Category Archives: All Blacks

Barrett not the All Blacks Goal Kicker

The All Blacks vs Namibia was not a great night for the boot. There were only 6 kicks out of 10 that went between the posts. The All Blacks kicked 5/9 conversions, but only 4 of the 8 conversions that Barrett attempted were successful, along with one penalty kick. Beauden’s personal goal kicking success rate in this game was only 55.5%.

1443128715255Barrett also was quick to line up his kicks, looking like he was rushing the process. This is on the back of a year of disappointing kicking in Super Rugby with a success rate of just 64%. He missed three crucial penalty kicks in the first half of the Super Rugby final; 9 points that could have won the Hurricanes the game. It would have been nice to have seen Colin Slade given a go in the second half at the goal kicks against Namibia.

However, South African statistical analysis website  goalkickers.co.za offers an even more troubling picture for Barrett’s performance.  The website not only takes into account the success rate of each goalkicker in the Rugby World Cup so far, but also the difficulty of each kick depending on position on the field based on angle, distance, altitude, side of field, the foot being used, and the score at the time (to suggest the level of mental pressure on the kicker).  Each kick taken in the tournament can be assigned a success probability and compared to the average success from that position among other players at the tournament.

The average rating at the World Cup after two weeks of play is 4.75 out of 10.  Dan Carter scores 5.620, making all of his kicks in the Argentina game.  Beauden Barrett scores only 2.960 from his performance against Namibia.  The average kick difficulty for Barrett during the game was calculated to be 5.16.  This is below the standard of what would be expected of an AVERAGE professional goal kicker in his situation.  While few goal kickers in the tournament could nail all 4 kicks that he missed, it left 8 points on the field that would be crucial in tighter, higher pressure game.  Based on the performance of the average kicker so far, Barrett should have been able to at least make one more of 4 kicks he missed.

Barrett made all three of his easy kicks from within 12 metres of the posts but when the angle got tougher he was found wanting.

He nailed his first conversion from out wide, a 41m kick at a 34 degree angle to the posts with an average success in professional rugby of 50.76 per cent, and his second, but then the radar started to malfunction.

First there was a 39m kick with a 58.69 per cent success rate, then one with a 47.95 per cent success rate, then a 57.7 per centre, and one with a 50.76 per cent rate. – Ben Strang, Stuff.co.nz

Hopefully Hansen finally learns from this that Beauden is simply not getting his radar back and is too much of a liability. 8 points left uncollected from tries did not matter against Namibia, but if Dan Carter is not available in the knockout stages, we are in serious SERIOUS trouble if we are expected to rely on Barrett’s boot. This could be a coach killer.

Barrett is a great tactical commander on the field and is excellent at running the ball, especially as an impact player from the bench.  There is no disputing that.  But entrusting him with the additional duty of goal kicking in the knock out stages is tournament suicide for New Zealand.

Exiting the 2015 World Cup due to an inability to accept the stats on the part of the coaches will make for an extremely frustrating “four more years.”  If the England vs Wales game needed to remind anybody of anything, it is that kicking is the most important aspect of scoring points in a world cup.

Richie McCaw, King of Cheats?

Rugby is meant to be a gentleman’s game.  There is a code of conduct that is at the core of the sport.  You get roughed up now and then, but you don’t complain.  You be a man and take it, quietly and without complaint.  This is not a sport for babies or playacting on the field.

riche-sin-binWhen Richie stuck his foot out and tripped Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe during the All Blacks vs Los Pumas match last weekend, I was shocked, along with the rest of the household watching the TV.  To give you some context, both Leanne and I were wearing our No. 7 All Blacks jerseys and had just been talking him up to our friend who was new to rugby.  Richie doesn’t normally do things like that.  And it is true, he doesn’t.  In 143 international test matches, this was only the 3rd Yellow Card offense he had been pinged with.  And what has been the nature of those Yellow Cards?  Breaking the rules, or resorting to violence?  Until now, it has never been the latter.

Three Yellow Cards.  Does that mean he has only offended three times?  Of course not, but he is no where near the “cheater” that rugby fans outside of New Zealand want him to be.

