Brian O’Driscoll Tribute: Centre, Leader, Legend

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Brian O’Driscoll’s rugby CV is as exciting as reading a Tom Clancy novel! His career seems almost unreal. He was almost single-handedly responsible for changing the course of Irish rugby. 

If one considers his list of accomplishments and stats, it quickly becomes apparent why he is considered by many as one of, if not the most, impressive player in Irish and World Rugby history.

He was born in Dublin on 21 January 1979 and his career includes the following impressive achievements:

– He was the 4th most capped player in Union with 141 tests; 133 for Ireland (83 as captain) and 8 for the Lions. 46 tries for Ireland and 1 for The Lions made him the highest Irish try scorer.

– He was the 8th-highest overall try-scorer and the highest-scoring center of all time (yes, read that again!). He also scored the most Six Nations tries (26) and to add to his long list of accolades, he also holds the record for the most Heineken Cup tries scored by an Irish player (30).

– He was awarded the Six Nations Player of the Tournament in 2006, 2007, and 2009.

– During his High School days at Blackrock College, he was capped three times for the Ireland Schools tournament. In 1998 O’Driscoll was selected for the U19 Ireland team which won the U19 Rugby World Championship. In 1999 he made his U21 Ireland Debut.


Brian’s club career spanned an impressive 15 years, from 1999 until 2014, a tall order for a professional rugby player. Some of the key moments, achievements, and top performances include:

– A debut match for Leinster in 1999, followed by an impressive win in the Celtic League two years later in 2001.

– O’Driscoll captained the Leinster from 2005 until 2008. In 2008 Leinster won the Magners League (now URC).

– In 2009 O’Driscoll scored an intercept try and was awarded Man of the Match in the semi-final of the Heineken Cup. In the final, they won 19-16, with O’Driscoll scoring a drop goal in that game while playing with a shoulder injury.

– In 2011 O’Driscoll won his 2nd Heineken Cup, after suffering a knee injury the week prior, he helped his team come back from behind to win against Northampton with a final score of 33-22.

– In 2012, now a regular player in the Heineken Cup, he collected the Cup for a 3rd time.

– O’Driscoll played his final game for Leinster on 31 May 2014, in the 2014 Pro12 Grand Final at Leinster’s home ground. Unfortunately, O’Driscoll was injured and substituted early in the first half, however, Leinster won the game 34-12 and Brian’s final heroic act was helping the club captain lift one last trophy in front of his home crowd!

– O’Driscoll ended his club career for Leinster and amassed an insane 186 caps, scoring 311 points.


O’Driscoll’s late start in rugby didn’t keep him from stepping into the test arena and professional rugby at an early age. It wasn’t long before he habitually started stacking the stats in the typical O’Driscoll style we had all come to know and appreciate!

His continued greatness has been captured in the following summary of his rugby stats:

– He played his test debut at age 20, on 12 June 1999, against Australia. Interestingly Brian played for Ireland before he played for the senior Leinster team.

– In 2000 an O’Driscoll hat trick gave Ireland their first win in Paris since 1972. Fans soon started wearing started wearing “In BOD we Trust” t-shirts.

– In 2002 O’Driscoll was handed the captaincy of Ireland for the first time, against Australia, and they won 18-9. this was the first Irish victory against them since 1979, ironically the same year O’Driscoll was born. At age 24, O’Driscoll was handed permanent captaincy in 2003.

– Under O’Driscoll’s captaincy Ireland won the Triple Crowns in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2009, the first time since 1985. In 2004 he led Ireland to a 17-12 victory over South Africa, again an impressive “first”, this time since 1965.

– In 2009 Ireland won the Triple Crown and the Six Nations. The Six Nations’ victory was a Grand Slam (one team beating all the other teams), 61 years in the wait. O’Driscoll scored a try in every match except one and won the last game 17-15, where O’Driscoll also scored.

– On 15 November 2009, O’Driscoll scored a last-minute try against Australia, the match ended in a 20-20 draw.

– In 2009, he was runner-up, IRB Player of the Year after losing against Richie McCaw by one point, an award O’Driscoll won in 2001.

– On 8 March 2014 in this last international test on home ground, he contributed to 3 tries to secure an Irish victory over Italy. When he retired he was the most capped international player (141 caps).

-Brian O’Driscoll played his last international match against France, in Paris, for the 2014 Six Nations Championship, beating France in Paris for only the second time in 42 years. In an emotional post-match speech, O’Driscoll said that he could not have wished for a better ending.


One cannot give an honest review of O’Driscoll’s career without also touching on his outstanding achievements for the British and Irish Lions teams. Here, again, Brian silenced any critiques, if there ever were any, with a plethora of achievements:

– He played in all 3 games in the 2001 Australian tour, scoring an outstanding individual try in the Lions’s first victory.

– He was named captain in the 2005 tour of New Zealand but unfortunately got injured in the opening minutes of the first test. He remained on as a non-playing captain, and only received surgery after returning to Ireland.

– In 2009 he captained the Lions against the Golden Lions.

– He assisted 2 tries against the first test against South Africa but had to withdraw early due to a concussion suffered in the second test.

– In 2013 O’Driscoll was called up for his fourth British and Irish Lions tour, the third player to achieve this in 125 years!

– O’Driscoll was also selected to play for The Barbarians 3 times while scoring once.

Brian O’Driscoll’s list of rugby achievements is too many to mention in one blog post. The above list is a list that emphasizes some of his career highlights. He remains to be one of the most prestigious and decorated rugby players of all time and single-handedly placed Ireland on the world rugby map forever.

Brian O’Driscoll has been involved in various activities after his retirement from professional rugby. He has worked as a rugby pundit, providing analysis and commentary for television broadcasts. O’Driscoll has also been involved in business ventures, including ambassadorial roles and endorsements for various brands. To this day he remains to be an Irish legend and loved by many, including his opponents of yester years!

Fly (Half) Me To The Moon

Reading Time: 12 minutes

In enjoy rainy days and working at night. There is something magical about the silence and nuanced peace that envelopes an office block at the end of the workday. I often find that the two to three hours, at the end of the official workday, are my most productive hours; no phones ringing, no interruptions, no office noises, no meetings – just silence and focus. During winter, the rain would softly beat against the office windows and create a rather cosy setting.

When I eventually packed-up, briefcase, coat and lunchbox inn hand, I would greet many of the night cleaning staff, vacuum cleaners working at a low-pitched hum, on my way to the parking lot. Almost every night, one of my favourite songs, Fly me to the Moon by Frank Sinatra, would play over the office speaker system. With a tired mind and body, yet satisfied with the day’s effort, I would head for my car, and embark on a long nightly drive back home. I consider those evenings to be some of my most cherished memories.

I realise I sound like a bit of a bore! But there is something magical about good memories, our sense of connection with a place, an event, or a specific time in our lives. I recall, even now, 25 years later, how we as united South Africans celebrated in the streets in 1995 when Joel Stransky converted the winning drop-goal in the dying minutes of the Rugby World Cup final against the All Blacks. Cheers, celebration, and choirs of “Hier Kom die Bokke” made famous by Leon Schuster, echoed into the early hours of the morning.

Metro Police and SAPS in vain tried to keep roads open and prevent fans from closing busy intersections. Memorable wins stay with us – and it has stayed with us as a nation. We were fortunate enough to add yet another new Rugby World Cup story to our history in 2019. These memories also unite us and give us hope.

The list of legendary players, winning matches for their countries, clinching tournaments, and creating these cherished memories in our minds is a notably long one. Few positions in rugby create these moments more than the position of Flyhalf6, the Number 10 Jersey as we sometimes refer to it. We revere and respect the number, and the marvellous individuals representing our countries in this commanding position. Admittedly not all 10’s are created equal, and it is possible by analysing player statistics to narrow down the list of the best in the game.

Four legendary players immediately come to mind – Daniel Carter, Jonny Wilkinson, Beauden Barret and Morné Steyn. All four incredibly talented players in their own right, but if we were to compare them, how well do their statistics stack up next to each other? More importantly, and I am sure we all have this question – of the four, who is considered to be the best? In this article I explore their history, style of rugby, review their defining moments, and look at their game stats to create a comparative score sheet. Let’s see who can fly (half) us to the moon?

Flyhalf – Legend, Warrior Or Phoenix?


Few positions require as much responsibility from a player as required from the flyhalf. It is one of the positions in a team that has to continuously make critical game decisions, and that can in many instances, through the display of wit and flair, influence the outcome of a match. History is filled with last minute victories based on individual brilliance, as was exhibited, for example, in the Rugby World Cup finals of 1995 and 2003 – both by flyhalves. The flyhalf truly has the ability to let a team rise from the proverbial ashes so to speak.

History and Background

There is a maximum of 15 players from each team allowed onto the pitch and the positions of each player are indicated by the numbers, 1 to 15, on their backs. Depending on skill sets and body types players are usually divided into forwards (no’s 1 to 8) or backs (no’s 9 to 15) and each of them plays in a different position and on a specific place on the pitch. In earlier games there were only two positions; forwards who formed part of the scrummage (later called scrum), and a few defenders (called tends).

Later observations showed that players not active in the scrum were not just defending, so tends were renamed into backs and half-backs. The first “test” was played between England and Scotland in 1871 with 20 players a side. In 1877 that number was reduced to 15.

In the 1920’s numbers were added on the back of the jersey as a way for coaches and selectors to rate individual players.

Role and Objective of the Position

Following set-piece play such as a line-out, scrum or the breakdown during broken play, the flyhalf is usually the first player to receive the ball from the scrumhalf. At this point the flyhalf either decides to kick or run the ball down the backline, effectively initiating the teams plan of attack. It’s obvious why the flyhalf is key to the team’s game plan. Like a fighting general the flyhalf decides which elements of the team’s arsenal is to be deployed. It is a position that requires the ability to make quick decisions, to initiate effective communication to all the backs, and to possess a solid understanding of team’s strong and weak points.

