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Three-time JWC winner Rennie on his "rip and run" style

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allblacks.com     21 May 2014     Getty Images

The coach of the New Zealand Under 20 team that claimed the first three Championship titles in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and now a two-time Investec Super Rugby title-winning coach, set a tough example for those who followed him.

Rennie said the key to success was having good players to work with, having flexibility within the team and getting the mix right in order to play the game you wanted to play.

New Zealand might not have had the sort of preparation ahead of tournaments that teams like England and the other Six Nations sides enjoyed with their own Under 20 tournament, but they had a system which proved crucial.

Talent identification via a network of spotters around the country, and with input from the New Zealand Secondary Schools system helped put together around 100 players who were then reduced to 50. This group sometimes included players who had been missed earlier in the system but who, through late development, pushed their own cases.

And there were other times when players who missed out went away grumpy but came back stronger and he related that two of his Chiefs players, Tim Nanai-Williams and Augustine Pulu, had not made the Under-20 sides.

Central to the selection process was a non-rugby specific stint at the Outdoor Pursuits Centre (OPC) and Rennie said that time proved very accurate in assessing players.

"We learnt who were the leaders, who were the workers and who were the whingers," he said. "It was incredible that over the three years the traits we saw at the OPC came out when players were under pressure in games."

Players were then sent away with plans to work to and the coaching group were in constant contact with the players as they went through their programmes, some more effectively than others. Rennie said the assistance he and his coaches had from academies and provinces in working with players was outstanding and all a contributing factor to the success achieved.

He would tour the country visiting players in late March and then in late April the side would be picked ahead of a brief camp in May before the side left for the tournaments. In Rennie's case they were played in Wales, Japan and Argentina.

"There was not a lot of difference in how we played at the three tournaments. We had a style we wanted to play that the rest of the world would struggle with. It was 'rip and run'. We couldn't compete with the size of teams like England and Argentina. They were huge. One year England's pack was bigger than their international pack," he said.

Each of his side's had different levels of experience. The first, in 2008, contained many players who had won the world Under 19 championship the year before the change to Under 20.

In 2009 half the team had played ITM Cup rugby while in 2010 Tawara Kerr-Barlow was the only player who had played at a higher level.

He felt the 2009 side was the one that fared best of his three teams. They were not the best side at the tournament, he said, England were and they smashed everyone they played leading to the final.

England had the advantage of intensive preparation while New Zealand had one warm-up game before leaving for Japan. But a constant factor in the three tournaments was the way New Zealand's teams improved as the championships went on.

"We had a really clear game plan and it was a case of refining that. In the final we were not the best side, but we played the best football. It was one of the most clinical displays I have ever been involved in. Tactically we outplayed an England team that dwarfed us," Rennie said.

There were many players who over-performed in the side while Aaron Cruden had been an outstanding captain. Making his performance all the more significant was that he had been through cancer treatment and then, after only a couple of games back, he was injured so that he missed valuable game time ahead of the tournament.

"He hadn't played any rugby before the tournament so it is hard to look past his performance that year. He was incredibly influential in the final," he said.

But it was the ability of players who applied pressure throughout the squad to ensure those chosen were giving their best that was also important in each of his teams, Rennie said.

Planning for off-the-field was also important and the New Zealanders made an effort to immerse themselves in the cultures of the countries they were in.

Rennie found the roadblocks that occurred along the way, causing things to go wrong, was an ideal way for players to learn to cope with unpredictable happenings, just as they would have to do on the field.

"It was pretty exciting to work with the best kids in the country and while it was a time-consuming job it was a helluva privilege," he said.

Rennie is confident New Zealand's side for 2014 will do well under coach Chris Boyd with Scott Robertson and Leon MacDonald as his assistants. They were an astute coaching group and had enjoyed a thorough build-up.