Thursday, November 25, 2010

Bernard-Henri Lévy with the All Blacks

French philosopher and writer Bernard-Henri Lévy attends the All Blacks vs. Ireland test match last Saturday, and reports.

An excerpt:

The cohesion of the players and of the game.

The religion of fellowship and fraternity.

Not to selfishly pocket the credit for having scored a last goal when it can be more profitable to harass the adversary together until the very end.

Inventive attacks and returns where everyone sticks together.

Vehement openings and dummy moves that look like a well-rehearsed ballet.
An ace at tripping here, and there a champion of outflanking on the sides, and between the two a complicity that, one easily guesses, was there before the game and will be there afterwards.

Who is the better attacker, the forward, the expert at half-turn contact, or the one from behind that no one (except the forward) saw coming?

Should one force his way or break off and relay to another in a pass so smooth and straightforward one would think it the action of one player--with four legs?

Should one change feet or change bodies outright, letting the next body play?

When Carter passes to Donnelly, you'd swear he has eyes in the back of his head to see him take the ball.

Nonu's last run, flying over the field before making that pass en cloche Carter would recover.

They say it's an obscure sport with no rules. No! The rules are strict and diabolically complex, to the extent that part of the All Blacks' strength comes from the way they play the rules, borderline with an error, but never actually stepping over the line.

They say it's a sport for brutes, all a question of power and attack. No! A combat sport, yes, one should call it a martial art, because it's composed of intelligence and strategy. And so it was that this Saturday, the fighting spirit of the Irish in the last fifteen minutes, when they had lost and they knew it, showed the very best of their gallantry. Thus in this manner, it was up to Carter, again, to size up the adversary and, like a judoka, cannibalize his weaknesses to transform them into power.

It's a violent, savage sport, others insist, because there's naked violence in the scrum, in the plaquage, or in the way the attacked team opposes the attacker with a wall of heads and chests. But does anyone know that the Haka, this Maori warrior hymn the All Blacks chant before the match, is less a victory chant than an anticipated prayer for the vanquished? Does anyone know that Saturday, the field of Dublin Stadium was the only place on the planet where Northern Irish and fans from the Republic could confront the same adversary, share the same prayer? And what a lesson when, as New Zealander Boric concentrated before the kick to mark the goal before converting the try, and the crowd of supporters observed a long silence--downright religious and uncommonly respectful--for those who are familiar with the hysteria of football!

And then, the «third half-time»....

This dinner after the match, when the players of the two nations gathered.

The toast of the captain of the All Blacks, to the Irish and their "beautiful game".

That of the Irish to the mysterious and persistant supremacy of the All Blacks.

And these tables where the winners and the vanquished joyfully replayed the match.

I watched O'Driscoll, the Irish captain, his arm injured, clinking glasses with his New Zealand counterpart.

I listened the New Zealander Woodcock and the Irishman Wallace telling each other of their real lives, the ones they would resume again next week, at home, when it would all be over.

And I thought to myself that Zidane's head-butt, his deep-rooted hatred for Materazzi, their overblown and even more dramatized reconciliation, would be almost impossible here.

Football and rugby are like Corneille and Racine, or the Stones and the Beatles, or a Mac and a PC. They are two different parties. Two religions. And one must choose between the two. For my part, I have made my choice. Today as yesterday, the style, the beauty, the fair-play of rugby.

Read the whole thing, click here.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Train Kept A Rollin'

The Irish Times reports from Dublin:

New Zealand remain a class apart with a hard-nosed focus that is occasionally camouflaged by the sheer exuberance of the way they play the game.

They scored some cracking tries and didn’t give anything up cheaply. [...]

Ireland were taught a rather painful lesson in the opening 40 minutes, ruthlessly punished for every error, whether unforced or induced by suffocating pressure. [...]

The self belief that permeates this New Zealand side is tangible because at times they were stretched to breaking point but even when they did concede points, they marched straight back up the pitch and redressed the situation on the scoreboard. The facility they possess to recycle ad nauseam and the patience they display in probing for weaknesses, using the full expanse of the pitch illustrates a team that’s very comfortable in their patterns.

They trust one another and the patterns of play. [...]

In a 10-minute spell either side of half-time New Zealand scored three tries, a homily to using the full expanse of the pitch, offloading and being physically dominant in the collisions and running sumptuous trail lines.

Demonstrating New Zealand’s total rugby patterns and the facility of backs and forwards to interchange positions, the three tries were scored by forwards: Anthony Boric, replacement Sam Whitelock and Kieran Read. Carter’s three conversions were a thing of beauty. [...]

The All Blacks deserve credit for the manner in which they defended; the thundered into tackles. [...]

The visitors had a final sting for their hosts, Read’s second try 33 seconds from full-time demonstrating the ruthlessness, precision, handling and lines of running that make them so easy on the eye and such a brilliant team.

>The rest.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cold eyed and clinical

Brendan Gallagher watches The Sonny Bill Show at Murrayfield:

"New Zealand played rugby from another planet ... sensational ... extraordinary, unstoppable ... irresistible black wave ... there was more ... the All Blacks went straight for the jugular ... ruthlessly exploited ... carnage ... shell-shocked ...rampant ... hitting the turbo ... It was magnificent to watch and utterly cold eyed and clinical."

You get the idea.

Touching tributes, too:

Mils Muliaina - A special moment for a special player who, along with New Zealand captain Richie McCaw, was equalling the legendary Sean Fitzpatrick’s All Blacks record of 92 Test appearances.

An extraordinary character Muliaina, not just in his skills and pace but the fact that he seems to have earned those 92 caps with a complete absence of fuss and fanfare. No player is more highly rated by his peers in world rugby yet outside of New Zealand the most accomplished fullback of the modern era rarely makes the headlines.