Craig Dowd
We don't need law changes, we need end picture
Craig Dowd
March 11, 2015
Super Rugby Preview: Round 5

World Rugby's call this week for suggestions for law changes or applications is symptomatic of what is killing rugby at the moment. Law changes actually stuff up the game. It's not the law changes that need to happen, it is the end picture. What does the game need to look like? If it needs to look like it did in 1996, that's easy: go back to the laws of 1996, or go back to 2003, or whenever the game was good.

Changing a law has a knock-on effect because it invariably affects something else within the game. And instead of improving the game it does the opposite.

The Chiefs' James Lowe finds space out wide, Chiefs v Brumbies, New Plymouth, February 20, 2015
James Lowe was harshly sent to the sin-bin against the Highlanders © Getty Images

The Chiefs-Highlanders game was a really good game but then it just fizzled out; and I believe the referee via the TMO killed the game. And, as an aside, I feel wing James Lowe was extremely hard done by with his yellow card, as noted by ESPN colleague Brett McKay, and that should be waived from his record and he should receive an apology.

We also had an illustration after the Blues-Lions game, when they were making a presentation to Keven Mealamu, for his record of most Super Rugby matches, of how law changes have affected adversely the scrum; they played footage of a scrum from 1999, and it offered a graphic demonstration of how quickly the game was played and how easily the scrum was controlled.

The game has spiralled downhill since that moment, ever since the guy who invented 'Crouch, Touch, Pause and Engage' did his thing. The game is going down the gurgler. The people responsible need to apologise to the fans. And they need to paint a picture of what the game should look like, and then work towards making that happen, if we are to see the game we want to watch.

Knives are out in Auckland for Blues coach Sir John Kirwan © Getty Images

Blues need an attitude adjustment

Patrick Tuipuluotu of The Blues takes on the Lions defence, Blues v Lions, Super Rugby, North Harbour Stadium, Auckland, March 7, 2015
The Blues must improve their attitude, from bag man to John Kirwan, Craig Dowd says © Getty Images

Coaching is a fickle job, as the line between success and apparent failure can be fine, and Blues coach Sir John Kirwan is the latest to feel the heat in Super Rugby.

When he took on the coaching job two years ago, he promised it would be a roller-coaster ride. He wasn't wrong. But this year, and in the two others, it has been one more on a downward slope than reaching the peaks.

Failure to deliver on intentions does not make a coach a villain. Coaches don't set out to lose. They can't play the game for the players, and they can't account for injuries, refereeing decisions or the weather - all of which can impact on a team. But the coach can instil two key elements into a side: environment and attitude. Getting this right is a recipe for success. Get it wrong and failure will certainly follow regardless of the talent at hand. Attitude counts for plenty, and the Blues' attitude in their loss to the Lions at Albany last weekend came into question.

The Blues showed a lack of desperation. Having dominated the game in all areas, but able to score only the one try, they suffered the seemingly inevitable when the Lions brought on their replacement half-back. He showed some 'attitude' by darting around a ruck and finding some space. Suddenly his one gesture lifted his side out of its lethargy, and the players were good enough to make the best of the one chance they had in the match to secure the win.

Jerome Kaino will miss the Blues' match against the Hurricanes © Getty Images

The Lions were desperate, and that was the difference between the teams. They showed that in their defence, which was first rate; it had to be to knock several Blues scoring chances on the head. The Blues, conversely, were gifted a scrum for the final play but were shoved off the ball! They showed absolutely no fight. This action alone highlighted the attitude problem the Blues had, but there were any number of other examples in the game.

Mealamu went off five minutes after Kirwan said he had five or six minutes left in him at half-time. Were the Blues more concerned about Mealamu achieving his Super Rugby record of most appearances by starting in a home game than they were about securing what should have been a win? It was the veteran's first game of the year, and, with the Blues playing their next three games away from home, as well as having the bye, it has to be wondered if sentimentality over-ruled pragmatism in this instance?

The game was boring, to a spectacular degree, and that again hinted at the environment the Blues have in their team. Sure they had flown back from South Africa, but the Lions had made the same trip so both teams were equal on that count.

It was inevitable that attention should shift to the coaching, especially after the midweek rumour that change was afoot, a rumour strenuously denied by the Blues management. But after such a humiliating loss, and things surely can't get any lower than what transpired, Kirwan came out swinging. He was going nowhere, he loved this sort of situation, the boys were working hard, they were only a bit of luck away from turning things around.

The Blues are now without a win in six Super Rugby matches © Getty Images

That said, it is hard to believe the side are on track. Based on the evidence placed in front of the rugby world on Saturday night, they looked like they had pulled into a siding for a breather rather than being on track. No-one in the team played well, although I do feel Luke Braid is one player who never gives up - and I believe he should still be the captain of the side.

At some point, there has to be a line drawn in the sand. If JK is coming out and saying 'We are getting better' then we need to see it in the next two or three games. It's time to put the speeches to one side and let the performance do the talking; this is what will win the fans back and give the fans what they deserve.

Everyone has to be on thin ice: JK, his staff, and the players as well. I talked about the environment and attitude; well the environment can only be changed by the whole squad from baggage man right to head coach, including the players.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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