True test is turning winning into success

Dual role: Ewen McKenzie must win hearts and minds as well as games. Photo: Marco Del GrandeSteve Hansen rarely misses. After seeing off his former Crusaders associate Robbie Deans, who was as easily provoked as a petrified tree stump, the All Blacks coach has been flinging everything he has at Ewen McKenzie.
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”Mentally challenged” by the five-eighth dilemma, feeling the ”pressure” to produce in his first Test, and battling to ”trust” the players he relied on in Queensland were the best of the barbs thrown out by Hansen this week.

Problem is, the new Wallabies coach has his eye on a bigger prize.

There is a large drinking receptacle to win back during the next fortnight, sure. The Bledisloe Cup, or its decade-long absence, is the thorn in the side of Australian rugby and McKenzie feels it more than most.

But winning isn’t everything, McKenzie asserts. More accurately, it doesn’t guarantee success. In his 10-year absence from the Wallabies coaching set-up, the former town planner-turned-Test prop has watched rugby move perilously close to niche status in the pantheon of Australian sport.

So while Hansen can heap on the pressure, it’s not the sort that McKenzie responds to.

”I’ve seen how the machine works, I understand that results are important and you never get away from that,” he says two days before his first team runs out at ANZ Stadium.

”But that’s the rugby success and I think success takes different forms at different stages and it is wider than just winning. I’m interested in winning games but I’m also interested in the game being a success against its competitors in Australia and that’s a battle that has to be fought on many fronts. Winning helps, clearly, but you still have to turn those wins into success.”

Many a well-intentioned administrator has tried to ”save” rugby, but coaches have not always had to pre-occupy themselves with winning hearts and minds as well as games. It appears to be a dimension to modern coaching that is here to stay where rugby in Australia is concerned.

”I know where rugby sits at the moment and I’m very interested in that,” McKenzie says. ”I think my job is wider than coaching a team, I think it’s more about influencing the landscape. I have a genuine rugby task on the weekend but I’m also interested in the other parts and being able to influence the game nationally.”

A good, hard dent in the All Blacks’ ego wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

McKenzie believes he is better equipped than most to make that happen, having coached the Reds to solid success against the New Zealand Super Rugby sides, played and beat them as a Wallaby and been part of Australia’s last Bledisloe Cup win in 2002.

He has started by dismantling the myth. One by one, the McKenzie-coached Wallabies have talked about the All Blacks as Super Rugby players from New Zealand this week. ”History is history,” captain James Horwill said of the sides’ Test ledger over the years. Come game time, Jesse Mogg might be visualising winger Ben Smith in his blue and green Highlanders jersey as he flies in for the tackle.

”The emotional piece is there, that’s inevitable, but you have to keep part of it pragmatic,” McKenzie says. ”There’s no escaping you have some of the best players in the world running around opposite you but we do play against them often and that’s worked out favourably for us many times.”

Recent history says McKenzie might pull it off on Saturday night. Former coaches Deans, John Connolly and Rod Macqueen came out winners after their first Test matches, while Bob Dwyer and Eddie Jones felt the dead weight of pressure from the final bell.

”Come late Saturday night something will have happened and people will be commenting but that cycle goes on,” McKenzie says. ”And regardless of what happens on Saturday night there’s another big game a week later. I’ve learnt that much. If you accept the responsibility you have to take the good and bad; all you can do is back your methods and approach.”

There are always friends like Hansen, ready to land a blow. British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland, back in the chair at the Welsh Rugby Union, will have a few trademark, soft-spoken slapdowns ready in the European autumn, too.

McKenzie knows it’s lonely at the top. After building and executing one hell of a game plan to land himself the plum Wallabies job, delivering is his only option.

”I got a nice letter from [Springboks coach] Heineke Meyer the other day congratulating me on the job,” McKenzie says. ”Heineke and I go way back, it’s an interesting journey for all of the guys in different positions. It’s not an easy life but at the end of the day you don’t have to do it, you don’t have to put your hand up for it. If you do put your hand up for it you just have to do it.”

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McKenzie takes gamble on Cooper off the bench

A few days before the third Test between the Wallabies and the British and Irish Lions, I chatted with Graham Henry, the great All Blacks coach. I suggested that accurate selection goes 90 per cent of the way to ensuring a winning coach. Henry pondered on my assertion, and then told me: ”Spiro, I would make good selecting about 75 per cent in achieving success as a coach.”
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Henry went on to praise Warren Gatland for his shrewdness and bravery in dumping Brian O’Driscoll and opting for the big Welsh centres, Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies. British rugby writers were so hostile to this selection that they predicted the end of Gatland’s coaching career if the Lions were defeated. It is part of rugby history now that the big Welsh centres monstered the smaller Wallabies backs. 75 out of 75 for Gatland.