Tactical Application

Many people associate the flyhalf with kicking at goal and for territory or tactical advantage, although true, a great flyhalf must also be level-headed, strategic in their thinking and insightful in terms of reading the game. They must possess good ballhandling skills, strong running and be able to execute attacking field kicks.

The flyhalf must be able to execute a range of kicks including chip-kicks, line-kicks, drop goals and penalty kicks, box kicks and chasing kicks downfield. The flyhalf usually also kicks at goal but this responsibility can be shared with another player like a fullback, wing, or centre. Some teams make use of two kickers in the team, one for short goals kick and another for longer kicks or depending on the difficulty rating of the kick.

Maestros, Machines and Consistencies

We all know the back-in-my-day conversations; usually set in some social gathering with a few older gents talking about the rugby legends of their era. Depending on your age and level of interest in the game, you might actually know some of them. It seems for every position on a rugby field there exists a great number of past legends. We will now look at four flyhalves who’s names are justifiably written in the halls of fame and history books.

The Maestro In Black – Beauden Barrett

Beauden Barrett scoring a try under the poles

Background and Bio

(Details correct as of 5 September 2020)

Beauden John Barrett was born 27 May 1991 in New Plymouth, New Zealand to parents Robyn and Kevin Barrett. He grew up on a farm in Pungarehu, a small town in South Taranaki near Opunake, with his seven siblings. He has four brothers and three sisters. Barrett spent a year in Ireland when he was eight years old. He attended St Fiach’s National School in Ballinacree, where he and his brother Kane learned how to play Gaelic football.

He plays flyhalf for New Zealand’s national team, the All Blacks. He was a key member of the 2015 Rugby World Cup winning team. Barrett played under-20 and Sevens levels for New Zealand before being called into the All Blacks’ training squad in May 2012. He debuted for Taranaki in 2010 and debuted in Super Rugby with the Hurricanes in 2011.

Barrett holds the world record for consecutive wins since his first test (19 wins from 19 tests). Following the 2019 Super Rugby season, Barrett re-signed with New Zealand Rugby through to 2023, also announcing that he would be switching Super Rugby clubs, from the Hurricanes to the Auckland-based Blues. Barrett finished his career with the Hurricanes as their all-time leading points-scorer, with 1238 points.

In the All Black’s 2019 Rugby Championship campaign, Barrett started one game at flyhalf and two games at fullback. Even after partially handing over the kicking duties to Richie Mo’unga, Barrett was able to score a total of 20 points across the All Black’s 3 games, making him the All Black’s top point scorer. All Blacks Head Coach, Steve Hansen named Barrett in New Zealand’s 31-man squad for the 2019 Rugby World Cup on 28 August 2019, with the competition set to be Barrett’s second World Cup.

Barrett proposed to his long-time partner Hannah Laity in 2018 and they married the following year in a private ceremony on Rakino Island.

Player Stats

  • Date of Birth: May 27, 1991, New Plymouth
  • Major Teams: Blues / Hurricanes / New Zealand Under- 20s / Taranaki / New Zealand
  • Height: 6 ft 2 in / 188 cm (rounded)
  • Weight: 202 lb / 92 kg (rounded)
  • Game Stats – All Tests: (2012 – 2019)
    • Matches: 83
    • Starts: 53
    • As Substitute: 30
    • Points: 649
    • Tries: 36
    • Conversions: 149
    • Penalties: 55
    • Drop Goals: 2
    • Wins: 72
    • Losses: 8
    • Draws: 3
    • Win Percentage: 86.74%

Awards, Trophies and Accolades

  • World Player of the Year Award – 2016
  • World Player of the Year Award – 2017
  • 100 Best Rugby Players In The World – Rated Number 2
  • Rugby World Cup Winner – 2015

Defining Moment

It was Beauden’s first test performance during the 2nd Test of the 2018 Bledisloe Cup against Australia, where he scored 4 magnificent tries , that truly showcased his flair and tenacity, securing the win for the All Blacks. An unstoppable Barret launched one creative kick after the other, ran through a tightly packed defensive line in zig-zag fashion and gave the Australian team a lesson in kick-and-chase styled rugby, securing the ball on the majority of bounces and leading to some of most memorable displays of running rugby ever recorded.

Description of Game

Barrett plays the majority of his rugby at flyhalf and is endowed with devastating speed (making him one of the quickest players in the All Blacks and the Hurricanes teams), a laser-like boot, and smart game management. Barrett’s pace has allowed him to perform several try-saving tackles on the opposition throughout his international career and has made him one of the highest try-scorers in rugby history. Barrett is also the co-highest try-scorer of any current All Blacks, with Ben Smith.

Barrett has a reputation of conjuring something out of nothing, the kind of player that can help his team claw their way back into a game against all odds. His ability to kick and chase down his own ball, with an even greater knack of securing the lucky bounce, is precisely what makes him such an unpredictable player. His ability to run the backline, break lines and handling wizardry is unmatched.

Dan The Man – Dan Carter

Dan Carter scoring a try against the British & Irish Lions

Background and Bio

(Correct as from 4 June 2020)

Daniel William Carter (ONZM) was born on 5 March 1982, in a small town, 10 minutes’ drive from the Carter family home in Southbridge, in the South Island of New Zealand, to Neville and Bev Carter. Dan has one older sister, Sarah. From the age of 5, he played with Southbridge Rugby Club as a scrum half for Ellesmere & Canterbury Country. He attended Ellesmere College where he played mostly at flyhalf and transferred to Christchurch Boys’ High School in his final year.

Carter plays for the Blues (Super Rugby) in New Zealand and played for New Zealand’s national team, the All Blacks. He is the highest point scorer in test rugby and is considered by many experts as the greatest flyhalf in the history of the game. He has won three Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, and nine Tri-Nations and Rugby Championships with the All Blacks.

Carter injured his groin while doing kicking practice during the 2011 Rugby World Cup but was a key member of the 2015 Rugby World Cup-winning teams, becoming one of 20 players to have won multiple Rugby World Cups. In the 2015 Rugby World Cup Final against Australia, he kicked four penalties, two conversions and a drop goal, and was named the man of the match.

In June 2003, Carter made his All Blacks debut at age 21 in Hamilton, New Zealand, scoring 20 points against Wales. He was then capped against France in Christchurch, which the All Blacks won 31–23. Carter was included in New Zealand’s 2003 Rugby World Cup squad, where he first gained serious international attention. Although he has been an All Black since 2003, he only secured a permanent position as the flyhalf of the team during the 2004 tour to the United Kingdom and France.

In 2005, Carter starred in the All Blacks 48–18 win over the British and Irish Lions. He scored two tries, five penalties, and four conversions. He ended the match with 33 points, passing the previous All Blacks record of 18 points in a Lions Test (Carter’s second-half total of 22 points by itself was sufficient to top this). The performance was later described by The Guardian17 as “the definitive fly-half display of the modern era”. On 27 November 2010, after scoring a halfway penalty against Wales, Carter became the highest point scorer of all time, overtaking England’s Jonny Wilkinson’s previous record of 1,178.

On 16 November 2013, Carter became the fifth All Black to play 100 caps when New Zealand beat England by 30–22 at Twickenham on their end of year tour. On 17 July 2015, Carter and Richie McCaw played their final match in Christchurch together. On 15 August 2015 Carter played his final test in New Zealand in the Bledisloe Cup decider at Eden Park, a trophy he has never lost since his debut.

In the 2015 Rugby World Cup Final against Australia, Carter scored four penalties, converted two tries (with the final one taken with his right foot), and kicked a drop goal that gave the All Blacks the winning moment and securing the IRB Player of the Year award for the third time.

Carter became engaged to his long-time girlfriend Honor Dillion in October 2010 and the couple got married on 9 December 2011 and has since then had three children. In November 2006, Carter released his book Dan Carter: Skills & Performance which includes stories about his international rugby career and skills for younger players.

Player Stats

  • Date of Birth: March 5, 1982, Leeston
  • Major Teams: Canterbury, Crusaders, Perpignan, Racing Metro, Blues, New Zealand.
  • Height: 5 ft 10 in / 178 cm (rounded).
  • Weight: 207 lb / 94 kg (rounded).
  • Game Stats – All Tests: (2003 – 2015)
    • Matches: 112
    • Starts: 106
    • As Substitute: 6
    • Points: 1,598
    • Tries: 29
    • Conversions: 293
    • Penalties: 281
    • Drop Goals: 8
    • Wins: 99
    • Losses: 12
    • Draws: 1
    • Win Percentage: 88.39%

Awards, Trophies and Accolades

  • World Player of the Year Award – 2005
  • World Player of the Year Award – 2012
  • World Player of the Year Award – 2015
  • Rugby World Cup Winner – 2011
  • Rugby World Cup Winner – 2015

Defining Moment

Carter was catapulted to a new level of excellence after he scored two tries, five penalties, and four conversions in the 2nd test against the 2005 British and Irish Lions Tour, ending the match with 33 points, smashing the previous All Blacks records. In a post-match comment Sir Graham Henry (KNZM)said of Carter, “He came of age that day” summing up Carter’s master-piece performance. Carter’s individual brilliance set the All Black team on fire, followed up with his display of running rugby and on-target kicks, secured an All Black victory. Interestingly Carter played this game against his opposite number 10, the equally talented, Jonny Wilkinson.

Description of Game

Dan Carter is hailed as being one of the best fly-halves in the world, and his reputation is lauded in both rugby hemispheres. He is a consistent kicker at goal, a master tactician, with an almost intuitive broken-field playing ability. Carter knows when to engage the power of the backline and is a fierce tackler, with a frightening ability to accelerate with great speed. That, in combination with a dangerous side-step, arguably makes Carter the possessor of the complete package.

