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Smith's appointment hailed as a masterstroke

Smith's appointment hailed as a masterstroke

All BlacksDecember 25, 2023

New All Blacks coach Scott Robertson's move to have Sir Wayne Smith on board as a performance director has been hailed a masterstroke.

Former British & Irish Lion and England five-eighths Stuart Barnes said in his Sunday Times column that it was the sort of innovation England coach Steve Borthwick should use for his side.

Smith was World Rugby's coach of the year in 2022 after his role with the New Zealand Black Ferns winning the Women's Rugby World Cup. His two World Cups with the All Blacks and his women's success was such that he was known as the 'professor'.

His role will be as performance coach for the All Blacks and Black Ferns.

Barnes said, "His philosophy is to challenge the orthodoxies and encourage players and coaches to think outside the box."

New Zealand had long been the epicentre of rugby thinking, Barnes said.

"The throwaway comment that rugby union is a simple game is one that Smith disagrees with.

"'There are so many complexities,' he once said. 'There are so many different ways you can play it.'

"Every step a rugby player runs should have its reason: to pull an opponent out of position, to create space for a support runner. In theory, this is the mental challenge that the game poses, but in practice, this is, too often, not the case.

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"Defenders dominate, and statistics show that the best way to counter this is by kicking the ball back and asking the other team to play from deep defensive positions.

"No country is so committed to this policy as England. Defenders of Steve Borthwick's side will say that even the All Blacks boot away the ball.

"They do, but they are also not afraid to damn the data and attack from the depths of their own half. The kicking issue is as much about why as how often."

Barnes said performance coaches were ideally placed far from where the fight was most challenging. They could see what was happening from that vantage point.

He said had Smith been England's performance coach at the World Cup in France, he would have quashed the theory that a simple game requires simplicity of tactics.

"It would not have been a threat to suggest that the management should think outside the box, while the odd reminder that the sport has limitless options would have been a welcome whisper.

"New Zealand have appointed one of the great rugby thinks to be on the outside of the insiders. It's a splendid idea."

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