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Wave the wand for these magicians


Ewen McKenzie

A master of the second touch … Mark Ella representing the Wallabies in July 1983.

A master of the second touch … Mark Ella representing the Wallabies in July 1983.

In each decade that passes there are hundreds of talented rugby players taking the field but only a select few are considered great. I've been blessed to have had such a long rugby career where along the way I've had the opportunity to play alongside and coach some of Australia's greatest names.

It has been a privilege to see some of these players up close and personal, and like everyone else, I am astounded by their ability to mesmerise and excite all those they are competing against and everyone watching from the stands.

No one can take credit for the natural ability these great players possess although you can notice distinct similarities within this elite group that differentiates them from us tradesman-like players. Our attack coach at the Reds, Jim McKay, likes to refer to these elites as the ''wand-wavers'' as they do their best work with the ball in two hands, weaving their magic to deceive the defence.

Australia has been lucky to see its fair share of great playmakers and there are two running around at the moment in Quade Cooper and Kurtley Beale that I've had the chance of getting to know well. I've been spoilt to have coached both Kurtley and Quade and their abilities bring back memories of plenty of great No.10s to have played our sport.

Lloyd Walker was the first great playmaker I encountered. He was a Randwick inside-centre that who later moved to 10 that was both unlucky and privileged to be playing outside the great Mark Ella. He played Test rugby, albeit briefly, and was faster than many people thought.

Lloyd was the first ''wand-waver'' I ever came across as he had the ability to cast spells on the defence. He carried the ball to the line in two hands and was unstoppable with his sleight of hand.

Mark Ella was the same era as Lloyd and had the same rugby pedigree and expression. I played one season with Mark and he had the wand as he played flat and hard at the line. The harder the defence came, the closer to it he played and the better his skills would work.

Mark was also great at getting a second touch - passing and then getting the ball back in the same movement. It was a skill Kurtley showed against the Reds the other night and it brought back memories.

Stephen Larkham was a very tall halfback who quickly transformed into a world-class fullback before finding a home at 10. His passing skills were brilliant - impeccable on both sides no matter what distance his target was at. He brought width into the game with his flat and precise passes hitting the mark on every occasion.

Normally I am not a big fan of the cut-out pass, as the defence will arrive before the ball if it is thrown poorly. However the greats can throw the cut-out with ease with their dart-like passes hitting their teammates in space to create opportunities.

Quade and Kurtley did this brilliantly the other night and it was a pleasure to watch. The great players are effortless with the ball but know how and when to pass, and even more importantly, can disguise the length of their pass to make it more effective.

Such was the talent of Larkham that the Brumbies and Wallabies of his era had set-plays named about his ability to throw needle-type passes.

Tactically, you can do a lot if you can accurately pass a ball but the good playmakers can also run. As much as their reputation was founded on their craft with the ball, they also had the ability to take on the line.

Ella got four tries in the grand slam European tour of 1984 but his passing, second touches and ability to take on the line were also sublime. Larkham was another of the great runners while we saw Beale ghost through the other night and Quade set up the Adam Wallace-Harrison try by doing the same.

In the end these guys loved their craft and applied their minds to the task. They all made it look easy and the harder and faster the opposition was, the better they play. This wasn't a surprise as while they had elite physical talents, they were also students of the game. They knew the cause and effect of actions and were able to communicate it phase-after-phase.

Reds halfback Will Genia may not have a No.10 on his back but is too a playmaker in his own right and has many similar skills. The ability to run, pass and deceive is not lost on him.

It's also interesting that the great playmakers we remember generally forged great relationships with the men inside and outside of them. Playmakers need others to pass the ball to. Even the greats would have had little impact if not surrounded by the workers around them to give them options. You can wave the wand only so many times but there won't be any magic if no one is in support.

24 comments so far

  • Quade Cooper a great 10 playmaker?

    He was playing the Rebels the other night not the Welsh or the All Blacks. There's a huge difference.

    Likewise Beale, although hes better than Cooper under test pressure, cannot be measured against the Rebels.

    To mention them in the same breath as icons like Ella and Larkham is a serious error of judgement and an insult to the reputations of those great players frankly.

    The sort of judgements we see in this article are why I hope McKenzie never becomes Wallaby coach. McKenzie is a former front row forward not an expert on the 10 jersey. We're in for a disastrous era if he does become Wallaby coach..

    If Dingo goes and he wont if he can take out the Lions I just hope Jake White holds up his hand. Deans must blood another lock against Argentina, and Neville appears the obvious candidate.

