'Tempo' the key to World Cup success

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That's the view of Times rugby critic Stuart Barnes, the former England and British & Irish Lions first five-eighths.

Todd's selection, along with fellow open sides Sam Cane and Ardie Savea, was seen as an example of New Zealand's 'paranoia about openside cover', Barnes said.

"Why the obsession?" Barnes asked.

"A decent place to start looking is the breakdown and recent red card shown to Scott Barrett – their lock forward – against Australia. It was a card that divided opinion.

"Get an expert over the ball in that jackal position and the only way to remove him is Barrett-like, with the shoulder. Hurtle in off the feet, throw the nuisance judo style, anything to shift him. It's become a part of the game because referees understand excess force is almost the only way to remove the jackal.

"Hence the lack of consistency and the cries from the heart of former players who know nothing but this kind of contest. Of course, jackalling is not the exclusive domain of the openside but, by and large, he remains the expert. It is the intrinsic part of his game," he said.

Barnes said New Zealand were the most positive attacking side in the world but claimed they had a flip side and he accused them of being 'the most cynical cheats at a breakdown'.

"Not just scrabbling on their knees during the jackal, but also being round the wrong side of a ruck, not by much, but enough for the referee to berate and send them back; enough to slow down possession. Having a hand illegally on the ball, long enough for the referee to say: 'Hands off.' Long enough to slow attack down," he said.

While there was no Richie McCaw in the side, there were three openside flankers, all of them breakdown experts.

"The tournament will be won by the team that controls the tempo of the game – and the breakdown is the heartbeat of ball in play – but also the area of contentious calls that will be made by officials aware of what their masters want. A clean and fair competition. 'Clean out' at your peril. The more jackal options, the more chance of your team winning the battle of the whistle," he said.

That was why other teams were also increasing their openside options.

Australia would field both David Pocock and Michael Hooper, Wales could call on Justin Tipuric and Josh Navidi while England could play Tom Curry and Sam Underhill.

Quick ball was the key and defenders who created nothing but a trickle of slow possession damned the game and gained an edge, Barnes said.

"New Zealand, beautiful and ugly in equal measure, are well aware of the fact. McCaw's greatness was as much to do with his negativity at breakdowns as his inspiring commitment as captain.

"There is no McCaw now, but there remains a ruthless army of openside mercenaries ready to kill quick ball. When the price isn't so painful, when the referees are protecting legions of these assassins of the fine arts, who can blame coaches for picking them in ever greater numbers?" Barnes said.


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