25 Feb

Getting Back to Basics
by Tracey Nelson
25 Feb 2007

It’s long been said that if you do the basics correctly, the rest will follow.  This is a great commandment for the game of rugby, whether you be a player or a referee.  Sadly, it would seem that the basics are being overlooked by both parties, to the great detriment of the game.

Take the Hurricanes.  A team stacked full of exciting ball runners with amazing ball skills, who were expected to perform well under the ELVs.  But instead of maintaining some structure and using the ELVs to their advantage, they’ve decided that the game should now be based upon Touch Rugby and played at a helter skelter speed purely because you have a greater number of quick tap opportunities than before.  They seem to be under the false impression that by simply trying to do things faster their game will blossom.  Watching them blunder their way to a win against the Reds on Friday night, I was left wondering whether any of them knew how to draw and pass – a basic of the game that would have seen them score at least two more tries than they did.

The Waratahs blew their chance to beat a hot and cold Chiefs side on Saturday night by managing to kick the ball out on the full on numerous occasions, while the Highlanders (obviously reading from the same Rugby for Halfwits manual) squandered their chances to beat an injury-ravaged Brumbies side with a plethora of handling and kicking errors combined with decision making implosions.  The most worrying thing was despite the errors in game exectution on plain display in the first half of both games, there did not seem to be much in the way of adjustments made by any of the teams in the second half.

The only respite came from the Crusaders and Blues, who both managed to clock up 50+ points against their SA opponents.  Both these sides did the basics well, and from that platform struck their hapless opponents with the power and speed of a locomotive. The other common trait these two teams share is their vastly superior fitness – it is seldom that the visiting team to Loftus has been seen running rings around the home team with seemingly bottomless reserves of energy sixty minutes into the game.  How can it be that these two sides are so far ahead of the rest in the aerobic stakes?  I suggest you just need to go back to their pre-season training – another basic for a 16 week competition.

Then we have the referees.  I know I harp on about them constantly these days, but if there is one thing the game needs to sort out it is consistency of rulings – and this needs to be a global consistency as well as a S14 one.  Despite the ELVs spelling out in even greater detail what is required of players a the breakdown, referees are still not ruling to the laws.  In almost all the games this weekend there were players from both sides going off their feet after a tackle.  There was no attempt by them to stay on their feet or to bind to a teammate, they simply drove in and went to ground.  This should be an automatic free kick, yet there were probably only three occasions amongst the seven games where this happened.  Only two weeks into the competition and already the tackle/ruck area is reverting back to what the ELVs were trying to rectify.

Speaking of consistency, I see that that Highlanders 1st 5 Daniel Bowden has been suspended for one game for his dangerous tackle on Brumbies prop Guy Sheperdson.  The tackle was seen by the referee and penalised at the time.  So therefore we should be able to assume that Bulls replacement No 8 Dewald Potgieter will be suspended for at least the same length of time if not longer for his spear tackle in the game against the Crusaders (also just penalised at the time) – likewise his teammate JP Nel, who has been cited for a swinging arm.

Of most interest though will be how Schalk Burger fares after being cited for bad sportsmanship following his dissent and rude gesticulating in the direction of Referee’s Assistant Willie Roos in the Stormers game against the Sharks.  Burger was involved in a scuffle off the ball, and was yellow carded by New Zealand referee Kelvin Deaker following confirmation from Roos as to what he had seen Burger do.  There are conflicting reports as to whether Roos gave the recommendation for a yellow card, but I watched the incident and it seemed pretty clear to me that Deaker merely looked to Roos to confirm his suspicions and then acted accordingly.  If Burger is found guilty (and surely he must be, as there was little to disguise his hand actions) he faces a suspension from anywhere between 4 (minimum) and 52 (maximum) weeks under Law 10.4(k).  

21 Feb

Another Gobby for Eddie
by Paul Waite
21 Feb 2007

It’s time SANZAR thought about founding a new Annual Award. It would be called The Gossip Or Blather – GOB award, and be presented to the coach who, in the opinion of the judges, blabbed the most to the Media.

Naturally the award would become known as “The Gobby”, as in “hey Eddie, I hear you picked up your fifth consequetive Gobby this year..”

Eddie Jones, the garrulous rent-a-quote former coach of the Wallabies has been at it again, this time as coach of The Queensland Reds in the Super-14. The trouble is SANZAR, in typical “corporate suits” fashion, have drawn up a book of rules which forbid players and coaches criticising referees and a officials, and who knows maybe their contracts even put a stop to them discussing the SANZAR Chief’s wives in derogatory terms.

The problem with this gagging of free speech is that it doesn’t result in the right things happening. For a start, the idea is SANZAR don’t want their competition “brought into disrepute”. Jaysus, what century are these pratts living in? Like the average fan is going to consider the game is disreputable, just because Eddie says the latest reffing display was crap. Bollocks.

All it does, if obeyed to the letter, is give us a bunch of drones who mouth the same bland cliche-ridden shite, even if the referee had a brain-cell implosion and totally disgraced himself. It isn’t in sync with the times.

