A Tale of Two Rugbys
It was the best of games, it was the worst of games, it was a game of nous, it was a game of baffling drudgery.
It wasn’t a dark and stormy night. I’m in Thailand and it was a balmy 32 degrees.
I do have Setanta on cable though which is, quite luckily, 24/7 rugby. Both the England v All Blacks game and the Wallabies last tour match against Wales were being shown, oh, the joy!
One small gripe, the England game was live and the Wallabies replayed directly after, but, better than nothing and I had supplies enough to last the night.
Fridge fully stocked with of Thailand’s finest ales I settled in for an enjoyable night of rugby. What I was served up with was dour, bland, boring mush. Dinner over, and the cook thoroughly chastised for a poor attempt at lasagne, I sat myself down in front of the telly and prepared for the night’s entertainment.
On the back of two close losses to the number two and three ranked teams the young English side did not disappoint. They gave an early scare by fronting up for the anthem in Barney jackets, but mercifully shed them to reveal their proper kit.
They pushed hard, they ran hard, running angles and hitting gaps in a weakened All Black line. Apart from an exciting 10 minutes after half time the All Blacks, showing age, the strain of a long season, and a nasty stomach bug, had no answer to this outright aggression and gave up a record losing margin in an enthralling game.
Now for the Main Event. The Wallabies farewelling Nathan Sharpe against a weakened Wales struggling to find players to fill positions. Surely this would be the game that would send the message that fast, inventive, running rugby is not dead in Camp Wallaby.
What better way to see out a retiring trooper than with a dragon slaying try-fest. After all, we had beaten a stronger Welsh side in our last three meetings.
A few early kicking duels to no good effect, A missed penalty that a more aggressive team may have opted to send into touch. At the 10 minute mark I took stock. Despite having nearly all the possession we had done nothing.
Nada, zip zilch. Kurtley at 10 is serviceable, but he has no plan. More importantly the rest of the back line has little idea of what he is going to do. We dominated the line outs and the breakdown but could not find it in us to attack.
Wales saw this and the next 60 minutes were a rerun of dinner, boring, dour and bland kick happy rugby that Wales was definitely getting the better of. Despite injuries forcing a very odd team indeed with four opensides on at one point, the Welsh were not only holding us out, it was they who were breaking lines and threatening.
The only scoring plays were 50m penalties. We did not once look like threatening the Welsh line.
I briefly tried to liven myself up with a impromptu drinking game, the rules were simple: every time we kicked away possession I would finish my drink. It was soon clear that not even a prodigious thirst brought on by being in tropical paradise with not much to do could keep up with that and I soon fell by the wayside.
Our centres won’t offload or pass. Neither do our wingers on the rare occasion they get the ball with space. Where are the patterns? Where are the set piece attacks that they must surely train and drill endlessly until the movements are instinctive?
And Phipps, yes he gives fast service, but with the five second rule everyone is giving fast service now. The service he gives is like a fast food chain, not much waiting but what your end up with is crap. Big loopy slow passes that the runners have to both break step and take high, ensuring they have the wrong body position and no momentum into contact.
Contrast this with the snappy, waist high gain line passes that were a hallmark of England’s earlier effort. Beale and Barnes both kicked the leather off the ball for usually little effect. Too few kicks found touch and too many formed the basis of a Welsh counter.
Yes we won the game, with a final lucky break and a dodgy pass in the dying seconds that would not have been called in other circumstances.
Is this what a million dollars a year of senior coach delivers? Schoolboy errors and a totally ineffective style of play? What exactly are we getting for our money? For that much money, couldn’t find time to teach them how to pass, how to take a high ball, run a few drills perhaps? Expert soldiers train simple tasks incessantly, ensuring that when needed, the skill will come into play.
Sharp took and missed the conversion, a move fitting but no doubt infuriating punters everywhere, closing a hard fought career with a highlight reel where the last year is all rubbish.
As I waited for the conversion a single thought clattered up through the pile of empty Thailand’s finest that surrounded me: ”Time Gentlemen, time.”
To assist him on his departure,I have taken the liberty of writing his farewell speech.
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
You’re welcome Robbie.