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Opinion

'Brave, happy but plodding': Old guys rule rugby, and the Wallabies need better ones

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Expert
10th November, 2021
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Frans Steyn is 34. He looks 43. He’s a wine barrel with legs. A mule stuck in a wine barrel. If a wine barrel mule could kick a penalty in driving rain from 54 metres.

He was Man of the Match (or Player of the Game) against Wales, having replaced the youngest Springbok (eleven years his junior) early in the Test.

Frans pulled the world’s slowest kick dummy, and bludgeoned Wales’ old guy, Jon “Fox” Davies (33). A mule beats a fox in rugby.

Frans has actually won a lot. He’s finished on the winning side in 55 of his 72 Tests. That’s All Black territory.

When he was interviewed by the Welsh commentator, and asked if it special to finally win in Cardiff, Frans smiled like the overgrown Tom Hardy he is, and noted: “I’ve never lost here.”

The team with the best old guys usually wins. (The exception is, as usual, in rugby and social science, France).

Wales didn’t have their old man. He might have played his very last match for Wales. That’s the thing about age. It can catch you.

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The gradual accumulation of wisdom is a gentle slope, interrupted by defeats, leading to an uncertain peak. That zenith is only known in retrospect.

The nadir is fast.

Suddenly Tom Brady will crumple in a 45-year old heap. Serena Williams will grunt, but her 42-year old body won’t shift.

The old triumvirate of Novak-Roger-Rafa will give way to young Greeks and Aussies.

It will seem like an instant, when Conor McGregor cannot take that next punch.

But just before, right before that, there was glory.

Johnny Sexton was clad in the magenta of a king in Dublin. And after scoring a try on his century, he was given a samurai sword by Lappies Labuschagne, the Japanese captain.

There are katanas still deadly made in the eighth century. Sexton will test himself and his sword against the Great Dane Coles (34) and his old, hairy mate Sam Whitelock, next. It won’t be Josh Lord who decides fate. The old lads will do it.

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Australia does not have old Quade Cooper at their disposal. He plays like an aging leopard. Instead they are led by a chunky old bunny. James O’Connor was a step slow on Sunday. He’s brave, he’s happy, he’s thirtysomething and also he’s plodding.

He plays so deep it throws the entire young backline into chaos.

Austrailia's James O'Connor in action during the Autumn Nations Series match between Scotland and Australia at BT Murrayfield, on Novermber 07, 2021, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Paul Devlin/SNS Group via Getty Images)

(Photo by Paul Devlin/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Stu Hogg and Finn Russell would be around JOC’s age at the next World Cup. Is that smart?

Willie le Roux will fight Father Time against the Scots this week. If he and Elton Jantjies want to take Frans to a 77 percent Test win rate, they’ll need to win the battle of the aging playmakers at cold Murrayfield.

Cool Courtney Lawes was MOTM, moving his old legs all the bloody time, and his same-age brethren Ben Youngs and Jamie George looked sharp, too.

France just doesn’t follow the rules. Their star last week was 22. Named Melvyn.

But in general, to tip well, figure out who the oldest players are (James Slipper stand up) and if they will still do their job, and how well, and you’ll have a good lead on results.

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My colleague Geoff Parkes reminds us not to fall prey to “recentism” when rating players. A corollary is to resist “new kid on the block-ism.”

The men in the autumn of their careers will win or lose the Autumn Nations series.

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