Mooney praises NZ structure

Former Otago coach Phil Mooney at a training at Carisbrook, with a young Liam Coltman in the...
Former Otago coach Phil Mooney at a training at Carisbrook, with a young Liam Coltman in the background, in 2011. Photo: Peter McIntosh.
You could write a book on what is wrong with Australian rugby. One man with knowledge of the sport on both sides of the Tasman is Phil Mooney. Rugby writer Steve Hepburn catches up with the former Otago and Reds coach.

Phil Mooney says the woes of Australian rugby of late can be blamed on many things but coach development and sharing of information is in another stratosphere on this side of the Ditch.

The Wallabies will line up at Westpac Stadium tonight having lost their last five tests and not having won a game in New Zealand since 2001.

Mooney said, when contacted, first and foremost rugby was the national game in New Zealand and was in the forefront of the national psyche.

Australian rugby had far more competition from other codes.

But this had always been the case, even when Australia was winning World Cups.

He said one of the real strengths of New Zealand rugby was the alignment of the game.

"New Zealand Rugby certainly values its club competitions but importantly, its great players, the All Blacks, also value the club competitions," he said.

"I know when I was in NZ, All Blacks played for their clubs at every opportunity. When they were unable to play [due to needing rest, etc], they still went and supported their mates. I know when Tom Donnelly was in the ABs, he would drive out and play for Matakanui when the ABs had the weekend off. Andrew Hore would do the same.

"Some Wallabies have not been to their clubs for a long time, let alone played for them. I do like the approach that Michael Cheika has taken and encouraged his players to go back to their clubs. NZ players are not asked to go back. They do it because they want to."

Mooney is director of rugby at Brisbane Grammar School, following a stint coaching in Japan and said even at school level, rugby was different in the two counties.

"Schoolboy players in NZ play more games than their counterparts here [Australia]. Our boys play eight to 10 games per year while OBHS, Southland Boys’, etc, would play 25 to 30 games and this develops greater game awareness."

Mooney said even accounting for the player drain overseas, the great strength of rugby in New Zealand was its depth.

"The fact is (and people here can argue all they want), in my opinion, Australia does not have the talent to sustain five [Super rugby] teams. Look no further than the performances of our Super teams. End of argument.

"The ARU needs to better resource the premier clubs in Brisbane and Sydney. The Brisbane and Sydney premier club competitions both had crowds of 10,000 to 12,000 attend their recent grand finals. The National Rugby Competition [in Australia] does not come close in crowd numbers. Both games were great contests and better matches than the 60-20 score lines you get in NRC games."

The NRC was introduced only a couple of years ago in Australia, with eight newly formed teams.

"The provincial competition in NZ has been weakened due to longer Super rugby and test seasons. However, it is still the breeding ground for the stars of tomorrow and a more legitimate competition in ‘screening’ players who may go to the next level."

Mooney said the development of coaching was far more advanced in New Zealand.

"Coach development and sharing of information is also on another stratosphere in NZ. NZR take a long term view with their coach development. They teach the art of coaching (not just rugby). I know that I attended many sessions in Dunedin with elite coaches (not just rugby coaches) and found them on another level."

Players in New Zealand could play many ways because of the system, Mooney said.

"Why are the ABs so good? The NZ system produces players that are multiskilled (forwards that can catch/pass, backs that are effective at the breakdown) which allows them to play a variety of ways; e.g. direct, with width, kicking/field position, etc, etc. The ABs are products of the system below them and we have seen that when a great retires, they hardly miss a beat with the new player doing a fantastic job."

Mooney believes Cheika has done a great job with what he has and the Wallabies will be better than what they were in Sydney.

He still predicts an All Black victory tonight.

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