One of Carter’s less praised abilities is his unwavering will to return from injury, which has plagued him all his career and important performances, on several occasions; many times, just before critical games. Having been benched a number of times as a result of last-minute injury, many important games have had to be played in his absence. It takes an exceptionally clear minded and goal orientated individual to come back from such trials and tribulations.

Carter is also acclaimed, worldwide, as a role model with an inspiring skill set making him an asset on and off the field. Part time underwear model, voted as one of the Top 10 sexiest male athletes, being able to play at No 12 – there seems to be little Dan the Man can’t do!

The Kicking Machine – Jonny Wilkinson

Jonny Wilkinson kicking at goal in the Rugby World Cup

Background and Bio

(Accurate as of 5 September 2020)

Jonathan Peter Wilkinson, CBE, was born on 25 May 1979 at Frimley Park Hospital in Frimley, Surrey and grew up in Farnham. Jonathan’s brother, Mark, was also a Newcastle player, their father, Phil, was a rugby player and cricketer, and their mother, Philippa, played squash at county level. He attended Pierrepont School, Frensham and Lord Wandsworth College near Hook, Hampshire, and played at youth level for Farnham Rugby Club. He gained a place at the University of Durham but gave his place up in 1997 to become a professional rugby union player with the Newcastle Falcons.

He played fly-half for Newcastle Falcons and Toulon and represented England and the British and Irish Lions. He is particularly known for scoring the winning drop goal in the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final and is widely acknowledged as one of the best rugby players of all time. He played club rugby for twelve seasons in the English Premiership with Newcastle Falcons. In 2009 he moved to Toulon, where he won two Heineken Cups and one Top 14 championship in five seasons.

Wilkinson won 91 caps for England. He was an integral member of the England squad which won the 2003 World Cup, scoring the winning drop goal in the last minute of extra time against Australia in the final. He came back from several injuries and was part of the England team which reached the final of the 2007 World Cup. He toured twice with the British and Irish Lions, in 2001 to Australia and 2005 to New Zealand, winning 6 caps.

Injury forced him to miss out on the 2010 autumn internationals, in the process losing his position as the all-time leading points scorer in test rugby to Dan Carter. However, Wilkinson reclaimed the record during the 2011 Six Nations Championship, a tournament during which he came off the bench in each of England’s five games. He again lost the record to Carter in July 2011. On 12 December 2011, he announced his retirement from Test Rugby.

He retired from rugby after the end of the 2013–14 season. In 2016, he was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame. Wilkinson is currently a studio analyst for ITV Sport, working on their coverage of the Six Nations Championship, Rugby World Cup, and other rugby events. In May 2014, Wilkinson announced that he would retire from all rugby at the end of the season.

He wrote a column for The Times occasionally until 2011, often during periods of high media focus on rugby, such as Six Nations tournaments and Rugby World Cups. He has also written five books. Wilkinson’s book, Tackling Life, was released in 2008. The book focuses on how his view on life changed after his injury woes, and how he overcame them. His fifth book, Jonny: My Autobiography was released in 2011.

Put On Your Kicking Boots, It’s Time To Play Chess

Reading Time: 17 minutes

There is a saying that everything happens in three’s, in my case it was more like two’s. Two key events, some years apart, but both turning out to be significant, to me at least. The first happened in 1997, May 11th to be precise, the day IBM’s Deep Blue computer beat the world number 1 ranked chess player at the time; Garry Kasparov, in a 6-match series. The second event, took places some 18 years later on 24 October 2015, the day South Africa played against the All Blacks at the formidable Twickenham stadium in London, in the 2015 Rugby World Cup tournament in semi-final clash, and lost with 18 points to 20.

In a way I experienced both these events as traumatic but with mixed emotions; a part of me mourned the loss of something important, yet, on the other, valuable insights came to me as a kind of a comforting trade-off into the human condition. During 1997, now famous, chess game (which was later made into a film called Game Over), it became evident to me that the human brain could be beaten by computers – humans were officially not the smartest anymore. Any chess geek’s worst nightmare come true. Some years later in 2003, the famous Terminator franchise blazed onto the circuit, with their third edition in the series, entitled Rise of the Machines and it served as a stark reminder of the Kasparov incident.

The semi-final rugby match, the second event, in 2015, happened almost twenty years later as I, like many thousands of rugby supporters across the globe, were glued to their television sets, watching the fate of the Boks being determined by a wonderful back-and-forth kicking display of rugby talent. The majestic Dan Carter at the one end, seemingly unable to miss at goal, and on the other, a boisterous Fourie Du Preez launching one box-kick after the other, with a supercharged Brian Habana eagerly chasing down and cleanly catching the ball in the majority of cases; yet a spot in the finals for the Boks was not to be.

In my post-match sadness and frustration, I realised that, in spite of the loss, it was the tactical application of their kicking game that turned out to be such a strategic disrupter to the All Black’s game plan. I still think about how that game could have been different had Habana caught a few of those high balls at speed without being tackled…

One evening, some months ago, my wife and I agreed to a casual (dare I say friendly) game of chess, in which she unceremoniously gave me a decent whipping. It was then, ironically just right after I was beaten (is there a link between a good whipping and insight?), that I discovered the similarities between chess and rugby, and how, despite the best thought-out plans and strategies, we can easily come up short.

I also realised, as I did during my bearing witness to the two main events in 1997 and 2015 respectively, that kicking, if used strategically can win matches, but then, similarly, you also need an in depth and understanding of strategy, the kind of thinking you need to win a game of chess. Shortly thereafter I embarked on a journey to investigate, if a team could, through an improved understanding of the strategic elements of chess, used in conjunction with a solid kicking strategy, improve their chances of winning more rugby games. I think this is indeed true.

Attack Now Or Attack Later

If one argues that kicking is a tool that can be applied strategically, it is important to investigate how kicking as an element of play has changed over the past few years. One of the best benchmarks is the Rugby World Cup Series as it contains some of the best statistical data on the game, played at the international level, from 1987.

An analysis of the types of kicks, and their respective ratios, reveals that in the earlier editions of the tournament territory kicking was favoured with more than 50% of all kicks being long and deep. This is no longer the case as the box kick has become the number one favourite. Allowing defenders to re-organize and giving high-speeds wingers time to contest the ball, all while early on stopping any potential counter-attacks. One cannot help to notice that the touch kick, which ensures favoured and structured piece play, has remained one of the top 3 preferred kicking options.

Statistics on the rise of the box kick

Kicking, while being used more as a “slowing-down of the pace” technique in earlier versions of the game, has become a catalyst for action to maintain or facilitate an attacking game plan. While it also produces points as part of structured pieces of play, and other moving elements such as penalties and free-kicks, kicking has become one of the main signals of a team’s intention to attack. The only real question left to ask, seems to be; when do you intend to attack, or rather how soon will you employ kicking as part of your plan of attack? More about this tactical question later (see Choose Your Weapons Wisely below).

Storming Castles On Horseback

Bob Simon, host of 60 Minutes, presented an in-depth interview in 2012, with world-renowned chess player, Magnus Carlson, currently the number one chess player in the world. Simon jokingly said about chess, “How can it be a sport, nobody moves, but many Grand Masters will tell you, it can be more brutal than boxing”.

Chess is one of those rare games which, due to its competitive nature and strategic requirements, seems to be a comparable fit with a number of other sports, if not all of them. Take for example Lance Armstrong’s8 description of world class road cycling and chess when he writes the following passage in his famous book, It’s Not About the Bike:

Nothing interrupts the high-speed chess match that goes on in the tight pack of cyclists called the peloton as you hiss through the rain and labour up cold mountainsides, swerving over rain-slick pavement and jouncing over cobblestones, knowing that a single wrong move by a nervous rider who grabs his brakes too hard or yanks too sharply on his handlebars can turn you and your bike into a heap of twisted metal and scraped flesh.

Chess is 2-player (represented by black and white pieces) strategy board game played on a checkered board with 64 squares arranged in an 8×8 square grid. After both players move, 400 possible board setups exist, after the second pair of turns, there are 197 742 possible games, and after three moves, 121 million. At every turn, players begin a distinct game, and each game evolves into one that has probably never been played before. The options of games are limitless.

The game of chess, by the very nature of all its pieces, reminds us that it is a game of war and strategy, with pieces named “Knight, Rook, Bishop, Queen and King”, to name a few, it stands as a stark reminder of some medieval bout of majestic and war-like proportions. At its heart, it’s a game of strategy with the intention of winning and outlasting your opponent.

Through calculated moves and advanced strategic foresight, one aims to force your opponent into a corner, while gradually limiting their options by taking their different pieces out of the game.

Besides strategy and the sound application of tactics, chess is also a game that requires intelligence. Magnus Carlsen, also described as the Mozart of Chess, instinctively knows what his next move is going to be, but he still takes the time to review his options and verifies his decisions. He once played 10 different opponents, won all of them all while playing blindfolded.

Yes, you read correctly, he never laid eyes on the boards or pieces. He memorised each board game with its different pieces and set-up. Absolute genius. A Grand Master such as Carlsen, claims he can remember 10 000 games of chess he played in his mind and he can see approximately 15 to 20 moves ahead. That is probably being as close to the maximum thinking depth for human-level chess.

While we can continue to unpack and analyse many more interesting facts, numbers, and stories about chess, I want to highlight four important similarities which are necessary to be successful in both chess and rugby:

  • Strategy – Both require a specific approach, philosophy, and strategy to the game. This means players must possess a deep understanding of the intended outcome of each game and what the key goals are for each game or certain elements of the game.
  • Game Plan – While the strategy is “the why”, the game plan is “the how”. Each player’s role, goal and objective are underscored and highlighted. The game plane provides the tick-box items necessary as the game unfolds.
  • Pieces / Players – Each game requires a firm understanding of every player / piece and their powers and functions, In chess, for example, a Knight can only move or be played in a specific manner, similarly in rugby the Hooker is responsible for the line-out throw-in and not the Outside Centre. Structure follows strategy.
  • Rules – Both games require a firm understanding of the rules and how they can best be applied and used to your advantage. Also, and very few times we think of this, but what happens to a team when any player or players breaks any of those rules? Think about the damaging impact of a yellow or red card in rugby for example.

