The ‘Kiwi” JT passes away

The ‘Kiwi”, John Taylor, affectionately known as JT, has passed away after a long battle with cancer.

This caring and lovable man will be laid to rest on 19 May.

JT lived for two things – family and rugby – and both will be poorer with his passing. He loved his wife and children and he took his last breath in their company earlier this week.

He was a student of the game of rugby and spent many hours analysing and dissecting games. He was always happy to share his thoughts and opinions and was never scared to speak his mind.

Go well JT my good friend.


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NZ pushes for Super Rugby cuts


On current form, the hapless Melbourne Rebels look an obvious choice to be cut from Super Rugby in 2018

Reports in New Zealand and Australia today are suggesting that Super Rugby will change next year and that Australian and South African teams could face the axe, with New Zealand arguing strongly for a reduction to a 15-team competition. reports that the NZRU went into the Sanzaar meeting in London on Friday with the strong position that Australia cut one team and South Africa cut two.

Given any change to the competition requires a unanimous vote, Australian and South African Rugby Union officials – could have vetoed the NZRU position, but it is not known if they did or not.

South African Rugby is under severe financial pressure, but political influence is also strong, and it is not clear whether or not there was an appetite to cut one team, let alone two.

All national unions deferred to Sanzaar after the meeting. An official statement from the joint venture said a decision had been reached and would be announced in coming days.

Consultation will now be had with broadcasters in each territory, meaning Australian teams will remain in limbo until at least next week in regards to whether or not a team will be pulled from the competition.

“Following two days of robust discussion there are a number of tournament considerations that now require further discussion and consultation,” said Sanzaar chief executive Andy Marinos. “This includes final consultation within the national unions and discussion with key stakeholders that would allow the adoption of changes proposed by the strategic plan.

“Sanzaar will make a formal statement on the future of the organisation, Super Rugby and the tournament format in the coming days once these further meetings have been concluded.”

The Western Force, Melbourne Rebels and ACT Brumbies – the three franchises most likely to be axed – now face another frustrating period of uncertainty just when they thought they would get some closure.

If NZR did in fact flex its muscle, and given all unions have to agree on the make-up of the competition, the ARU may have been left with no other option but to get rid of one of its teams.

However, for South Africa to give up two teams seems a little less likely given they pushed so hard to expand from five sides to six not long ago.

Overall though it was a positive meeting for Sanzaar given that all unions have agreed to change the convoluted Super Rugby model that confuses so many fans.

Sanzaar is yet to put forward any concrete information on how the format will look in 2018 but is in the process of speaking with broadcasters, including Fox Sports, to tweak the Super Rugby broadcast arrangement which was supposed to last until 2020.

An 18-team model could still get the green light, with the idea being to introduce a three-conference system consisting of six teams apiece, with Japan joining five Australian teams and Argentina linking up with the five New Zealand outfits.

Nonetheless, Australian Super Rugby clubs want an answer as soon as possible as confusion continues given they have been given zero reassurances about their existence beyond this year.

This was no more apparent than when the ARU advised Super Rugby clubs this week to refrain from signing non-Wallabies players until after the official make-up of Super Rugby had been determined.

The ARU would have already spoken to Fox Sports about its requirements before they went into the London meeting, which is another reason why a final announcement is expected to come sooner rather than later.

The new proposal that came out of the meeting will also have to be approved by each country’s boards and relevant stakeholders.

The other interesting thing to come from Sanzaar’s release was the fact that a statement will be made on the “future of the organisation”.

There are still many questions to be answered but it appears all will be determined shortly.



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The NZ Sevens Malaise

Comment by the  “Kiwi” – John “JT” Taylor

The New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) is still deciding what to do with their Sevens program while the rest of the world rugby ‘superpowers’ like USA, Japan, Uganda, Russia, Scotland, Wales and the Canadian 7’s programs have caught up and now beat us.

The silver fern is not instilling fear into anybody at 7’s level anymore. Dare I say it, but the Fijians stole a march on NZ by employing the best 7’s coach in the world at the time, Ben Ryan. It paid huge dividends. Gone are the Fijian frailties of head high tackling, poor kicking and hit and miss form which gave them ecstatic highs and devastating lows.

Ryan improved their weaknesses, and married their strength, speed and uncanny ball skills to form a potent mix of consistent, new age Fijian7’s rugby. The outcome – an Olympic Gold Medal.

NZ used to be the most professional team in both the non-and semi-professional eras. The constant being Gordon Tietjens with his punishing fitness regimes, strict diets and a pragmatic NZ way of playing 7’s. It was hugely successful with 14 World Series titles and 4 Commonwealth Games golds.

But not now in the Olympic era where most countries, certainly the top 16, have adopted a massive surge in corporately-backed programs and full time professionalism. It is now a different sport to rugby 15’s. There remains the certainty of the Laws of Union but the backbone of the game is fundamentally changed to a much faster, more dynamic hybrid of touch, league, union and AFL. The skills needed are an amalgam of these sports.