And, it is also part of rugby history that Robbie Deans, generally a shrewd selector, made a selection error in continuing to play James O’Connor as the Wallabies number 10 in the last Lions Test. Greg Martin even suggested that Deans was somehow playing the Trojan Horse for New Zealand rugby in not selecting Quade Cooper. The Wallaby squad to play the All Blacks on Saturday night at ANZ Stadium was announced at 3.30pm on Thursday. And, astonishingly, Cooper was in the squad but relegated to the subs bench. Given the fact that Ewen McKenzie’s campaign to become Wallaby coach was based on a Quade-led revival, this was a selection gamble in the Gatland class of risk.

The starting five-eighth is Matt Toomua. The theory is that Toomua will take the initial pressure from the All Blacks and when the game opens up then Cooper will come on to run the visitors ragged with his outrageously brilliant plays and ploys. The suggestion was also made that this left-field selection will ”shock” the All Blacks who have been preparing to apply pressure on Cooper at the beginning of the Test.

The NZ Herald published an interview with the All Blacks coach Steve Hansen on Thursday, just hours before McKenzie’s bombshell announcement, where he predicted Toomua’s selection and also that the Wallaby backs would play a Brumbies-type rush defence to put the All Blacks under pressure. So much for the surprise element.

The other interesting selection in McKenzie’s first Wallaby side is his front five: James Slipper, Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander, Rob Simmons and James Horwill. Moore and Horwill are the only strong scrummers in this unit. When he was asked about the new scrum regulations that de-power the hit and require more scrumming technique from players, McKenzie said at his media conference that the scrum was only part of the game and that he looked for other things from his props in general play.

The experienced Benn Robinson, a strong scrumming prop, has been dropped from the squad because his play around the field is not effective.

The All Black selectors have gone the other way with their front row. They have discarded Dane Coles, a hooker who plays with the verve of a flanker, and selected two veterans, Andrew Hore and Tony Woodcock. Luke Romano is in the second row ahead of Brodie Retallick because, as Hansen explained, Romano had played last week’s practice games against Wellington and Canterbury.

The inference here is that the All Blacks expect scrums to be physically torrid affairs.

McKenzie has picked an exciting squad, despite the fears about the toughness of the front five. There are five uncapped players in it. One of them, Toomua, is a starter. There are 10 Brumbies, a reward for that team’s splendid season in defeating the Lions and almost defeating the Chiefs in the Super Rugby final. There are some strong runners in the forwards. The side has enough pace and strength in the back four to trouble even the formidable All Blacks defence.

I would give McKenzie 70 out of 75 for the selection of his squad. Scott Sio, the best scrumming prop in Australian, should be a starter. But the other crucial 25 points, which relate to the implementation of the game plan, will be decided on Saturday night.

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Highs and lows, cheers and boos – all part of the demanding job

Bob Dwyer: July 4, 1982, v Scotland, Brisbane Scotland 12 def Wallabies 7
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One of my most vivid recollections of that Test was the sad memory of a Queensland rugby crowd booing the Wallabies as they ran on the pitch because of the inclusion of [Randwick players] Mark and Glen Ella and the exclusion of [local heroes] Paul McLean and Roger Gould, which was sad in the extreme. I can’t remember being nervous but what I can remember on reflection was that I certainly tried to do too much too soon. Back then three days was all you had for your Test preparation with the team, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. I probably didn’t prepare the team well. The Wallabies forward pack who were all Queenslanders were outplayed by Scotland but perhaps a major contributing factor to that was that they were worn out from the practice. In the preparation for the second Test, I was much, much lighter with the forwards in their preparation and in fact gave them one day off and concentrated on the backs. I was a bit naive and thought I could change the world in three days and I found out you couldn’t.

