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Stuart Lancaster on the potential flaw in New Zealand rugby

By Ian Cameron
Senior coach Stuart Lancaster during Leinster Rugby squad training at UCD in Dublin. (Photo By Harry Murphy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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Former England head coach Stuart Lancaster has suggested that New Zealand rugby might be guilty of being too insular and could fall victim to ‘group think’.

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Lancaster, who is coaching at United Rugby Championship side Leinster, left the English system after overseeing a disastrous 2015 Rugby World Cup but has found great success in Ireland. The Cumberland native’s influence at the Irish province has been widely credited with a resurgence in their fortunes in recent years and the once ridiculed coach is now being linked with a return to English rugby in some way, shape, or form.

Speaking on the BBC Rugby Union Podcast, the coach gave his take on New Zealand rugby, long regarded as the standard-bearer for top classing coaching in the sport.

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“Quality people in every slot, is critical in a high performing team, in my opinion, and diversity. Diversity of opinion, diversity of experience.

“I was on the podcast in New Zealand called ‘Talking Performance’ and they were asking – after Ireland beat New Zealand in November and France beat New Zealand – my observations from the outside.

“There’s a lot of similarity between the Irish system and the New Zealand system. You’ve got a small number of provincial teams. You’ve got a strong number of a playing group coming from a particular team – Crusaders or Leinster. You’ve got a very experienced national coaching team that are all on the same page. You’ve got a relationship between the Super Rugby teams and the national team, etc, etc, etc.

“However one thing I said – and it’s back to the point about the check and challenge piece – who from outside of New Zealand would come in and check and challenge the way you defend and why you’re attacking the way you attack, because everyone who is involved in New Zealand [rugby] is from New Zealand.

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“So you get the recycling of group think. You’re recycling the same ideas. Now Ronan O’Gara of the Crusaders, went in there and broke the mold. But I don’t think there’s many out there who have done that.

“The more I’ve experienced the game, the more I’ve come to understand: Robin McBryde who came in from Wales with 14 years experience working with Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards etc, etc; Felipe Contepomi coming from Argentina, the experience he gathered, the clubs he played for; me coming from England, my experience; Leo [Cullen] from Ireland obviously.

“That diversity in a coaching team as well as quality, is really important I think.

“I look at say, why are Harlequins successful? I see Jerry Flannery, Nick Evans, Adams Jones, etc, etc.

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“I think that’s a really important point that people often miss. And I have had this conversation with people from New Zealand.

“I wonder whether they maybe need someone in from the outside, just asking those other questions. Because the game does evolve, the game in the northern hemisphere has evolved, as will the game in the southern hemisphere. I think it’s critical: top quality people.

“I think the head coach cops it – win, lose or draw. The other people are hugely important. Any player will tell  you that.”

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