Gatland warns of Six Nations kicking into life in the wrong way (with audio)

It was Matthew Bloxam in 1876 that wrote to the Rugby School Magazine saying that he had learnt from an un-named source that the change from a kicking game (Association Football) to a handling game (Rugby) had originated from one William Webb Ellis. Who is going to volunteer now to write back to the school to tell them that unfortunately the sport of rugby seems to have gone full circle and is now back to being a kicking game?

In an exclusive interview with The Rugby Blog, Warren Gatland, Wales’ Head Coach, has expressed his disappointment at the way the game of rugby has let a large amount of kicking creep into the game and how it has caused a negative style of play within the top rugby playing nations leading into this year’s RBS Six Nations Championship.

When the New Zealander was posed the question whether we were going to see more kicking in this year’s championship he did not hesitate to confirm our worst fears.

“Yes, I think we are. The unfortunate thing with the way that the game is, is that kicking is very much dominating the game,” was Gatland’s response. He elaborated further by stating that “The stats seem to show that the teams that kick the most tend to win a lot of the games.”

The unfortunate thing about this whole situation however, is that the coaches appear to have fully accepted this as part of the modern game. Gatland admits that coaches are in a business that is judged on results and if positive outcomes are to be achieved by kicking, then so be it.

This subject rears its head as much as the debate about the rules at the breakdown which are persistently clouding the way rugby is being perceived. Both issues are becoming detrimental to the way that rugby is being played but are the two walking hand in hand with each other or are they two separate issues that need to be addressed at different times?

Law changes are seemingly playing their part within this issue, with the type of ball that is being recycled by the attackers at the breakdown becoming notably slower than it has been for years. The law makers and the IRB “want a competition at every situation; at the scrum, at the lineout and at the breakdown” according to Gatland. The conflict therefore has been created by the fact that “the coaches don’t want that competition and want to win the ball as much as possible at every situation.”

With this competition at the tackle becoming more vigorous, the less likely the ball is going to come back at a speed that favours an attacking style of rugby, thus leading to sides kicking more and playing a game based around territory rather than possession.

The statisticians among us will back this theory as the teams in the Autumn Internationals that kicked the most seemed to come out on top whilst in the Tri-Nations last year the highest kick percentage belonged to South Africa – the eventual outright, and very comfortable winners of the tournament.

So what does this mean for this year’s Six Nations? Well it’s starting to look bleak isn’t it? None of us want to see another banal display of kicking from hand from any of the teams let alone our own respective home nations, but if we do have to tolerate it then who is this kicking mentality going to favour?

This type of game plays into the hands of a team like Ireland who have picked Ronan O’Gara at fly half for their first game of the tournament (Jonathan Sexton has been ruled out of contention with a dead leg) as he is arguably one of the best tactical kickers in the game. Also, with a back three that boasts the talents of messrs Kearney, Bowe and Trimble, any possession that is kicked to them needs to be of the highest calibre to avoid having to defend damaging counter attacks being launched in the opposite direction.

The Six Nations is the show piece of European international rugby and the last thing that the supporters want to see is it getting kicked into the ground. Unfortunately though, as modern day coaching staff and players are getting more reward from booting the leather off the ball rather than actually picking it up and running with it, as William Webb Ellis demonstrated at Rugby School all those years ago, then I fear that the frustration and blood pressure levels could well start rising within the stands of rugby stadiums all across Europe in the coming months.

As this Six Nations unfolds we will find out whether Warren Gatland is accurate in his prediction.  For the good of the tournament and its spectators let’s hope he is not.

By Andrew Daniel

For the audio of Gatland’s comments, click on the player below…


2 thoughts on “Gatland warns of Six Nations kicking into life in the wrong way (with audio)

  1. Oh for the stats-boys to lie about the success of kicking ball away!!

    Well, I shall sit down at Twickenham on Sat and pray that the inclusion of Tait at 13, Armitage at 15, Hook and Byrne in similar roles might mean that in the moments the ball isnt in the air, we’ll see some vintage stuff.

    I’ll pray.

  2. As far as i can see, the really big issue that is haunting the breakdown is how quickly attackers are being pinged for holding on

    Whilst in theory, skillful back 3 attackers will run back poorly kicked ball, we aren’t seeing this in reality. Kearney hoofed away so much ball in last year’s 6N. The Bok back 3 are as good as any in the game in counter attacking, yet you don’t see them do it as they have to be so confident of getting past the first tackler to give their support the teammates to be the first to the breakdown. If your back row aren’t with you immediately, it is turnover time…

    This has to be the key – giving attackers confidence that if they take a gamble and go on their own, they will at least be given a chance of getting the ball back on their own side before being blown up. Clearly the poor decision to attack on your own into a wall of oppo should remain a turnover offence, but there needs to be some sensbile margins to give the support the opportunity to arrive.

    I know the refs talked about doing this since the New Year, but i’ll be honest that i haven’t seen a huge amount of difference since this supposed new strategy

    I think the issue of slow ball is something that can be overcome with the right coaching – a flat fly half, taking the ball at pace to knock the tackler back and a dynamic backrow that can get over the ball and recycle quickly and it works. Watch Floody this year for Leicester/London Irish when they play at their best/Northampton/Quins last year – all teams willing to play like this and they can play attacking front foot rugby

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