I Am General…

When it comes to kicking, we routinely think of two, maybe three key positions namely Flyhalf, Scrumhalf or Fullback. These are traditionally the players that either kick the ball as part of the play to keep the game moving forward or secures points from kicking penalties and conversions. For many years the Flyhalf has been the assigned recipient of the title of general and key in determining the fate of the team.

The Flyhalf decides at key moments when to run the ball, when to kick for position and territory, or when to apply pressure on the opposition with box-kicks. Like a fighting general from his armoured vehicle the Flyhalf makes decisions in the heat of the battle.

Several star players can wear this prestigious rank with pride. Take for example Dan Carter (New Zeeland), top-scoring Fly-Half in international rugby, scoring a mammoth 1 598 points in 112 matches or the Jonny Wilkinson with his distinct kicking style, scoring 1 248 points in 97 matches for England, true masters of the kicking game. Many of the points from their marvelously accurate boots have led their teams to victories and championships.

In the South African context, there has been no short supply of kicking prodigy’s; take for example talented players such as Naas Botha (scoring 242 in 21 tests, impressive even by today’s rugby standards) of whom world renowned SARU President, Dr Danie Craven once said the following:

Dr Danie Craven

“Well you see, unlike most people would say a kicker, I don’t look upon Naas Botha as a kicker, I look at Naas Botha as genius, a player like Naas Botha is only born once in a few generations, if it’s a few, and not many”.

It is easy to see why Dr Craven thought so much of Naas Botha

Over the past years South African rugby produced many kicking legends in their own right; players such as Andre Joubert, Percy Montgomery, Morné Steyn, Joel Stransky, and many others. Steady players with even more steady kicking boots, many of them scoring the final points leading the Boks to victory, sometimes under immense pressure. Joel Stransky’s marvelously famous kick against the All Blacks in the 1995 Rugby World Cup standing in good stead as an example of such tenacity.

No matter how the game has changed or how and where kicking features in any team game strategy, it seems that we prefer assigning this role and task to either the Flyhalf, Scrumhalf and or Fullback. What is of utmost importance is to decide where, when and how these critical positions are supposed to kick.

Thinking back to the famous SA / NZ game I mentioned in the opening paragraph, I recall rooms full of people shouting in anger whenever Fourie Du Preez launched those Box-Kicks, and how we all groaned, yet we yelled in delight (or was it hope?) every time the ball landed in the safe hands of Bryan Habana, I guess we were all hoping for that one break, that one catch that just lands at the right moment in the ideal way to allow for a clean break-away run and a hopeful try – unfortunately that moment, although close at times, never came.

The key question, which I guess we will never answer is, was is it part of a kicking strategy employed by the Boks, or was it a desperate attempt by the men in Green and Gold, to try and penetrate an immovable All Black defensive line?

Of Kings And Queens

I was never going to be selected for the under 16 A team, I barely made the B team, and quite frankly, just being able to fit into a rugby jersey with my scrawny cross country built body was nothing short of a miracle indeed! Thinking about that now, we all looked like undersized primary school players and were always shocked at the size of our opponents. I always wondered what those kids’ parents fed them. With all of this in mind, kicking was our way of not being slaughtered or tackled to death. From that perspective it never occurred to any of us that we could, should in fact, develop a kicking strategy for our team; Who is supposed to kick? When? How?

Jonny Wilkinson kicking at goal

Watching many of the live international games today, I have to state that sadly many of the international teams similarly don’t seem to realise the importance of having a kicking strategy, especially when senseless kicking results in giving away the ball. Possession sacrificed in lieu of territory. The type of back and forth kicking which seems to hide unfit forwards and non-creative backlines. Stale rugby games feeling remarkably like early round Wimbledon matches played on a Wednesday – just wetter and without strawberries.

A good strategy is not a single game tactic, but forms part of a range of other game tactics – that line is not from a rugby commentary, but from an article on chess tactics. Once again, rugby is not only a lot like chess, we are also reminded that kicking in the context of a rugby game, must form part of several other moving parts. We kick to achieve two main goals namely 1) to exert pressure (attack), or, 2) to avert pressure (defend).

Although we also kick to score points on conversions and to make sure we score on penalties, both aimed at strengthening our attacking position, we still need a kicking strategy. We can achieve the following goals by developing a kicking strategy:

  • We gain territory
  • We find and exploit open spaces
  • We keep the opposition away from a point-scoring range
  • We create variation in our game plan
  • We reduce the number of physical collisions
  • We combat or exploit good or bad weather and pitch conditions

Kicking Strategies are no longer just support plays but can be used as major tactics in teams that lack certain key elements of the game. Improved tackling methods, better line play, faster ball retention (all linked to stronger and faster players, irrespective of position) are continuously evolving. Kicking can prove to be effective, not only in attacking defensive lines, but also to exploit weak field positions, players, or tactical plays of the opposition.

A kicking strategy should involve all the different aspects of the kicking game and how it links up with field positions and team tactics and must include the following:

  • Exits – Clearing kicks to alleviate defence pressure
  • Territorial Gains – finding gaps and initiating turn-around plays
  • Winning the Kicking Battle – Methods and plans to win the psychological game
  • Initiating Attacking Plays – Tactics to increase points such as forced errors, drop goals, penalties, and conversions

In a TED talk presented by Garry Kasparov in 2012 (Don’t Fear Intelligent Machines: Work with Them) said that “In spite of 200 million positions per second, Deep Blue’s method provided little of the dreamt of insight into the mysteries of human intelligence”. A solid kicking strategy must always connect with this very same team intelligence and never become a stale matter of simple calculative repetitions, it should instead represent the tenacity and deep character of the team.

Choose Your Weapons Wisely

The 1995 Rugby World Cup saw some of the new laws in international rugby in action. These laws proposed changes to formation of rucks, stricter actions against high tackles, moving mauls and other set pieces of the game. To promote the safety of players and to make sure that each game continues at a steady pace and flow, these laws are constantly reviewed and changed.

Besides protecting players and improving the game, it has also influenced the way the game is played and how players are prepared and utilised in their respective positions. What we see today are specialised training regimens to produce better-rounded off players. Gone are the days that props can barely keep themselves upright in a tackle, and in some teams, props are some of the quickest men on the field.

Ball placed to kick at goal

The same rings true for the kicking game. The days of locks, loose forwards and all sorts of players kicking the ball away in sheer desperation, are long gone and teams that continue to play like this are heavily punished with brilliant counter attacks, often leading to tries or points in the form of penalties. Teams simply cannot afford to allow players to kick the ball as they wish.

As discussed earlier, the first thing a team needs to do in order to better control the kicking game is to create a kicking strategy, and secondly, to make sure the entire team has a clear understanding of the different types of kicks and their purpose. This is useful information to coach and recites to players during coaching sessions.

Here follows a detailed description of the type of kicks and their intended outcomes for each of them, for the benefit of players and teams:

  • Exit Kicks – A strategy used to alleviate pressure on defensive lines or to reposition a team further into their opponent’s territory. Try to get your kickers to kick with their balance towards the front foot. Give your kickers some breathing space by playing two or three phases first and position your main kicker in their kicking area of choice and skill. Don’t allow your opponents to catch you in a repetitive kicking pattern. Rather keep them guessing by switching between angles, using the different types of kicks, and following through by running the ball when least expected. Every player in the team must understand their specific role to play, once an exit piece is played, either by tackling, chasing, or hanging back. Don’t be caught napping!
  • Territorial Kicks – This strategy aims to move you upfield in the most energy-efficient way. Try, as often as you can, to find the pitch instead of being caught on the full. A critical success factor in this type of kick is the chase; let your opponents feel the pressure with enough runners chasing them down. Remember that pressure forces errors! Be regimented in who you allow to execute these precision kicks. Traditionally this will be assigned to your Scrumhalf, Flyhalf or Fullback. Two secrets to good territorial kicking are finding distance and hitting the wider channels of the pitch.
  • Kicking Battle Kicks – The kicking battle in most instances is a psychological fight and it is often the team that breaks the kicking cycle that ends up scoring with a solid counter-attack or ends up very close to the try-line with secured possession. There must be strong communication between captain and kicker to be clear when the ball is to be kicked again or run. If the ball ends up from touchline to the 15m line in the opposition’s 22, keep the ball in play. Played from a central location on the pitch, the option of attacking to either side remains open and keeps the opponents guessing as the fullback can’t cover both angles. Once again, is especially important that the entire team knows their roles. If the ball is retrieved within your 22, the best option is to kick into touch to regroup and play from a set-piece. Beyond the 22 creates a chance to counter-attack. The decision will be influenced by the available support players, ideally, aim for at least five. It should now be evident why knowing who chases, who stays and who falls back and protects the exit lines are so important. Keep a close eye on the opposition’s chase lines and the kind of pressure they create. Is the opposition chase determined and focused? Key factors that ease with the decision making to run or kick is the time left for play, the difference in scores and precise location on the pitch.
  • Attacking Kicks – About 1 out of 5 tries come as the result of attacking kick. The land of opportunity is often located just beyond the defensive line. These are handy kicks in cases where the opposition’s tackling and defense are outstanding. Attacking kicks need to be chased down to ensure the opposition is under such immense pressure that they lose the ball in the ruck and you regain control of the ball. Examples of good attacking kicks are the cross-field kick (mainly for the Wingers or Fullback to chase), the chip and reverse chip kick (mainly for strong running centres and wings to chase), the box kick (mainly for strong catchers and sturdy runner of the ball to catch).

