Gregor Paul on rugby

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Kiwis finally understand knock-out rugby

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Some people get finals football. Plenty of others don't. At least, though, among the growing group of New Zealanders who do get it, are some of the country's best players.

The World Cup delivered many legacies, perhaps the one most little appreciated has been the ability of many key players to understand what is required to win knock-out games.

For too long New Zealand players would all interview well on the subject - talk articulately about the need to stay focused, keep control and stick to a gameplan in the crucial games.

Then they would go out, as they did at the 1999 and 2003 World Cups and try to play bonus-point football: we were treated to high risk, headless stuff and then in 2007 there were black ghosts everywhere - zombie-like players who didn't have the gumption or ability to scrape out three points in 12 minutes despite exerting the most crushing pressure.

It's all a bit different these days. The Crusaders last week played classic finals rugby.

Here's the thing about knock-out games, there is one simply objective: score more points than the opposition. They are about winning and winning anyway how.

Finals football can be as ugly as sin: all that matters is that victory is achieved. Finals football is about applying pressure at one end of the field and coping with at the other.

Finals football is about scoring points and retaining discipline to stop opponents from scoring points. It is about defending with everything, not forcing passes and kicking the ball long and deep if there is any doubt.

If all the points are accumulated through penalties and drop kicks, it doesn't matter. This is such a fundamental and basic thing to grasp and yet so many New Zealanders struggle with it.

In the wake of the All Blacks' 8-7 World Cup victory last year, there were voices of discontent that it was just by one point. There were even claims that we shouldn't take the All Black revival seriously: that Graham Henry's redemption shouldn't be granted because the final was so close.

Those who carry that view need to head back to university and study something other than a PHD in missing the point.

Usain Bolt won't be staring at his gold medal in shame at the Olympics if he wins by just 1000th of a second. The high jumper who wins by 1cm won't feel he is undeserving.

Style is for well-dressed Italians to worry about. Substance is the only thing that matters in finals football and finally the likes of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter are really getting it.

The latter has become a drop goal expert these days - he bangs them over for fun even if his side is comfortably in front.

These two and many others in the Crusaders side get what this business is all about and they can only wonder just what is going on in the heads of those who think pretty rugby is more important than winning rugby.

- Herald on Sunday

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