Our best is qualifying for the last 8 (just!). Fact is NZ have been arrogant and slow to embrace the level of resources needed to compete in an Olympic sport. As much as I admire Gordon Tietjens for what he did with the NZ Men’s 7’s program over two decades, he should have gone two, even three years ago when the tide was changing. These guys have to be full time like Fiji are now, as well as England, Australia and SA – the big four. NZ not even mentioned now in that four or semi-final calculations, and every team now knows, and more importantly thinks, they have a chance against them.

So three things to do urgently in the NZ situation

  1. Far greater resources to be allocated with central facilities at either Marlborough (best weather and central location in NZ), Palmerston North, with its Silver Fern facilities, or Wellington. At this facility, make funds available for a full time, well remunerated professional manager to oversee all and only the NZ men’s and women’s 7’s teams.
  2. Centrally control NZRU full-time contracts for the sevens participants. The manager would control these within their budget. This would definitely need to include comprehensive coaching, technical and world-class wellbeing sport professionals. The program needs state-of-the-art facilities a-la the NFL franchises in the American Gridiron scene. Their facilities are so far ahead of anything in NZ. Within these NFL franchises, the precise and minute attention to detail is phenomenal.
  3. A comprehensive detailed in-season, out of season periodised plan for 1, 2, 4, and 8 year seasonal programs needs to be submitted by the coaching teams for appraisal and ratification. In accordance with these plans, the ideal fit becomes their talent identification template to hopefully uphold the definition of their ideal 7’s athlete. Once selection and contracts are sorted, a natural synchronisation with the coaching, game style and leadership should be the easy part. So the exhaustive planning they need to go forward will bear fruit sooner.

As a general thought I don’t think the NZ teams are as fit and fast enough as other teams. I see NZ playing within themselves to preserve, rather than playing fluently and expressively as they did in past campaigns of over a decade ago in particular.

Most countries are picking gifted sprint athletes to get speed into their programs. I think that NZ picks rugby players who are fast at the more stop-start, static game of 15’s.

It appears NZ are literally so slow now that it’s hurting them big time. As former NZ All Blacks selector, Earle Kirton, always said” you gotta have the gas”

But getting back to change, the reticence and lack of a world class, separate 7’s high performance program is in direct opposition to the NZ Maori, the Super Rugby franchises, the U20’s and of course the All Blacks high performance programs which are incredibly well resourced.

NZ has pretty well always led the world in cutting edge innovation and up-to-date coaching in these programs and that is why the lack of proper resourcing and support is now embarrassing.

To see commentators now openly ridiculing the All Blacks Sevens and to see one of NZ 7’s greats, Karl Te Nana on TV being embarrassed is cruel.

NZ has always had the cattle but in addition to hard, fit and skilled 7’s exponents they need players with genuine speed to burn. Indeed without fit, fast athletes with superior endurance and speed, teams just cannot compete at the top for long. Success in this scenario is hit-and-miss at best.

England, SA, the USA, Fiji and Australia are the teams which have invested heavily in national competitions, talent identification, athletic coordination and wellbeing programs for individual athletes and other full-time professional programs, which cater for the full holistic needs of the athletes. By-and-large these are the teams which are filling the semi-finalist’s positions in the 10 World Rugby HSBC 7’s tournaments.

NZ has much to do to compete successfully again at every event, but it is also worth noting that they were only one converted try away from tipping Fiji out of the Rio Olympics quarterfinals this year.

NZ has the cattle no doubt about that. But have they got the balls in the comfy chairs over in the boardroom of the NZRU HQ in Wellington to investigate and then rejuvenate the ailing program?

Will there be enough pressure from their stakeholder groups especially major sponsors Adidas and AIG, to force a loosening of the budget to see the famous black jerseys once again dominating prime time TV?

Time will tell just exactly where the NZ 7’s program really sits in importance on the convoluted agenda at the NZRU boardroom.

Politics, money, fans and stakeholders. Hugely unpopular and unenviable bedfellows.


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England’s countdown continues

England have their sights firmly set on the World Cup final in 2019, with coach Eddie Jones making no bones about their ambitions in the wake of his team’s 37-21 demolition of the Wallabies at Twickenham at the weekend, a win that has extended England’s unbeaten run to 13 matches.

Jones said: “We want to be No.1 …. and to do that you’ve got to win the World Cup”.

Adding: “There’s clocks around here that says how many days until the World Cup final, so we’ve got until the 2nd of November, 8pm Japan time to get ready. That’s what we’re aiming at. We want to be at our best that night. 1020 days, there you go.”

Read more, as published in today’s Sydney Morning Herald



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New mindset needed for rugby in SA

cravenThe key to solving the current shambles in rugby in South Africa is a new mindset.