Kick Mate

To become a Grand Master chess player, a player needs to achieve several performance ratings and win many games in different categories. You automatically qualify as a Grand Master if you win any of the world championship titles. In short, it means you must play a lot of chess and you must play against other high-quality players. As in most cases, it requires dedication, focus, training, and game time. It is a title inferred for life unless the player is ever found guilty of cheating in which case the title may be evoked.

However technical it may be to qualify as a Grand Master (GM) or an International Master (IM), it requires a firm understanding of the game, at its most profound and philosophical level, and one has to be a great player of the game. This means not only winning games but also playing at complex levels against other sturdy opponents.

From within the technical structure of high-level chess, three main strategies are taught in the game of chess, and they are similarly applicable and comparable with the game of rugby, specifically where kicking is a key tactic.

The three main strategies19 that apply in kicking in rugby includes the following:

Comparing chess and rugby kicking strategies

Winning at chess, as in rugby is not only about understanding how to play the game, but how to manipulate and amplify those parts of the game that proves most effective and beneficial. No strategy or plan is of any use if it does not create the right kind of opportunities that win matches. This means that to be successful at either of the two games means that we must master multiple elements in a game.

As we have seen in several cases, kicking is one of those keys that can unlock playing potential and cause the required disruptions needed to score points and win. Our understanding of both strategy and tactics will be most helpful when it comes to achieving success.

Dungeons And Dragons

In the 70’s and 80’s a famous board game was developed by Garry Gygax and Dave Arneson known as Dungeons and Dragons, or D&D (or DnD) as it is more famously known. The game was derived from miniature wargames with a variation of the 1971 game Chainmail serving as the initial rule system. The game is recognised as the beginning of modern role-playing games and the role-playing game industry. It is still played and enjoyed today although several new editions exist.

One characteristic about this game is its ability to play on the creative imagination of the players, and the dependence on each other’s wits, to go beyond their circumstances and get them out of trouble. The lucrative idea of going on quests and adventures turned out to be more than just the prowess of intelligent Science PhD’s as was portrayed in several The Big Bang Theory episodes, it also has something important to teach us about game plans and strategy.

The main principle of the game is that players can create their own characters with character and personality traits, skills and even a moral code, or set of principles the character abides by. In true D&D fashion, the game is the culmination of imagination and strategy. The game is regularly played in team format where group players will embark on a quest. Their skills, wit and wisdom will see them through the challenges in their way. Sounds familiar? Yes, D&D is indeed like chess and rugby.

The rules of the game, as in rugby and chess, determines, to a great extent, the behaviour and decision making of all characters and it inevitably influences the course of the game. A set of principles on how to play the game, and how to apply them to the variable set of circumstances, is what makes this game so popular. In similar fashion, the rules, the environment, the nature of the players and several peripheral factors, influences the outcome of each game.

Ending off this piece about the importance and specific intricacies of kicking as a strategic tool and tactic in the game of rugby, is governed by a range of short principles, and presented below as a bulleted summary:

  • The type of kick is determined by the intended goal in mind
  • There should be no kicking without an approved Kicking Strategy
  • Decides who kicks, stick to it, and the entire team must in support of this
  • Kick when it fits into the game plan

In the final analysis, kicking as a critically important element of the game, must be applied strategically and with common sense. While kicking is a perilous game changer, this much we have seen, it remains a dangerous game tactic that can bring about success to any team if it all can come together on the day.

In spite of our best intentions and kicking plans, we are fortunate to be reminded that the game is still played by 15 players, unless of course you were one of the All Blacks back in the 1995 Rugby World Cup semi-final, when a fax22 arrived which read: “Remember that rugby is a team game, all 14 of you make sure you pass the ball to Jonah!”.

Ivan Oosthuizen

Ivan is a freelance writer and specialises in creating digital content for clients on marketing, branding and thought leadership within the Medicine, Healthcare, Senior Living and Mental Wellbeing sectors. Ivan has more than 20years of senior and executive management experience in various industries, and can be contacted

Crouch, Bind… Set or Broken Play?

Reading Time: 16 minutes

I really enjoy listening to stand-up comedians, it reminds me to laugh at myself and I honestly think they have a cunning ability, at times, to impart on us some much-needed life wisdom. One of my favourites is Louis CK, although controversial at times, he has a real aptitude for being hilariously funny. One of his famous skits is a rendition of his experience of kids playing on a school ground. He says a playground is a life-like representation of space and you see all the forces of nature at play – there is the bunch of kids just running in all directions like a solar explosion; there’s the single kid just waving his arms in the air and jumping up and down while spasming out like some singularity ; then two kids holding arms and running across playground like a gigantic real-life limbo game in progress, knocking a bunch of unsuspecting kids to the floor and just to level the playing field to a uniform height – the entire scene plays out like a monstrous cosmic experiment, desperately trying to find equilibrium – I can’t do it any justice in writing of course, but trust me it’s really funny.

Whenever I think about broken play in a game of rugby, this scene I described above, is the one I see play out in the back of my mind; just a bunch of super aggressive guys running around with no plan or objective, just running around in circles. This is of course not entirely true and on a more serious note, there has been numerous debates and questions if broken play has now become the new norm, and if set-pieces are on the out. Can statistics and analysis of some of the past and current tournaments point us in the right direction, and if so, is there a favourable format of the game that reigns supreme?

Beers, Cheers and Peanuts

One of the pleasures of rugby is that the one can enjoy a game in a variety of interesting settings; you can feel the exhilaration of a live game in a stadium, or you can watch the game at home with a group of friends (where it usually turns into a huge social affair), or you can head down to your local watering hole with your mates and enjoy the game with a crowed of other eager mates. I think it is imperative that one experiences all formats at least once.

For the sake of this section, I will select the pub is the setting. I have always been a firm believer that, even blindfolded, once would be able to follow the game by simply interpreting the cheers, shouts, moans, and you would reasonably be able to see in your mind’s eye what is happening. It’s a game of voice.

Exhilarated shouts when a player makes a decent run during a superb break is closely followed by less favourable low groans of disapproval reverberating through the pub when a player is tackled out of the field or knocks on the ball in a tough pass initiating a scrum or line-out. The set-piece is somehow frowned upon, as if it’s the party-pooper there to stop our fun, like an intrusive commercial during a video clip or a forced pitstop in a Formula 1 race. It seems to disturb the forces at play, it steels our team’s momentum. However, when our team scores in the corner because of a line-out or a turned-around scrum we easily forget that it was indeed that very same set-piece that created the try. Like an unsung hero the set-piece goes about its business without applause.

One can be forgiven for thinking that perhaps the time of the set-piece is over or the relevance in the new game has waned, but do we really understand the importance of the set piece. What role does the set-piece play and do we even need it anymore? Has the game not become so quick and fast that it’s all about broken play now? What few supporters recall, when they celebrate the majestic dive across the try line by their favourite player is how that player ended up with the ball in hand in the first place. We forget our disappointment when the referee’s whistle blew a few seconds back, but we marvel at the running break that followed. The set-piece is like beans and peas – we know it’s good for us, but we still don’t like eating it!

Straight Down the Middle Or Is That Centre?

I enjoy several podcasts, TV shows and documentaries. One of my favourites is The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, a satirical view on American politics, discussing and debating current issues and influential individuals in powerful positions. During one of the episodes the late Supreme Court Judge, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or RBG as she was famously known, appeared as one of his guests. During the show, Colbert used a comical line of questioning but in the process showcases Ginsburg’s judicial genius. This is a verbatim record of their conversation:

Colbert: “Is a hotdog a sandwich?”.
RBG: “You’re asking me? Well you tell me what your idea is a of a sandwich, and I will tell you if a hotdog is a sandwich”.
Colbert: “A sandwich is two pieces of bread, with almost any type of filling in between, as long as it’s not more bread”.
RBG: “You said two piece of bread; does that include a roll, that’s cut open, but not completely?”.
Colbert: “You see that’s the crux which you got into immediately, this is why you’re on the Supreme Court, that immediately gets to the question of does the role need to be separated into two parts. Because a sub-sandwich…a sub is not split, and yet it is a sandwich?”.
RBG: “Yes”.
Colbert: “So then a hotdog is a sandwich?”.
RBG: “On your definition it is”.
Colbert: “Well-played Lady Justice, well played”.

The reason we enjoy satire as because, like comedy, it conveys an important truth. The story above, is a good illustration that we can only really start any discussion or debate if we can agree on each other’s view or conceptual understanding of a term or word. In other words to have a good conversation and to share our ideas requires that we understand what it is we are talking about. Pedantic yes, but necessary. In this article I aim to do exactly that; to analyse and investigate which of the two types of play, set-pieces or broken play, is more prevalent in the modern game , and if so, which of the two leads to a more inspiring game of rugby.

Locks, Props and Drops

This section is dedicated to the analysis of the set-piece and what the statistics tell us about this structured element of the game. I believe that most readers are familiar with the terms used in this article, but instead of being over-confident, I would prefer to play it safe and not discounting the possibility that some of our readers might have a peaked interest in the game and wishes to improve their understanding or become more proficient in the application of their rugby vernacular. I offer the following descriptions:

  • A lineout – a set-piece where the teams (usually players 1 to 8 from each team, in a standard line-out) form two rows into the playing field, while standing 1 meter apart (sides of their shoulders facing each other), while the hooker (player number 2, of the team, awarded the lineout), throws it above the player’s heads, down the center of the two lines. The other team, meanwhile, tries to intercept the ball to gain possession.
  • A scrum – a set-piece where a fixed formation comprising all the forwards (players 1 to 8 from both teams), interconnected in a three-row structure, pushing against each other upon the referee’s signal, to try and contest (hook) the ball for themselves, thus gaining possession of the ball by brute force. The scrum usually results from a forward pass, a knock-on or an accidental offside.
  • Start or Re-start – a set-piece where a kicker (usually the flyhalf) kicks the ball from the center of the field, towards the opposing team, in order to start the game or to restart a new play, after one of the teams scored a try, converted a penalty kick, or successfully completed a drop-goal. If an opposing team kicks the ball beyond their own try-line and it goes out of play, the re-start will take place from the 22-meter line. The kick-off can either be a placed kick or a drop-kick.
  • Set-pieces is the collective term used for the line-out, scrum and start or re-start and is often referred to as technical or structured plays, due to their technical rules, methods, and technique.

