It is quite a while since I have written anything about Rugby Union but having spent the weekend watching the Rugby World Cup quarter finals I felt I needed to add my views to the firmament. The first thing to say is that all the winging from some of the Scotland fans is really pointless. The ref may have made an error at the last moment that awarded the Australians the penalty. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story – for example if Foley had been wearing his kicking boots then the game would have been dead and buried. Equally if you look at the game stats the Australians were the better side in every aspect apart from the scrum and so we can go on. In the end they won and you have to get over it – which of course is easy to say if you haven’t got so much invested in the losing team who on their day were miles, no make that leagues, better than the sorry waste of space that was the England team.
So even in a tight game the southern hemisphere team was better on the day which brings me to the overriding impression of this world cup – the northern hemisphere countries are simply not up to playing rugby to the standards of the southern hemisphere. The most complete example of this of course is New Zealand who demonstrated a brand of total rugby against France on Saturday that was unbelievable. Perhaps the exemplar of this was the try scored by Brodie Retallick – a lock charging down a kick and then sprinting on to take the ball and score. This was an example of the ball handing displayed by all the members of the team.
Paul Ackford in today’s Times suggests that the root of all the problems is that the style of rugby played in the northern hemisphere is stale and old fashioned. Yes the money might be there but none of the cutting edge game play which has been shown by New Zealand et al (and I include Argentina in this). Whenever I watched England in this competition they have appeared to be slow and ponderous with no real idea how to use the ball when compared to the more agile teams they have faced.
Ackford suggests that to blame the players for lack of commitment is ‘…the work of a scoundrel…’ and there may be an element of truth in that but who else is there? He points out that some of the best coaches are employed by the northern hemisphere (all from the southern hemisphere by the way) yet they can’t turn the situation around. In short when push comes to shove the northern hemisphere players were nowhere – and I include the Scots players in that.
I doubt that anything meaningful will be learnt from this and by the time the six nations comes around we’ll see the same blood and bluster rugby being played over and over again. Then next year when the autumn tours come along we’ll be left wondering why our best just look like dunces compared to the fluent ball handling and decision making on display from down under.
One final thing to admit is that I don’t have the first clue how this can be changed and I suspect that is exactly the same position that the great and good of the game up here in the north feel. One final final thing – just because you have more money than anyone else doesn’t mean anything in the world of sports – just ask the RFU – who have contrived to produce one of the worst English teams in modern history whilst at the same time have seen their coffers overflowing. Enough said I think.