Pass master … Will Genia. Photo: Getty Images
When you become the first team to hold the Crusaders tryless in Christchurch since 2000, it is difficult to understand why the statistic did not come with a memorable win.
It is disappointing to produce such an effort in defence and not come away with the spoils, but rugby is a wonderful game of chess. The pressure of winning and losing comes down to how you handle a few critical moments.
Before each game, you have a coin toss. The result here is not as important as in a cricket Test match but it still evokes debate, especially if there is a significant wind. Do you play into the wind during the first half or do you take the advantage while you have the chance?
In France, you always choose to play into the wind. The theory is that there is always a "sorting out" period of about 20 minutes, so you would have more rhythm in the second half to come home with a wet sail when everyone is tired. However, this relies on not getting too far behind during the first 40 minutes.
The other decision you make at the toss is whether to kick or receive.
Against the Crusaders, we chose to kick as there are some strategic opportunities you can create through this option. If you are good enough, the kick-off can be a great strategic weapon, as you can give the opposition the ball in a way that causes maximum stress and confusion.
If executed well enough, you can regain possession in their territory through either error or a hasty kick into touch. Less than a minute into the game and you have possession in good territory.
At the weekend, we got a great "fast start", scoring the only try of the match from a well-executed strategy that allowed James Hanson to score in the corner.
The irony of the game against the Crusaders was the team playing into the wind played tactically smarter than the team that had the perceived advantage. When playing into the wind, you tend to carry the ball more and play to the edges of the field to control possession. Particularly against the Crusaders, it is important not to kick aimlessly, which would then be returned with interest to create a field position where penalties can be turned into points.
We played the first half tactically well but were hampered by an inability to remain in the attacking quarter long enough for pressure to turn into points. There were lots of reasons for this but a missed kick for touch and the odd pushed pass allowed pressure to dissipate. Accuracy is paramount in low-scoring, tight games.
There have been countless times in my career, as a player and coach, when you are sitting in the dressing room at half-time discussing the prospect of playing into the wind in the second half. There is always a feeling and look of relief.
Sometimes this ends in frustration, like us in the first stanza. The Crusaders found ways to remain in our half and etch out a win.
The telling statistics in games are not all about possession. The Chiefs lead the competition, but are ranked second last in the percentage of possession they compile. It is more about where you get the ball. The Crusaders were able to manufacture nine minutes more of possession in our half. Therein lies the winning of the game.
We have analysed it and there were probably only three key moments where, if we had our time again, we may have selected a different attacking option. This shows how small the margins are. When you add in a couple of errors, you find the Crusaders were able to carve out a victory on the back of goal-kicking.
In all of the above, there is the obvious input of the officials and there is always great debate about their decisions and their consistency.
There is an appropriate forum to debate that but there is a philosophy I have maintained for some years, which I believe is imperative for the game to function properly. It is the first thing I look at when I analyse the referee statistics.
I am talking about the ratio of penalties against the attacking team against that of the defensive side. For a team to have confidence to play rugby in their own half, they must feel comfortable that, if they are good enough to maintain possession, they can do so without unfair risk.
For me, the ratio of penalties needs to be around 70 per cent against the defence, as this means the referee is concentrating on negating spoiling tactics. If this is done, you see plenty of excitement and ball movement and fans walk away happy.
The closer the margin gets to 50 per cent, the more field position you get from kicking, as teams will - logically - not want to play in front of their goal posts. There has been a litany of games this season where teams have paid the price for playing too much football in their own half. It pains me to say that, but it is more a risk mitigation strategy than a coaching philosophy. It also means tight games are generally decided on goal-kicking.
Wondering what the ratio was against the Crusaders? Almost 50-50.