A change of thinking is required across the board from the Minister of Sport down, and one of the first matters that should be tackled in this regard is the issue of integration and the levelling of the playing fields as it were – commonly referred to as quotas.

As a start it must be acknowledged that the process of realising a fully-representative senior National team, selected on merit, has to begin at the grassroots and filter upwards. It cannot be thrust upon a federation and/or coach at the highest level with unrealistic expectations set.

It is simply impossible to set a percentage quota for the selection of a Springbok team because at any point in time, there are no guarantees that the top 23 to 40 players across all positions on the field will be neatly organised into equal groups representing different race groups.

It is simply impossible.

History has shown this time and again, and attempts at manufacturing this demographic can only lead to disaster as is evidenced by the current Springbok debacle.

A situation has to be created whereby the players coming through the system are representative of the South African demographics as a result of an extensive and very carefully managed and monitored talent identification process.

Importantly, this process has to place a core focus on developing talent in all positions. If done properly this would ensure that there would be more players of equal standard across different racial groups in every position on the field, giving the provinces and Super Rugby teams more options to work with.

Whatever is happening in this space at present needs to be reviewed and changed, at both National and Provincial levels, as recent events have shown that no manner of coaching indabas will solve so deep an issue.

It is at grassroots where the big numbers are and this is where the hardest work has to be done to ensure that all young players who dream of playing for the Springboks are given a fair and equal opportunity to pursue that dream.

There is absolutely no doubt that South Africa has the finest youth rugby development programme in the world, the Coca-Cola series of National Weeks. Hundreds of players of all races take part every year and many go on to represent SA Schools and Academy teams.

But is it once they leave this environment that the demographic balance begins to shift and seemingly, a lesser number of non-white players filter into the Provinces over the longer term.

The obstacles relating to demography and privilege need to be identified and removed at provincial levels, workable talent identification and mentorship programmes must be created and the cream – of all colours – allowed to advance into an elite stream to be groomed for the higher levels.

If measurement levels are to be set it has to be done at junior and then senior provincial levels, and to a lesser degree in Super Rugby. But it must always be based on realistic targets and make consideration for the fact that there will at times be imbalances.

If this is made possible, the senior National coach should be faced with a different selection dilemma where he has so many world-class players across the demographic that it becomes more about who should be left out of the team rather than who should be in the team.

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Last-chance garage for Coetzee

coetzee-picEmbattled Springbok coach Allister Coetzee appears to have made one last throw of the dice in picking three uncapped players for the season-ending and perhaps career-ending Test against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.

Lions centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg gets a long-overdue call-up into the Bok side replacing Damian de Allende, who has been shown up as being one dimensional in attack and lacking any ability to break the line.

The Blue Bulls’ wing Jamba Ulengo has big boots to fill on debut, replacing centurion Bryan Habana, and Cheetahs flank Uzair Cassiem is rewarded for his strong Currie Cup form, replacing the out of form Willem Alberts, who was not considered due to injury.

A fourth uncapped player, Western Province flyhalf Jean-Luc du Preez, has been included on the bench.

A new-look backline sees the return of Lions half-backs Faf de Klerk and Elton Jantjies, and the return of Johan Goosen at fullback in place of Willie le Roux.

In another change in the forward pack, Lourens Adriaanse replaces Vincent Koch at tighthead prop.

The changes speak volumes about where coach Coetzee finds himself presently. The starting line-up shows seven changes and one positional change from the side that started against England two weeks ago and the match 23 has 13 changes in all fromTwickenham.

This shows that in 11 tests to date, Coetzee has not yet determined who the best players are in each position. It smacks of indecision and inconsistency and certainly does nothing for continuity.

Some will argue that the Lions axis at 9, 10 and 12 should have been instilled from the outset. They were the best SA combination in Super Rugby and should have been given an early chance to replicate that form at a higher level.

Instead the side has been chopped and changed all season and no matter how much these latest changes serve to add positive impetus, the Boks will face a Welsh team that is more settled and had a few games under the belt.

It may not be another hiding but the odds are in favour of the home side. A loss for the Boks will see them end 2016 with eight defeats in 12 Tests.

Coetzee, however, continues to talk about ‘rotational changes’ and a ‘building process towards 2019’.

You can only make rotational changes when you are winning and playing with confidence, which allows you the luxury of resting players and giving Test experience to others.

What Coetzee has so far built is a mess and what he thinks he could build to 2019 is anyone’s guess but after Saturday he should not be in a position to see it through.

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Rugby365 columnist Paul Dobson unpacks Boks’ pain points

Rugby historian, respected author and all-round expert, Paul Dobson, unpacks some of the current Springbok ills in this column written for RUGBY365.

Dobbo makes some valid and interesting points and places matters in historical context to give beleaguered Bok fans hope that the men in Green and Gold can turn things around:

Read the column HERE

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