Rugby, capitalism and intellectual property: a structural analysis of the All Blacks loss to England in the World Cup semifinal


In the 2003 rugby World Cup when Australia defeated the All Blacks, losing coach John Mitchell was pilloried and humiliated. Local fans and journalists belittled his coaching ability and laughed at his new age vocabulary (the `journey` had ended with a thuddering halt). When Mitchell left New Zealand for an international coaching career there were no outpourings of sympathy , `good riddance` was the prevailing view. I wonder who is laughing now, privately at least. As England`s defence strategist  Mitchell  completely out thought the All Black coaching team. In and around the breakdowns the All Black forwards were either  driven into the turf or stopped from recycling the ball. The halfback and flyhalf were harried constantly and the centres were knocked over as soon as they received a pass. The wingers were bundled into touch and the fullback had little ball to run with. In short Smith, Mounga, Leniert-Brown, Goodhue, Reece, Bridge and the two  Barrett brothers in the backline were played out of the game by their counterparts – Youngs, Farrell, Ford, Tualigi, Watson, May and Daly. England had memorised every attacking ploy attempted by the All Blacks. Of course, losing lineouts and backpedalling in the scrum didn`t help New Zealand`s cause either –  Itoje, Lawes, Sinkler,Marler,Curry and Underhill were immense. However ,without the suffocating defensive system devised by Mitchell the All Blacks  might have counter- attacked their way to victory.

The lesson to be drawn is this – at the highest levels of professional sport, including rugby union, intellectual property cannot be secured indefinitely within national borders, plagiarism is rife. New Zealand coaching expertise is a major export and a key conduit for advancing the  global game ,especially among tier two countries. However, when this same expertise assists already powerful rivals the results of all – or-nothing knockout  games can be affected. Just as importantly, forensic video and psychological  analysis of the opposition`s previous victories can reel in a frontrunning team, the secrets of success can be identified and appropriated. To this end English coach Eddie Jones  developed a two step plan.  First, nullify the All Blacks` dynamic combination play between forwards and backs. Second, identify ,plagiarise  and rework the key components of past All Black success. An intimidating, ball winning forward pack – check- superlative fitness levels throughout the squad – check – triple threat attacking plays (running, passing, kicking) – check – implacable mental resilience – check –  a formidable pre-match challenge -check. We can see here why Eddie Jones was so gracious in victory, the All Blacks themselves provided the template for his triumph. 

So ,where does leave English rugby, in relation to the All Blacks? At the time of writing it’s a bit early to tell, the England – South Africa final is yet to be played.  I will though hazard an educated guess. At present this is the best England team I have seen. Nearly half of their players – forwards and backs – would make a world best team. The English rugby system is wealthy by international standards and the player base is large. Intellectual property and coaching expertise can be purchased easily and big, mobile, collision- winning forwards will be in ready supply. There is a problem though, the wealth and power of the English (and European) clubs will prevent England from establishing an All Black level  winning percentage away from home. The northern hemisphere club season is long and punishing for the players. Outside of World Cup`s and the Six nations some English players will be unavailable for the national team. In any case it is the major clubs that are most opposed to an international calendar competition (similar to that developed for test cricket). Yet, such a competition ,over time , could further strengthen the English team. 

Meanwhile, back in New Zealand, a different set of problems are apparent. Club teams and player numbers are dwindling ,especially in Auckland. Concentrations of  rugby talent  among wealthy secondary schools weakens the sport as a culture of participation. Even talented young  players  leave the game after high school  if they can`t get a contract or make an academy team. Of late, the best young adult performers are struggling internationally. At this years World under 20 tournament New Zealand finished seventh (down from fourth in 2018). At elite international  level  the All Blacks national contracting system remains a definite plus. It allows talent to be marshalled systematically because the NZRU ,provincial  unions and the super franchises can work together as a coherent brain for the national team. The departure of Steve Hansen though, constitutes a loss of institutional memory, a new way forward for the All Blacks must be developed. I`m with Laurie Mains when he says that any new coach must have experienced adversity in the process of building a successful team and team culture ( all the better if such an accomplishment can be demonstrated in New Zealand and  overseas).  In this respect Sonny Bill Williams is right about the need for a Maori and/or Pacifica  presence on the coaching staff. This would help to forge inter-cultural team cohesion and  give the haka a new gravitas against smirking opponents. Clearly, on these criteria, Jamie Joseph should be the next All Blacks coach, he has the mana and track record to do the job. However, if his coaching team is to rise above  the World  Cup semi -final loss to England they will need to be clear-eyed about the harsh realities of capitalism, professional rugby and intellectual property.


  1. I detest rugby and its macho, provincialist, cultural aspects. And have done since a school kid in the 60s, through the ’81 Tour as a member of Auckland Biko Squad, onto todays “role models” and their exploits during the professional era. NZ Rugby admin has always seemed a proxy branch of the NZ National Party–confirmed with a little investigation.

