Spain, Brazil and glorious Germany provide lessons for All Blacks
James Mortimer 15 Jul 2014 Getty Images
Rugby’s quadrennial assembly doesn’t have quite as deep a history as it's round ball cousin, which in turn has led to some ‘winning’ disparities in soccer that might not conform to the fable of the Webb Ellis Cup, but provides some important lessons for the All Blacks.
Steve Hansen’s troops have already plenty of notes in the World Cup dossiers, the establishment of a 24-year drought between drinks for New Zealand led to constant analysis as to what would potentially work to conquer the world.
But last time was on home soil, this time, it is away from local comforts, something that didn't really seem to upset the Germans who won over many new faces with their bold and exciting style.
Watch the youth
One rugby lesson that doesn’t lend well to football is that the most experienced side often wins the global crown, the All Blacks (2011), Springboks (2007), England (2003) and Wallabies (1999) at the time boasted playing rosters that were as experienced as any in history.
Compare this to Germany, who are the toast of the footballing world not merely thanks to their triumph, but the fact that a youthful squad (just two players over 30) has the foundations in place for consistent success.
Digging deeper into rugby history shows this is still a prudent reminder, some teams have become undone with reliance on pure experience and ignoring a young prodigy or two that might have the class to enthral an audience spread across the entire planet.
However one thing is certain, the newly crowned champions of football probably have the strongest conveyer belt of local talent, the Germans were determined they would not ‘buy’ the trophy with glamourous imports, and have laid the platform for a new era.
The All Blacks are already in an era of their own, so sustaining their long period success will be even more challenging.
Use the local talent
Roughly half of the players who make up All Blacks contention have come from Junior World Cup level, while the Heartland, ITM Cup and Investec Super Rugby platforms are proven generators of talent.
There have been 25 new players introduced to New Zealand’s Test ranks since defeating France in the 2011 final, a clear sign of regeneration in the national ranks that ensured that there is not an ‘aged’ team running around.
Depth is constant, perhaps a side effect of a strict policy that deems the All Blacks must play within New Zealand to represent on the highest stage, having local access and sightings of players is priceless.
In the 11-man game, high budgets lead to clubs, and by consequence after stand down periods, countries, buying the best rather than developing the best.
This was a core part of a series fundamental changes when the German authorities said “enough is enough”, with many believing the low point coming in 2000, when the Die Nationalmannschaft finished bottom of their group in the Euro competition - with a team of players drafted in from all corners of the world.
The change and focus on the grassroots became dramatic, in 2003 a landmark talent identification scheme began in Germany which has now boasts well over 1,000 part-time coaches who exist merely to earmark and groom children from 8-14.
Nine of the players who started against Argentina in the World Cup final play in the Bundesliga (Germany’s national competition), an almost unheard of level of selection patriotism, unless maybe you are an All Blacks selector.
Further to that, the German system has double the number of local players when compared to the blue chip English Premier League and their own cadre of locals.
Beware the Tika-Taka
Spain entered their title defence with an experienced team boasting a proven style that had seen them conquer the world for years, a possession orientated and passing mantra that might now have yielded points, but denied a team from gaining any of their own rhythm.
It was an approach that led to the Spaniards from 2008 to 2012 to be generally regarded as one of the greatest sides ever in world football.
No matter how potent an offence, Spain were able to keep a structured spider like passing game primed to a level where they broke numerous records.
This is in stark contrast to the All Blacks, who are happy to win contests despite imbalances in possesion and territory.
While Spain almost appeared to be stubbornly inclined towards a blueprint that had been in effect for a few years, New Zealand has worked hard to shed any apparent reliance on a single slant.
A simple but wonderfully efficient ball grabbing game can work, but if the tactics don’t work, even at the highest levels some coaches and players have neglected to have a plan B.
Humble is good
A German team that had among the freshest average age outfits - a dozen squad members were aged 23 or younger – were willing yet very down to earth frontmen for a country that has now claimed one of the major sporting titles on the globe.
Compared to the star-studded English squad, the rockstar like Brazilians and the seriousness of other nations, Germany was a humble breath of fresh air.
Such an open approach is a complex one from a coaching perspective, for while the off field persona might be innocent, on the park the best teams need a relentess belief that they are the best, certainly Germany (like a recent All Blacks team) were comfortable with the mantle of expectation.
However one thing was constant from the eventual World Champions in Brazil, they looked a squad that was comfortable with the fact that there was an expectation they might actually win the whole thing, even if in the process humble leaders kept the team's feet on the ground.
A superstar cannot win titles
When Brazil lost one of their marquee strikers in Neymar throughout the tournament the hosts knew that they were disadvantaged, while Argentina at times seemed too reliant on Lionel Messi – as the Germans marched through looking like one of the most tightly knit teams in the competition.
Not since the 1995 Rugby World Cup and the heady days of Jonah Lomu have the All Blacks had a heavy reliance on a singular star.
New Zealand’s most recent success, and the ‘first five curse’, showed how crucial squad depth is and was a powerful mental reinforcement for a side that many used to believe could not win without the likes of Dan Carter.
You need to last a long time
In the end it was calm heads that prevailed in a World Cup decider that was played for over 100 minutes, and with such high stakes, fitness is ultimately secondary, for it is the ability for the heads on top of those conditioned bodies to continue to make the decisions.
One thing is for certain, the fittest team’s often give themselves the greatest chance of success, for a fatigued mind doesn't often make the best decisions with time up on the clock.
Flashiness isn’t always required
At times the Germans looked, from a flamboyance point of view at least, second best to some of their opponents but this isn’t something that will be examined when flicking through the history books, a winning score line has that wonderful effect.
The All Blacks, despite sitting on the verge of the longest tier-one Test record in history, have looked distinctly vulnerable at times throughout this streak, but this hasn’t bothered the number one team who have the ability – like their round ball counterparts – to shift into a gear that few opponents can deal with.
Often Hansen and captain Richie McCaw lament the absence of a ‘perfect 80 minute performance’ but in elite sport well prepared rivals often do not allow this to happen.
Germany was, like the All Blacks, prepared to roll up their sleeves and play in the trenches when required, for most champions know it cannot be all razzle dazzle.
Having a shell can be a risky business
Spain and Brazil won’t be the first and will not be the last teams to appear to have moments of doubt, which usually leads to sides ‘going into their shells’ which often results in percentage or defensive heavy strategies - or worse a clear paradigm shift away from a side's natural game.
Such approaches can work, but rarely when it means that an operation is not operating to their creed, the All Blacks throughout history are at their best when they play with that classical open attacking style they have used throughout time.
Germany in past World Cups have had a grim defence and stoic men at the back of the park who would bleed before conceding points, a clearly effective style but beautiful?
Now, the vision of Joachim Low and Jurgen Klinsmann is obvious for all too see, with Germany operating with a skills heavy game and lack of reliance on what enemy tacticians would deem an obvious style.
The All Blacks based their philosophies around offence but under Hansen and co have worked very hard to ensure that his team can play, like their opposites in Germany, a strong all court game that can adapt to all comers.
Tentative teams do not often win championships, but sides like New Zealand and Germany back themselves and this innate confidence often breeds success.
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