By Lee Stace
WATCHING WARATAHS rake John Ulugia spray his lineout throws all over Eden Park during his side’s Super Rugby playoff loss to the Blues last Friday night highlighted what is starting to become a recurring theme amongst hookers in our game.
Indeed, the number of players wearing the No 2 jersey coming through the system who cannot throw the ball in straight at lineout time is starting to worry Yours Truly.
What’s more worrying, though, is that these guys are progressing through the age-grade, provincial, Super Rugby and, in some cases, international ranks without rectifying this part of their game.
Anton Oliver is a prime example. He often had difficulty with his throwing (remember the five botched lineouts during the 2001 Tri Nations test between the All Blacks and Wallabies in Sydney), yet he went on to play 59 tests – including 10 as captain – for the Men in Black on the fact he was a good scrummager.
Aled de Malmanche (pictured) managed to play five tests – despite the fact he would struggle to hit a barnyard door face-on – due to the fact he was dynamic with ball in hand and on defence. Even the two incumbent All Blacks hookers in recent times – Keven Mealamu and Andrew Hore – aren’t perfect.
In Ulugia’s case, the commentators even acknowledged that throwing was a weakness in his game.
All of which begs the question: How can a player be allowed to progress so high up the ladder when they don’t have a key part of their game down pat?
In his latest book Winning Matters, Sean Fitzpatrick admits he had the same problem. However, he worked hard on his throwing after receiving some stern words from Andy Haden at his first Auckland training.
“He told me to f**k off,” remembers Fitzpatrick, adding that he was ordered to fetch another hooker who could actually hit his jumpers at lineout time.
“A part of me was tempted to tell him to stick his lineout throwing, but deep down I knew he was right… and the simple truth was that unless I radically changed this part of my game, I was not going to achieve all that I wanted to.”
Very wise words. Perhaps coaches and academy managers should take a similar approach to Haden when dealing with today’s players.
It might be the kick up the backside they need to fix any shortfalls in their game.
With the series level, expect both teams to put it all on the line as they seek to win the deciding test in Sydney on Saturday night.