Thursday, 7 February 2013
It was a sad delight to see Sean Maitland score on his first outing for Scotland. Hopefully Maitland will continue to remind us of the way his potential was not fully developed or indeed recognized here in New Zealand. The problems of Zac Guildford, the injury to Corey Jane, the continuing injury concerns of Richard Kahui, the inability to consistently focus of Hosea Ger, let alone the lack of a long-term back-up to Conrad Smith all point to a potential crisis in our outside backs. As he showed in 2011, Maitland is a world-class player- and he was- and is- still young. All of us who lived through the Canterbury quakes know that they affected everyone in different ways- and that 2012 was in many ways the hardest year as the adrenalin of constant fear wore off and the brutal reality of mundane life here took hold.
I am not saying that that was the main reason behind Maitland's drop in form but he was not from down here and so would not have had the single-minded provincialism and desire to stay come-what-may of other players in the Canterbury and Crusaders franchises. More concerningly, two young, highly talented players found themselves in the outer. Were Guildford and Maitland ever really a good fit for the Crusaders? Likewise the way Israel Dagg played for most of last season signalled a young man not totally focused and happy to be here. That is understandable for it is a city that, if not exactly dynamic before the quakes, has become increasingly provincial and limited post-quakes. Yet there is something more. Can the Crusaders only develop young backs to a certain level- especially if they are not from down here? Look at the way Tim Bateman has developed as player at the Hurricanes since his return from Japan. Is Canterbury only a backs incubator now, a type of conditioning paddock that then needs to send imported talented young backs out to other franchises and unions?
Todd Blackadder is an excellent forwards coach, but the question is what is happening with the backs? How are these young backs managed, understood, and developed after the first couple of years.
Of the the very young backline, the question needs to be raised as who mentors them consistently? It can't be resident All Blacks, for their status is too high and they are often absent. Rather it needs to be older, top-level players who may have once been- or briefly been All Blacks, but are not any longer. In the forwards that role is held by George Whitelock who continues that stellar role of 'almost players'- such as Don Hayes, Angus Gardiner, Matt Sexton, Rob Penney. In the backs however we only have Andy Ellis- and at half back he is too close in to perform that role. He is also looking to still be an All Black and so understandably his focus is elsewhere. Therefore the revitalization of Crusaders back play requires the buying in of an 'old pro'- ideally from outside New Zealand.
I was interested to read Robbie Deans in the great Australian site the roar:
Everything that made Robbie such a great coach at provincial level is what makes his life difficult at international level. For the international coach has to, in effect, forget all that made them a success at provincial level and start again with a new ethos at international level. For you are dealing with players who are the products of coaching systems and environments that you have no control over. It is clear that Deans is still thinking like a provincial coach- and as long as he does that the Australians will never achieve the success they should. Ewan McKenzie is the international coach in waiting.