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'Sorry, but it's reality': Wallabies assistant coach slams state of Super Rugby Pacific

By Ben Smith
Carter Gordon and Ardie Savea tussle in Super Rugby Pacific. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Wallabies assistant coach Pierre-Henry Broncan has slammed the state of Super Rugby as a key reason for Australia’s disappointing World Cup campaign.

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The lack of pressure and consequences in the reformed Super Rugby Pacific was a big reason why according to the former French professional who has decades of experience playing and coaching in France.

There is no threat of relegation in Super Rugby Pacific which means that teams can play with freedom, while eight of the 12 teams ultimately make the playoffs with many making the cut with losing records.

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Broncan believed that this lack of pressure doesn’t bode well for knock-out rugby at the Rugby World Cup.

“If you’re looking for a big difference between the Top 14, the European Cup and Super Rugby in Australia and New Zealand, it’s pressure,” he told reporters ahead of Australia’s pool game with Portugal.

“In France, the pressure is present in every match, because the question of relegation or qualification (for places in the final stages or in the European Cup) weighs heavily. This is very important for European teams.

“In Super Rugby there is no relegation, you just play to win the competition. Which is a very good thing, but it’s only between the New Zealand and Australian teams.

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“You will see the next World Cup matches, the quarter-finals, the semi-finals or the final, there will be enormous pressure on the pitch. Many matches will end in a very close score and a match will be won or lost in the last five or ten minutes.

“Today, our team is not ready for that. At half-time in the Wales game I was convinced we were going to win. Ten points [the payout between Australia and Wales] is nothing. But we started the second period by conceding a penalty, and it was over.

“We must be able to change in the future.”

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Super Rugby Pacific features 10 teams from New Zealand and Australia with two others representing the Pacific Islands following the split with South Africa.

The parity of the league is often lopsided with only the Brumbies putting up consistent wins over their New Zealand counterparts this season.

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Only the Brumbies finished with a winning record in 2023 at 10-4, with the Waratahs (6-8), Reds (5-9), Western Force (5-9), and Rebels (4-10) all failing to win half of their games.

“The Brumbies (Australian Super Rugby franchise) are a good example to follow because they have a very strong team capable of beating the New Zealand teams today.

“The other Australian teams found it very difficult to beat the New Zealand teams. Sorry, but it’s reality. We need to change that first.”

The four South African teams left for Europe in 2020 which Broncan believed has weakened the competition and given the northern hemisphere an advantage.

“Before Covid, with the South African and Japanese teams, the Jaguares in Argentina, it was a great competition,” he said.

“Today, I think that between Super Rugby and the national championship, we have to create an environment for the national team and train every week, every month together.

“When there was Super Rugby with the South African teams, the competition was very tough. Today, South African teams are playing in the European Cup and that is an advantage for the northern hemisphere.”

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Poorfour 5 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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