Rod Macqueen: November 1, 1997, v Argentina, Beunos Aires Wallabies 23 def Pumas 15

It was probably tougher that my first Test as Wallabies coach was an away game. Having said that, it was against Argentina and not the All Blacks. But the reality is we lost the next Test and losing that next one probably contributed more to the thinking and direction of the side than the first Test did, because it pointed out a lot of the frailties in our game plan and team. It also showed me how fine the line is between looking for longer term achievement and the more immediate goal of beating the opposition. A lot of the things we were concentrating on in Argentina were the part of the long term project and had I had the time again I might have concentrated a bit more on winning that second Test than thinking too far ahead. You’re always nervous leading into these matches but you have to try to keep that out of it. Your role is to be as calm as possible and make decisions that are actually going to help the team. The team knows if they’re losing at half-time, what you have to tell them is what they have to do to win.

Eddie Jones: July 28, 2001, v Springboks, Loftus Versfeld Springboks 20 def Wallabies 15

It was a difficult time because players had just come off the Lions series, the players were reasonably tired and there was a change in coach. John Eales had told me that week that he was going to retire at the end of the series, so it was an interesting week trying to get the team up for the game while knowing myself that their captain was on his way out.

The only thing that changes as national coach is after the game. If you win, it’s fantastic but if you lose, everyone knows about it and the pressure is enormous. The South Africa, New Zealand and England jobs are the only ones that have as much pressure on them as the Australian job. Over our Test history, we’ve averaged a 52 per cent win rate so you’re going to lose four out of every 10 games. That’s a reality you have to deal with. Then there’s the media pressure and the pressure you find from people outside. You lose your personal life over that period.

John Connolly: June 11, 2006, v England, Telstra Stadium Wallabies 34 def England 3

We met a really experienced England side in this Test. Since taking over the coaching we’d spent a lot of time discussing where Australia was at. The same side had played for a number of years, they were getting older and we knew we had to make some hard decisions. We’d lost seven or eight games in a row if I remember correctly so we thought we couldn’t do the same thing again. We changed the whole front row, bringing in Rodney Blake, Greg Holmes and Tai McIsaac. We stayed out at Homebush the night before and I remember watching those three walking around in shorts and thongs the day of the match thinking ‘I am sure people don’t realise this is the Australian front row’. It’s always important to win. Practising losing is not fun at all. You make decisions about how you’re going to play the game … but it is very different when you are running the whole show. You have the final say on everything, the buck stops with you.

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Tuqiri not ready to bow out yet as return looms

Lote Tuqiri will play his first NRL game in over a year when Wests Tigers take on the Sydney Roosters on Monday night and, despite the uncertainty of his future, the veteran declared it will not be his last game.
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The 33-year-old winger has not played for the joint-venture club since breaking his arm against the Bulldogs in round 18 last season. His time away from the field has made him determined not to leave the game quietly.

Tuqiri said on Friday he believes he still has a lot to offer the Tigers and plans to play beyond this season.

He still doesn’t know which club that will be with as his contract with the Tigers is yet to be renewed.

”It’s not going to be my swansong, I’m going to keep playing. Where that will be, I don’t know, but it definitely won’t be my swansong,” Tuqiri said. ”I wanted to go out on my terms. I’ve had a pretty good career but, obviously, the last couple of years have been pretty tough for me injury-wise. I knew I had something to give, something to offer to this footy team. If I didn’t, I would have given up by now.”

The early months after his near career-ending injury tested his willingness to continue playing. Tuqiri admits the prospect of the curtains closing on his playing days was difficult to face.

The thought of hanging up his boots crossed his mind on more than one occasion but the support of his teammates and his two young children gave him the mental strength to return to the field.

”You don’t see a lot of light at the end of the tunnel. You start questioning the motivation and when you get up for training, it’s 7am and it’s really cold, you think you might as well stay home today,” Tuqiri said. ”It’s been pretty dark I must admit. The last month we have not been able to get near the finals but, other than that, the boys have been really good. When I go home its just the same because I’ve got two young boys. You can’t afford to be down. They make it a hell of a lot easier to be around.”

Tuqiri will start on the left wing on Monday night in place of the injured Marika Koroibete.

Meanwhile, the Tigers horrid run of form has detracted the spectacle of Braith Anasta playing against his former team. The veteran player said he was too consumed with changing his club’s fortunes to take notice of a match-up against the Roosters.

After seven seasons with the Tricolours, Anasta will take on his former club for the first time in a competitive match but hasn’t given the occasion much thought due to the stress of the Tigers five-match losing streak

”I can’t really look beyond our backyard here at the moment cos we’re doing it tough and we’re playing the best team in the comp,” Anasta said.

