- Former All Black utility back Bruce Reihana, who featured in two Tests, talks about New Zealand's strength in depth and bouncing back after World Cup heartbreak.
- The ex-Northampton Saints captain addresses the raft of South African players in the Gallagher Premiership and the implications it has on the local game in the UK.
- He also explains why he feels Owen Farrell got off lightly for his horror tackle on Charlie Atkinson of Wasps and how there has to be one rule for all going forward.
Sport24 asked: Your assessment of Super Rugby Aotearoa?
Bruce Reihana: New Zealand teams really do set the standards. I've been based in the UK for 19 years now and while the Gallagher Premiership is a good standard of play, the New Zealand players do so much work on their micro skills and what it takes to look really sharp. New Zealand have nailed that and compared to the Gallagher Premiership, the skill levels are higher. Some of the Premiership teams have shown some skill work as well, but a lot have looked very poor. New Zealand have always been ahead of the rest by developing higher skill-sets and basic fundamentals of the game, which makes them look pretty sharp... A player who caught the eye during Super Rugby Aotearoa was the Crusaders' utility back Will Jordan. He's young, has enthusiasm and got the ability and more. It's just whether the 22-year-old can be consistent now and claim that All Blacks spot. You can have the X-factor and all the ability to go with it, but you have to learn that control to take it to the next level.
Sport24 asked: Is coaching an avenue that appeals to you?
Bruce Reihana: Yeah, definitely. I have started a new business with a close friend of mine called RugbyLab. (RugbyLab is powered by a highly-skilled team who are passionate about helping young and aspiring rugby enthusiasts to achieve their potential through coaching clinics and camps).We are coaching and developing the youngsters and up skill them with drills. It's about getting a better pathway into the academies and systems above them. At the moment, I'm relishing doing my own stuff and coaching the kids has been great. I enjoy developing them and seeing how they can improve. It's about doing the basics right and tweaking a few things here and there. It's been really exciting to see where they can take it to. In terms of a return to the professional coaching realm, I will keep my options open. I was with Bordeaux Begles for two years as their skills and performance coach and had the same role with the Bristol Bears for three years. If another Premiership club or an overseas side were to come along and the option is right, I’ll definitely look at it and get back in there.
Sport24 asked: How would you reflect on your two-Test career?
Bruce Reihana: I made my Test debut against France in 2000 when the selectors gave Jonah Lomu a rest. Jonah was actually the one who presented me with my No 11 shirt. We were really good mates and I remember the moment clearly. He looked down at me and said, "Mate, congratulations on your first Test in this shirt and good luck!" As I was looking up at him I was thinking, "Yeah, thanks for that!" In terms of whether I could have played more Tests, I have reflected back many a times and wondered that. It's hard to say as sometimes being a utility player can work for you and sometimes it can't. Much of it depends on the coaches and what they think of certain players. At the time, I think my versatility helped me to reach international level. I was comfortable playing in different positions. I remember in 1999 I was in the New Zealand 'A' team and they asked me to play at No 10 and provide World Cup cover if there were any injuries. Carlos Spencer subsequently got injured and I got called over as a replacement 10. I ended up earning my two Test caps playing on the left wing. Could I have played more Tests? It was tough because there were so many greats back then in Lomu, Christian Cullen, Doug Howlett and the likes of Roger Randle and Joeli Vidiri, who were on the verge. Being a utility player helped get me there, but didn't keep me there.
Sport24 asked: Is the Rugby Championship viable for the Boks?
Bruce Reihana: I think the Springbok boys will be fine. What they achieved at the 2019 Rugby World Cup was something special. It was brewing for a while and then to finally put it together like they did was awesome. You can see that the Springboks have developed a true culture there and their skill-set and work-rate is very high. I know that their local teams haven't had any competitive action as yet, but I don't think there will be any issues with the South African boys in terms of getting back into a rhythm. In terms of what they have achieved there is going to be a lot of hype around the country. All the players are developing and coming through and should the Springboks compete in the Rugby Championship this term, I think they will be fine. During the World Cup, South Africa were dominant throughout the competition and when it was time to step up another level, they did. However, I thought they could have played a bit more in some of the games. I understand why they were very direct because they have a very big and powerful side to work with. Their tactic was also to play a lot of high balls and bully teams in-behind the gain line. It paid off, but South Africa definitely have the side to move the ball around more. They have some great centres who are big and strong coupled with some good skill-sets. They boast a No 10 who can create anything and wingers with speed to burn. I feel all options are definitely open, and if they can find a good mixture between the expansive game and the power game, they are going to be even more lethal because they have the players to do it.
Sport24 asked: Will the All Blacks come back with a vengeance?
Bruce Reihana: The All Blacks will definitely be looking in the mirror a lot. Them losing in the World Cup semi-final was a good thing for them. If you are expected to win or have one of the best chances of being number one and you don't achieve that feat, it hits your right in the face. In the long run, I think disappointment is going to be good for New Zealand rugby.
As a team, you assess what you could have done better and it normally comes down to the small details that can refine a team and make them stronger. Historically, New Zealand have been good at looking in the mirror, reflecting and getting back to what matters the most. Ahead of the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship, I think they will be smashing their detail and trying to make sure that they get it right. The next All Black-Springbok contest is going to be hugely anticipated and awesome to watch. Even when I was still in New Zealand, the toughest teams to play were the South Africans. I played 58 times for the Chiefs and you always knew that you were in for a formidable battle and really had to stand up physically.
Sport24 asked: Your assessment of John Mitchell's journey?
Bruce Reihana: When I didn't get selected again John Mitchell was at the helm of the All Blacks, but there are no hard feelings. He has had a massive coaching career. He did well in New Zealand, he's spent time coaching in South Africa, the US and now he's back in England. He's done a great job and he's obviously learned a lot. When you coach in various countries it makes you more aware of different ideas and options and it strengthens your toolbox in terms of what you can learn and pick up from certain places because everyone works differently. Mitchell has learned a lot from wherever he has been and now he's in a good spot with England. Having the likes of Eddie Jones and Mitchell in the coaching set-up adds strengths to the English game and what they do over here. From the style England have been playing, you can see that they have developed really well. England is a strong side and the Premiership is getting better and better. They will definitely be hurting from losing the World Cup final, but they will go back to the drawing board and work hard to get it right.
Sport24 asked: Your take on Owen Farrell’s five-game ban?
Bruce Reihana: I think Farrell has been quite a lucky boy several times. If there is one player who has been looked after a few times it's definitely him. They don't want to put Farrell away for too long because they need him. (The independent panel concluded that applying the off-field mitigating factors, the player was entitled to a reduction from 10 to five meaningful matches). Farrell's tackle technique has become a serious problem and we have seen a lot less serious tackles get punished for a lot longer. I don't understand why the officials aren't penalising him more harshly because he is on the world stage as well. He has to get it right and set the benchmark for everyone else. It comes back to the RFU and the independent panels they appoint have to make the correct decisions no matter who the player is. It's up to the powers that be to set a standard and marker. There has to be one rule for everybody otherwise others think they can bend the rules, but then get done worse.
Sport24 asked: What do you make of Sale’s tenth SA signing?
Bruce Reihana: It's great to strengthen your side with a lot of the South African boys and they have made a big difference. However, you have to look at the home talent and how many players go missing over here because of those spots being taken. Clubs have to be careful of not overloading with foreign players otherwise more and more home-grown players from that region will start missing out. However, on a personal front, during my playing time at Northampton Saints I was welcomed as a foreigner with open arms. I went with the mindset to earn my spot by training hard. It's about earning your jersey through actions rather than coming over with a big name on your back and expecting to be the man.