Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Former ABs trainer will have major influence

Former All Blacks skills coach Mick Byrne (L) with All Blacks coaches Ian Foster and Steve Hansen. Photo / Getty Images
Former All Blacks skills coach Mick Byrne (L) with All Blacks coaches Ian Foster and Steve Hansen. Photo / Getty Images

It's a stretch to proclaim former All Blacks skills coach Mick Byrne as the potential saviour of Australian rugby, but he's certainly going to have a major influence on the game across the Tasman.

The Wallabies have pulled off a smart piece of business by recruiting Byrne, who spent 11 years with the All Blacks between 2005 and 2015. A former Australian Rules player, Byrne was brought in by Graham Henry to improve the All Blacks all-round kicking and catching and to give them a greater ability to perform the basics.

His portfolio evolved over the years and his influence pervaded into nearly all aspects of the All Blacks' work. At the foundation of the All Blacks' high tempo, expansive gameplan, is their ability to pass and catch so accurately.

They have also become the best tactical kicking team in world rugby. And they have managed that by improving the basic kicking skills of a host of players such as Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett, Ben Smith, Israel Dagg and Aaron Smith.

Byrne isn't solely responsible for that, but he more than did his bit in driving benchmark expectations to higher levels and evolving the All Blacks into two-time world champions.

His time with the national team came to an amicable end after the World Cup. Family matters brought Byrne and his wife back to Brisbane and while he had managed to split his time between New Zealand and Australia in 2014 and 2015, it wasn't sustainable any longer. So Byrne left - his portfolio being divided between Ian Foster and Wayne Smith - and he took up a role working for a skills development company with former Wallaby and commentator Rod Kafer.

Perhaps inevitably, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika came knocking earlier this year. Inevitably because as Super Rugby has played out, it has become obvious that the general skill level among the Australian teams is poor. Under pressure their basics haven't held up. That's been across the board - all teams, all players.

Even Israel Folau has had a few horrible skill execution moments this year. His running and timing have been supremely good, but there has been the odd pass along the floor and a touch of ordinariness about his execution when the Waratahs have had to chase the game.

Kicking - generally - is in need of remedial work. Other than Bernard Foley, Australian rugby doesn't have renowned tactical kickers and it is a recognised weakness in their game that they can't damage opponents with their boot.

The issue might not be a lack of skill as such. Cheika believes there is a lack of mental resilience preventing good, skilled Australian players from being able to execute consistently well under pressure.

Whatever the truth, Byrne is the right man to ask to fix things. He also comes with the added bonus of knowing plenty about the All Blacks. And while intellectual property doesn't have much of a shelf life in test rugby, the All Blacks won't like that Byrne is in the Wallaby camp. He was with them for 11 years and international teams get more than a little twitchy when coaching staff move camps.

Australia haven't had many win against the All Blacks in the last decade, but on a lesser scale, their recruitment of Byrne is a victory for them to savour.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Stats provided by

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 22 Jan 2017 13:15:06 Processing Time: 656ms