Thursday 20 June 2019

Neil Francis: Let's learn to pass at pace and offload - I'm sick of World Cup hangovers

No great secret behind Kiwi dominance– just skill and speed

Flying winger Juan Imhoff gives Argentina an added dimension in attack
Flying winger Juan Imhoff gives Argentina an added dimension in attack
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

Bloke goes down to the Slug & Lettuce pub on the Kings Road, walks in, sits down at the bar and says nothing. Barman comes over, yer man points at the beer tap.

"Do you want a pint," asks the Barman. Man nods and as the barman pulls the pint he notices a huge scar across the man's throat.

"Jesus where did you get that," he asks. The man manages to croak out a reply: "Falklands".

"Jesus, we have a real hero in this pub," says the barman to everyone in the bar before handing the guy a pint "This one is on the house mate 'cos you boys did a great job over there."

"Muchas gracias, senor."

Nobody can spoil a party quite like the Argies. Defeat is painful, as Bertie used to say to his chiropodist, but this one really hurt because we assumed that there was a semi-final there for us.


We have had so many quarter-finals - wouldn't somebody give us a semi-final slot because, well, we almost deserve it. It is the truth about competitive sport - you have got to earn everything.

Ireland on their performance on Sunday neither did enough to earn it nor deserved it. What makes things worse is how we in the northern hemisphere react.

The painful introspection, the root-and-branch reviews, the calls for changes in our schools, the types of games we should have been playing and the calls for coaches' heads. Poor old Stuart Lancaster - I don't think he is a 'Strictly Come Dancing' type of guy.

The worst of it all is that someone from within the southern hemisphere will advertently come out and give us half a clue about what we are doing wrong.

We take the information to heart and like a dog with a bone we tear into the clue - meanwhile, our southern hemisphere brothers laugh at us. We are not an unintelligent people in Europe but, forgive me, if we haven't figured why New Zealand and their confreres have been consistently better than us at rugby for the last 100 years then maybe we will never figure it out.

It is interesting that the last rugby World Cup-winning coach, Graham Henry, and the RWC 2015-winning coach Steve Hansen both coached Wales without any success and yet when they get across the equator they acquire Zen-like qualities and can produce teams that play rugby that we cannot match - cannot even dream of matching.

In many ways we probably will get a better idea of why we lost from the New Zealand v France game. The reason being that Argentina are still very much a work in progress and really all they are doing is trying to catch up with the All Blacks - a team they play twice a year, a team that regularly tonks them, a team where you either fold up the tent or get serious about improving yourself.

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My experience of playing the All Blacks tells me a number of things. They are a physical side and they are a skilful side but the thing that distinguishes them from all the other major nations that I have played against is the pace. Using an athletics analogy, they run the 1,500m at 100m pace.

You may be able to slow the pace of the game down when you have the ball, but when they have the ball- and they have it most of the time - they ramp it up to a level that most human beings can't match. A Test match is called a Test match for a reason. The task is to see if you can stick with them at the pace for 80 minutes. Most sides can't.


They normally burn most sides off in the second half - usually in the last 15 - sometimes they do you in the first!

The truth is they just do the simple things well - really well. Their passing is unmatched. They seem to be able to pass effortlessly and seamlessly under intense pressure. They do in Test competition what other teams can only do in unopposed training sessions.

In their game on Saturday there were no loops, no pre-rehearsed moves, and no mickey dazzler set-plays.

They simply passed the ball to the wing as quickly and as efficiently as they could. The quality of their passing and the speed of their line - even with forwards in it guaranteed them space and opportunity. This too worked for Argentina.

The difference though is when space gets tight. New Zealand scored nine tries on the night - six of these tries involved a critical offload. Tawera Kerr-Barlow's first try included two offloads. The moment of the night though came from Julian Savea's first try.

Dan Carter's left-handed flick out of the back of his hand was just a thing of beauty. Natural and instinctive. His stiff arm hand-off on a lumbering Pascal Pape was just embarrassing. I hope the French second-row didn't suffer too much violent pain from the assault by Carter.

I thought Carter was the only one capable of such dexterity until Sonny Bill came on but he was eclipsed by Joe Moody, the replacement prop who hadn't even made it into the original All Black 31-man squad. Moody's inside flick out of the tackle to Kerr-Barlow was a sensation.

It was like Kenneth Wolstenholme's commentary on the 1970 World Cup final between Brazil and Italy "they are just taking it in turns to give an exhibition of skill."

Mike Ross sticks the scrum on the tighthead side very well - what Moody did is just not in his job description.

This year's Super 15 final between New Zealand's fourth- and fifth-ranked franchises was also a sensation. I have no evidence but I am fairly certain that somebody went into the dressing rooms before the start and issued a diktat of "no rucks, no contact."


There would also be points for artistic merit for some of the more outrageous offloaders. The game was an offloading extravaganza.

Nehe Milner-Skudder, although on the losing side, had a field day. Yes, the highly impressive Julian Savea has all the characteristics of a Dreadnought battle cruiser - but it is not a coincidence that there are plenty of nippy small wingers coming to the fore. Just when we say goodbye to Shane Williams - Milner-Skudder, Juan Imhoff and Habana show the value of this type of winger.

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If I was watching all of the Rugby Championship and a lot of the Super XV, why are all the northern hemisphere coaches, who watched it too, surprised and upset that they couldn't match their southern hemisphere counterparts or knew what was coming

Joe Schmidt's game-plan is not really geared towards playing catch-up rugby. To the team's credit, they managed to crawl their way back into the game but did so by disobeying orders.

Luke Fitzgerald's offload to Jordi Murphy wasn't a thing of beauty - Murphy to me looked like he overshot by a couple of inches - purely out of lack of habit. I was surprised Fitzgerald wasn't hauled off for not taking the tackle and getting our forwards to do the 900th clear-out of the match.

Fernandez-Lobbe's offload for the coup de grace was a thing of beauty because Imhoff knew what he would do.

If they play like that again they will trouble Australia. They have really upset us again but you have to admire their verve and panache.

Let's just learn to pass at pace and become a really good offloading side. I am sick of these hangovers.

Irish Independent

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