In this case, however, he had legitimately indulged in perhaps his only moment of genuine on field thuggery in his career.  By thuggery, I mean actually maliciously lashing out.  This is a guy who is famous for taking the physical abuse and bullying that has been dealt to him over the years.  In the last four years, he has been punched in the face, elbowed in the head, kneed, and no doubt much more that we don’t see in the mix of the ruck.  In his twelve or more years as a professional rugby player, he has often been a target due to his ability as a good openside flanker to disrupt the ball at the breakdown and force turnovers.  For the genuine thugs out there, this is enough to cause them to take a shot at him.  Does Richie punch back?  No.  I have never seen him retaliate when he has been attacked.

So that’s why it is such a surprise to see him have his “brain explosion” on the field and deliberately trip up his opposite number among the Argentinians.  Lobbe had just picked up the ball from the ruck and was starting to run.  There were few defenders left among the All Blacks line and Richie suddenly poked his foot out and tripped Lobbe up.  The TMO caught it, alerted the ref, Wayne Barnes, and a yellow card was given.  Riche was sent to the bin as the crowd, rightfully, booed.

Given what an upstanding guy Richie McCaw is, there are two possibilities that could explain his surprise actions.  1.) He saw a hole in the All Blacks defense and in that split second made a stupid choice to trip Lobbe to try and stop a potential try being scored.  2.) The Argentinian players had been provocative and managed to get under his skin enough for him to finally retaliate in the heat of the moment and the pressure.  I think the real answer is a mix of the two.

Richie does not do this sort of stuff.  To openly trip someone for the first time in 143 tests, with his level of experience and leadership is just not his character.  He is often depicted by New Zealand fans and media as a super human, perhaps even angelic in that he can do no wrong.  The trip is a reminder that yes, he is human and capable of frustration and desperation born cynicism like the rest of us.

But let’s remember something… he is not Quade Cooper.  Nor is he Scott Higganbotham, or Dean Greyling, all players who have physically assaulted McCaw during games.  That’s why it is sad to see the ignorance out there when people try to compare the booing of Richie McCaw to New Zealand’s booing of Quade Cooper.  A recent New Zealand Herald cartoon depicts New Zealand fans at the game being shocked that Argentinians would villainize and boo a player, the irony of the cartoon being that this is supposedly exactly what New Zealand fans have done to Quade Cooper.  This does show the ignorance and casual rugby knowledge of the cartoonist.  Richie has never thrown a punch, elbow or knee at anyone.

Quade earned his place as a pantomime villain for NZ fans by his thuggish behaviour.  Quade has 4 yellow cards in his relatively short test career, while the most capped test player in the world just hit number three in 143 games.  And this is the first instance of McCaw lashing out physically, although it was a trip, not a punch.  There is little room for comparison.  McCaw’s record is overlooked by those that envy his skill and secretly wish he was playing for their national team.  It’s that simple.

Richie apologized publicly at the press conference and privately to the team.  He acknowledged the stupidity of his action and that he knew he had made a mistake the second he gave in to the impulse.  For one minor indiscretion though, he hardly deserves the treatment he is being given by a rabid and envious media.

Finally, to go back to the gentleman’s game.  Rugby is a sport for men.  Boys play it, but they pride themselves on behaving like tough guys who aren’t there to complain.  They are there to play.  If Richie was indeed stirred up by indiscretions and taunts from the Pumas players, then he would not use this as an excuse to the public.  You don’t make excuses.  You man up, take the criticism and get on with the game.  Telling the media what led to his “brain explosion” would just sound like making excuses, but it is worth considering that Richie is human and we all have limits to our patience.  The Pumas already had one player sent off by Yellow Card earlier in the first half.  They were pushing their luck like everyone else.  Lobbe is also a great player, and like Richie, an openside flanker whose position often makes him an irritant at the ruck.  Richie may not have been so cynical as he appeared in the replay when you consider his record and past conduct over the years.

