Bring back Campo: Waratahs' back line could do with some help
Sage ... Lote Tuqiri gets some instructions from David Campese during a Waratahs training session in 2005. Photo: Craig Golding
LET'S have more afternoon Super Rugby matches, please. It was just like old times on Sunday walking down Moore Park Road to the ground to watch the Waratahs play the Crusaders. Grey clouds banked up in the afternoon sky. There was a bullying, autumn wind. The crowds pouring out of the pubs were chatty and decked out in their colours. I saw dads holding the hands of their young sons going to the gates. There was that buzz in the air that you get when a big crowd is congregating at a splendid, rugby-friendly ground to watch a big match at a spectator-friendly hour.
The general feeling from faithful supporters and several Wallabies I chatted to before the match was that the Crusaders would win by about 20 points. I pointed out, unavailingly, that the Waratahs are hard to beat at Allianz Stadium. The last New Zealand team to win at the ground (other than the Crusaders last week) was the Chiefs in 2007. I suggested, too, that Todd Blackadder has not added much new value to the Crusaders since he took over as coach from Robbie Deans. The team, though, has retained its esprit. It was noticeable, for instance, that whenever the Waratahs scored the Crusaders were able to strike back almost immediately. The key here was their mastery in winning back the ball from kick-offs. They did this three times in a row and each time converted the possession into points.
The Crusaders will make the finals as one of two, or possibly three, New Zealand teams (with the Chiefs and the Highlanders). But will they just be making up the numbers? Tomorrow's sold-out afternoon match at Christchurch against the Reds will tell us a lot about last season's finalists. The Crusaders need to win to continue their march to the top of the New Zealand conference. The Reds are just clinging on in the Australian conference. They won at Eden Park for the first time against the hapless Blues. This was a welcome overseas win for them after the disasters of South Africa. The Will Genia stuff-up and the lack of a plausible explanation why Richard Graham is the coach next season suggest, however, that the hope of a dynasty is fading. A win against the Crusaders will revive the dream.
All the matches now for the Australian sides are moment-of-truth occasions. This is especially true for derbies like the Brumbies-Waratahs tonight at Canberra. The loser suffers the double whammy of the winner gaining points at their expense. The Waratahs have the players and the Brumbies have the coaching. Take the way Waratahs playmaker Berrick Barnes invariably stands too deep to work effective back-line moves. This is poor coaching. By way of contrast, Brumbies playmaker Christian Lealiifano stands flat and takes the ball to the line. The defence is confronted with loop plays, dummy runners and players in motion flooding targeted zones. In their past three matches the Brumbies have scored 16 tries. The last time they did this was in 2006.
The Waratahs do not have the same skills and moves. And it is losing them close matches. In an interesting column this week, David Campese pointed out that the Waratahs, with time up and needing a try to defeat the Crusaders, were awarded a penalty on their 10 metres. A torpedo kick deep into the Crusaders' 22 was the play. Instead they took a 20m drop-punt. Campese coaches kids "to back themselves and not just kick at all times". He also teaches "how to do both a spiral pass and a lateral pass, and how to kick torpedo and drop-punts". This coaching is done in Hong Kong and South Africa, unfortunately. His argument is that this sort of coaching should be going on in the Waratahs' camp.
Lealiifano is flourishing under the coaching of Stephen Larkham. Why isn't Campese employed to do the same thing with the Waratahs?