New national skills coach Mick Byrne is heartened by the Wallabies’ enthusiasm for his message on what’s required to play attacking Test rugby successfully.
After three World Cup campaigns with the All Blacks, Byrne has been charged with up-skilling the Wallabies and says a key factor is that forwards must be as adept with the ball in hand as backs.
New Zealand sides – from Super RugbyZ to the All Blacks – have long set the standard in fundamental catch-draw-pass skills and now the onus is on Australia to catch up.
With defensive structures so tough to crack, Byrne – who formerly worked with the Wallabies in the late 1990s – says rugby has never been more a truly 15-man game, where every player must contribute in attack.
“It’s been going since probably the ’99 World Cup, so we’re talking 20-odd years where teams have been working hard at defence,” Byrne said on Thursday.
“So the traditional sort of forward role of just hitting it up and getting go-forward and then letting the backs do the work, if you have that sort of game plan then you’re going to restrict your ability to go through.
“It’s really important that your forwards can develop a catch-pass game.”
Byrne noted that even in the northern hemisphere the sides winning Six Nations championships “have had the more passes per forward than any other team”.
“We’ve just got to accept the fact that right across the board, in all countries where teams are starting to play attacking rugby, the forwards have got to play their part,” he said.
Byrne came on board with the Wallabies less than a month out from the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup opener against the All Blacks in Sydney on August 20.
He’s not promising overnight miracles but is optimistic about the long term.
“I’m certainly confident since coming in that the boys have adapted really well to some of the messages I’ve been giving,” said Byrne, a former AFL premiership-winning player for Hawthorn and successful Sydney club rugby coach.
“It’s only early days but the boys’ enthusiasm to take on a couple of new challenges around the skill sets has been great.
“Like anything, when you’re developing skills it takes time.”
Pointing out that New Zealand had a centralised program promoting basic skills from players of 17 years and up, Byrne said he was heartened by plans for the ARU to follow suit.
“Because once you start with a 17-year-old, if you can get down and influence those, that’s when you get the benefit,” he said.
“In years to come, those players will be consistently good as they come through.”