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Russia’s stance should come as no surprise

Dinkus of Darren Kane in Sydney.16th August 2013Photo: Janie Barrett Photo: Janie Barrett JEMLaw is not a science. Its practice involves the dark art of answering vexed questions: just as it is a compelling proposition that the AFL must bear its formidable teeth at Essendon for its alleged role in marking this year as the sport’s annus horribilis lest the integrity of the competition be tarnished; in equal measure it seems premature and unusual to seek to sanction James Hird, or anyone else, absent finalising the very investigation that serves as the evidentiary bedrock for the charges laid.
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Playing devil’s advocate, and taking up unpopular or absurd arguments, do however have their limits. In an effective reversal of its 1993 decriminalisation of homosexuality, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his final assent earlier this year to a raft of new national laws including establishing unfettered powers for police to arrest and detain tourists and foreign nationals suspected of being homosexual or ”pro-gay”; introducing a deliberately imprecise prohibition against the distribution of ”propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors (thus federalising the laws already enacted in parts of Russia as early as 2006); and placing a blanket ban on the adoption of orphans by Russian gay couples or any person from any country in which marriage equality exists.

The Russian government has in recent weeks most helpfully clarified that it will apply these new regulations during the 2014 Winter Olympics, and hence will not hesitate to arrest anybody suspected of violating the laws.

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko has, perhaps in his own inimitable way, sought to temper any fears in saying ”an athlete of non-traditional sexual orientation isn’t banned from coming to Sochi”.

Looked through any prism, Russia’s laws are a throwback to wicked Stalinist policy. This toxicity is though viciously amplified by the illumination of the sporting spotlight. These are heady times for Russia as an international host.

Moscow is now hosting the athletics world championships, which conclude on Sunday. Since hosting rights were awarded to Sochi in 2007, Putin has spent a mere $52 billion preparing to host the world’s best winter athletes next year. In five years’ time, Russia plays host to the FIFA World Cup.

Outgoing IOC president Jacques Rogge has in recent weeks and by equal measure both sought that Russia clarify what its laws mean, and lamented that the regulations pose more of an interpretation issue than anything else.

Rogge is adamant the laws will have no effect on the Games, as if such a reassurance is an antidote to the problem. Alas, the power of gentle words and quiet diplomacy to quell absurdity and the fear the parents of young athletes might harbour for the safety of their children competing in Sochi.

There is utility in the IOC reminding itself of its own Olympic Charter, which operates as the constitutional spine of the Olympic movement, the constituency of which includes both the Russian Olympic committee and the Sochi organising committee. In the quintessential motherhood statement, the Charter’s fundamental goal is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.

The Charter codifies principles that include the right of each individual to practice sport free from discrimination of any kind, such prejudice of whatever kind expressed as being incompatible with belonging to the movement.

For each city awarded the right to host an Olympic Games, the Charter requires the national government of that country to submit to the IOC a legally-binding instrument undertaking and guaranteeing that the country, and its public authorities, comply with and respect the Olympic Charter.

The IOC retains the right, at any time and without recourse to compensation, to withdraw the right of a city to organise and host an Olympics in the event of non-compliance with the Charter or any other IOC regulation or instruction.

If you can quote the rules, you can obey them. How the IOC handles matters, between now and February, will be illustrative as to whether the Olympic Charter is just empty rhetoric. Russia’s legal position sits in hopeless conflict with the undertakings given to the IOC.

Hollow promises that nobody is banned from Sochi, or even that the laws will not apply to Olympic athletes and spectators so long as they behave, fail to address the central abhorrence of the laws per se.

The invidious reality though is that any step by the IOC to move the Games, or by nations or individual athletes to boycott Sochi, will probably have an impact analogous to that of both the boycott of the 1936 Berlin Olympics by individual Jewish athletes, and the refusal of more than 50 nations to take part in the USSR’s 1980 Moscow Games.

Neither stance had any real influence on the perverse policies of the Third Reich or on Soviet foreign policy in Afghanistan. Although the impending Games has served to focus attention on Russian domestic policy, the real issue is far wider than mere guarantees over non-disruption of the Olympics and how Russia’s laws affect those attending the Games.

After the Games, the 7000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes, the world’s media, the volunteers and all the spectators all have to go home, perhaps to a place where the laws are even more medieval. The unfortunate, unfathomable truth is that Russia is hardly a lone wolf state.

Dotted around the globe is a veritable United Nations of more than 75 jurisdictions where it is, in essence, illegal to be gay. Places as diverse in culture as Barbados, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Qatar and Malaysia; whose laws prescribe penalties including jail, corporal punishment and death. The IAAF’s Senegalese president Lamine Diack has this past week gently suggested that the Russian laws demand ”respect”. In Senegal, homosexuality is a crime.

