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Scott Robertson's view of the Springboks and whether the All Blacks have to emulate them

By Ben Smith
Beauden Barrett of New Zealand scores his team's first try during the Rugby World Cup Final match between New Zealand and South Africa at Stade de France on October 28, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Michael Steele - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

New All Blacks head coach Scott Robertson has offered his view on whether the All Blacks have to change and become like the Springboks in order to win World Cups again.

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South Africa claimed a fourth men’s Rugby World Cup title after defeating the All Blacks 12-11 in the final last year after goal kicking misses left points on the pitch in a tight affair.

Former All Black Sir John Kirwan said that the Springboks had completely “changed the way they play” just to win World Cups.

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While Robertson stopped short of saying the All Blacks had to change everything and follow South Africa’s approach, the new All Blacks head coach said he wants the team to evolve in order to win in multiple ways.

“Test football is a game of strength, the World Cup is a game of finals and strengths,” Robertson told Sky Sport NZ’s The Breakdown.

“That’s what they [Springboks] play too. They are a great defensive side, great kicking side, great set-piece side, and they kick the goals to win.

“The majority of major events with ‘kicking’ involved, finish with a kick to win it. Soccer, [American] football, rugby, league, the critical ones are won from the foot.

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“And they won it off the foot. They made the kicks. Incredibly tight margins at that level, they went back to what they were good at, and that’s the shape of the game.

“The big part for me this year is to win and evolve, so we can win in two to three different ways. That’s the key to bringing success over a four-year period.”

The champion Crusaders coach listed winning in wet conditions, winning away from home in different environments as key milestones to tick off, while embedding the “game management” understanding within the team.

Robertson wants different defensive structures for the different opponents the All Blacks will face, which will likely take time to master.

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The new head coach was optimistic about the squad he has inherited after having the chance to work with the players in January in camp.

“We’ve got a great balance of players that are in their late 20s that have been there and done it,” Robertson explained.

“We know that every World Cup cycle you are going to lose, guys are going to move on, that’s part of it.

“We’ve got a great group that are still hungry. Haven’t quite got there but know and experienced it, care deeply about the All Blacks.

“There is a young group coming through that are ready to take that opportunity as well.”

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Poorfour 11 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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