    However, intelligent writing like Wayne Hope’s remains most enjoyable. Sports psychology and strategies are indeed transferable across national boundaries. I just hope not too many women and kids have suffered as a result of the All Blacks recent demolition on the field.

    • The way of the black belt, young grass hopper. Do not be mean and hurt your opponent because they will not want to train with you and in turn you will not get better.

      From the outside looking in all martial arts which includes combat sports like rugby requires discipline and a didication that normal people do not understand. It’s not the on field antics that have made the All Blacks Brand a global brand: it’s all the off field stuff that has made the all Blacks so endearing to the international audience. The all Blacks have single handedly raised the profile of World Rugby; its that which makes New Zealand rugby players so hard and indomitable and ultimately desirable.

      The whole idea behind NZRU, it was actually a strategy of outgoing NZRU CEO Steve Tew to send players and coaches abroad on exchange programs to raise the level of ability amount the top tier nations because Tew knew that New Zealand could not compete on a dollar for dollar bases so to retain our own players and coaches in New Zealand we had to make their player and coaching systems better so that they would spend more money on there own players and coaches instead of pouching ours.

      I think that’s what Eddie Jones was implying when he mentioned that The All Blacks are the gods of rugby.

  2. This is what happens when your wrap too many players up in cotton wool. The pom weren’t just clinical they were physical and we showed we are soft.

  3. Jamie Joseph or former Chiefs coach Collin Cooper fit the bill of elevating brown players past there standing in society. Although Jamie Joseph has a better international record taking Japan to the quarters of RWC19.

    If there one coach that’s done more for New Zealand rugby it’s Grahem Henry. During Grahem Henry’s rein as All Blacks coach he brought players that would not have ordinarily been involved with All Blacks Rugby ironically from the Chiefs and Hoghlanders which where considered secound tier teams among NZ Super a Rugby at the time. Through Grahem Henry’s selection rotation policy Beaver, Aron Cruden, Liam Messam, Sione Luaki was able to gulf the learning gap that exist from Super Rugby to international level when other coaching systems may not have even bothered. What exists now is an obvious path for elevating Jamie Joseph to Rugby New Zealand’s top job.

    I do believe the Henry era selection rotation policy will have run its course. My biggest crotism of selection rotations is that it plays players out of position. Different positions on a rugby paddock have different rolls and functions to perform so when a player is asked to play in multiple positions you lose a bit of quality. England had 3 ball stealers while New Zealand had one (Ardie Savea) and when Ardie was played out of position several times his states went down. Arguably the All Blacks best player, Ardie has been dropped for the final third place game thus losing a bit of quality.

  4. Great article and not one that I would ever have thought I would read on The Daily Blog . . I can imagine a large percentage of this blog’s readership are horrified that anything to do with rugby is appearing on this blog.

    Re the loss to England it wasn’t long into the game before I started to wonder if England were on something (drugs) / whether this was a repeat of the famous 1986 “Battle of Nantes” test when the French played on amphetamines . . and especially so after seeing Itoje’s eyes (which to me seemed to strongly suggest he was on something).

    If my suspicions are wrong then that is the most commanding performance I think I have ever seen from certainly England and perhaps any rugby team ever including the All Blacks, however just interested if anyone else has the same suspicions.


    • Nah nah nah. Even if England was on the gear, drugs don’t make you that good. Drugs are just for aesthetics. Drugs can’t help you make the correct decisions at the correct times.

      All that was was repetition. Eddie Jones said in the list match conference that he trained England specifically for that semi finals against the all Blacks for 2 years and the All Blacks only trained for a week. And Eddie jones has doe. A lot of work on recovery training so England could get back to training quicker really up skill. That’s what you ah e to do to beat the All Blacks. All Blacks are born with a rugby ball in there hands so you have to match that dedication and indoctrination and time with a rugby ball in the players hands in order to beat the All Blacks.

  5. The arrogant insularity of most All Blacks’ supporters has deluded them/us into thinking our dominance will extend forever. Now the sleeping giant has awoken, our senior team could face the fate of the U20s. If we are to remain remain competitive, then we need more brilliant, clear-eyed analysis like this from the Hope. Great work.

  6. I don’t understand why the All Blacks were surprised.
    Eddie Jones had broadcast his strategy in clear terms for a long time.
    I don’t think the All Blacks coaches/management were listening.
    Hard not to get a bit arrogant with the ABs’ record but a World Cup is the pinnacle and when you’re #1 everyone is determined to take you down.
    They could have done with hiring Alex Ferguson for three months – a completely fresh dispassionate set of eyes that knows how to keep winning.