Has Putin taken the IOC by surprise? In 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed the first resolution approved by any UN body on the human rights of homosexuals and minority groups. The vote of the 47 member states passed the resolution by a narrow majority. Two of the UN Council members were Russia and Senegal. Guess how they voted.

Darren Kane is a sports lawyer based in Sydney.

Twitter: @sportslawyer7

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Drugs probe not linked to signing delays: Noyce

Cronulla officials insist the future of seven unsigned players called for interviews with Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority investigators will be determined for football reasons alone.
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While hooker John Morris is in talks about a new deal with the club, the Sharks are yet to decide whether Ben Pomeroy, Nathan Gardner, Nathan Stapleton, Ben Ross, Matthew Wright and Stewart Mills are part of their plans beyond this season.

However, Cronulla chief executive Steve Noyce said the delay in finalising the club’s new roster had nothing to do with the ongoing ASADA investigation.

”While there is a group of players involved in the ASADA stuff, their contractual situations are all different,” Noyce said. ”Nathan Gardner, for example, has only played four or five games [because of injury] and his focus has just been getting on the football field.

”I think in the end your reason for wanting to re-sign players is about footy stuff and if he comes back on the field and plays good footy he gives himself a real opportunity to continue his partnership with the club.”

With the exception of Ross, the off-contract players are among 11 survivors of Cronulla’s 2011 squad summonsed for ASADA interviews that began on August 1. Of the others, Jason Bukuya is leaving for the Warriors and Anthony Tupou has taken up an option for another season. Wade Graham is off contract at the end of next season and captain Paul Gallen is signed until 2015.

Noyce said Morris wanted to continue playing for the Sharks and the club was also in discussions with the 30-year-old utility about a future coaching career. ”He is doing a masters in elite sports coaching at Sydney University and we are talking with him about putting that into practice with some of our academy teams,” Noyce said. ”There were a number of players who were a priority for us and we are working through the rest.

”A couple of the other guys know we are talking to them and it is up to them to get out on the field and play some good footy, but obviously we are always looking to see what new blood we can attract to the club.”

After a week’s break from the interviews with ASADA, Cronulla players will again be quizzed over the allegations of doping at the club next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Fairfax Media has been told that investigators have been happy with the level of co-operation provided by the players after Graham was the only player interviewed before ASADA abandoned the process in April.

Despite not initially having been on a list of 30 NRL players required for interviews this month, Graham was quizzed for a second time last Friday and Fairfax understand that it was at his request.

A further four members of the Sharks 2011 squad now at other clubs – Newcastle pair Jeremy Smith and Kade Snowden and Gold Coast’s Albert Kelly and Luke Douglas – are also due to be interviewed soon.

The other club in the spotlight is Manly, with six players – Anthony Watmough, Brett Stewart, Steve Matai, George Rose, Ben Farrar and Richie Fa’aoso – asked for interviews, along with former Sea Eagles Glenn Hall, Dean Whare and Darcy Lussick.

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Wallabies keeping pace for crunch clash

The Wallabies are confident they can play ”fast, up-tempo footy” against the All Blacks without the errors that hobbled their performances against the British and Irish Lions.
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Despite keeping the bones of the back line that failed miserably to match the Lions’ firepower at ANZ Stadium just over a month ago, there is a sense among the squad that a couple of positional tweaks have restored the rightful order to the Wallabies’ attack.

Halfback Will Genia said as much on Friday, calling the wing the best place for former five-eighth James O’Connor and assuring jittery fans there would be no repeat of the pushed passes or fumbled catches that surfaced the last time the Wallabies tried to play at pace.

”It’s completely different. We’re playing a different style of game under Ewen [McKenzie] to what we played in the Lions. We’ve got players in different positions and guys who are here who have been playing well all season and are full of confidence,” Genia said.

”We want to play fast, up-tempo footy. As well as the breakdown being a focus, one way to beat the All Blacks is to run them around, change direction, and just have different points of attack, as opposed to just playing off No.9s or No.10s.

”It’s good we’ve got someone like Jesse [Mogg] at the back, and Christian [Lealiifano at No.12], who is a good ball distributor as well. We just have to make sure we utilise the strengths we have in the group.”

Mogg and Lealiifano will start on Saturday in the same positions they finished the third Lions Test.

