Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ashton: Time for all the excuses at the breakdown to end

Former England boss Brian Ashton has called on coaches to stop using the breakdown as an excuse for the turgid rugby being produced this autumn and start trusting their players to produce the goods.

The home nations could only muster two tries in seven matches against Tri-Nations opposition over the autumn series, while the try-count in the Guinness Premiership is also down on last year; leading to a raft of coaches blaming the tackle area for the lack of excitement.

The RFU's hopes of revising the regulations governing the tackle area were dashed when the IRB promised only a review rather than law changes ahead of the 2011 World Cup last Tuesday.

But former England coach Ashton, who is known as one of the game's sharpest thinkers, believes it is time people start taking responsibility for the entertainment standards rather than pointing the finger of blame at the lawmakers.

He said: "Australia and New Zealand showed it is still possible to play attractive rugby despite the so-called prohibitive laws of the game.

"It is a strange one to be honest, because you had two international games at the end of the autumn where the All Blacks and Australia scored nine tries as the away side.

"That shows there is nothing much wrong with the laws. You have some people who are finding ways to adapt and others who are hiding behind the issue.

"There is this negative mindset that has invaded countries in terms of the tackle area.

"There seems to be a fear element at the breakdown whether that is fear of losing the game, losing points or losing possession.

"The breakdown is the most contentious area in rugby and it is always going to be unless you make it like rugby league. Instead of moaning about it, they just need the right mindset and the right level of intelligence.

"For example the Currie Cup final was a terrific game of rugby played under exactly the same laws that we have in the north but you would not have thought that from watching the game. It comes down to how the coaches and players interpret the laws and the need to be brave."

At the heart of both Australia and New Zealand's attacking play have been fly-halves Matt Giteau and Dan Carter.

And Ashton believes it is no coincidence that they are trusted by their coaches to call the shots on the pitch according to what they see in front of them.

In stark contrast, the northern hemisphere's creative players seemed enveloped by a tactical straightjacket illustrated by England's insistence on sending on coaches to advice players during 'water breaks'.

"I think the two outstanding players have been Matt Giteau and Dan Carter and both those players rely on their game intelligence rather than playing rugby by numbers," added Ashton.

"I did some work with Graham Henry at a coaching seminar last February and I asked him what is it that gives Carter that special quality?

"Graham simply said he is my coach on the field. That is a very brave decision by a coach when you say to a player this is how we want you to play but when you are out there play it how you see it.

"You can't control the game from the stands: players are the ones that play the game and they are the only ones that set foot on the field.

"I would regard it as a complete insult if you had players constantly being bombarded by instructions once they are playing - they need to be left to figure things out themselves."

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