DEPENDING on your emotional equilibrium this rugby season for Hawke's Bay Magpie supporters has been agonising, cruel, excruciating, galling or painful - to use a number of epithets to describe the losses.

It was frustrating too that after achieving parity in possession and territory with Taranaki last weekend the team lost 48-17. This was the fifth loss out of seven matches where the opponents scored more than 40 points.

As a relic of rugby's Jurassic Park my comments are not meant to be an ad hominem attack on players or coaches but rather, I hope, a constructive analysis of strategies, and systems that need correction with more focused planning and execution.

In the Taranaki match, the Magpies missed 33 tackles. Defence has been haemorrhaging badly not just in this match but right throughout the season.


In an age of rush defence, this needs fixing as a top priority. Every team member has to know his role in all phases of defence. Preventing the opposition scoring lays a foundation for success, which comes from repetitive drills and good communication so becomes instinctive.

Despite all the changes and improvements rugby is still basically a simple game.
The maxim of tactically playing the game in the opposition territory still holds true, as it makes it difficult for the opposition to score and reduces risks. Eliminating errors requires discipline on the part of all players.

Coach Craig Philpott has won an Under-20 Rugby World Cup and has won and successfully defended the Ranfurly Shield. His assistant Mark Ozich has the success of the Hastings Boys' High School 1st XV on his resume.

Captain Ash Dixon, Ihaia West, Richard Buckman and Brad Weber form a hard core of successful and experienced players at national and Super Rugby level. There are also some young players of genuine promise.

So why has the team at times been so ineffective?

A shocking run of injuries at critical times and the compressed nature of the competition haven't helped.

As an observer but not party to the makeup of the collective leadership group and not knowing intimately the planning, strategies and tactics it is difficult to be specific.
For two seasons fractured leadership has created poor decision making during games.
The modern era provides a plethora of qualified advice in preparation.

A simple formula for success would be to start by building an impenetrable defence and to play territory - the game in the opposition half minimises risk.
Attack only when it is on - discipline reduces errors and eliminates pressure on yourselves.


Strategic planning requires having a vision so all team members know what is to be achieved. For example, the All Blacks' vision/mission is to retain the World Cup in 2019 and to preserve their legacy by winning all tests.

This enables the setting of goals and specific objectives and importantly the strategies needed to achieve those objectives.

This can only occur after a critical analysis of the environment. For example, a SWOT analysis of the team's strengths and weaknesses - this may highlight a shortage of good front five players, poor lineout and scrum skills etc.

This would lead to a resource analysis which may include financial analysis as to how to fund getting some key players etc.

A competitive analysis is vitally important as part of the research and planning.
The information then needs to be analysed in a brutally frank and honest manner so that corrections can be made continuously throughout the season.

The Magpies may say we are already doing this. If they are then regrettably results have fallen well short of the standards everybody wants. It may be too late to salvage much out of this season but good performances in the last two games would restore some provincial pride.

■Tom Johnson is a former Magpies captain.