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Ethan de Groot destroyed France’s tighthead prop Uini Atonio

By Hamish Bidwell
Ethan de Groot of New Zealand runs with the ball whilst under pressure during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 Pool A match between France and New Zealand at Stade de France on September 08, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

I’ll get to Cam Roigard, but I can’t go past Ethan de Groot first.


I don’t get any of the hand-wringing over de Groot.

I thought he destroyed France’s tighthead prop Uini Atonio, in the All Blacks’ opening Rugby World Cup clash.

I was never much of a school or club rugby player, but I spent a decade playing at tighthead.

Much of it living in fear of destructive looseheads such as de Groot.

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When I was taught to scrummage, destructive was the word for looseheads. Whether they butted you with their heads or bored in on an angle to squeeze your neck and make you butt your own hooker, their aim was to disrupt.

You had your mechanisms to deal with that, such as initiating the head contact yourself or turning in the loosehead’s left shoulder so they hit the deck.

I thought there were times in that France game when the pressure exerted by de Groot was intolerable for Atonio. At those moments it feels as if your head might explode.

I don’t care who thinks de Groot has technical problems or what the referee interpretations are, I just know Atonio was dominated.


And I was glad to see it. No, thrilled actually.

For too long the All Blacks have been passive scrummagers. Happy to simply try and hold and get the ball to the No.8’s feet as quickly as possible.

They stopped using the scrum as a weapon and were attacked by opponents as a consequence.

We didn’t scrum for penalties either, as many other teams have.

De Groot’s introduction to the team has brought with it a pleasing desire for destruction.

Why does that matter? Well, just ask the loose forwards and halfbacks for starters.


That gets me to Roigard.

There’s surely no dispute he’s now in New Zealand’s best 23. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, I’m not too bothered.


I just believe there’s no justification for Finlay Christie continuing to back up Aaron Smith in the games of consequence.

Ultimately, though, it won’t matter if the men such as de Groot don’t play with some grunt.

Not just at scrum time, either, but with ball in hand as well.

I’m tired of seeing good ball go wide and of seeing kicks dinked over the top.

If the All Blacks have any designs on a creditable World Cup campaign, then they have to go through the front door.

That means the forwards carrying hard and often. It means the blindside being utilised and a wing with vigour, such as the continually-impressive Leicester Fainga’anuku, working in tandem with the pack.

This tournament won’t be won with skill. It’s going to take a direct and relentless approach, otherwise Smith and Roigard will simply be left scrambling all day.

Defenders of All Blacks coach Ian Foster will say we don’t have the players. That they’re just not up to elite standard and that the coach can only do so much.

I don’t believe that.

I think success is about intent and tactics and for too long we’ve opted not to impose ourselves, in favour of footy that’s far too frivolous.

De Groot’s intent is plain for all to see and the team won’t succeed if we seek to stifle that.


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