the mood at training every now and then by bringing out a football. And everyone loves it.
That means there is a different feel to those early years of learning rugby in each country. With touch rugby, you develop spatial awareness, your sense of depth perception, when it is right to run through the line or when you need to play a pass earlier. Those traits seem to be naturally created in New Zealand. The reason I say all of this is because against Ireland, the All Blacks gave one of the most balanced performances I have ever seen. It was a joy to watch.
The way they flipped from structured rugby to unstructured rugby was awesome. And they probably will not be entirely happy because they could perhaps have been more clinical at the end.
All 15 players on the field seemed to have an understanding about what they were trying to achieve in any moment. If the ball was slow, they fell back on their structures to generate momentum.
Within their system, the individual skills could shine. Richie Mo’unga, Beauden Barrett and Sevu Reece could all showcase their talents, but as part of the collective. When Brodie Retallick takes the ball from Mo’unga and puts Kieran Read through a hole in midfield, that is him – a lock – standing square, committing a defender and playing the pass.
Read will have picked a great line. He always does. Those are the individual skills that New Zealand are so good at executing. The key is that there are always decisions to make within their structure. They are not playing by numbers. In unstructured rugby, you see New Zealand come alive and use their point of difference. They work off the ball-player and show that feel they have with each other.