Skip the team announcement – Jake

Jake White

Rudolf Straeuli didn’t make any friends in New Zealand last month when he pinned a surprise 23-17 win against the Chiefs on a late change to the team sheet. Named to start off the bench, Malcolm Marx and Elton Jantjies ambushed the Chiefs when they jogged on for the opening kickoff.

“With Malcolm on the bench, the Chiefs opted to rest some of their heavy forwards,” said the Lions CEO. “With him in the starting team, we could take them on at scrum time and it worked well. The foundation for our victory was laid up front.”

That got me thinking about why rugby teams are required to announce their matchday squads at least 48 hours before kickoff. What is the point?

Only a few days prior to this Super Rugby match I was at Anfield to watch Liverpool beat Chelsea 2-0. I really tried to soak up the full football experience and part of that was mingling with the locals. What stood out on the day of the match was that a lot of the chat was about the lineup that each of the managers would field. 

The team lists were announced not long before kickoff and the locals drew a lot out of the combinations, the formation and who was on the bench. That’s a big part of the weekly intrigue for football supporters.

As was the case for the Lions, I think that rugby would benefit greatly from scrapping the early team announcement.

In the 2002 Tri-Nations tournament, Andre Pretorius fell sick at the team hotel on the eve of the Springboks’ last match and on the Saturday morning Straeuli told Brent Russell he was going to start at flyhalf. He had a blinder in a thrilling 33-31 win.

Two things happened that day: the Wallabies didn’t have an opportunity to do their homework on Russell, and he played well because he didn’t have a whole week to worry about things.

Knowing Brent, he’s a guy that used to end the week carrying a lot of built-up pressure from his preparation for a match.  When he was told on the Saturday morning that he was playing, he didn’t have time to worry about things and he could basically just put his boots on and play. I’m sure that a lot of players would respond the same way.

In a competition that’s become as lopsided as Super Rugby, with Kiwi teams dominating all comers, keeping lineups a secret until matchday might give lesser sides a shot at upsetting the contenders. It would even things out because coaches would be under pressure to contingency plan for whether the opposing lineup is strong, weak, full of speedsters or weighted towards a power style of play.

Look what it did for the Lions, the only SA team to win in New Zealand this season.

We’re talking about a sport that’s becoming more and more technical and where analysis is playing a bigger role every season. By unveiling the team two days in advance, your plans are telegraphed to your opponents and they know what’s coming.

It’s also a procedure that makes every match more vulnerable to unexpected weather. Formula 1 would be unwatchable if heavy rains surprised teams that had been told to announce their tyre selections 48 hours before the race, so why does rugby handcuff itself?

Pushing back the team announcement would add a level of excitement to the matchday experience for supporters and a layer of unpredictability to the contest.

In the Art of War, Sun Tzu says, “If your enemy reacts to you, you’re in a position of strength.”

That theory would really be put to the test in rugby if coaches and players only had a couple of hours to mull selections and tactics.

- Jake White

Let's chat

  • Nick

    What’s not to like about this idea? Encouraging players and coaches to adapt with less time as Jake describes could only be a good thing.

  • Wesley

    Its only to telegraph the plans out there to the most tactically wise, and so NZ will always be whipping us by having 2 days to plan out things, where teams like ourselves, France and Argentina, who might not be the most tactically astute have a better chance in surprising our opponents. IMO

  • Nick

    We could also argue that the more tactically astute will benefit from what Jake suggests. Decisions re selections and changes within the game itself will be more pressured by time. This suggestion by White would change the whole way teams prepare for games and make it more ‘live’. IMO, better, more of a contest.

    Always impressed by how the All Black coaches change or adapt their game after half time. They always get it right. Much/most of it is data/technology led I guess, but the human decision making factor is obviously at the middle of it, and not all of it seems to come from the coaches. Maybe our players are less able [or not allowed] to think outside of an authoritarian structural mindset.

    In this particular area some of our SA teams are strikingly poor. Alistair Coetzee was unbelievably bad in this respect. Just from the point of view of how/what subs are made and tactical adjustments. Many examples I could bore everybody with.

  • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

    I can see both sides of the coin and am mostly ambivalent on the subject (both as a coach and as a fan) … But from a media engagement angle, that team announcement on Thursday makes for vital media and fan engagement. So instead of the whole week being about team selection (could get really dull), the cycle is broken by an actual team announcement, which then sparks different articles and different discussions. Especially with both sides selected.

    • boyo

      I am sure Jake wrote a piece on his cameo as a commentator and cited how difficult it was to prep on only 48 hours notice with regards to team selection. The need to have fact and figures for players and the research he needed to do on them. It is just an observation but links to your point regarding media.

  • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

    And then is in on my Twitter feed, which I found pretty interesting:

    Terrible idea. People need to wake up and realise the power and significance of Fantasy Rugby in terms of engaging fans. Team announcements critical to this…and we need better communication from within teams around injuries and player availability ala NFL

    • Andrew

      LOL Fantasy Football is much much MUCH bigger than fantasy rugby and engages far more fans than rugby. As a fantasy football player you need to do your homework, you need to find the media organisations with the most reliable sources within the various clubs, to get the most accurate information. You need to research which players get rotated and which players play every week.

      Personally I think its great idea to only announce the team just before kick off (in cricket its done at the toss). It also forces journalists to do some actual digging into the make up of the team and the squad.

  • Barry

    Most that participate in sports betting would not place a bet without full team disclosure, it would be too high risk.

    Another issue that has huge impact on the game are the match officials! These are not always readily available, but I believe should be!

    I do agree with Nick on the question of SA coaches being a little slow on making on field adjustments – it is so often that we are out-thought in this department

  • Nick

    Thanks tank. Must admit to being almost totally ignorant about fantasy rugby. Barry just helped me out here and pointed out the gambling aspect, so i’m even less inclined to bother looking it up further. Let’s not go that route!

    Without wishing to sound cocky I’m more interested in actual rugby that you play/ref/coach or watch purely as an interested spectator. I just think Jake’s idea opens up all kinds of new and interesting ways of doing things in rugby. As an experienced coach I wonder what your first concerns would be if, and I doubt it will, public team announcements would take place in the way White explains?

  • Chris

    Risk averse SA souches will just pick their springboks for avery game if you implemented this.
    How about a regulated rest system where couches from both teams are forced to bench or rest their national capped players (from year end european tour) at the same time every 3 or 4 games?

    Testing the depth of the teams on a equal playing field.

  • Graeme Fleetwood

    Great idea. Agree 100%

  • John Comyn

    I quite like Jake’s idea but if I were a betting man I would hate the idea. A good example is The Stormers versus The Jaguares. I gave the Stormers very little chance of winning the game when I saw the side. Had I not seen the side I would have been tempted to take a small bet. I actually thought The Sharks were in with a slim chance when I saw the side for The Crusaders game. I said as much on this board.But then I also thought they would comfortably beat the Chiefs :-)

  • Nick

    In other words, If I understand you right John, You prefer predictability, If you’re a gambler!
    I would prefer the opposite as a rugby fan.

    • Barry

      No, not necessarily predictability, but you do need information to make a rational bet! In fact unpredictable results give the best return!

      John’s example of the Crusaders is a good one because the bookies gave the Sharks little chance so the potential returns were good. We knew that the Waratahs has beaten the Crusaders, we new that the Sharks had beaten the Waratahs, so it suggested that the Sharks May just have a shot. Add to that the historic info – Sharks are one of the few sides that have won in Canterbury and the team sheet and you have the makings of a reasonable bet.

      We all enjoy the unpredictability of sport, but place a few bob on a game and see how the enthusiasm and emotion increases ten fold!

  • Chris Mouton

    I understand the debate about unpredictability, but it would be a nightmare for commentators who have to study the teams and learn the names only a few hours in advance. I can imagine that it would have a massive impact in the sports betting world. Not sure if this is the way to go…

  • dk

    With the time difference here in America, we’d have to wake up at two in the morning to set our fantasy lineups, and why else would we watch Southern Hemisphere rugby except to keep ourselves busy between fantasy football seasons.

  • Mooti

    This is an absolute no brainer imo- surprised it hasn’t come up earlier. Most other (bigger) sports hold the team decisions back until right at the end and all supporting industries (media, commentators, fantasy, betting etc) seem to handle just fine. Having read the comments above I can’t think of a reasonable argument against naming teams right before kickoff, and can only see positives in terms of tactics, unpredictability (badly needed in rugby) and coaching thought. Mainstream this!

  • Nick

    Mooti, Exactly! In SA even our gamblers can’t adapt to new circumstances or changed circumstances. Where they should see opportunity they only see restriction. I blame our education system! Lag myself sick!

    Chis Mouton does have a point though, If you think Owen Nkumani is useless now…………………

  • Max

    I dont believe the selections is the problem. The real big problem lies with the gameplan and what frightens me is that the coaches are creating the problem. The first problem is the lack of focusing on the defence gameplan. This is a common problem is all the SA teams. There is a defence structure but not the dominant tackle with a snowball effect needed to counter attack. Sounds familiar? Sounds like the Crucaders? Rugby is either attack or defence. So if one of the two is neglected, you surely will lose the game. The coaches need to concentrate on both and we ‘ll be on winning ways again. The second problem is the fatigue of players. Our players need a well deserve break. Fatigue players are in a bad fisical but most importantly in a bad mental state and such players will always be dominated at scrums, rucks ànd tackles and sprints to the the line ànd urgency. The national players need to join midway through the SR. This will give new talent an opportunity to play SR. Last minute selection will then help to create more fear in our opponents. The opposition,whether they are rugby players and coaches or ex players and coaches or even their media, will never ever ever give us this tip.

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