by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
Scott Compton has been there and done that in world rugby. Compton, a New Zealander by birth and naturalized U.S. citizen has recently called full time on his tenure as the media manager with the famous All Blacks. All told, Scott was involved in 50 test matches, including the 2005 British Lions Test Series and the 2007 Rugby World Cup. He concluded his service to the All Blacks after they were victorious in the final, Series deciding match of the 2008 Tri Nations played in Brisbane Australia.
Prior to his being hired by Graham Henry to head up the team’s media, Scott was USA Rugby’s National Team Director during the most successful period the Test and Sevens team has ever experienced. There are very few people, if any, who have been intimately involved in two different World Cup campaigns with two entirely different nations.
I sat down with Scott the other day and asked him a few questions regarding his time with the mighty All Blacks.
Billups – You witness hundreds of training sessions being conducted by the All Blacks, is there really such a thing as “All Black Magic”?
Compton - I see more similarities than differences between All Blacks training and what other teams do at the international or even club level. Everyone’s running around the same track, and trying to go as fast as they can. And for the most part, we are all doing the same things to try to go faster; training, strength and conditioning work, rehab, video analysis. It’s all the same tasks that you would do with your club team or college team or high school team here in the States.
To give a really simple example, in the gym most of what the All Blacks do is exactly what any rugby player would do. There are no secret special exercises - a bench press is a bench press. The big difference is that the athletes who play for the All Blacks have the time to work at it over a number of years and what we see are the results from all that time and focus.
When you’ve worked hard at all the parts, what happens on the field can appear magical, but it’s based on the same simple building blocks that any rugby team uses.
Billups – There are plenty of U.S. domestic clubs and teams that want to mimic or replicate the All Blacks. Some copy backline moves they have seen the team run, while others perform a version of the haka prior to matches. What could teams do to most accurately copy the men wearing the Silver Fern?
Again, All Blacks training looks a lot like any rugby team’s training. It’s usually about two hours, with skills work, unit work and a team run. One difference may be the amount of focus on fundamental skills. Most All Blacks trainings end with a 20 minute period of individual skill work, for example. That’s time when each player decides what he needs to work on and then just gets busy – it might be a series of passing drills, executing a drop punt, receiving a high ball, lifting technique – whatever it is, every player takes responsibility to work on it and is really focused for 20 minutes.
I’d encourage any team to copy the attention to skills. I think here in the States we sometimes tend to play a loose game of touch for a warm up and maybe goof off at the end of training. We’re practicing bad habits instead of good ones. When you’re only training twice a week, it is probably even more important to work hard on those fundamentals.
Billups – Scott, what an experience it must have been to be so closely involved with such a successful test team, what is one of your favorite memories?
It was always a real privilege to see the team at work, but what comes to mind given what we’ve been talking about was a World Cup match against Italy last year. The All Blacks were absolutely in the zone for the first 20 minutes.
Whatever your sport, you’re always chasing the perfect game and it’s a pretty special feeling when you get close to it – I got a huge thrill out of that game and I was just watching. I don’t remember a mistake in the opening quarter; every pass, every kick, every line out throw, every skill was executed exactly right. It wasn’t the most physical Test and it wasn’t close on the scoreboard and it’s probably not one that they’ll ever write books about, but it sticks in my mind. It was all those parts we’ve been talking about coming together in a very startling way. I got great pleasure out of seeing all that work translate into this sustained excellence. That was magical for me.
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand (Bay of Plenty), the U.S. (The Old Blues), England (London Harlequins), and Wales (Pontypridd) for domestic teams as well as representing the U.S.A. at international tournaments with the Eagles. After hanging up his boots, Billups got into coaching leading the Eagles and now with University of California – Berkeley. Read the entire bio of Tom Billups as well as Billups first column My Rugby Path and then check out what Billups is saying about the game of rugby in The Billups Column on Rugby Rugby.
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