So there was I entranced with a brilliant Reds try just before half-time in their Super Rugby match against the Bulls when I said, spontaneously, to my wife: “I am feeling very sad that the Super Rugby season could be over.”
The comment was spontaneous because it blurted out before I even realised I was saying it.
But the sentiment reflected the way I was feeling about the way the commentary team, led by Tim Horan, was going on and on about the possibility that we were watching the last Super Rugby games for some time.
And suddenly I was swept with the feeling of sadness that a joy that I had taken for granted for over 20 years was suddenly being taken away from me and all the other rugby tragics.
That try was described by the Queensland Rugby Union media release this way: “A stunning team sequence gave Queensland their next try with nine sets of hands and a series of silky passes and offloads engineering a 40-metre break, before Isaac Lucas scored under the posts to finish the play. Bryce Hegarty again converted to bring the score to 17 – 14 at the half-time break.”
There was something miraculous about the way the Reds were totally out-played in the first 30 or so minutes of the match, conceding 17 unanswered points, before they stormed back with purposeful and often brilliant total rugby to score 41 unanswered points.
The floodgates really opened right after half-time when the Bulls secured the kick-off and opted for a box kick.
Again the Queensland Rugby Union match report has the story: “The Reds carried their momentum back on to the field. Lukhan Salakaia-Looto giving his the perfect start to the second stanza after a deft Taniela Tupou put the backrower over the line on the back of a Scott Malolua break. Hegarty missed the tough conversion attempt as Queensland secured their first lead on the match at 19 – 17 in the 42nd minute.”
I can’t understand why halfbacks resort to this stupid play. All the teams do it, even the well-coached Crusaders.
The halfbacks wait for what seems to be an eternity with their hands poised to grab the ball. They look up at the opposition and then down again at the ground. Like a fussy shepherd they then muster a line of defenders around the ruck.
Another look is taken down field, as if to make sure that the catchers are in place to receive the kick. A feint to attract a penalty is made. Then, almost reluctantly, like a dentist extracting a tooth, the ball is finally taken from the ruck.
What happens almost invariably is that the opposition catch the box kick and launch an attack.
In the case of the Reds when the box kick was booted to them, they proceeded to inflict the maximum pain with a runaway try that gave them the lead which was built steadily throughout the second half.
Just one other point about the Reds performance as the comeback kids and that is to praise the leadership skills of their young captain, Liam Wright.
It was Wright who scored the first try for the Reds, his third for the season, from a short range burrowing, hard-shouldered drive through a mass (the most appropriate word for the defenders) of Bulls lined up to protect the try line.
And it was Wright, too, shortly before this who stopped the Bulls flier Rosko Speckman who was about to plant the ball over the Reds line before the Reds captain virtually cartwheeled to the ground.
If ever one play ever won a match, this was it.
If Speckman had scored it is doubtful if the Reds could ever have managed their devastating (for the Bulls) and brilliant comeback victory.
I know that experts like Paul Cully can’t see past Michael Hooper as the starting openside flanker and captain of the Wallabies. But I disagree. The class of Rugby World Cup 2019, except for a couple of players, has to be dismissed.
One of those players for the discard box should be Hooper.
Wright is a better number 7 right now than Hooper. And he is a better captain, as well.
Moreover, he comes without all the baggage that Hooper brings to the captaincy, too, from the Cheika years.
Will Dave Rennie and Scott Johnson have the guts to make this tough but necessary decision?
Getting back now to that plaintive call out to my wife, I think I was suddenly overcome by the thought that this seventh round of Super Rugby might be the last for the year.
This melancholy prospect was in vivid contrast to the sensational matches that had already been played in the round starting with the vibrant Hurricanes 27-24 Chiefs match, the Blues (finally) over-powering the Lions 43-10: and the Crusaders (also finally) demolishing the stubborn Sunwolves 49-14.
The memory of these terrific matches and the prospect of the Reds pulling off a seemingly unlikely victory just hit me in the heart.
I realised that I had taken for granted the superb entertainment that Super Rugby provides and that in a troubling time of uncertain outcomes, both personal and national, I was going to be without the anchor of watching, thinking and writing about the rugby issues arising each week from games played in four countries.
The globalisation factor is the great attraction of Super Rugby.
Those of us of a certain (probably now uncertain age) grew up, as I did in New Zealand, treating rugby players from South Africa giants, figures of awe and fear, and from Australia as (mainly) blonde speedsters with ball skills of magicians.
Now we can see the South Africans, with their super-talented stars, the New Zealanders, the Argentinians and the locals from Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane every week.
One hand giveth and the other hand taketh away.
Globalisation is the great strength of Super Rugby and it is globalisation that is the great weakness of Super Rugby right now.
SANZAAR issued a statement ‘Suspension of Rugby Rugby 2020’ on Saturday expressing this very point.
The statement started by pointing out that the New Zealand Government’s decision that all returning travellers to New Zealand will have to ‘self-isolate for 14 days,’ including Super Rugby players, gave SANZAAR ‘no option but to suspend the 2020 Super Rugby tournament … for the foreseeable future.’
There was the slight glimmer of hope expressed towards the end of the text: ‘SANZAAR will also remain engaged with its shareholders and will continue to explore avenues to see if we can keep the rugby product alive in our core markets, with the possibility to be in a position to be in a position to resume the tournament if all possible in future weeks. We have currently played seven rounds out of the 18 in the normal regular season.’
What happens in the future is unknowable right now.
Perhaps a truncated Super Rugby season with the finals might be possible before the June Tests, if these Tests are even played.
Or the club rugby season season can be started up in Australia and provincial rugby played in South Africa and New Zealand.
Right now, though, what we have are memories of some sensational play by the Reds and as a final reminder of Super Rugby excitement a sensational try scored by Tom Banks for the Brumbies in the last play of their massacre of the Waratahs.
It was as if the Reds and the Brumbies were saying if this is it for a while let’s end with a bang and not a whimper…