These days fans are knowledgable, keen, and have to hand numerous instant messaging technologies to view replays, and discuss performances at will. Ordering coaches and players to stop saying what they think is like trying to dam a river by knocking a tent peg into the middle of it. And besides that, it makes SANZAR look at best plain silly, and at worst a bunch of draconian bosses who can’t face the truth, and aren’t comitted to excellence through improvement.

Let’s look at the other side of the coin. Imagine you’re a referee, and you’ve just had a shocker. It was the wrong time of the month, your dog had given you a nasty nip in the testicles as you unwisely tried to give it breakfast dressed only in a pair of Y-fronts that morning, and an irritating eyelid tick has been with you all day affecting your vision. You awarded a try that wasn’t scored, and disallowed one that was. A stray dog wandered on the pitch and gave you a nasty nip in the testicles as you tried to order it off, and you issued five red cards for trifling offences which didn’t happen anyway.

In a Universe far away from here, where there is a SANZAR panel with some vision, both coaches and the players rip the shit out of you on prime-time TV. The public agree, and SANZAR do too, saying that your performance will be reviewed and steps taken to either get you right, or replace you. All fair dinkum, because you deserved it. In the weeks that follow you do some retraining, the old knackers heal, you get back to refereeing well, and your wife now feeds the dog in the morning. Everyone’s pleased.

In this Universe, since Fast Eddie Mouth isnt’ involved in this particular game, everyone is muzzled like the rabid dogs SANZAR believes they are. Comments range from a risky “I thought the refereeing could have been a tad better, but no complaints really”, to a “The referee wasn’t to blame for our loss” (even though the try he disallowed of theirs, and the one he awarded to them were the difference in the score). Meanwhile, on Planet Reality, the public discuss the game as it actually was in pubs, on the ‘net in forums, on mobiles and post video clips to YouTube etc. proving it. SANZAR wears the egg on its face in that well-known, but oblivious fashion.

Nobody is saying that coaches and players should be actually abusive about referees, or officialdom in general, but genuine criticism should be allowed to stand on its merits and voiced in the public domain. It’s a damn healthy thing to have leading lights in the game saying these things, especially when everyone else is going to be saying them anyway. It’s called Openness.

Accepting that referees and everyone else always have something to learn, and can improve is basic. Pressures brought to bear by criticism is part and parcel of forcing that process. People who mouth off in bad grace after games will soon be recognised as idiots and so the system is self-correcting; nobody wants to build a reputation as a fool or bad loser.

So get your act together SANZAR, and award Eddie his Gobby with a smile, and a pat on the back for all his constructive criticism during the season!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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15 Feb

Things that go Bump in the Night
by Tracey Nelson
15 Feb 2007

It’s hard to believe that the World Cup Stadium debacle is still churning on, but late Monday night I saw the report on TV3 breaking the story that the boofheads who supposedly run the country from Wellington are now considering ‘temporary seating’ at Eden Park to meet the 60 000 seat capacity requirement for the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final. The mayor of our largest city also appears to support this cheaper upgrade, even though it is likely to raise the definite prospect of the IRB not considering Eden Park to be the world class stadium they were originally promised in the NZRU’s bid to host the event. The irony of this has not been lost on Mainlanders, as apparently Jade Stadium was not considered as an alternative Final venue due to Christchurch having ‘infrastructure issues’ and ‘the Jade Stadium revamp would require temporary seating which would not meet IRB requirements’. Need I say more?

Speaking of things in the night, Eddie Jones came out with some interesting comments on Saturday evening after his Reds’ loss to the Crusaders. Eddie wasn’t happy with South African referee Mark Lawrence’s control of the scrums, stating “I’ve got a scrum that goes forward and it gets penalised. I don’t know what’s going on. The whole thing about the scrum – it’s supposed to aid the strongest team. We had a stronger scrum and we were penalised for it.” Well Eddie, you’re right – you don’t know what’s going on. When I went back over the tape of the game there were 10 scrums in total (a relatively low number in today’s modern game), and in only one of those scrums did the Reds get any go-forward. The rest of the game, despite getting a fairly good first hit on, they were back-pedalling and their tighthead prop was being popped. Hardly the stuff of the strongest scrum.

Like Robbie Deans and his team, I am reasonably happy with the way the new scrum laws are working in the Super 14. We’ve certainly seen less collapsed scrums and resets, all of which have taken up large amounts of time in the past, leaving the viewers yawning and looking around for something else to watch. Some referees have got the hang of the ‘Crouch-Touch-Pause-Engage’ calls better than others, because a degree of rhythm and timing is required for the two packs to hit simultaneously, but overall it seems to be slowly but surely starting to work. And anyone who had concerns about the shortened distance between the two front rows de-powering the scrums should watch a bit more closely. Having seen how the Crusaders’ pack minus their All Blacks have managed so far, I have no doubts that the 2007 All Black scrum will remain the potent weapon it was in 2006.