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Opinion

Is winning boring? Is the rolling maul dead? Tate McDermott? Plaintive pleas from a green-gold couch

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17th September, 2021
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And so to Brisbane and Boks II: Revenge of The Boks, who surely can’t be beaten again, can they?

They are of course world champions while the Wallabies were recently ranked the seventh best international rugby team on the World Rugby standings.

And yet, who will win, nobody knows, not for sure. The weight of betting money leans to South Africa. But the Wallabies, our dear sweet Wallabies, for reasons I don’t absolutely understand but readily accept, don’t have the same mental thing playing South Africa as they do playing New Zealand.

And that’s what it is: a thing. It’s just one of those things. One of those things that just are.

Anyway.

The rolling maul is a thing, too, and there are calls from well meaning people to outlaw it.

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I am not one of those people. I like it. I’m not touching the rolling maul. I think it’s a pure and good part of the game, a skilful, manifold organism that’s a link with the game’s origins when the populations of entire villages in England wrestled one another to move a bit of pigskin from one pub to another, or something, whatever those hundreds of mad bastards do on the telly when they’re not charging down hills after tumbling wheels of cheese.

Anyway, I like the rolling maul. They could maybe tweak the laws such that if you’re not going forward then the ball is given to the other team for a free kick. Give the defending maul a reward for fighting it. Use it or lose it, as they say.

Because if we remove the maggoty old rolling maul the game’s another step closer to… don’t say it out loud… rugby league.

Which brings us completely free of segue to Tate McDermott.

Tate McDermott in front of his home supporters

(Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images for Rugby Australia)

Tate McDermott has been picked on the bench for Saturday’s Test match. And I would like to say: What? Hello? No! David Rennie, what have you done?

Now, look, Dave. Dave-o: I like Nic White. Like him a lot. Like him more and more.

But no! You start Tate McDermott! You want to reward the players who took down South Africa last weekend?

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Tate McDermott was one of them! Start him!

Dave-o! Answer me, you madman!

Or don’t and give the nine to Mr White for was it not him that pilfered the pill and won a penalty at the very death that Quade Cooper – Quade Cooper! – banged over from 45 metres out to win the Test match last Sunday night?

It was indeed. And it begat the cracking vision of kneeling Taniela Tupou, who looked to the heavens while everyone else was leaping on Quade Cooper (Quade Cooper!).

For there was our Tongan Thor – who’d just played the mother of all parts in the mother of all scrums that pushed the Springboks’ heads up their very jacksies – having a brief moment to himself as the win washed over him.

Very cool indeed.

Taniela Tupou of the Wallabies makes a break

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

It was a bit like Michael Foley, who was on the bench when John Eales won the Bledisloe Cup with a penalty goal in 2001. But Foley looked bloody miserable. They asked him about it later and he said it was just relief. All the built-up angst falling off him. He was so happy not to be sad he looked miserable.

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That’s happy when the joy is so intense that you look bloody miserable.

Anyway. It was great stuff. We can watch these people go around so often that we can see them only as professionals, as muscle-bound automatons, as actors in our weekly entertainments. But they are but men and they feel and they love and they hurt. And some of them, true story, give less of a shit.

It’s a rich tapestry.

And good luck to them.

And good luck to our Wallabies, too, because I fear they will need a bit on Saturday night in Brisbane because the Springboks – and do please channel your best Tony Greig – are smart and hard and fast bastards, and proud people who are led by a top man.

I do love their skipper, Siya Kilosi. Cracker of a player. Real presence about him. And his heartfelt quotes following the loss to the Wallabies, he’s clearly a good man.

“They took every opportunity they were given, so well done to them,” Kolisi said. “They always pitch up when we play them, and it’s always difficult to play them here.”

Siya Kolisi

(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Maybe it’s like having your tummy rubbed. But he’s clearly a good fellah and one to be proud of, both in South Africa and in rugby.

But his team are big bunch of bores.

Not Boers. Not boors. Bores. In that they play boring rugby.

Did you know “the Springboks made just 54 passes in their 28-26 Rugby Championship loss on the Gold Coast last Sunday, compared to Australia’s 129”, according to rugby statistician Russ Petty, who was quoted by AAP?

In a game that lasts 4800 seconds, there were only 54 passes?

It doesn’t sound possible. How does the ball get from the halfback to the back line if not passed a time or two?

It is hard to argue that the game plan hasn’t been effective, of course, given they beat the British and Irish Lions and won the Rugby World Cup.

Siya Kolisi

(Juan Jose Gasparini/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

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But y’know, I’ve found myself nodding along to Clive Woodward who declared that “positive, imaginative, attacking rugby is the way forward generally”.

“I looked on in horror last weekend at the sheer poverty and boredom from the South Africa team against Australia. Rugby was not — and is not — meant to be played like that and I’m just pleased Australia won,” Woodward wrote.

I particularly liked this bit: “The ball must always be your friend, not a ticking time bomb. What is the point of neutralising your best players, kicking the leather off the ball all day?

“I’d love to sit down with the South Africa team and ask them, ‘Do you really enjoy playing this way?’”

It beats losing, I would suggest. And they don’t tend to do a lot of that.

And thus, Saturday night in Bris Vegas looms large for South Africa indeed.

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