Is he a cheat?  No.  He’s an openside, the same as Michael Hooper and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe.  Their job description is to disrupt at the ruck and to do that well, you have to be able to walk the fine line of the rugby laws.  Does this have anything to do with tripping someone?  No.  In this case, this is not about “cheating”, this is just about red mist.  Is Richie human?  Yes, he is.  That is what makes his achievements on the field in 143 international tests so worthy of respect.

The Official 2015 RWC All Blacks Squad

The All Blacks squad for the 2015 Rugby World Cup was announced on August 30th, and I was fairly close with my picks.  My guess that the selectors would pick Israel Dagg and Lima Sopoaga over Colin Slade and Waisake Noholo were my only mistakes.

I had tried to put myself in the place of the selectors, rather than my personal bias.  I thought that there was a favoritism and conservative playing style at the World Cup that would favor Israel Dagg’s tried and tested long clearance kicks.  I also thought, after reading Sir Graham Henry’s book, that taking at least two specialist First Five-Eighths would mean Carter and Sopoaga.  Coach Steve Hansen later addressed this by reminding everyone that they consider Colin Slade and Beauden Barrett to be specialist first fives.

I disagree somewhat with that statement.  We all know that Slade is a reliable first five, a good goal kicker, but also a utility back.  He has played on the wing, at full back, and even at half back in a pinch.  Barrett can cover fullback, and may even be better suited to the position.  Both Slade and Barrett can also cover wing.  Although neither would be first choice there by any stretch of the imagination.

My personal choice would have been for them to take Carter, Slade and Sopoaga.  If Barrett was to go, then I’d see him taking Israel Dagg’s role as fullback cover, backing up Ben Smith.  I’d have made room for the four by leaving Tawera Kerr Barlow at home as an emergency reserve half back.  But I wasn’t trying to pick my team, I was trying to anticipate what Hansen and co wanted.  I was actually impressed that he had the courage to defy sentimentality by leaving Dagg and Corey Jane in New Zealand as emergency backups.

If this had been my own team selections, I would have taken Charles Piutau.  I think he is the best of the players that did not make Hansen’s Rugby World Cup squad.  Arguably, he should have been there in place of Nehe Milner-Skudder.  If it was a straight choice between the two, then Skudder should have been left at home on standby.  Piutau has been incredible for the All Blacks this year.  Not only a safe pair of hands, but a line breaker, a try scorer, and game breaker.  He’s a relatively new All Black, but more experienced than Skudder and Naholo, and fresher than Jane.

My biggest disappointment with the squad has to be Lima Sopoaga and Charles Piutau being left out.  With Sopoaga came a goal kicking success rate in the mid to high 80s.  Vital at world cups.  Compare this to Beauden Barrett’s last performance, which could have won the Super Rugby final for the Hurricanes vs the Highlanders, had he not missed three costly first half penalties, one of them relatively close to the posts.  This was on top of a poor season for Barrett with the boot.  At World Cups, you need to successfully kick 80%-90%.  Barrett is sitting down at a shocking 64% through Super Rugby.  Even if he was carrying an injury, the selectors are placing a huge amount of faith in him if they believe he can get back up to the 80% range during the tournament.

When there is no Dan Carter on the field, I hope that Slade is there and available as the kicking option ahead of Barrett.  I don’t dispute Barrett’s talent as a running first five playmaker, just the fact that he is a safe option for goal kicking during this world cup.  Barrett has been an ace up the sleeve from the bench for cutting through the opponents’ defensive line.

These are the only real concerns in an otherwise great squad.  I feel for Piutau, Jane, Dagg, Thrush, Ellis, and Ryan Crotty.  The latter is another player who I would have liked to have seen in the squad, ahead of Conrad Smith.  Conrad is great, but Ryan is reliable on defense, a great finisher, and working on fresher legs.  He is also leadership material, again much like Conrad.  But he’s just got an advantage in my eyes with his energy and sharpness.

Quibbles and thoughts aside, good luck to the All Blacks in their latest quest.  Good luck also to all the nations that have never won a World Cup title before.  I would wish Wales good luck, but even luck can’t help their unfurling injury crisis and inability to find the wins when it counts.