All Blacks coach lashes academy system and its 'non-thinkers'
The nationwide obsession with plucking the cream of schoolboy talent and sticking them into rugby academies has come under fire from All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith.
He says that he and other top coaches round the country are in danger of inheriting a group of players with no life skills and no ability to adapt or change tactics out on the field.
"It's sad the way we target schoolkids and that they go straight into academies," Smith said.
"In doing so, we run the risk of developing a generation of players who have no outside interests, no career and who can't solve their own problems, and we didn't want that to happen.
"Now, we're really pushing the players to think about what they're doing outside of the game - to think about work, study, and playing club rugby would be great, too, because the kauri tree is only as strong as its roots.
"I'd like to see a movement away from players being fulltime academy and fulltime rugby players."
Smith said one of the best examples of this worrying trend had been the way New Zealand teams had adopted the robotic multi-phased game favoured by Australian teams such as the Brumbies. The strict adherence to completing a pre-planned sequence of phases produced players who could not think for themselves, he said.
"The way we've all been trying to play is not necessarily the right way.
"A lot of Super 12 teams are very sequence-driven and concerned about getting from A to B to C to D.
"Now one of the things that's great about rugby in this country, I think, is the No 8 wire mentality and players being able to innovate, and we're trying to get back to that."
Smith said he heard coaches, players and commentators alike getting excited about movements that went past six or even a dozen phases, but his research suggested that most tries were scored immediately following set pieces. He said it was those situations that allowed clever players to exploit numbers mismatches or to make opposition players make wrong decisions about which man to take during a backline movement.
And with so many explosive athletes with a good skill level in this country, Smith said that should be reflected in our rugby.