Expert Witness: Nick Easter’s inside track on Worcester Warriors’ woes and predictions for Round Three of the Rugby Championship

·8-min read
 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

After a week’s break, the Rugby Championship returns to our screens once again as New Zealand host Argentina while South Africa visit Australia.

We are joined by former England back-row and Worcester Warriors assistant coach Nick Easter, a man who’s had his fair share of ups and downs in the last week or so.

Resilience

“Firstly, as a regular contributor to Expert Witness, I wanted just to comment openly on some of the recent events at my club Worcester and also to thank all the great people of rugby who have been sending messages of support to all of the players and staff,” Easter said.

“It’s been a really tough ride, that I’ll admit. I took the job at Warriors because of the latent potential within that club – the facilities are amongst the very best in the Premiership, the fan base is loyal and has been with the club since Cecil Duckworth’s time and through thick and thin. We have a solid group of players that I believe can improve and succeed within the top flight and I felt that Steve Diamond’s direct and no-nonsense approach was absolutely the right one to get the best out of these lads. It also allowed me an advancement as a coach, taking on the role of defence, forwards and breakdown under Dimes.

“During the last week as the news broke, I was moving house locally to the ground after three years in Newcastle. To be moving my family including two kids under the age of three, trying to complete on a property purchase and have all of this disruption as a backdrop has been one of the most stressful periods of my life. I know it’s been the same for some other members of the coaching and playing staff. It’s pretty unsettling and very frustrating to be moving whilst trying to track your financial and professional future on Twitter as you’re surrounded by your life in cardboard boxes and as speculation and in most cases, misinformation, abounds.

“I cannot and will not speculate on the future structure of the club nor on the historic position that the club has found itself in – that is not within my purview and it’s something I can’t really influence. But what I do want to say is that in all professional rugby environments it’s your experiences together that bond you as a group – and the sheer commitment and resilience the players have demonstrated will stay with them for a long time and could very well be the making of some of them.

“Despite the uncertainty we’ve had some great training sessions – full attendance, full enthusiasm and full on grit. We’ve found unity in adversity and we will be a stronger and more effective group of players as a result and we continue to do that, because playing rugby is what we want to do. You either stand up and look adversity in the face or you wither and die – and our lads have done everything they could have done and more. In short, I am immensely proud of them.

“I know that everyone is committed to finding a solution that allows Premiership rugby at Sixways this season and I can assure you that when that happens the players staff and coaches will respond in the only way we know how – by offering absolute commitment to each other and the loyal fanbase that Worcester have built over the years,” concluded Easter.

All Blacks and Pumas

“Moving on to more upbeat things, I have absolutely loved tracking this year’s Rugby Championship, a competition that’s really open in 2022. I want also to commend Argentina who absolutely deserve their place at the top of the table and have shown just what a powerful and skilful side they are. People are mentioning improvement but this journey started at the 2015 Rugby World Cup – where they thrashed an Irish side 43-20 in the quarter-finals and got within two tries of a World Cup final in the semis.

“They have been working consistently on their skill and handling levels – long gone are the days of caricature 10 man rugby from Los Pumas; their backline are some of the most talented ball handlers around and crucially, they’re brilliant at attacking/supporting both sides of the carrier, as witnessed in the first Pablo Matera try against the Wallabies in the first Test in Mendoza – a match that they might well considered was refereed away from them.

“I have been immensely impressed by young Thomas Gallo, the loosehead prop. If you go back two years to the World Rugby U20 Championship, Gallo was running in tries for fun, including one fantastic 70-metre effort against France where he outpaced all the cover defence to crash over in a run that might have him disbarred from the front-row union!

“New Zealand’s win against South Africa in Johannesburg showed just how good coaching can make a difference and just how much Jason Ryan’s attention to detail has improved them in two short weeks. Their focus was getting their defence rushing from David Havili and Sam Cane in the 12 channel and playing to one system – a ball watching blitz rather than the mixed hybrid that wasn’t working previously.

“Ryan and the New Zealand lineout clearly also did a lot of work in nullifying the Springbok lineout and maul, their most potent weapon. Scott Barrett’s lightness allowed him to be lifted to attack and poach at the front, whilst Sam Whitelock put in his best display at Test level for a long time. With Richie Mo’unga now nailing down the 10 shirt and – with Havili – offering control and direction at 10, we are now seeing an All Black side worthy of the mantle they hold within the game.

“It’s going to be an uphill battle for Los Pumas but they have the forwards to compete and they are scoring a bag load of tries from all 15 positions. I can’t see it going anything other than with the home side, but Argentina will push them all the way in what could be a quite high scoring match.

Wallabies and Springboks

“South Africa’s selection policies continue to amaze me, I have to say!” quipped Easter.

“One of their best ever performances at Nelspruit was followed by a defeat in Johannesburg but one where their attack actually started to function. With Damian Willemse at 12, the great Lukhanyo Am on the wing and the brilliance of Willie le Roux at full-back, they played with width, passing brilliance and pace. Only a couple of technical offences prevented some of those moves coming to point-scoring fruition and I have to say I was really impressed with how that trio combined to fire some seriously heavyweight shots at New Zealand.

“I expected to see perhaps Willemse at 12, Am at 13 and Willie at 15 in a bid to really get some bite into attack but no! We see the rather perplexing recall of Frans Steyn at the age of 35 to the bench, someone I played against in a Rugby World Cup final in 2007, with Le Roux dropped altogether. I simply don’t understand why, given the amount of dominance that South Africa can get up front, that they don’t value their broken field runners a little more than they do.

“In the forwards, I can assure you every opposition coach in the world breathes a sigh of relief when they see Malcolm Marx and Steven Kitshoff are not starting. In cricket there’s an old captaincy adage which says ‘do what your opponents least want you to do’ and I cannot help but feel that the Boks are doing precisely what their opponents most want them to do when they adopt this strategy.

“However, against the Wallabies, they have enough firepower to absolutely obliterate this version of Australia. I have rarely seen an Aussie side so ravaged by injury and a lack of young talent other than Noah Lolesio coming through at fly-half is a mark of their issues at the moment.

“The Wallabies are playing scrappy unstructured rugby without any form of real platform. Remember, a year or so ago, they dismantled the Springboks in the corresponding fixture, but right now, they’re a side teetering on the verge of disarray.

“The bright spots have been the form of Rob Valetini at eight and of course, Nic White. But against the very best I cannot see one area of the set-piece, defence or broken play where they have an edge on the Springboks. It’s a rough time for Dave Rennie and one where he really doesn’t have the squad depth to change very much, so it’s a case of hold on for the ride and try and get something out of the adversarial position they find themselves in.

“With their only hope being home advantage and the support of the Adelaide crowd, Australia will fight as they always do, but I can’t see this being anything other than a thumping win for South Africa.”

READ MORE: All Blacks: David Havili excited by blossoming centre partnership with Rieko Ioane

The article Expert Witness: Nick Easter’s inside track on Worcester Warriors’ woes and predictions for Round Three of the Rugby Championship appeared first on Planetrugby.com.