Kafer Column: The 'classic mistake' Steve Hansen rubbed in 20 years ago that the Reds may have repeated

Super Rugby - AU
by Rod Kafer

History has a habit of repeating and the Reds may have made the same mistake the Brumbies made 20 years ago.

In 2000, the Brumbies completely dominated Super 12 right up until the final.

The Brumbies game was built on continuity and an attacking framework that few teams were able to endure. It was an 11-game season, 13 to win in it, and in the last game of the regular season we went to Jade Stadium and beat the Crusaders 17-12.

On reflection it was the worst win we could had.

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We made the fatal mistake of introducing new things to win that game as opposed to having the maturity to understand that the journey was not over and we had a final to play, likely against the Crusaders in a couple of weeks time. We adopted specific tactics for that game, a few changes around the scrum, a couple of attacking strategies where we had identified weaknesses in the Crusaders and were able to exploit them. They had no answers, then, but two weeks later it was a different story.

A couple of years later, chatting to Steve Hansen who was on the coaching team with the Crusaders, he said: 'You guys just made that classic mistake of going out and showing us your tricks, we were able to adapt and prepare for what was to come so that two weeks later in the final when we played you what you thought would work, no longer worked, because we were prepared'.

We weren't mature enough to understand that winning a game against the Crusaders in Christchurch was not nearly as important as winning the final a couple of weeks later.


As a result, we then prepared for the following season with the singular mentality of playing to win the final.

We knew we were good enough to hold a few things back and only release them if we made the finals. It was a calculated risk, but one we were on the right side of.  So we effectively built plans and trained and played for the opportunity that could be presented for us 13 weeks into the future in the final.

We realised that we didn't have a great kicking game the year before, so we spent the first few rounds of the season trying to embed a kicking game, understanding how to kick better, exits, rather than focusing on winning games, the season was there to prepare us for the finals. If we were to encounter a final in the snow, like we did in 2000, this year we would be ready.

Our attack and defence evolved and we had the luxury of trialing tactics in games which would serve us in different situation. We took confidence when in Round One of 2001 we put 50 points on the Crusaders and finished top of the table with a home semi and potential final.

We played the Reds in the semi-final, and beat them 33-6 and went into the final against the Sharks.

We knew the Sharks were fast starters, who scored 80% of their points in the first half. The plan was to contain them in the first half, play risk free rugby and field position and don’t let them accumulate points. At six-all going into half-time we knew the game was over and we ran away with it winning 36-6.

What’s the morale to this story? In-season games produce confirmation bias that does not serve teams well in finals.

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Looking at this weekend's final, it is a difficult one to call and very close. The Reds present a game on the up with performances improving week on week. The Brumbies have been precise, consistent and clinical.

The Brumbies since the start of the season, have probably been preparing for the finals, the Reds, by contrast, have been desperate to make it.

It's a slightly different mentality going into this weekend's final.

I would not be surprised to see the Brumbies deal with the Reds' threats, if they do what they have previously done, however with innovation and some tweaking the Reds could surprise if they have learned from the mistakes of others in years gone by.

It doesn't indicate which the way the result's going to go, but it wouldn't surprise me if the Brumbies stop this impressive young Reds group dead in their tracks. They say you have to lose one to win one, a year too early for the Reds perhaps?

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