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McKenzie's blunder raises questions over his tactical nous

Date

Spiro Zavos

In the 20th minute of the engrossing qualifying final between the Reds and the Sharks, Ewen McKenzie made a fateful and wrong decision. Reds five-eighth Ben Lucas was badly injured and had to leave the field. McKenzie had the option of moving inside-centre Mike Harris in one place. Harris had started at five-eighth for the Reds in three matches this season. The Reds had won all three matches. Instead, he moved Will Genia to five-eighth. Big mistake. Genia is the best halfback in the world. His long pass from the rucks gave width to a Reds attack that wanted to stretch the Sharks into tiredness. But just after half-time, Genia, playing in a position he rarely plays, threw a speculative cut-out pass that was intercepted. Moments later the Sharks had scored under the posts. Game over.

Why did McKenzie make this strange decision? In the Herald on Thursday, McKenzie pointed to the early onslaught from the Sharks as the decisive factor in the outcome of the match. There was no mention of the Genia ploy. After the match, however, McKenzie explained that Genia had trained at five-eighth during the season and that Harris had taken a knock to the head. But Harris stayed on the field until the last quarter of the match. There is no explanation here about the intelligence of taking match-winner Genia out of his match-winning position when there was an adequate substitute.

There is a lot of talk about McKenzie taking over from Robbie Deans as the coach of the Wallabies in 2014. The lack of clarity in the Genia matter raises significant doubts about his tactical nous for the job.

Before the match, Sharks coach John Plumtree said the Reds did not deserve to have a home qualifying final because they got an advantage over South African sides by playing in the "weak" Australian conference. How arrogant. The fact is that three South African sides made the finals because their conference was much weaker than the New Zealand conference. Some statistics make this obvious. The Australian conference sides accrued 32 wins, scored 210 competition points; 179 tries for and 218 against. The South African sides had 42 wins, scored 247 points; 210 tries for and 189 against. The New Zealand teams had 46 wins, scored 264 points; 222 tries for and 174 tries against.

Some more fascinating statistics, which were published on The Roar website, further undermine the credibility of the Plumtree attack on the Australian conference. In the past two seasons, the bottom four teams in terms of log points gained inside their own conference were: the Cheetahs 17 points, Lions 20, Rebels 21 and Western Force 26. These figures suggest that it is the top South African sides that get the greatest benefit from playing two matches against each team in their conference. This benefit is reflected in the fact that the top four teams inside their conferences are: Stormers 60 points, Reds 56, Crusaders 52, Bulls 51.

So the two worst teams of all the sides in their own conferences are two South African sides. This explains, in part at least, why there were three South African sides, two New Zealand teams and an Australian side in the finals, even though the New Zealand conference was clearly the strongest last year. The conference system, brought in two years ago, has created a terrific Super Rugby tournament. It deserves to be supported, not kicked around. The average rate of tries in the pool rounds this season was 4.91 per cent, up from 4.47 last year. The total attendance figure was 2,626,729, an average of 21,539 a match, up from last year's 19,445. This includes the woeful Waratahs' numbers. Any side from any conference can defeat any other side. The hapless Blues defeated the Bulls and the Brumbies, when that team needed only a bonus point to make the finals. The Rebels downed the Crusaders. And the Cheetahs beat the Hurricanes.

And let's not forget that the Sharks weren't expected to defeat the Reds in the qualifying final at Brisbane. They aren't expected to beat the Stormers tonight but this is the year when anything can happen.

spiro@theroar.com.au

Rugby Internationals 2014

Round 1
Sat, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
SAM 18 vs TGA 18 Report Stats
FJI 25 vs ITA 14 Report Stats
NZL 20 vs ENG 15 Report Stats
AUS 50 vs FRA 23 Report Stats
Sun, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 47 vs WXV 13 Report Stats
ARG 17 vs IRE 29 Report Stats
USA 6 vs SCO 24 Report Stats
CAN 25 vs JPN 34 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Sat, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
SAM 15 vs ITA Report Stats
FJI 45 vs TGA 17 Report Stats
NZL 28 vs ENG 27 Report Stats
AUS 6 vs FRA Report Stats
Sun, 15 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 38 vs WAL 16 Report Stats
CAN 17 vs SCO 19 Report Stats
ARG 17 vs IRE 23 Report Stats
USA 29 vs JPN 37 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Sat, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
ARG 19 vs SCO 21 Report Stats
FJI 13 vs SAM 18 Report Stats
JPN 26 vs ITA 23 Report Stats
AUS 39 vs FRA 13 Stats
NZL 36 vs ENG 13 Report Stats
Sun, 22 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 31 vs WAL 30 Report Stats
USA 38 vs CAN 35 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Sun, 29 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 55 vs SCO 6 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Sun, 02 NovTimes shown AEDT
BAR 36 vs AUS 40 Report Stats
USA 6 vs NZL 74 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Sun, 09 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 24 vs SAM 13 Report Stats
ENG 21 vs NZL 24 Report Stats
WAL 28 vs AUS 33 Report Stats
FRA 40 vs FJI 14 Report Stats
IRE 29 vs RSA 15 Report Stats
SCO 41 vs ARG 31 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Sun, 16 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 18 vs ARG 20 Report Stats
ENG 28 vs RSA 31 Report Stats
WAL 17 vs FJI 13 Report Stats
SCO 16 vs NZL 24 Report Stats
FRA 29 vs AUS 26 Report Stats
Mon, 17 NovTimes shown AEDT
IRE 49 vs GEO 7 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Sun, 23 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 6 vs RSA 22 Report Stats
SCO 37 vs TGA 12 Report Stats
IRE 26 vs AUS 23 Report Stats
WAL 16 vs NZL 34 Report Stats
ENG 28 vs SAM 9 Report Stats
FRA 13 vs ARG 18 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Sun, 30 NovTimes shown AEDT
ENG vs AUS 01:30Twic
WAL vs RSA 01:30MilS
View All Fixtures
 
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