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Inept Coaching as Barbarian Hordes Slay All Blacks

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Dave Griffith
Dave Griffith

It had ambush written all over it, but General Henry sent his men in anyway and watched from the safety of the grandstand as they were defeated by the barbarian hordes.

Many of the experts from around the world were picking a Barbarian victory by under 10 points. Their optimism in backing a scratch team against the worlds No.1 ranked All Blacks was based on two key factors. The Barbarians team was made up mostly of world class South Africans and Australians who were experienced in beating the All Blacks, and Graham Henry picked a blatantly second string side outnumbered 4 to 1 in test caps by their opponents. The icing on the cake was that Nick Mallet had a full week’s preparation with his players, while playing the casual scratch team underdog card well.
If this was a war we would be taking about inept Generalship in the face of overwhelming intelligence that the enemy was both stronger and better prepared than first anticipated. Regardless of this information an attack was carried out anyway with many of the least experienced soldiers in the ranks, persevering with planned early tactical substitutions which left the team short of reserves when they were really needed.
The closest I could liken Henrys effort to was George Custer who led his 7th Cavalry to destruction at the battle of Little Big Horn. His arrogance and self confidence led him to split his forces and press home an attack even when it became apparent that the enemy was much stronger than he had anticipated. That’s Custer I am talking about, but it could just as easily have been Henry.
It is not a problem that the match was a money making fixture for the All Blacks tacked onto their European tour. The Barbarians matches against International teams were started for that reason in the first place. The issue I have is that Henry talked like the tour was over and they had gone through undefeated in the tests without having their line crossed.
The All Blacks coaches attitude in the lead up to the match reeked of arrogance and disrespect that carried right through to the management of the game itself. Taking off fit players early meant there were not the reserves left when real injuries occurred. The sight of Liam Messam on the wing and Sivivatu at centre was a farce.
For many New Zealand rugby fans ever since that defeat by the Barbarians in that classic match back in 1973, any fixture between the two sides has had a special edge. The mystique of the fixture helped lure 63,554 fans to Twickenham to see if history could be repeated again. They paid to see the All Blacks but got dished up the second stringers. It was still a talented team but up against the battle hardened warriors in the Barbarians it was a tough assignment.
So what did New Zealand gain from this? Not much. Our playing reputation among opponents is dented by the loss. The public in the northern hemisphere are not going to continually keep paying to see the All Blacks only for the coaches to give the reserves a run.
One of the only plans of the coaches that worked was setting Rodney up to fail. If he had a run with the ‘A’ side we would be able to see that he still has a lot to offer New Zealand rugby. Instead he is probably heading for the scrap heap before his time.  

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