Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Rugby

As an expat Scot living in New Zealand, I was neither upset, nor surprised at Scotland's humbling by the All Blacks. Unlike some of my brethren back in Caledonia - who actually seemed to think that Scotland might be in with a chance - I expected a fairly devastating display. Scotland are, after all, a second division nation. they might be able to claim to be in the Top 10, but that's only because of the lack of depth in international rugby. If you're not one of the Big 4, you're no-one.

Watching the All Blacks play here, familiarity breeds respect. Not love, mark you. I don't like the arrogance of new Zealanders, and I don't like the style of rugby the All Blacks play, based around some over developed freak busting straight through and galumphing as fast as possible straight down the paddock. They've never really recovered from Jonah Lomu.

This isn't just spite. I remember a match in the last World Cup, where the All Blacks beat Scotland by a similar margin to the current result. It was actually a good match to watch, because almost the whole match was played inside Scotland's 22, and the AB sprint queens didn't really have a lot to do - it was forward on forward action almost all the way.

It's opportunistic rugby, relying on big, strong individuals bursting through the defence and dashing for the try line. You might see the occasional pass, where one of the slower players off loads to one of the flyboys - but as often as not, they'll simply barge on, relying on their physical superiority to carry them through.

the result of this - perhaps an inevitable evolution - has been the merging of the beautiful diversity of rugby teams in a series of interchangeable he-men. Modern rugby's basically a combination of the old style forward and back play - big strong backs who can get the ball, break tackles and run. oddly, it means the matches are much more mediocre and uninteresting to watch as it's all based around big bloke banging into big bloke and which ever one is still on their feet afterwards cantering off with the ball to score. Unedifying, and it means the perfect game, which had a place for everyone, no matter how oddly designed (I present Jeff Probyn as evidence of this truth), is becoming a banging match between physically impressive but identikit specimens of humanity. Used to be a pageant of humanity in all its male) forms - big louts, wee bastards, tall skinny weirdos, everyone. And it was all fields round 'ere, and kids gave their elders some respect.

Of course, the All Black formula is hideously successful, though that depends on how you define success. If by 'success' you mean winning lots of matches and trophies and relying on chauvinistic pride in winning to counter the deadening effects of playing a dull style of rugby, then yeah, the All Blacks are successful. On the other hand, if success means playing rugby in the manner that people will enjoy watching, which will ensure big crowds and TV revenue, encourage people to play the sport and will ensure its long term viability, then I suspect they aren't.

Inspite of the horribly one-sided result, I was impressed by Scotland's performance. They played very good, open rugby, they were just up against a team that was massively better than them in almost every department - the exception being the line-out, where Scotland seemed to perform pretty well, which may have been something of a novelty. Based on this performance, I think Scotland can expect to compete against any of the Six Nation teams, instead of just Italy.

I don't see them ever being competitive against the All Blacks, however, unless they can actually play them as frequently as the likes of Australia and South Africa do. I don't think it's a coincidence that the teams that can beat the All Blacks are the ones that play them most often. The northern hemisphere teams are simply not used to the style of rugby played down here. Scotland, being a minor northern nation - making up for its paltry resources with wit and grit - simply can't contain the physical exuberance of the All Blacks. It isn't rugby as they know it.

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