    Date and time
    July 05, 2012, 1:33PM
    • mate yr an idiot. Ewen is usually bang on and this article is no exception. Kurtly Beale was sensational in the RWC, as he has been in this yr's Super Rugby. Quade Cooper's game in the semi final last year pretty much single handedly got the Reds into the final and did you actually watch him play in the RWC ?? The game against Ireland was lost in the forwards and Quade's only "poor" game was the semi against the AB's. Newsflash - no one was going to beat NZ, they had the best team in the world and were playing at home. Ewen doesn't understand number 10 because he played in the front row ?? That's the most looney thing I've ever heard, does that mean Rugby teams need 15 coaches ?? Get a clue

      Date and time
      July 05, 2012, 2:04PM
    • Beale plays for the Rebels - so was not tested "against the Rebels", but against last year's champions. He completely changed the game for Melbourne when O'Connor went off and he moved to 10. He is an amazing playmaker and if he shows the same sort of longevity in the game as Larkham absolutely deserves to be mentioned in the same breath may even surpass him ...

      Date and time
      July 05, 2012, 2:20PM
    • mick-e - all I can say is that I sure am glad that you are not on any board that appoints Australia coaches if that is really your knowlege of McKenzie.
      I also think your view of Quade Cooper is very short sighted and typical of an internet forum poster jumping on another tall-poppy syndrome bandwagon.
      I don't think Quade had a good world cup by any means, just a bad patch. It is funny how quickly people like you just choose to forget about how key his form was leading the Reds to the title as well as the Wallabies to the Tri-Nations.
      I'm not a Quade supporter by any means, I just call it as I see it. If you can't see past the world cup patch and not acknowledge some of his natural abilities than you really have no idea what you are talking about....

      Western Australia
      Date and time
      July 05, 2012, 2:56PM
    • Must say, as a Kiwi I am delighted to hear the support Cooper gets from the chattering classes.

      Please keep selecting him.

      Sorry Mick-e, it seems you are the only Aussie who sees Cooper as he really is (and not as the nutty media portray him).

      There are none so blind as those who will not see.

      Australia does not have a 10 to match the genius of Carter (or Cruden or Slade for that matter). Barnes is very solid and should be the 1st choice, at least you know he won't go to pieces. You then give players like Ioane, O'Connor, Beale and Mitchell the chance to excel against their opposite.

      Cooper just puts them under pressure.

      Perth via Rakaia
      Date and time
      July 05, 2012, 4:25PM
    • "The game against Ireland was lost in the forwards and Quade's only "poor" game was the semi against the AB's"

      I'm sorry mate, but did YOU watch any of the RWC?

      Quade's game against the ABs was not poor, it was catastrophic, he had a 'poor' game against Ireland and South Africa and was forgettable against Wales before he was injured.

      He did excel against some of the second tier teams though, so next time Aussie play Russia or USA he should be selected to give Barnes a rest.

      Perth via Rakaia
      Date and time
      July 05, 2012, 4:27PM
    • @ mick-e & @ piru
      Get a grip on it, fair dinkum!
      Your agenda as to the denegration of QC and to the total disregard and to the insight and knowledge of Link is appalling! I mean, you have the gall to take issue with some-one who has not only played at the highest level but played along side some of the greats. While I appreciate that everyone is entitled to an opinion ( I'm certainly in that camp) this borders on the ill-informed and personal bias.
      Links comments are to the point that these two players exhibit all the traits that could develope and season into to likes of Ella and Larkham. He didn't say they were there NOW!
      It is your prerogative to bang-on to the contrary but that drum you are banging is loud, noisey and empty!

      inner west sydney
      Date and time
      July 06, 2012, 9:18AM
    • Who's denigrating Link?

      I was denigrating Cooper.

      Bitch all you like but I only bag him in proportion to the amount of press promoting him.

      If you guys stop talking about him, so will I.

      Perth via Rakaia
      Date and time
      July 06, 2012, 11:25AM
    • My thoughts exactly Chook.

      Back in Argentina!
      Date and time
      July 06, 2012, 12:46PM
    • @ piru
      'Who's denegrating Link ?'
      I didn't say Link.

      'I was denegrating Cooper.'
      That's what I posted.

      As far as 'bitchin', man that's really rich! I'd say pot's calling kettle black here.
      Come on @ piru, you're better than this and you know it. You've had a bug up your a** since QC did the 'unthinkable' to a national treasure.
      My issue with you and @ mick-e was like WOW, you guys are travelling in very rarified air to take issue with Link and... HIS... assessment of QC and Kurly that's all!

      inner west sydney
      Date and time
      July 06, 2012, 2:33PM

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Rugby Internationals 2014

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