Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Rugby Heaven

I was at Twickenham on Saturday for the All Blacks England test match. Thank you Bob Reeves RFU President and ex LRGS teacher for hosting us so grandly. Absorbing, tense, physical, challenging with the English ahead at half time. But magic won the day in the end.

One more test ahead this Saturday against Ireland at Dublin. Touch wood, the All Blacks will prevail and take an unbeaten season under their belt. Ireland have never beaten the All Blacks, they drew in 1973, but the last outing in 2012 was a 60-0 rout. The English press have been pulling some superlatives out of the draw from this Richie McCaw-led side, and Chris Hewitt of The Independent wrote a pretty laudatory article that appeared before the English game. As I’ve said before, sports writers aren’t actually cynics, they are just waiting around to write copy like this. Here are choice quotes from Chris’ piece titled “All Blacks - the world’s best team... in any sport”:

Richie McCaw and his team are beginning to look like something more than merely the best rugby union team on the planet. They are starting to look like the best team in any sport. Since 2003 New Zealand have played 121 international matches, the overwhelming majority of them against top-ranked opposition, and lost only 14, most of them by a single score. As a result, they are the reigning world champions and masters of all they survey.

That victory over the high-performing French, taken together with jaw-dropping performances against the Australians in Sydney and the South Africans in Johannesburg, puts these All Blacks in an exalted space of their own: previous New Zealand teams have seized the keys to those great rugby citadels, but never with such panache. Should the current crop complete their payback mission at Twickenham and go on to quell the Irish uprising in Dublin next weekend, they will finish 2013 with a perfect “14 from 14” record and stand alongside the 1951 Springboks and the 1984 Wallabies as the finest team to visit these islands in the post-war era.

Greatness in rugby is about far more than the mere winning of matches, irrespective of how many victories are secured. To achieve it, a team must dare to be different: to fly in the face of the sport’s accepted logic; to expand its sense of the possible; to galvanise it with the shock of the new…Back in 1951, the Springbok tourists armed themselves with a pack of unprecedented quality and played a brand of power rugby that left all the major European nations fearing that the sport had passed them by for good. Thirty-three years later, a Wallaby squad boasting such mesmerising talents as Mark Ella, Michael Lynagh and David Campese ripped through the British Isles in Grand Slam fettle, outscoring the home nations by 12 tries to one – and this in an age of international rugby when tries were hard to come by. On this occasion, it was the meeting of minds behind the scrum that left the hosts wondering if they were stuck in a time warp.

Former England attack coach Brian Smith argues today’s All Blacks are placing such extreme demands on their opponents in terms of collective technique, concentration and resilience that unless they defeat themselves, it is difficult to see who might beat them. Among the many points of difference they have brought to their rugby is a mastery of the aerial game so finely honed that it is almost as if they play the game in four dimensions rather than the usual three. No idea is off-limits; there can be no standing still. As Steve Hansen, their head coach, said a couple of days ago: “We’re striving to be better than we are at the moment – which is No 1 in the world.”

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