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How Rugby League will influence the next era of All Blacks rugby

By Ned Lester
Scott Robertson and Brad Thorn. (Photo by John Davidson/Photosport)

Two of New Zealand’s three opponents in the upcoming Rugby Championship will feature defences coached by former NRL players, a trend which has the All Blacks‘ future coach taking notes.


Scott Robertson has already appointed his coaching staff for the All Blacks, a lineup that does not include any former NRL talent, but will welcome some of the 13-man code’s wisdom.

The man assuming the role of defence coach is Scott Hansen, the mastermind behind the Crusaders’ attack since 2020 and former assistant to Wayne Smith in Japan’s Rugby League One as well as Jamie Joseph in Japan’s national team.

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Robertson said on Friday that former All Black and current Crusaders Assistant Tamati Ellison will also be involved with coaching defence in the national team’s setup.

“I actually sent Tamati Ellison to the Melbourne Storm last year, to do a little bit of work with them,” Robertson told SENZ. “He’s good at rolling up, he does a lot of work on the ground, so he does all our ground stuff and all of the technical side of it.

“Obviously Scott Hansen is an expert, and he’ll be doing our defence. He did it for the World Cup with Japan and worked with some great coaches.

“So, the two of them will be involved with the All Blacks and they’ll do a lot of work around making sure we’ve got the defensive side right and I’ll send Scotty over to a League team as well.


“To beat a League defence you’ve got to beat it with attack and vice versa. So normally, they progress quite quickly in attack, then it’s about adjustments.

“We play wings high, ball-line defence, we’ve got two men tackled. There’s a lot of stuff that goes into it and the way they train it is a lot more professional than us. They haven’t got a set piece, there’s no scrum or lineout so they do a lot of work in that tackle area and where you can get those gains is so critical and that’s probably what you’re saying about getting a League coach in, what they can create.

“So between the two of them, they’ll cover that side of it and see where the League takes it and all the advancements.”


The lack of set piece in Rugby League means defences can keep their shape and won’t be caught with any players stuck at the bottom of a ruck. There’s also rarely any kicking through the first five phases, hence Robertson’s “you’ve got to beat it with attack” note.


The defensive strategy employed by Argentina’s David Kidwell proved profitable in 2022 and only time will tell what Eddie Jones’ vision for the Wallabies comprises.

If those sides find success against the All Blacks this year, it will provide a clear picture of how the game is evolving on the defensive side of the ball.


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Michael 383 days ago

League coaches teach them the art of ball stripping, tackle and punch the ball out.

Pecos 384 days ago

The only new news for me was Tamati Ellison helping out ABs. A prelude to joining officially sometime over the next 4 years?

Sam 385 days ago

It's been quite common for rugby league coaches to be hired as defense coaches in union so this isn't new.

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Shaylen 5 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

These guys will be utility players Nick it cannot be helped because coaches cannot help themselves. Rassie looks at players like these and sees the ability to cover multiple positions without losing much. It allows the 6-2 or 7-1. He wont change his coaching style or strategy for one player. At provincial level players like these are indispensable. If there is an injury to your starting 12 but your back up 12 is a bit iffy then a coach is going to go with the back up 10 who is gold and who can play a good 12. Damian Willemse for the Springboks is an obvious case, for the Stormers its the same. Dobson plays him at 12 or 15, with Gelant in the team he plays 12 but if Gelant goes down he doesnt go for his back up 15, he just puts Willemse there. With Frawley its the same at international and provincial level. He just slots in wherever. Frans Steyn made a career out of it. He was much maligned though as a youngster as he never fully developed into any role. He then went to Japan and France to decide for himself what kind of player he was, put on muscle and retained his big boot, ran over players and booted the ball long and came back into the Springboks after about 3 years away and was then certain about how he wanted to play the game no matter what position. Coaches cannot help themselves because they only want what is best for their teams and that means putting your most talented players on even if it means you cause them some discomfort. Sometimes players need to decide how they want to play the game and then adapt that to every position and let the coach decide how they want to use them.

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Jon 11 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

I think the main problem here is the structure of both countries make up. They are going to have very similar.. obstacles(not problems). It will just be part of the evolution of their rugby and they’ll need to find a way to make this versatility more advantageous than specialization. I think South Africa are well on the way to that end already, but Ireland are more likely to have a hierarchical approach and move players around the provinces. Ioane is going to be more than good enough to lock up one of those available positions for more than a few years I believe though. Morgan would definitely be a more long term outlook. Sacha to me has the natural footwork of a second five. Not everything is about winning, if a team has 3 players that want to play 10s just give them all a good go even if its to the detriment of everyone, this is also about dreams of the players, not just the fans. This is exactly how it would be in an amateur club setting. Ultimately some players just aren’t suited to any one position. The example was of a guy that had size and speed, enough pace to burn, power to drive, and speed to kick and pass long, but just not much else when it came to actual rugby (that matched it). New Zealand has it’s own example with Jordie Barrett and probably shows what Reece Hodge could have been if the game in Australia had any administration. Despite the bigger abundance of talent in NZ, Jordie was provided with consistent time as a fullback, before being ushered in as a second five. Possibly this was due to his blood, and another might not have been as fortunate, but it is what it was, a complete contrast to how Hodge was used in Australia, were he could have had any position he wanted. When it comes down to it though, much like these young fellas, it will be about what they want, and I think you’ll find they’ll be like Hodge and just want to be as valuable to the team as they can and play wherever. It’s not like 63 International Cap is a hard thing to live with as a result of that decision!

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