Patrick McKendry 's Opinion

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Patrick McKendry: Dropping a bombshell

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Why dumping stars is a 'nuclear' option for coaches.

Israel Dagg
Israel Dagg

For players at any level, being dropped from a team due to lack of form is like a slap in the face, so one can only imagine what it must feel like for an All Black to be demoted at his Super Rugby franchise.

After 80 minutes, Israel Dagg has found himself in that position at the Crusaders. Last year it took until halfway through the season for coach Todd Blackadder to act, this time it's come after only one below-par match against the Chiefs. Dagg, a consistently high performer for the All Blacks, will be on the reserves bench at Eden Park tonight for his team's match against the Blues, a team with its own selection issues.

Left out completely from the Crusaders is first-five Tyler Bleyendaal after missing five first-half kicks in Christchurch last weekend. Blues counterpart Chris Noakes is another casualty - coach Sir John Kirwan preferring to field Simon Hickey, a 20-year-old yet to play at this level, in his place.

Dropping players is a coach's nuclear option, the one way they can punish those they feel aren't performing acceptably while giving someone else an opportunity.

It's not an easy thing to do and it can also be a dangerous thing to do if done wrongly. While All Blacks coach Steve Hansen allows his assistants to give players good selection news, he prefers to make the difficult call to a player who hasn't made the team.

The key for a coach is clarity, honesty and consistency; the former in setting out his expectations to the squad before the season - and presumably Blackadder has stated that anyone, regardless of status, will be dropped straight away if they do not come up to scratch - and honesty in explaining his reasons for the decision. Now Blackadder must follow through with this policy for the rest of the season. He has to be consistent with his decisions and with every player.

Dagg didn't have his best game against the Chiefs - he lost possession in contact three times - and wasn't the attacking threat the Crusaders required, but none of their backs looked consistently threatening and he did appear to be trying hard. Reason enough to be dropped without having another chance? Only Blackadder can answer that.

Kirwan said Noakes didn't take the news of his demotion well, something the coach said he expected. Looking at it from the outside, it's not surprising he was disappointed. He didn't play well in the first half, and while he would have been expected to give his side, which looked in disarray, direction, he looked a lot better in the second half once his forwards began showing a little more intent.

One of the foundation pillars for any team ethos is the "team first" mantra, in which everything is done for the good of the team. It is a convenient one for coaches too. If "no player is bigger than the team" then coaches should be able to select who their want without players responding poorly.

The big danger is that too many selection disappointments can spread from player to player like an illness. Coaches have a responsibility to manage players, to get the best out of them.

It is a difficult balancing act and one only a select few can do well.

- APNZ

Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby writer Patrick McKendry began his journalism career 20 years ago and has worked in newspapers in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. He worked in a communications role on his return here before joining APN before the 2011 World Cup.

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