Monday, October 8, 2007

Coulda Shoulda Woulda

Watch the various Rugby commentators squeal with outrage as the All Blacks plummet from their smug pedastal, toppled once again by the pesky French.

It was 1999 all over again and those of us for whom Rugby is not a religion could not help but derive a little satisfaction that this over-hyped, over-sold, sport's bone-crunching collision with the up-right face of reality.

For the fact is that the All Blacks were not running rings around the French. At no stage did that game look like a walk-over stymied by biased refereeing. The fact was the French were:
a. not cowered by the All Blacks
b. ready to play a hard forward game to meet the All Black onslaught
c. not giving up possession with stupid blunders
d. fresh when our boys were exhausted

All of this points to some pretty stupid strategic decision-making. The French had reserves with punch at the end of the match, just like they did in 1999. The All Blacks looked tired, lumbering and hesitant. Again. The French had weathered their forward assault and after that the All Blacks were out of ideas. The dazzling, non-stop set-plays which won the Cup in 1987 were no-where to be seen.

The fact is the Southern hemisphere teams spend far too much time in front of the Super-14 mirror. They pout, they ponce, they sign the deals. In the Northern hemisphere they just focus on the World Cup and then they win it. We don't see their best teams because they only send out reconnaissance teams between Cups. That gives them loads of information and denies us any.

And while the games commentators (all of whom profit from the All Black mystique) may call for the sacking of Graham Henry and want inquiries, the real problem is indemic in the sport as an industry. For the fact is rugby is selling machismo not performance. Look at the ads. Chest beating, hairy-chested nonsense. Me tough All Black, you wimpy froggy. Well, serves you bloody right.

What our national game really needs is a serious kick up the arse from a major sponsor or two. One who says ' you're a pack of bloody losers, come back when you have something to show for it other than your high opinion of yourselves.' Then we might see the humility, the hunger, the intelligence, the imagination and the tenacity which made us proud in 1987.

In Rugby as in war, winning requires:
1. A team that has practised and practised and practised together for years
2. More new tricks and manoevers than the opposition can deal with
3. In-depth tactics for the whole duration of the match, not just the beginning.
4. Excellent intelligence on the opposition's strengths, weaknesses and probable approach

Rugby deserves this lesson in humility. If it doesn't learn it this time, it sure will, in front of a home crowd in 2011. And that will be even more painful.

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