Tuesday, October 23, 2007

RWC 2007 Final: A cure for insomnia

Oh, I saw the final, all right - just like I watched every single minute of all 48 World Cup matches - and oh!, I'll have plenty more to say in the coming days weeks months (oy, my aching head!).

But why waste time when Peter Bills, chief rugby correspondent for Independent News & Media in London, gets right to the point:

England were brave and courageous, South Africa disciplined and dedicated to defence. So was this a World Cup final to put before the planet via global television? You must be joking.

What South Africa and England churned out in Paris was - in a technical sense - poor, unadventurous, defensive-minded rugby, littered with aimless kicking.

But this isn't rugby as we know it. Nor is it the rugby most people want to see played now or in the future. [...]

We are surely entitled to ask not only what that tells us about the Springboks' approach, but also about what is wrong with the modern game. Do people pay anything up to 1000 euros ($1925) or more to watch a match of penalty goals, as well as interminable kicking up in the air?

This was one of the most boring Rugby World Cup finals in history. Neither side wanted to risk anything; consequently, they kicked the ball away and invited the opposition to make mistakes with it.

England did, conceding five penalties in the first hour that were all translated into points. Those acts of transgression decided the game.

And that was all it took to win the trophy. No attacking-minded play, no inventiveness, little skill behind the scrum, scant originality in the play.

The formula was dire and depressing
. Only England's Mathew Tait offered a glimpse of back-line creativity and cunning.

So is this what rugby has come to, circa 2007? Is all that matters the fact that World Cup officials can sanction outrageous sums for tickets to the final, demand 15 euros ($29) for a programme and 30 euros ($58) for a couple of bags of fries and two beers? Just a cynical exercise in how to fleece the public? Never mind the product; sure, that's garbage and we all know that. But throw in a few fireworks after 80 minutes of mind-numbing boredom and hope the pundits will go home happy.

The fools might have done; any with a brain would have known that what they saw was complete rubbish.

About 12 months ago, All Blacks coach Graham Henry told me frankly "If winning a World Cup means we have to play defensive rugby, we have to kick the ball away and not play, then I'd rather not win it."

I have to tell you this: I believe Henry was dead right. Why would you want to win a World Cup playing no rugby, focusing entirely on defence and keeping the other lot out?

If this is what it takes to win a World Cup, New Zealand is better off without the tarnished trophy.

This glittering World Cup is no trophy of excellence. It's been dumbed down to a trophy of the basics ... who can deny longest, who can strangle the opposition, who can stop opponents playing, who can force mistakes from their rivals? That is what is required to win a World Cup in the modern game and New Zealand rugby is better off without such a devalued ambition.

New Zealand got a lot wrong in their campaign, but playing no rugby, kicking the ball up in the air and just trying to keep out the other lot, were not their failings.

This once-great game is at a crossroads, post the 2007 World Cup. Unless serious steps are taken to reward attacking play, to negate the incessant kicking and find some way to marginalise those who just don't want to play, we can forget all about rugby as it once was.

In Paris in front of 80,000 people, we had a foretaste of what this game will become in the future unless urgent action is taken to address its failings. Frankly, if this was a vision of the future, it was frightening.



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home