Category Archives: International

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.

Can Japan Back Up their Win against the Boks?

One of the best games of rugby I have watched in terms of sheer elation, was last weekend when after 75 minutes of watching Japan actually compete with the number 3 ranked rugby nation in the world, they managed the impossible.  They won!

japan beat south africa rugby2It wasn’t until the 85th minute that Japan secured their world shaking victory over the Springboks.  And while I was delighted with the Brave Blossoms’ incredible performance, I never believed they were going to pull the upset off.  I didn’t even believe they would manage a draw.  These things just don’t happen in rugby when we are talking about one of the world powers vs a minnow.  I accepted that Japan was going to have a very close loss to South Africa rather than being crushed by the Springboks, as I, and nearly everyone had predicted.  In fact, I wasn’t even planning on watching the whole game…

Japan had other ideas.  They made it impossible for me to stop watching.  I never expected they would last the full 80 minutes, but I could not help but watch what was clearly one of their greatest performances.  To have come close would have been unexpected, memorable, and impressive.  But in the last few minutes they had a real chance to draw the game, something that would have been amazing in itself considering who they were playing.  A historic draw against historically the best performing rugby nation at a world cup would be something to celebrate.

When Japan turned down the penalty kick that, if successful, would have ended the game with a draw, I thought that was it.  They had played not only with amazing courage, but incredible determination and skill.  This game would be talked about for a long time and unsettle the Springboks in a massive way.  But it would still be a loss for Japan.  And then Japan scored the try that won the game.  I think it was the 83rd or 84th minute.

A win in extra time.

A win for Japan over the Springboks most experienced side ever fielded.

Incredible!

Coach Eddie Jones and Captain Michael Leitch said that they had targeted this game against the Springboks for the last two years. The Brave Blossoms had found the self-belief to take on the side that has consistently been the number 2 rugby nation in the world over the last decade.  They had gone over every scenario for the game in their preparation.  The players had given everything, and their win was one that showed the world how serious Japan can be as a rugby nation and as a worthy host of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
The win was so shocking that for a few minutes, I wondered if the Springboks had thrown the game.  I wondered if the game could have been an example of match fixing.  Had this been done as a favor on the part of World Rugby’s administration to boost stocks in Japan given their status as the hosts of the next world cup?  Or perhaps the Springboks wanted to finish their pool as runners-up to avoid a possible match with the All Blacks?

japan win against south africa rugbyI was able to quickly dismiss these when I looked at the time on the clock.  If the Springboks or the referee had wanted to give Japan the win then they would not have waited until extra time.  If you go out there with the intent to throw a game, then why were you still in the lead in the 80th minute?  Clearly, this was a case of Japan playing their best ever game, and the Springboks playing below their usual standard.  Suddenly Argentina’s victory over the Springboks in Durban a couple of months ago looks less impressive.  The Springboks have serious problems within their camp, and even more serious problems in terms of political pressure and lack of support.  The combination was enough for the Brave Blossoms to create the biggest upset in rugby history.

So, was this game a fluke?  Can Japan back this up with another win, this time against Scotland on Wednesday?  With only a three day turnaround before once again taking the field, the Japanese players will be sore and perhaps mentally exhausted.  Scotland, on the other hand, will be fresh and itching to play their first game in the 2015 tournament.

Ah, but the Springboks were ranked no. 3 in the world, and Japan was no. 13, whereas Scotland is, as of Monday, Sep 22, now ranked just below Japan.  If Japan can slay a giant, then surely they can beat a relative equal?

Scotland always knew that their toughest games in their pool would be the Springboks and Samoa, in that order.  Japan would have been challenging, but not exactly a threat.  Japan is a team, after all, that has only ever won two world cup games.  Suddenly, the other top five nations, New Zealand, Australia, England and Ireland (and perhaps even France, who should have already learned this lesson), were given cause for alarm.  I think everyone felt the Springboks’ pain, even though everyone but South African supporters would have been cheering Japan’s unbelievable result.  Scotland now have a must win first game against Japan, or their hopes of a real shot of getting into a quarter final will be gone.

Like I mentioned above, Japan put everything into their game against South Africa, including their hearts.  They will be more than just physically exhausted and bruised.  They are also dealing with a massive amount of media attention as they have become the darlings of the world cup and the feel good story that the media and public want.  They are not used to the attention, and they are not used to winning on such a high profile tournament.  They are going up against Scotland, who have been alerted to the threat Japan poses.  Scotland will be extremely fresh and prepared.  Back to back excellence is hard to achieve.

It will come down to skill and endurance on the day.  While I may be cheering for Japan and hoping they can continue their success, I think it will be too much to ask.  They aren’t quite the consistent side they need to be… yet.  Here’s hoping I will be wrong.  And as Japan have proved already, anything can happen in sport.

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.