McKenzie moved O’Connor to the wing to make room for Matt Toomua, but the coach retained Lealiifano’s midfield partner Adam Ashley-Cooper and kept Israel Folau on the wing.

Genia said a back three boasting the collective pace and footwork of O’Connor, Folau and Mogg, who makes his first Test start on Saturday, could prove the Wallabies’ trump card.

”[Mogg] has genuine pace and a left boot, and I think that’s something we’ve genuinely missed out on, having a left and right foot,” he said. ”And just his ability to run the ball, he is so elusive. He can beat players very easily one-on-one, and he’s very quick. Hopefully we can give some space to use his ability.”

There are more than a few threats to take care of first. If the Wallabies fail to slow down the All Blacks’ ball, they will pay – as they have many times before.

”They’re almost impossible to defend against if they get a roll on or get quick ball, so we have to be really accurate in that area with our low tackles and make sure we get guys over the ball,” Genia said.

The ”impossible” comes in many forms in the All Blacks back line. There is winger Julian Savea, nicknamed ”Big Bus” in his homeland for his near-unstoppable runs down the flank.

The Wallabies have been drilled. They know to tackle hard and tackle low. ”You’ve got to take out his legs,” Genia said.

Traditional All Blacks fringe player Ben Smith will be hoping to transfer his scorching hot Super Rugby form to the Test arena. But apart from the Highlanders winger, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has lined up a cast of ”been-there, conquered-that” characters for his defence of the Bledisloe Cup.

Hansen’s approach, which again uses the nucleus of the Crusaders squad and just a smattering of Chiefs, is the opposite of McKenzie’s form-above-caps selection strategy.

”[Hansen] has gone with experience, guys that have been there and done the job for them in the past,” Genia said.

”You can’t question that, they’ve been so successful for such a long time, in particular in big games against Australia. He’s selected the team he think can win, and I can’t really question that.”

The last time the teams met, the Wallabies held their trans-Tasman foes in an 18-18 draw at Suncorp Stadium. It might as well have been last century judging by the attitude of the McKenzie-era team.

”Someone said the other day there’s three guys from that game that are in the Test tomorrow night,” Wallabies captain James Horwill said.

”We get a familiarity by playing [the All Blacks players] regularly in Super Rugby.

”We play [them] week in, week out and do well against them, so we need to take that confidence and belief that we can get the job done.”

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Tech support: Clarke’s former coach shows batsmen where to improve

One of Australia’s most successful coaches says fundamental flaws can be found in the techniques of our Test batsmen.
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In the week that Michael Clarke was seen offering batting tips to the lbw-prone Shane Watson, the Test captain’s former personal coach, Neil D’Costa, shared his thoughts on how Australia’s struggling batsmen could achieve more consistency.

In addition to coaching Clarke for almost 20 years, D’Costa has worked extensively with Phillip Hughes and Mitchell Starc, coached in England and India, and holds development coaching roles with Sydney grade club Campbelltown Ghosts, and the Ghosts Cricket Academy.

D’Costa said there were ”non-negotiable basics” in the techniques of batsmen who scored more than 5000 Test runs, which were missing from the Australians’ games.

”Coaches, particularly in South Africa, India and England, are focusing on those basics in their junior elite programs,” D’Costa said. ”There is a more biomechanical approach and greater importance being placed on technical fundamentals, like grip, stance, kinetic flow, balance, and shot entry and exit points.”

D’Costa believes individual flaws have been ”picked apart and exploited time and time again” by opponents in recent series, and will continue to be until glaring errors are addressed.

”I don’t want to be critical of the players, who have all shown by reaching Test standard that they are very talented,” he said. ”Obviously, they’re trying their hardest. But their performance says that without some adjustments, the inconsistency will remain.”

On those he has worked with, D’Costa said Clarke had the fundamentals right but was restricted by back pain, while Hughes worked on flaws last season but some had returned to his game.

”These are all small things to do with technique that could add consistency to these batsmen’s game,” he said. ”Players like Ian Bell have worked extremely hard at the basics and the results are obvious.

”Over three years in India I saw that. At the elite junior level, they kept ensuring their players had these basics in place and, I believe, the county system is doing it well, too. I hope we start to educate our junior elite players like that so we can get back on top.”

