17 Apr

THE REPORT – RWC 2007 Independent Review
by Tracey Nelson
17 Apr 2008

At long last the report on the All Blacks’ failed Rugby World Cup campaign is out, and not before time either. The report itself was completed some five weeks ago and in the interim has been passed around rugby circles for comment, where it has also been edited to maintain confidential material as identified by the NZRU.

SPARC’s Don Tricker and lawyer Mike Heron were commissioned to review the campaign, and have produced a 47 page missive that not only considers the 2007 RWC campaign as a whole but also reviews the disasterous quarterfinal exit by the All Blacks. So just what has the report revealed? Here is a summation of their findings.

The Campaign

The length of planning was appropriate. For an event of the significance of the RWC, considerable time is required to properly prepare.

We consider the emphasis which was placed on the RWC 2007 was too great, principally because of the conditioning programme and its very public nature. We suggest that whilst planning must occur, care should be taken to ensure that the RWC does not overwhelm all else.

The combination of conditioning, weak touring international sides and poor quality pool opposition meant there was insufficient top-level game time.

In hindsight the games arranged before the team departed for the RWC were no adequate preparation given the quality of the pool opposition in the lead up to the quarter final.

There were too many All Blacks management in full time attendance at the RWC 2007.

The expectations of the stakeholders and fans were not met.

The Conditioning Programme

The programme was based on sound premise but consultation and implementation were not optimal. In particular, there was a lack of proper consultation with Super 14 Franchises.

When developing the personalised programmes the Franchise lead conditioners and medical staff should have been consulted given their knowledge of the players.

Franchises were not given the opportunity to consider alternative options that may have resulted in a better solution.

At the conclusion of the programme it was recognised that the same performance gains could have been made over a shorter (10 week) period. Some players felt the programme could have been shortened even further.

While the programme delivered significant improvements in speed, power and strength the players lacked match hardness and suffered soft tissue injuries as a result of going too hard too early. Players essentially needed to be "conditioned" for the conditioning programme.

The programme underestimated the effectiveness of players returning to rugby and the dent in confidence that some experienced from not having played for a number of weeks.

Player Rotation

There was general support and understanding of the principles behind a "rotation policy" and selection generally, but not universal endorsement of the extent to which it was implemented.

The one criticism which emerged with a fair degree of consistency is that the selection did not become sufficiently consistent closer to the RWC to allow for combinations to properly develop.

We are not satisfied the selection criticism is correct. What does emerge from this, however, is consensus that there should be consistency of selection in the immediate lead-up to the finals.

The All Blacks coaches confirmed that the "top" team (subject to injuries), was selected for eight of the 11 tests leading up to quarter final. Of the 22 selected for the quarter final an average of 17 played in each of the eight tests.

The Quarter Final

Factors outside the control of the All Blacks contributed to the loss of the quarter final.

The performance of the referee and touch judges had a significant adverse impact on the All Blacks.

An unusual combination of injuries was also a critical contributor.

There was some selection doubts expressed about whether the best players were on the field when it counted. In particular, controversy centred on the selection of Keith Robinson to start (with Chris Jack on the bench), the non-selection of Aaron Mauger and Doug Howlett and the positioning of Mils Muliaina at centre as opposed to fullback.

The selectors and coaches were clear to us and in their reports as to the rationale behind each selection. In their considered view the best team started and we are in no position to doubt that.

Due to an unfortunate combination of circumstances, in particular the injuries to Carter, Evans, Collins and Masoe, the All Blacks lacked experience at the critical period. There was a lack of experience in the backline when it really mattered, and for the critical last minutes the inside back combination had not been tested at this level under this degree of pressure..

The injuries affected on-field leadership – at the critical period in the second half, six of the 10 leadership group were off the field. Mauger and Thorne were not selected. Mealamu was injured during the week. Carter and Collins were injured during the game. Oliver was substituted. As a result, in our view, leadership support to the captain was not optimal.

We recognise that in the last 10 minutes of the second half, the All Blacks faced a dilemma. Whether to go for a drop goal without Carter or Evans (injured), or whether to continue to attempt to score through a try or a penalty.

The drop goal had never been executed under pressure — something the coaches acknowledged could have been worked on more as a strategy. The coaches did, however, send a message out to the team with 10 minutes to go, to set up for a drop goal.

The on-field decision was made to continue with the tactic of attempting to score a try or to get a penalty. The rationale was that it had worked for the team before in games in similar situations. When making this decision the players were unaware of a vital piece of information – that the All Blacks had not been given a penalty in the entire second half and were therefore probably unlikely to get one, notwithstanding their pressure, possession and territory.

The combination of all these factors put enormous pressure on All Blacks leadership and decision making. We consider that on-field leadership and decision making was a factor in the loss in the quarter final. Arguably, the team and its leadership group has only occasionally been tested to the same degree over the last four years. The trend, as witnessed in Melbourne earlier in 2007, was for the leaders to revert to type and let McCaw make the calls.

The leadership model failed to deliver what was its most important objective – decisions which give the best chance of winning the game. The team failed to ensure that the right decisions were taken at critical moments.

The coaches agreed that more emphasis should have been given to execution of a drop goal to score the necessary points to win in a tight finals finish like at Cardiff.

There remained a sense to us that the All Blacks, coaches and management were looking past the quarter-final.

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