All Blacks are machine because of quality of coaching, says Howlett
Former Munster winger says there is no magic formula to New Zealand’s success
Former All Black and Munster winger Dougie Howlett.
As the All Blacks leading try scorer of all time, a record he has held since 2007 with 49 tries to his name, Doug Howlett knows a thing or two about the standards and culture which continually drives his native team to all manner of new achievements.
So it is that while he acknowledges the exceptional nature of their current haul of a 25 points from a possible 25 as the runaway champions of the Rugby Championship, it does not particularly surprise him. Hence, whereas Australia and South Africa are experiencing one of their post-World Cup cycle dips, the All Blacks machine just trundles on.
“Every World Cup cycle we go through this and I speak from my own experience. When I came into the group, Josh Kronfeld was stepping away and Richie McCaw was coming in. Andrew Mehrtens was leaving, so too Carlos Spencer but Dan Carter was coming in. I was in the environment so I knew what was coming through.
“Every four years it happens and it is not like Beauden Barrett hasn’t been around. Aaron Cruden and Sam Cane have been on the scene. They’re just getting their chance. It says a lot about the environment that they can come in and just fit in seamlessly.
“I’ve often said it about the All Blacks. It is just a well-run machine. You could put a Keith Earls into that set-up and he would look even more exceptional than he does now. He just fits in, does his job and he doesn’t have to worry about anyone else because everyone knows their role through and through.”
Indeed, as if to underline Howlett’s point, not only do the All Blacks have the most productive conveyor belt of talent coming through, but they are always planning ahead. So it is that when McCaw and Carter retired after the successful defence of the World Cup last year, the aforementioned Barrett (36), Cruden (37) and Cane (31) had already accumulated 104 caps between them.
“I’m often asked: ‘what is it?’ There is no magic formula. They do the basics well. They execute, and when tries are on offer they take them, regardless of where they are on the field, not only in the 22 but in their own 22 as well. They see an opportunity and they have a go at it. They are just a well-oiled machine where everybody is on the same page. It is not just one or two players, four or five players are seeing the same picture and acting on that. And that’s a real talent to get five players to see the same thing in a randomly moving environment.”
“It’s most definitely coached, over time. It takes firstly the coaching and the set-up, and the trainings, but also the match experience alongside colleagues and combinations; these types of things. Most definitely taught and coached, and I see at times all other teams doing the same thing but I guess it’s the consistency of doing it for 80 minutes, or over a championship.”
Again, Howlett speaks from experience when explaining how this mindset, and willingness to attack from anywhere on the pitch if the opportunity arises, is expected of the entire team.
“It was a mindset. As I said, what we’re looking for is weaknesses in the opposition: somebody out of position, somebody fatigued, somebody injured. All these things. We try to organise something to attack the weakness. To answer your point, if we didn’t attack and somebody was out of position, we’d be pulled up on the Monday in the debrief.
‘Why did you kick it? There’s somebody here out of position.’ Or why didn’t I, as a winger, tell Dan that the space is there? Everyone has to be thinking at the same time and seeing the same thing. It’s not as simple as attacking from our 22. We need the circumstance to be able to do it.”
By the time Ireland face New Zealand in Chicago for the first of two clashes in the upcoming Test window, they may have set a new world record of 18 successive Test wins. What’s more, they’ll be match hardened, having played seven Tests since Ireland’s tour of South Africa. By any yardstick, it looks as daunting a task as Ireland could possibly face.
“Whenever you take the pitch, there is a chance,” insists Howlett. “The All Blacks won’t be taking this lightly after what happened the last time in Dublin. A lot of the Irish guys played against the All Blacks and it is in the back of their minds. They know this team is beatable and that is the attitude they have to take. They have nothing to lose and that suits the team.
“The All Blacks have their standards they have to reach again. But it is a new environment, both teams travelling, a lot going on. It all happens when the whistle blows. Depending on what type of squad we bring, there is always a chance.”