• Kick? No, Run and Pass

    Yesterday’s narrow and stuttering win against Japan highlighted an affliction that has increasingly handicapped the All Blacks in the modern era. Time and again, the keen-eyed observer will have seen that the first response of an All Black back, finding himself in possession and with space to move, was to kick the ball (or attempt to do so) – usually with no apparent motive other than to get rid of it. They seemed to have no confidence in their ability to run and pass with it.

    This was in marked contrast to the Japanese backline who made serious gains (in territory, confidence and points) by running hard and by clever support and inter-passing. “Aimless kicking” has been the hallmark of All Black rugby for some time now; it seems to be accepted, by players and coaches alike, as the way modern rugby is to be played.

    One way of looking at this development is to lament what appears to be the final triumph of the “rush defence” – the tactic developed, largely in the northern hemisphere, as the best way to negate the superior running and passing and catching skills of teams such as the All Blacks.

    New Zealand coaches have adopted what is now called “the kicking game” as the best and possibly only way of sowing doubt in the minds of rapidly advancing tacklers, and allowing incisions to be made behind them as they advance. There is, of course, some value in this tactic being used from time to time, but it has become so much the standard response that the ability to do anything different seems to have been lost.

    We have almost reached the point where possession is seen as nothing more than an embarrassment, and our players feel more secure by getting rid of the ball, rather than using it in an attempt to score. This attitude is completely at odds with the real point of rugby, which is, after all, to move the ball across the opponents’ line and score a try; possession of the ball is surely the sine qua non of that enterprise?

    The Black Ferns show how it should be done.

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