D’Costa has analysed the batting techniques of a number of Australia’s batsmen.David Warner

‘‘Warner has what in swing mechanics is called a reverse swing. His weight is distributed as if he’s a right-handed batsman facing the wicketkeeper. The shoulder facing the bowler is high when, in fact, it should be lower at the time the ball is released. That would enable Warner to enter his shots with the correct weight shift and put his nose over the little toe on his front foot. What I see is Warner’s leaning back. That allows him to cut easily but, when he comes forward, his balance is off. Having too much weight leaning back also makes him susceptible to lbw when the ball is swinging. If you watch Kumar Sangakkara’s position when the ball is released, this will make sense.’’Shane Watson

‘‘Watson has a similar shoulder angle and alignment problem to Warner. He shifts his weight back when he sets up. Watson is a big build, so it’s worth comparing him to Kevin Pietersen or Jacques Kallis, who each get their front shoulders down and stand slightly open at release so they can lean into the ball, chin-forward. Watson’s weight is back, so he leads with his leg …  Lately, he’s been over-compensating by reaching with his bat and shifting his back hip around faster, which leads to edges.’’Usman Khawaja

‘‘Khawaja breaks rule No.1 – keep your head still. He’s tracking the ball by dropping his head. After his dismissal in the second innings of the fourth Test, Nasser Hussain asked ‘How did he miss that?’ The answer is, he dropped his head before the ball arrived and was looking at the ground instead of the ball. Until he changes that habit and is able to track the ball in and out with his head still, the rest doesn’t matter.’’Steve Smith

‘‘Smith stands too straight and is not engaging his quadriceps. If he crouched a little, he would bring in his quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and core, and his head would be lower. He would be better balanced. Smith also checks the swing on his cuts and pulls, and doesn’t rotate his left elbow over. He’s not using enough wrist. No player has been consistently successful with that sort of technique. Smith is a rare talent and a fighter, but on wickets with variable bounce or swing, he will keep struggling. He will still perform on occasion but will find consistency without adjustment challenging.’’Brad Haddin

‘‘You cannot recalibrate your judgment if you move your head and Haddin moves his head around, both when he’s batting and wicketkeeping. Like Khawaja, he drops head when batting and keeping, losing milliseconds of vision. M.S.Dhoni mis-gloves less balls than any keeper because he keeps his head still and drops his eyes when the ball comes into his gloves.’’

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Pup and Watson in unlikely alliance

Northampton: Michael Clarke has turned instructor and his star pupil is Shane Watson.
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In a sight that might have been regarded as extraordinary just weeks ago, the Test captain spent more than 30 minutes at a training session in the East Midlands schooling his former vice-captain on his technique to help him avoid being susceptible to leg-before dismissals.

Clarke often works with the younger batsmen in his squad. But on the eve of a two-day practice match against England Lions at the County Ground on Wantage Road he took extended time out to put the microscope on Watson, who was named as stand-in captain for the game.

The pair’s relationship has been well documented, and featured as part of Mickey Arthur’s claim against Cricket Australia with the Fair Work Commission last month before that case was settled. Documents leaked to Channel Seven claimed that the sacked coach said Clarke had described Watson and his faction as a ”cancer” in the team.

There was a noticeable absence of animosity in the Northants nets, however, as Watson took in the captain’s advice from the other end of the practice wicket where Clarke stood at length.

Asked the contents of the mini-lesson, which also involved head coach Darren Lehmann and batting coach Michael Di Venuto, Lehmann said bluntly: ”Probably not to get out lbw, I would think”, adding: ”[Clarke] came a bit early for his session; he just wants to help the young blokes out, which is good.”

Watson, of course, does not fit into the definition of one of the ”young blokes”. He is 32, the same age as Clarke. But after being successfully targeted by England’s bowlers as a candidate for lbw earlier in the series – and trapped leg-before again in Australia’s second innings at Durham – he is keen to avoid being a sitting duck.

And with Clarke boasting nearly three times as many Test centuries as the rest of the Australian team combined, he shapes as a fair teacher.

As for the suggestion of any remaining tension between the pair, Lehmann replied: ”I’ve had no problems with them since I’ve been here. They’ve worked really well, they get on well. No dramas from my end.”

Di Venuto said the involvement of Clarke on the coaching side was a bonus. ”It’s outstanding having it come from the captain,” he said.

”I know Ricky [Ponting] when he was around the Tasmanian side he did it with the Tassie boys all the time, and I believe with the Australian boys as well.”

