After watching England sink to two defeats to end the defence of their double Six Nations crown, all I could think of was that they lack balance as a team, especially in the centres and back row.
So what makes a balanced team? In this very brief summary, I will use the Kiwi model, followed by both the All Blacks and our Super Rugby teams, as an example. This isn’t the only model – the Irish are different, and in fact, it may not even be the best model – but it’s the one I know the best.
First, you need a tight five that will execute its core roles in scrum, lineout and as second or third player at the breakdown. That law is universal. But they also should all be to able to catch and pass smoothly and take the right option when they have the ball at that key moment.
That law is universal.
The All Blacks have your classic balanced loose trio. The 8 with the sharp brain, X-factor skills and outstanding lineout ability. This hasn’t always been the case, but it so at this point in time. The hard-charging, hard tackling enforcer at 6. The breakdown master at 7. All of them excelling at their core roles, but also very good at what their colleagues do.
As a whole, the pack should ideally have a couple of outrageous wide channel experts (2 and 8), raw-boned but skilled front men for their forward pods (Brodie is the master in pod 1), several expert jackals, plenty of dog and plenty of go forward gain line carriers. Apart maybe from the props, the whole pack has both of those qualities in spades.
Each member of the backline has a particular role. The halves must be excellent decision makers and kickers. Nine must keep the game moving by being supremely fit; quick to get to the breakdown and make the decision; quick of pass too. The ten must be able to receive the ball flat and moving, challenge the line and pass well off both hands. And goal kick of course – possibly not our most reliable area.
There needs to be ball-carrying backs close enough to run off the halves (this is so important), we use a winger (Williams, Wilson, Kirwin, Jonah, Umaga, Savea, Rieko, Naholo) and especially a 12 – Nonu, SBW, Laumape. To balance the centres, the 13 must make big decisions to organise the wide defence and whether and how feed his outsides (Stanley, Bunce, Conrad, Crotty, ALB). But both centres must also be good at their partner’s job.
To complete the balance, the other wing must be an elusive runner and good with the boot and in the air – Jane, NMS and Dagg were all fullbacks. Then we have a starting fullback who is positionally very sound, a sensible yet adventurous decision maker and runner from the back or as the second pivot if necessary, good under the high ball and in the air. To finish we have the 10/15 reserve who is a genuine second pivot with great X factor from the back.
So that’s a probably too edited summary of the All Black model. Ireland fans – you have a balanced team but how does yours differ? England fans, what are you missing? (I would say ball carriers in both the pack and backs, breakdown ability, someone who can regularly give the outside backs opportunities.) Other nations or clubs – how balanced is your team?
Author: JD Kiwi
JD Kiwi currently lives in northern England, trying to find enough waking hours to work, be a devoted family man, and watch too much rugby. He supports the All Blacks, Chiefs and Waikato but also enjoys watching European rugby.
As a player he was was the shortest lock and slowest pace bowler in New Zealand. His favourite sporting achievement was winning the annual bowling cup for his small town Second XI.