The top pet peeves of rugby chat

Harry Jones Roar Guru

By , Harry Jones is a Roar Guru

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    Let’s whinge.

    We are all addicts of rugby chatter. But much of our time is spent in outrage. Triggers ignite us. Slander against our hometown hero. Unfair calumny levelled at a decent local coach we know too well. Cavalier dismissal of skill sets. Branding an entire nation as thuggish.

    Then there’s the hemispheric cockfights – “The South is done; the North is rising”. There’s ratings by position– “How can anyone ever ever ever even think Brodie Retallick is not the best lock in the history of rugby?”. And of corse there are the horse corpses beaten to death – “The skill level of the modern player is so pathetic; remember the good old days when props could spiral punt?”.

    Sometimes we rant just because the avatar of our antagonist is so infuriating.

    And then there’s the whole “Hooper is redefining rugby as we knew it” versus “Hooper has destroyed Australian forward play forever” debate, which is guaranteed to elicit 500 infuriating comments in a Down Under downward de-escalating furore of fervent provincial heat.

    “Did I say that?” The accused asks the accuser if he really said that Kurtley Beale cannot even make one tackle. “No, but you said he is the worst tackler in test rugby.” And then the accused asks: “Prove it.” And so on and so forth.

    But all irritating rugby banter can really be boiled down into ten annoying categories. Here’s the definitive list.

    1. Rating players without factoring in how easy or difficult their team’s fortunes make them look
    For instance, when Italian captain Sergio Parisse starts each test he is almost guaranteed to be the underdog. He ends nearly every match with a concession speech congratulating the team that beat him. Yet he is a truly great player. In a position where asserting your influence on a game is nigh impossible on the back foot. When we compare Billy Vunipola to Parisse, we have to imagine a team swap first. The same is true when we stack Gus Creevy to Dane Coles et cetera.

    (Photo by Tim Anger)

    2. Simplistic statistics
    Rugby is stat-poor. It’s not as statistically calibrated a code as cricket or baseball, where thousands of similar actions occur each week and can be measured by individual, speed, outcome, and variance. Rugby is a violent ballet with sweeping battalions and strangely wonderful synergies. One carry is so different from another. A negative carry by a number eight saving a decimated scrum is better for a team than a 20-metre carry which leads to an easy force-out to touch.

    Metres ‘gained’ is almost useless except if we compare the numbers between opponents in the same position and factor in gain line metrics, eventual outcomes (did they often get turned over by running into marooned islands?), the channel run-in, and tackle busts/line breaks per carry. A fullback can ‘gain’ 15 to 20 metres almost any time he wants when he catches a ball in his own 22, but it might be the most foolish decision of the game when he could force a kicking duel (yes, fans don’t like it) ending in a lineout for his own team at the opponent’s ten-metre line.

    3. Defending absurd selections on the basis that national coaches are privy to better data
    Come on. Coaches are human. Just listen to Warren Gatland’s soul-searching sad song about the Lions tour. Don’t think that coaches are unsentimental, ‘by the numbers only’ technocrats.

    Springbok coach Allister Coetzee has selected tighthead prop Ruan ‘the human plank’ Dreyer and porous Ghana-born wing Raymond ‘every opponent loves Raymond’ Rhule in test after test when every sentient observer can see that the penalised plank planks in almost every scrum and the merry matador has never seen a tackle he wants to make. We don’t need Scott Allen and Nicholas Bishop to convene a panel with intricate diagrammes; Dreyer and Rhule are club players with terminal test issues. I’ll leave poor young Ned Hanigan out of this discussion. Coaches are human, and they have favourites.

    4. You don’t lose matches because of missed kicks
    Well, yes, you do. And you also win football games with the foot. Ask Morne Steyn how he has so many Bok caps in his house.

    5. The fixation with referees
    Very few referees are actually trying to favour a team; some are unconsciously influenced by crowds and criticism. Most are focused maniacally on their jobs. Anyone who has actually been a referee knows that 80 minutes feels like 20 and that the sensory overload is immense. There will be an error rate. Some will consistently have more than others.

    If we want to make referees even greater celebrities, we should have World Rugby tabulate and publish the referee error rates. I will say right now that I bet the spectrum of high to low will be smaller than we think. Every boxer knows you must take the fight out of the judges’ hands. We make our own luck over a season, even if one or two games are poorly adjudicated.

    6. Claiming the Boks are big
    All the top teams can find similar-sized players within their country’s playing ranks or import them (a la Japan). There are at least 11 or 12 giants playing rugby in every nation. Can South Africa produce 25 really good and massive locks to play rugby around the world at any one time? Yes. Is that more than most? Yes, but only three or four make the game day 23.

    7. Nostalgia as a solution
    I’m like every other old guy: there are rugby moments fixed in my memory as sacred happenings when time stood still and the power and the glory and the majesty of this game we love crash into my heart of hearts. But give me a break! Time of ball-in-play was minuscule back in the day, knock-ons were rife, lineouts were a bloody mess, and each team carried mediocre amateurs who could barely do a few pull-ups and who ran out of puff on the way to the bar.

    The Southern Hemisphere game needs revenue, pure and simple. More money in player and coach hands, funding better welfare, easier choices to stay home, the best stadia in the world, and best-versus-best competitions. Yes, foolish expansion can hurt us if it is to the wrong outposts, but expand we must if we want 300-plus Saffas to return and all the best players from the islands and Australasia to fight iron-on-iron to take Super Rugby to an even higher, faster, more entertaining level.

    (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

    8. The World Rugby rankings system
    I just don’t get it. It seems hopelessly inaccurate at any fixed point. don’t have a solution. But I despise it.

    9. Any mention of Japan’s win over South Africa at Brighton.
    Enough said.

    10. Forgetting we are a band of brethren
    We’re all in love with the same breathlessly beautiful ball game – the sweeping movements, dashing courage, spinning flights, and brutal collisions. Sometimes we forget it.

    What do you find annoying, Roarers?