The New Zealand Rugby ‘system’: why New Zealand are so good at Rugby
How has one small nation dominated the sport of Rugby for so long? A country of only 4.5 million people, with a Rugby win percentage of almost 75%. No other international side even comes close – the next two sides being South Africa at 62% and France at 55%. And since 2004, that win percentage has closer to 90%!
So why is New Zealand so good at Rugby? Great skills and depth are a given with New Zealand. But not all that interesting. What is interesting is how New Zealand develops such skills and depth.
As the national pastime, nearly every child is exposed to Rugby at a young age. And once bitten by the Rugby bug, move through a carefully designed series of programmes, starting at the age of five with the ingeniously named Small Blacks. These modified versions of Rugby make participation available to all ages, shapes and sizes, and develop basic skills. Between the ages of five and seven, there are no set pieces, no tackling and no kicking. Aged eight onwards, defence skills are introduced. And so it goes…
Talent is identified early and is nurtured and developed. The quality of coaching is both impressive and prioritised, thanks to the Top Down Control of the NZRU. And because Rugby is taught in both state and private schools in New Zealand, children have the opportunity to continue playing rugby.
By the time children reach high school, their skills are not far from what you would expect from a professional team.
“From as early as I can remember in New Zealand I was taught it was important for one to 15 to all be attacking but all be defending at the same time, but here you just get ball through your nine or 10 and they will often just kick it out or look to build off a line-out or scrum, or get a penalty and take the three points. It’s a far simpler brand.” Jimmy Cowan, 2011 All Black
Top Down Control
New Zealand’s junior development, even senior development, owes its success to the top down control the NZRFU exercises over the game. The Kiwis are as parochial as anybody else, and the local rivalries between regions are legendary, heated and sometimes even spiteful. However mention the All Blacks and they fall into line. Whether it’s voluntarily or kicking and screaming, everyone falls into line.
It is a control that no other nation has managed to achieve…
The result is a country of players, playing in a homogenous and evolving style designed by the country’s best coaches. Which how a high school, national provincial competition and even Super Rugby resemble a less skilful All Blacks team.
It’s not rocket science, they are all reading the same page, at all levels, so the basics such as when to pass, when to run, when to kick and when to go to ground are much more fluid. Which is also why whatever injuries they suffer, the replacements slot in seamlessly.
Rugby is so much more than New Zealand’s national sport. The sport of Rugby is embedded in the hearts and minds of Kiwis and, for many, watching games is akin to a religious observance.. And this is according to the official New Zealand Tourism page!
There is no greater honour than to play for the All Blacks. Meaning that Rugby has first pick of the most talented youngsters – compared to Australia where talent is divided between 4 or more professional codes.
The honour is so great, that even in the mercenary world of professional sport, the jersey convinces most top Kiwi players to forgo overseas riches and stick with the All Blacks.
Based on their winning percentage alone, New Zealand and the All Blacks are guaranteed to go down in history as one of the greatest sports teams ever. What’s interesting is how they have achieved that through their Rugby systems and culture – almost unparalleled in the world of professional sports!
Cameron is the Director of Pro Training Programs
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