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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Comments

20 Comments
r
rod 255 days ago

Well after this mornings game Moody will be on the plane asap! Lomax probably the best tighthead in the world right now, so will be hard to replace. I’m sure De Groot will have been training the house down the last few weeks and slot into the team for the quarters

M
Michael 266 days ago

Oh, one more thing, it is "that ref" controlling the Italian game. A great test for the ABs to be squeaky clean !!

M
Michael 266 days ago

Stop giving away possession (aimless kicking) and penalties.

How many points have we given away in penalties so far in the RWC?

As a player this frustrates etc.

Anyway, if we keep it together we can beat Ireland and France - some may say "dreams are free" - but if we play intelligently (haven't so far) which means being able to change game plans during the game we can do it.

One more thing, Jordan at full back.

B
Ba 268 days ago

Can't see the ABs going through the front door without Frizzell or Finau - hope Blackadder can match Finau's form and that his body holds up.

But their whole game is not based around this tactic so can't see how they will turn things around - the ABs are notorious for being inflexible and just repeat what they have trained even if it's not working. No space for individuality.

Ireland, on the otherhand, have been training 4 years going through the front door, which is why they will win the WC barring any serious injuries....

C
CO 268 days ago

100%, the French prop got away with not scrummaging. More importantly the Allblacks need to select a pack that can dominate. Frizzell at 8, Ethan at 6 and Dalton at 7 with Jacobson and Savea on the bench a good start along with Whitelock for a 6/2 split with Roigard starting and Smith off the bench with Will Jordan or ALB. Leceister and Telea starting on the wings.

C
Craig 268 days ago

Best piece of rugby journalism I've read in ages...De Groot owned the French tighthead big time... he could not handle the immense pressure Ethan applied...and Roigard will only get better.

G
Greg 268 days ago

You mean tighthead.

J
Jmann 268 days ago

Even though the author is 100% bang on it simply didn't convince the guy with the whistle. The problem is with myopic refs rewarding loose head props in NH scrums. You could clearly see France's NZ-born loosehead pulling back on engage and slipping his bind.

G
Greg 268 days ago

Agreed - Atonio could not stay straight under pressure from De G, so angled in and slipped a shoulder to try and break De G's bind or make him bend a knee. Wily.

E
Emery Ambrose 268 days ago

Great article!!
I'm looking forward the forwards orientated game, maybe we will see it against Italy??
There had to be something of his opposite pulling back a couple times.

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