In other news, Tim Bresnan has been ruled out for the rest of the English season with a stress fracture in his lower back.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Once overlooked but spotlight turns to Di Venuto

Finally on an Ashes tour … as batting coach: Michael Di Venuto. Photo: Steve ChristoNorthampton: Australia’s golden generation of batsmen stood in the way of Michael Di Venuto playing Test cricket for his country despite a first-class runs tally that ended up exceeding 25,000. The Waughs, Hayden, Ponting, Langer, Martyn, Lehmann and others were all ahead of him on the conveyor belt, and even when a vacancy arose it was filled by a Love or a Jaques instead. The production line was that prolific.
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A year after his retirement as a player, the 39-year-old finally finds himself on an Ashes tour, with Australia’s batting stocks far more bleak. It has been said more than once since he joined the national set-up as batting coach this year that the Tasmanian would have played 30, 40, 50 or more Tests if he had been around in this era. The same applies for others. Pick a name: Cox, Law, Hodge, all were unlucky in the timing of their birth even if they had a brief taste. Even Michael Hussey had to wait until he was 30.

Di Venuto did play nine one-day internationals in 1997, but once that window shut it did not open again. ”I had an opportunity and didn’t quite grab it, and in those days you couldn’t afford to do that because there was a queue behind,” he said. ”I never got another opportunity from then on because you had to be in the right form at the right time. That’s just the way it was throughout our era. If you didn’t average 50-plus or 60, if your season wasn’t exceptional you didn’t play for your country.”

It would be easy to finger Di Venuto for Australia’s troubles with the bat – the collapse at Durham that handed an Ashes series victory to England on Monday being the most recent glaring example – in the same way that a football club’s defensive coach might be blamed for a team’s missed tackles.

But that ignores what he and Lehmann, the head coach, are working with: talented young batsmen who have the core skills but are not yet the full package. That is why it frustrates Di Venuto to hear calls for the likes of Usman Khawaja and Steve Smith or previously Phil Hughes, to be moved on for others to get a go.

”We need to be patient,” he said. ”Imagine if we weren’t patient with Steve Waugh early in his career. We would have lost one of the legends of the game, if they’d given him six or seven Tests and then said, ‘Oh no, he’s no good, spit him back out’. That’s what a lot of people are saying about the current crop.

”These kids are learning on the big stage, in an Ashes series in England. They haven’t got a lot behind them to fall back on, they haven’t got a lot of Test experience or domestic experience to fall back on. Chris Rogers, even though he hasn’t got a lot of Test experience, he’s got years of playing first-class cricket, so he’s been in similar situations where the ball is darting around like that (in Durham) and he can draw on his experiences that he’s lived and learnt.

Di Venuto finished his 20-year career with a stint with Durham that ended last year so, knowing the Riverside and its quirks and behavioural patterns, he was not entirely shocked at what he witnessed after tea on Monday.

”When wickets fall they fall in clumps,” he said of the ground when overhead conditions conspire to help the bowlers, but added, ”… maybe not nine.” The advice being handed out by Di Venuto, Lehmann and Michael Clarke, the last remaining member of the generation champions just gone, in the wake of that capitulation in the fourth Test varies from batsmen to batsmen. But it has a straightforward, and for good measure even rhyming, theme.

”Our message is pretty basic: play the ball late, play it straight,” Di Venuto said. ”Wait for the ball to come into your area and pick it off, especially when you’re playing on wickets that are darting around or getting through a spell from a good fast bowler.

”Their skills are outstanding. But their games have got to adapt to Test cricket and situations that demand their game does adapt.

”You don’t learn in a classroom – you learn by playing and making mistakes. In this game you don’t make one mistake and that’s the last time you do it. You make the same mistakes over and over. It’s about getting into match situations knowing what they can and can’t do and getting through good spells of bowling … making the bowlers come back for their fourth and fifth spells.”

Di Venuto is a realist and understands that with Australia light years from the days of winning 16 Tests in a row – they have not won since January, and lost seven of their past eight matches – heads will inevitably roll if the trend continues.

Yet with the door not having been knocked down lately by others in the Sheffield Shield he argues stability, with a return Ashes series on the horizon, is key.

”That’s the frustrating thing, especially for the public,” he said.

”They’re used to the Australian team being the dominant side over the last 20 years, and all of a sudden we’re not the dominant side any more. When we’re good we’re good, but when we’re bad we’re bad.

”We’ve got to find that middle ground where we’re not quite at our best but we can still guts our way through situations and scratch out a win. We can’t continue to play the way we’re playing. But ideally you’d like to stick with a pretty similar group to what we’ve got. We have to be patient.”

In a country whose high expectations are coloured by the enormous success of the recent past, the question is how long Australia is prepared to wait.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.