These actions although regimented often turn out to create unique point scoring opportunities for those teams that master the techniques. Have you ever wondered if the set-piece play has changed over the past 30 years?

A study of the Rugby World Cup set-piece stats reveals several interesting trends and changes since 1987. One of the prevailing gripes with set-pieces is the time it takes to complete them, but in earlier versions of the game these set pieces were really used as restarts. In the modern game, unlike popular belief, the set-piece has become a more time-consuming affair even though the number of set pieces is less.

It turns out that it was the sheer volume of set-pieces (approximately 50% more in earlier editions) being the reason for the reduced play time in a game. Lineouts experienced a noticeable increase in success rates, up from 68% (1987) to 91% (2019), keep in mind though that lifting was legalised in 1999. Scrums have also seen changes but has remained reasonably consistent throughout. A few fluctuations in the scrum penalties was mainly because of smaller technical changes to the laws. The scrum winning percentages was still some of the highest in the 2019 edition.

study of the set-piece statistics in the Super Rugby6 and Six Nations Tournaments7 reveals interesting trends in the more recent formats of the game. We seem to note contradictory results for the different game formats. An analysis of the set-piece statistics reveals the following:

Super Rugby Set Piece Stats

Overall scrums are at its lowest at 15%, its lowest scoring percentage since 2011, and have shown little improvement throughout. Lineouts have increased to 46% while restarts have remained low and unchanged.

In brief, lineouts continue shows a significant improvement in the set-piece play and teams who score low in this set-piece will do themselves justice by improving that part of their game.

Six Nations Set Piece Stats

A study of Rounds 1 to 3 of the Guinness Six Nations 2020 Tournament revealed that the top 4 activities that led to the scoring of the 39 tournament tries (as at the end of round 3) were as follows:

  • Lineouts: 22 (56.4%)
  • Counterattack: 7 (17.9%)
  • Scrum: 5 (12.8%)
  • Turnover: 4 (10.3%)

Interestingly lineouts, as a set-piece, also topped the charts so to speak at international playing levels but surprisingly scrum totals were significantly lower. The counter-attack spread amongst the Six Nations teams was predominantly even which makes it likely that, in this sense, line-outs were better integrated into broken play, i.e. the quick-lineout rather than forming part of the set-piece play.

There does seem to be a difference in the way teams play in the Super Rugby tournament in a franchise and conference format in comparison with the Six Nations tournament, which predominantly represents international team performances. I would speculate that the statistics indicates other factors at play between these two levels of the game. More about that a bit later.

Broken Play and Cigarettes

Old school rugby player smoking after the game

When I was about 12 years old, I had the privilege of accompanying my uncle on a road trip on his way to play a club rugby game. This was a regional league competition, and they were playing against a neighbouring town’s club. This was in the mid 80’s and club rugby, especially in the Free State, was known for its rivalry and fierce competition. This was the breeding ground of many a South African rugby legend to come, competition was rife and feuds between local clubs were a common occurrence. Many of the matches bordered on warfare and thuggery! They were tough games no doubt.

Admittedly I don’t recall all the details, but I do recall my uncle turning every shade of red very soon after the game started. Twenty minutes into the game his watermelon shaped belly hung in semi-labour position from underneath, his now sagging, sweat stained jersey. By the time the whistle blew for halftime (I am almost convinced it was barely 25 minutes and the other team looked just as cooked), all the players stood under a tree and were having beers, some had even lit their cigarettes with shaky hands wet with dripping sweat. I still recall thinking that none of these chaps were going to last another 20 minutes if that – and that my uncle did not seem destined to wear the Green and Gold any time soon). By mutual agreement, the teams shook hands and called it a day. It taught me something else too; tired people don’t easily disagree.

The reason I mention the story is that many spectators and supporters criticize set-piece play as being disruptive and slowing down the game. While there are numerous statistics pointing to the contrary, I wish to highlight that no team would want to play flat-out 80-minute rugby. Sometimes the game becomes loose and both teams need a moment to regroup, at other times players start losing concentration and injuries and errors creep into the game. But before we go to deep into the discussion, let us define a few key terms of broken play. Take note that for the sake of brevity, technicalities with regards to infringements, which can take place at the breakdown, have been excluded for the purpose of this discussion.

  • Breakdown – The breakdown is the period of play between tackles, the ensuing ruck and play during these phases as teams compete for possession of the ball.
  • Maul – When a ball carrier is held up (without being tackled) by both an opposing player and a player from his own team, it is considered to be a maul and players can join the maul, but only from behind that teammate.
  • Ruck – A ruck is formed when the ball is on the ground and two opposing players meet over the ball. Rucks commonly form soon after tackles but can form anywhere in the field of play where the ball is on the ground.

Broken play, by virtue of its very name and description, creates the impression of disfunction and error, a system that doesn’t work. Compare that to a different description such as “creative play”, or “running play” or “uninterrupted play”, and suddenly we feel greater harmony with the term. The truth is that this is exactly what broken play is all about – creativity, free running and line breaks, exciting kicks, tenacious off-loads, quick turnovers, unsuspected counter-attacks and forward motion, all represents the building blocks of broken-play. As a rule, short broken play happens between set-pieces.

A study of Rugby World Cup statistics confirms the overall belief that teams are better at defense and attack. The fear of the counterattack and lost possession has inevitably led to a lower-risk form of rugby. The 1987 tournament saw 30 offloads per match – double the total of the 2019 match summaries, and out of contact passes declined year-on-year (except in 2011). There is a direct link, if we read the stats correctly, between turnovers conceded and a more conservative style of play. Total turnovers conceded in 2019 was 50% less than in 1987. Turnovers also influence possession and the number of phases. In 2019 teams enjoyed 84.8 possessions per game on 3.0 average phases per possession, compared to 130 possessions on 1.4 average phases before possession ended.

One of the smaller yet significant changes has been the proportion of carries made by forwards. On closer examination we note an increased share in carries but a reduction in the total distance during those carries, this means more carries are being taken into contact. This coincided with the rise of fast and agile players (typically locks and lose forwards) acting as ball carriers over the advantage line from around the mid 90’s. Therefore, we see a significantly higher quality of rugby with more intense physicality, greater fitness expectations, and faster game speeds. It would be fair to say that broken play is certainly giving us more watching pleasure with less interruptions in the momentum of play.

Studying the broken-play statistics in the Super Rugby and Six Nations Tournaments reveals a similar pattern and conclusion. Here are some of the stats and trends:

Super Rugby Try Origins

The great majority of the teams (6) scored 4 or more tries after successful turnover. The Crusaders topping that list. 4 Teams; The Crusaders, Chiefs, Waratahs and Stormers also showed that scoring from kick returns, after opponents conceded possession by kicking the ball, is a winning choice. 24% of the Stormer’s tries came from such plays, the highest of any other team.

Where tries come from in Super Rugby

Six Nations Try Origins

A study of Round 1 to 3 of the Guinness Six Nations 2020 Tournament revealed that the top 2 broken play activities that led to the scoring of the 39 tournament tries (as at the end of round 3) were as follows:

  • Counterattack: 7 (17.9%)
  • Turnover: 4 (10.3%)
Where tries come from in the Six Nations

Even though the Rugby World Cup stats showed a more conservative play pattern emerging, capitalising on turnovers with counterattacking play seems to make a significant impact and leads to points of the board. While we can agree that broken play is an exciting type of play to watch and although it creates scoring opportunities, the question we need to as is; for whom? If a team is on the receiving end, i.e. not good at broken play patterns then it be better to stick to set-piece play. Herein lies the challenge for each team.

Washing Powder and the Magical White Shirt

We all have some terrible recollection of the contrite washing powder ads of the 80’s, you know the kind where a pair of twins are placed next to each other parading their cleanly washed Lilly-white shirts, hands on hips, swaying from side-to-side. Into frame steps an eager actress, usually a 50’s rendition of a good mother, washing powder box firmly in hand with a broad smile boasting a full set of toothpaste quality teeth on full display, looking right at you and dreadfully asking if “You can tell the difference?”. The stuff of nightmares!

I promise not to compare anything to shirts, or trouser or any sort of garment for that matter, but I want to see how the numerous advantageous and disadvantages, between set-piece and broken play, stack up. Below I have prepared a table to compare these elements with each other:

Advantages and disadvantages of set piece and broken play


Around 2004 the SABC produced a word gameshow called a Word or Two presented by the 94.7 morning show (The Rude Awakening) host, Jeremy Mansfield in South Africa. Part of the TV show was a game where a scrambled bunch of letters with a hidden word is presented to participants, this part of the game show was called the conundrum. A South African family favourite as everyone tried to identify the mystery word first, followed by an unusually intense celebration when found!