    • What the All Blacks is being asked to is ti do a lot more. They’re nit just being asked to play rugby. They’re being asked to be role models to kids and good fathers that make those other super stars come up through the ranks and what I mean by super star is to be greater than a Richie McCaw or Daniel Carter. New Zealand don’t have the the salary cap that France has. France spends the most on players rather than player development so that’s where NZRU has to grow the game in New Zealand through player development. It’s not enough anymore that NZRU receives 5 year olds we have to be implementing diet and raining regimes at that age so that the NZRU education can not be defeated.

      The All Blacks needs guys come through the ranks who just go for a run just for fun. So the model player for rising up the All Blacks level has to do more. I think players now a days have to do everything, they have to play hard on the defensive end as hard as they play offence. That’s why Iv got a problem with a player like Baden Barrette because he dominates the try scoring but he’s weak in key areas of a number 10 like goal kicking. A lot of guys don’t even know what there role is as a 10 or what ever there favourite position is. And we just focus on what they do for attack or defence. A new coaching system has to look at players off the field and give them reading material, first of all make sure they can read and write but even the current All Blacks don’t play to the level that we give them credit for.

      That’s why kiwis like a player like Richie McCaw or Daniel Carter because they go at the ball full force as hard as they do on the field as they do off the field and that is how to win the correct way.

  7. Really interesting analysis Wayne. I agree with e-clectic that there was some arrogance about the ABs, I saw it in the coaches and was critical over their selection of players, particularly for the England game.I disagree with you that Goodhue was intimidated by the English players. He was outstanding in attack and defence, keeping his cool while others around him were overwhelmed. Two polls back this view. The readers poll NZH run where the players are ranked, Goodhue came second after Savea. In the poll by NZH sports journalists, ranking all players in all World Cup games, Goodhue came first scoring a 9. But despite his game he was taken off early in the second half. I think a lot of people would share my disappointment in that decision and wonder what the coaches were thinking. (As an aside Goodhue played for Mt Albert Grammar, one of the best rugby playing schools in the country. The 2017 under 20s team that won the international competition by big margins in every game, had 4 players from Mt Albert when no other school had more one player in the team. As a state school, I am unsure how Mt Albert would measure up in terms of your points on funding). I also questioned the selection of players for the semi final, particularly in the backs. Ben Smith was not even on the bench. Despite having a powerful game against the Canadians, Rieko Ioane was left out of subsequent games except for the final one against Wales. I conclude the intelligence around planning for the England game was way behind that of the English coaches. The insights you give around this are intriguing Wayne. Thank you for a really good blog.

    • Sam, you make good points but need to correct some spelling: Grahem Henry = Graham Henry, Hoghlanders = Highlanders, Baden Barrette = Beauden Barrett

      • Well I don’t think we should be looking for an All Blacks win record and skill sets in the baby blacks or under 19/21 or high school teams. At that age they’re going to get out muscled. All that’s happening is introducing them to international rugby. I just don’t mind if they lose. No one learns anything by winning.

  8. My information on the superiority of the 2017 NZ under-20s challenged the view that the under-20s are passe. With South Africa’s big win over England last night perhaps you should also reconsider your statements around the dominance/superiority of England, Wayne. What a joy to watch Faf De Klerk’s brilliant play, he’s so good at anticipating play and puts himself where it counts (like Aaron Smith at his best). He played like that against the ABs in a recent test, and I think we would have lost if they hadn’t taken him off towards the end of the game – after that the ABs were able to increase their points.
    The Springbok captain’s victory speech was stunning and political, he spoke volumes on how rugby can transcend inequality/capitalism and political corruption, and be a catalyst for change.

    • The All Blacks thrashed The Bokke. England beat the All and The Bokke thrashed England. That’s rugby. Size probably dosnt play that big a role or though it’s not obvious from this tounament. It’s always good to have big players but putting on a few extra kgs dosnt help with passing and catching and making the correct decisions and these things aren’t always obvious. Y’know we make analysis they’re not running commentary. We can say oh the AllBlacks are looking strong this year and then ten minutes into a game some one has the all blacks number and there’s not a thing you can do in an 80 minute game to change the outcome.

      Rugby is a simple game. If you win the collision, scrum and line out then all those 50/50 calls go your way. It’s got nothing to do with mysticism or who’s the strongest. It’s just repetition and practice over and over and over.

    • Let me guess? It was about muh lay gap.

      Taking woman’s rugby professional would be the worst thing for woman’s rugby. They don’t get the consistent crowds. Hell not even Super Rugby gets crowds. At club level which is where woman’s rugby is you’ll have nice club rooms, manicured field. If they had to pay all the players they’d go bankrupt almost immediately. So woman’s rugby should be played for fun and then if you’ve really got the talent you can go and play for the national side and get payed.

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