Saturday, August 22, 2009

State of the Union

I've been ridiculously busy with assignments & deadlines the past few months, far too many commitments and not enough time to sleep, so the blog has been sadly neglected of late. Things won't get better soon, 'cos I am now going bush for the next couple weeks to get some well-earned R&R. Normal blogging should (hopefully) resume when I return. Luckily for me, the quality of the rugby I've been watching hasn't been worth spending time writing about. It's been mostly rubbish.

Ex-Wallaby Pete Fitzsimmons is a straight-shooter.

. . . What you may not know, however, inside the cocoon that teams go into before big matches, is the rising damp of disillusionment that is eating at our passion for elite rugby.

We have had a gutful of watching marathon kick-fests, of seeing captains toss the ball to goal-kickers when arcane penalties are awarded 53 metres out. Of watching for two excruciating minutes the deadly dull vision of one bloke lining up and kicking the pig-skin while 29 blokes stand around, no doubt as bored as we are. And doing it all game - again and again and again.

In general play we no longer want to see two tactics - the "up" and the "under". We despair when teams take kicking tips from the Swans. This season there has been more wretched kicking than ever. It is getting to the point where even hard-core fans are turning their cauliflower ears and puffy eyes away in disgust.

But, say what? You players are professionals who play as ruthlessly as possible to win - everything else can go to hell?

That would be fine, 'cept we are the paying public who ultimately provide your wages. If the disillusionment continues, that is exactly where the game will go.

Yes, we know the Springboks have made an art form of winning in this way. But that's the point. The Wallabies and All Blacks are better than that! In bursts this year, you've turned on scintillating running rugby that has thrilled us for minutes at a time. You're capable of playing a Match for the Ages, with stories we will tell and retell as the days grow cold and we grow old. Like it used to be …

So here's the plea. In rugby's ancient history, which is to say before it turned professional in 1995, teams could sometimes enter into unofficial compacts, whereby it would be broadly agreed the game was the thing and running rugby was the most joyous way to play and exactly what the crowd wanted. The glory of the whole Barbarians tradition rests upon it.

Can't you, just maybe, revive that compact tonight? For the good of the game?

It can't work if only one team embraces it. But if you both engage to play the game the way it was meant to be played - to run it - you'll be knocked out by the reception. We'll know whether you're up for it the first time a penalty is awarded 50 metres out. I say 80,000 people, and millions at home, will cheer or jeer the decision. So run the ball as if the future of the game depends on it. Because it does.