A similar conundrum (if we use the word in its broader sense) arises when we can see that set-piece play is the main creator of points in non-international formats i.e. the Super Rugby series, whereas broken-play becomes the preferred style of play in test rugby. Why is this the case? I want to propose a few potential reasons for this:

  • Risks for Injury – Broken play is faster, more unpredictable which increases the risk for more collisions, potential injury due to unintentional high tackles, foul play, and highspeed knocks on player’s bodies. For Super Rugby (or similar) franchise players, risking their bodies can lead to the premature ending of a career. Set pieces create a more predictable play pattern with cleaner phases of play, and less likelihood of serious injury. This is by no means an allegation that the players are overprotective, soft or that any tournament at this level is weak, rather that a more structured play-pattern occurs
  • Longer Seasons – With many players signing seasonal contracts, players are seeing more game time, more tournaments, and consequently longer seasons, which also takes its toll on a player’s health, personal motivation, and fitness level and training regiments. Once again franchise or contract players must make wise career decisions when it comes to putting their bodies on the line
  • Players Contracts – While players are contractually protected and sure of their base income even if injured, performance bonuses, sponsorship and marketing incentives are linked to game performances, live appearances, and interaction with fans and promoting the team ethos. Clubs and franchises, like employers, expect a return on investment and it is in the player and the franchise’s best interest that players are healthy and injury-free. Handré Pollard and Eben Etzebeth are currently some of the highest-paid players in the sport, each signing a whopping £ 1 Million contract at Montpelier and Toulon, respectively, this just stands as two of many other examples of the extent of the financial commitments we are talking about here
  • Predictability of Play – The set-piece preference in the Super Rugby league provides predictability and a mechanistic rhythm of play for which players and teams can better prepare and train. Phases of play and game tactics can be structured around these pieces of play without creating bland and dull rugby. It’s a win-win for both player and spectator
  • Patriotism and Pride – At the international (test) rugby level, the picture changes drastically with far more points being scored and created around broken play. It seems players are risking more, running more, and taking harder hits. One reason for this phenomenon is that players are committed for a different reason other than financial incentives – they are playing for the proverbial King and Country with reckless abandon for their own welfare. An international match is not a match only between players, it’s a clash between nations, and a country’s pride is at stake
  • Different Rugby Traditions – There is also the longstanding theory and debate of the so-called North-South styles of play. At the one end region play a more set-piece forwards driven kind of mauling and brute strength kind of rugby, while on the other end of the spectrum teams play a more creative, more spontaneous type of running rugby which is understandably more broken-play orientated

The Blindfolded Lady

Below is the well-known image of Lady Justice. The symbolism of her attire and stance is created as such to be the embodiment of the execution of justice. She is blindfolded to ensure that she remains impartial to all the facts being presented to her, she holds a scale which she will use to symbolically balance truth against justice. She stands on a book, symbolising the laws of the land, while holding her double-edged sword which represents her ability to serve justice by delivering the necessary punishment needed to restore order and bring peace.

Lady justice

I will agree that Lady Justice is a rather intimidating symbol but, after having reviewed all the statistics, trends, comments and analysis about the set-piece and broken play, wish to, in similar fashion, present a final argument.

In the opening paragraphs of this article I asked the question; if there might be an argument for, or against the two main methods of play, in other words the set-piece and broken-play. Can we hold a strong position in favour of any one specific format, after having reviewed all the details?

I would dare to say, no, we cannot select one or the other. I would rather like to suggest that we acknowledge both have an important role to play. Besides the pros and cons which we covered, what can we take a way that goes further than just a simple yes or no?

I wish to end with four not-so-obvious closing remarks:

  • The prevailing statics on both types of play tells us a lot about a team’s own likelihood and probability to win or create scoring opportunities. Any team who can plan and play with that in mind, will greatly improve their own chances of winning or exploiting their opponent’s weak points
  • Teams must learn to play the percentages in their favour and should practice game plans and attack strategies that employ set-piece and broken-plays to match the team’s existing strengths and past successes – finding the balance can prove to be key to winning.
  • Teams must be ruthless in their own understanding of set-piece play and broken-play, both require speed, discipline, and precision. A team that fully embrace both techniques will be unstoppable. Keep ego out of the way
  • Create a kicking strategy to match your playing strategy. A high-quality kicking plan can greatly improve a team’s tactical ability and create marvellous scoring opportunities from both plays

While I don’t wish to serve justice quite the way it was served by Gerard Butler in Law Abiding Citizen, I do think there is enough reasons to agree that both parts of the game are equally important – if not…then we can always go and scrum in the parking lot or run around until we are tired!

Ivan Oosthuizen

Ivan is a freelance writer and specialises in creating digital content for clients on marketing, branding and thought leadership within the Medicine, Healthcare, Senior Living and Mental Wellbeing sectors. Ivan has more than 20 years of senior and executive management experience in various industries, and can be contacted

Why do New Zealand Play More Rugby in 80 Minutes?

Reading Time: 13 minutes

Let’s be honest, we all love the exhilarating feeling of winning, but when the underdog takes a win – we go ballistic! In few other sports is our hunger for winning, and our respect for good sportsmanship, so prominently juxta proposed as in the game of rugby. We encourage our teams with gut-gurgling shouts, role-play scuffles in pubs packed with our best mates, followed by roaring war-cries of “yes, yes, yes” when our team finally dives in for a try under the uprights. It’s a thing of beauty, really. Ask any hardened fan or ex-rugby player and they will concur that rugby is not something you watch – you live it; it pulls you into a world where we you can’t help but cheer and shout, and jump up and down.

There’s Only One Dog and That’s The Underdog

In all fairness though, not all teams are created equally. We watch average games, good games and then clashes of Titanic proportions, and I don’t mean the boat. International rugby games offer a certainty that we are in for a treat, which is why test rugby is the queen of all matches; you know it’s going to be tough, tactical, technical, and tense. You can also count on the greats and their tell-tale playing styles such as the French flair, the Bok brutality, the tenacious loose mauls of the Pumas, the lighting fast line-breaks from the Wallabies or the scrumming physicality of an English pack of forwards.

It all feels rather predictable in a way, but there is one team who seem to play in a class of their own; I am talking about the All Blacks. Those marvelous players of the game, who just seem to possess an almost mythical presence and a fine-tuned perspective on the game, always just that one strategic step ahead to the rest of the world’s national teams. Why is this the case? To give a good answer, we need to unpack this question and get a better understanding of how the game of rugby has changed, more importantly, how New Zealand continues to dominate international rugby and why they constantly create new styles and structures of play.

Beauty is Pain

However inevitable change is in our world, it is indeed constant and sometimes it can be the cause of remarkable improvements. Rugby as an international sport, is certainly part of a greater global-culture and the game has been influenced and changed in several ways. Think for example about the different styles of rugby played in Northern and Southern hemispheres. A study of the latest game statistics taken from the Rugby World Cup stats, since its inception in 1987, reveals critical elements and key plays of the game which have indeed changed, some intensely more than others.

Looking at two elements (and there are many more) namely ball-in-play time, and game intensity, we can observe noticeable changes. The 1987 (25:45) and 1995 editions both saw less than 30 minutes ball in play time, 2003 saw just 31:58 minutes of ball in play time, compared to 32:12 minutes in the 2011 cup, and 34:21 in 2019 – that’s a 33% total increase. This dispels the myth that set pieces slow down the modern game and that we see less live action. The physicality of the game has also changed considerably, and players need to display greater levels of fitness as the modern game is physically more demanding with longer periods of uninterrupted play. Comparing the 1987 Rugby World Cup team averages with that of the 2019 series, we note that carries increased by 32% (86 to 115), tackles by 166% (from 48 to 129) and rucks by a staggering 230% (from 25 to 82).

A comparative analysis of the Springbok, Wallaby and Puma team performances (taken courtesy of the 2019 The Rugby Championships Stats website), ranks the All Blacks against their peers as follows:

2019 Rugby Championship Stats

If we look at the All Black 1st and 2nd placed rankings in the table, it’s evident that the team excels at actions that promote movement, speed, and work-rate. A review of some of the New Zealand based Super Rugby series team stats, follows a similar play-pattern. The All Blacks are clearly great at running, cutting defense lines and stopping attacks, but they seem to perform poorly in other momentum building facets of the game, we would traditionally associate with fast work rates and high volumes of play, these include line breaks, ball carries and quick or short line-outs.

How is it possible that the All Blacks can continuously dominate and play games that create more scoring opportunities, score more tries, generate higher work rates, and more importantly, consistently play each game as such formidable opponents, when the stats tell us a different story?

Is it possible that the secret to their rugby success has less to do with their game tactics and techniques, but that instead, their overall approach and philosophy towards being an All Black player is at the heart of their energy and abilities to generate such high velocity rugby?

What follows is a look into what I believe to be the deep seated principles contained in the All Black psyche, and what is potentially the door that leads to the treasure room of these amazing athletes, and what it really means to be a wearer of the Black Jersey.

X Marks The Spot

In his famous book Legacy, bestselling author, speaker and business consultant, James Kerr, reflects on some of the elements that make the New Zeeland national rugby team one of the best in the world and writes about their principles of leadership, which have been widely adopted and taught across the world, and how it can be applied to business and life. For Kerr, being an All Black is not just about being a rugby player, but one of the ultimate sports achievements. Kerr became a successful business and leadership consultant by developing leadership and change solutions for prominent leaders of world-class teams and organizations, based on the close analysis of the All Black’s focus on principles, their demands from players, leadership and their winning mentality.

According to Kerr, the All Black Team approaches their rugby with a specific game plan and they employ numerous tactical approaches, principles of leadership, life and businesses strategies, and they meet their opponents well prepared and versed in their own game plan and main strategy. A team that wishes to replicate their in-depth structure and well-prepared execution, will need to possess exceptional tactical skills. An opponent’s game plan also needs to be so much more than just key moves, magical line-out calls and code words, it has to contend with the All Black’s game plan which can be summed in two words – arrive prepared.

This Is Sparta!

Without sounding as if I have a royalty agreement with Kerr’s book sales company, I will confess that the book’s opening lines in the first chapter called Character, will cover even the most anti-All Black supporter with goosebumps. With due reference to Kerr (see the link in footnote above if you wish to purchase the book, I can highly recommend that you do), I can’t help but quote a few direct lines taken from Kerr’s book – doing anything less, won’t do it any justice! The chapter is based on a test played at Dunedin, on 19 June 2010, between New Zealand and Wales. On page 3 and 4 Kerr writes the following:

As the jersey go on, so do the “game faces”. The players become All Blacks.

“I can still remember Richie McCaw’s first jersey,” Gilbert Enoka says.

“He spent about forty-five seconds to a minute with his head just buried in the jersey.”

Today is McCaw’s ninety-first test.

“A win today against the Welsh is not enough,” says a pundit. “It has to be a big win.”

In the stadium beer cans rattle against the hoardings. A helicopter thumps overhead. Someone sells T-shirts.

McCaw Steps off the bus. There is a cry, a pöwbiri, the traditional Māori welcome. A lone Māori male with a taiaba, a thrusting spear. There is an explosion of camera flashes.

McCaw accepts the challenge on behalf of the team.

Woman swoon. Men too.

The All Black head for the sheds.

If you swooned too, that’s ok, it is an intense piece of writing about the depth and sense of pride, let alone the experience in real life. My first introduction to the All Black presence, dare I say, mystical presence, was many years ago when I witnessed them perform the famous haka, the well-known pre-match war cry. I was but about 10 years old. While many teams have responded in impressive and sometimes less gentlemanly ways, the idea that opponents stand their ground and face the haka stunned me into adoration. Who in their right mind would want to rugby against these guys after that?

I recall my own boyish marvel and fear upon staring down those battle crazy eyes and an earlier version of the haka, which ended with the team jumping
into air. I still remember, even as I am thinking about it now, that it was like they were preparing to fight, to do battle, to conquer. The closest I ever came to feeling a similar sense of combat come over me was when I heard the famous, almost cult-like line, from the movie 300 when King Leonidas, sends a Persian messenger with a flying kick to his untimely death down a waterfilled pit, while shouting the now famous “This is Sparta!” line. While the All Blacks may not be Spartans, they sure came darn close to sounding like the legendary and brave warriors!

Why Does The Rabbit Smoke His Pipe?

The Cree, is a famous tribe of approximately 350 000 Indians, either alive or with some ancestral links, residing in Canada for many years now, and have been for several generations. The tribe, less known at the time, was made famous when Sir Anthony Hopkins played the role of a highly intelligent billionaire (Charles Morse) camping out in a Canadian cabin with a group friends for a weekend in a praised film called The Edge.

Upon arrival Morse must solve a riddle presented to him by one of the local town’s men. The man holds up a paddle depicting a panther on one side, and asks Morse what is depicted on the other side of the paddle? Being the well-read man he is, Morse answers “A rabbit smoking a pipe”.

To the delight and of his entire entourage. Someone from his crew asks him why the rabbit smokes his pipe, to which Morse answers, “On the one side is the Panther, on the other side his prey, the rabbit, but he is unafraid – he smokes his pipe”. The local town’s man then asks Morse, “Why is the rabbit unafraid?” There is tangible silence when Morse replies, “The rabbit is, unafraid – because he knows he is smarter than the fox”.

The rabbit smoking the pipe

This Cree fable perfectly sums up another key element present in the All Black psych – they know they are smarter than their opponents. Knowing is different from believing. Knowing comes from a place of conviction, a cavity where the possibility of an alternative outcome doesn’t exist. It is from this place of personal confidence that the All Black team walks onto the pitch.

The other component, based on the same fable, is the rabbit’s traits of speed, prowess, tenacity, and character. The rabbit is faster, more innovative, more cunning, more mischievous and knows, well in advance, about the presence of the panther. The hunter becomes the hunted. The realization brings peace of mind and allows for a calm demeanour and more time for creative thoughts to flow. It’s this magical combination of work-rate, energy, conviction, and confidence that creates unstoppable momentum. The team who wishes to stop such an onslaught will have to outwit the rabbit.

Show Me Your War Face

1979 saw the publishing of small novel by Gustav Hasford (Bantam Books) called The Short Timers. It would later be made famous by world renowned director and screenplay, Stanley Kubrick in a film called Full Metal Jacket. Besides being wonderfully written and made with Kubrick’s attention to detail, the movie also boasts one the best opening scenes of all Vietnam war movies with a 20-minute continuous rant by the famous drill sergeant (explicit language, parental guidance is advised). During one of these early morning encounters the drill sergeant instructs, in a shouting voice, to one of the recruits to show him his war face. Try as hard as he wants the recruit just never quite scares the sergeant, his unquestionable effort is a moment of military humour at its finest.

While the movie is all about going to war, learning how to become an angry killing machine and how to find your inner warrior – the exact opposite is what makes the All Black team exceptional. Team players are early on taught about the principle of red heads and blue heads; a simple yet effective way of depicting the two choices of play when under pressure. A player can either act like a red head – be all over the place, and let your emotions get the better of you and shroud yourself in acts of frustration and temper tantrums (especially when you are 12 points down in the last quarter), or, you can decide to apply a blue head, which represents staying cool, calm, collected, focused with your emotions under control. What this translates to, in rugby terms, is that a winning team can master their emotions and control how they behave. This principle is deeply entrenched and is far more than the measly application of the “let’s maintain discipline” mantra, or even worse, showing your war-face!

Like the fall of dominoes, a team needs to learn that it takes one poor act of character to cause the fall of all the tiles. To create the ultimate team means to stay and play in the present, to keep a level head which increases focus, which translates into maintaining emotional control. Controlled emotions affects a team’s behaviour, and a team in control of their behaviour, is a team which ultimately determines their own performance.

“Rugby, like business and like life, is a game best played primarily in the mind” – JAMES KERR

Life In The Margins

What is your personal secret or conviction of success? How did you come about believing in this approach? Do you prefer achieving your goals in larger blocks of effort by knuckling down for three-month periods of energy and focus, or do you prefer shorter bursts of energy, expelled over a smaller timespan? James Altucher, famous American author wrote in his first self-published book about the importance of daily incremental gains. It is the compounding effect of all the small things we do every day to improve, that eventually leads us to the success we want. Altucher believes in trying to improve in at least one area of our lives, every day. Improvements can range from eating one healthy item, to doing one extra push up or even reading one page per day. However small or mediocre, we need to try and improve at least one thing each day.

In another inspirational Hollywood masterpiece (Any Given Sunday), we are reminded by an amazing coach (played by the talented Al Pacino) that life is a game of inches and that, if we are willing to fight for those inches, they all add up, and can make the difference between winning or losing (Mr Pacino, of course, shares his ideas in less eloquent terms). At the end of this memorable speech, Pacino ends with the words “either we heal, now as a team, or we will die as individuals”.

The All Black rugby teams takes the principle of being a team, to the extreme – losing that inch is the one thing they fear. Not achieving their goal is what keeps them awake, forces them to work harder. Exceptional achievements become possible when our fear of loss jolts us into action, to frantically chase daily gains. It is not about the one big game plan. It is not about the big session in the gym. It’s not even about that elusive trophy – it’s about all the tiny steps we need to take, in between, that adds up and creates the momentum we need to be successful on and off the pitch. The stuff we fear are the things we are willing to fight against.

Winning teams learn to live in the margins, to love the small gains, they value the small disciplines, the small changes they need to make to be better. A team who fears failure, and who is willing to make the small marginal changes, is a team destined for greatness!

Real Men Become All Blacks

A legacy is defined as something handed down by a predecessor, and even though this may be a special characteristic of the All Black team, it cannot simply be replicated. Culture, tradition, and history cannot be cooked-up overnight. It takes generations and wisdom, fused in the cauldron of adversary and suffering before a nation becomes reborn and aware of their inherent value. The All Black players knows that being part of that elite group means being entrusted with the important task of guardianship, that each generation of players have a period of time, their time, to improve and carefully hand down the traditions and pride of what it means to represent the essence of the sport, and the All Black team, to a new generation of players.

In a short video documentary made in conjunction with Dove for Men, some retired All black legends talk about what it means, to them personally, and the team, to be an All Black rugby player. What is evident from the onset is that to be an All Black is certainly more than just about rugby. It encroaches on character, culture, upbringing, behaviour, dreams and the love for a country and its people. Few nations can honestly say they are so united behind their national team and the sport as the people from New Zealand. Admittedly I am jealous.

The title of the recording, Better People Make Better All Blacks, speaks to the roles and actions on and off the pitch. Who you are on the pitch is who you ought to be when you go off it. This speak of an impeccable awareness and national pride in that, as an All Black, you represent a set of values and that your actions display those values. These values are essentially a representation of the culture of the people, and that culture is structured around the character of men and woman in the sport. They represent traits we can all aspire to.

Every team, in every sport can gain some insight and value by studying the All Blacks. They make more plays, carry more ball, take more chances, innovate more, win more matches, and play more rugby, because they believe it is up to them to be worthy of their team’s respect. It’s like nothing less than combining thunder and lightning will do!

Go Big or Go…

Rugby statistics confirm that nowadays teams are playing a lower-risk form of rugby. The inaugural Rugby World Cup match (1987) saw 30 offloads per match – double the total of the 2019 tournament – and passes out of contact have declined year on year (except in 2011 when we saw a small increase again). We note a correlation between turnovers conceded and a risk-averse style of play. The total conceded in the 2019 Rugby World Cup was about 50% that of the 1987 edition.

In spite of the great numbers of legendary teams and players, and the ways in which the game has changed over many years, the All Blacks somehow maintains a unique orientation and mindset towards winning and they exert a noticeable influence on the game. They possess a willingness to be bold. Their rugby philosophy is tied to their belief that becoming an All Black should be the ultimate life goal for every New Zealand born rugby player, indeed for every human being.

Greatness, it would seem, starts the day we expect nothing less from ourselves, but to win!

About the Author:

Ivan Oosthuizen author Pencilthis

Ivan is a freelance writer and specialises in creating digital content for clients on marketing, branding and thought leadership within the Medicine, Healthcare, Senior Living and Mental Wellbeing sectors. Ivan has more than 20years of senior and executive management experience in various industries, and can be contacted at