All Blacks

Monday’s Rugby News- 16th August 2021

Monday’s Rugby News- 16th August 2021

 

Here I was thinking, “shit, not much has happened outside of two test matches this week…. WTF am I going to write about? As the Kiwis say, “Nek Minnut!!” I suddenly had a massive topic to put out there for us GAGRs. Thus, for Monday’s news, we have the elephant in the room topic with the relaxation/abolition of the infamous ‘Giteau Law’, the wrap from the weekend results, some extra narrative about last week’s topic on the number of substitutions and my ‘turning point’ from the Wallabies v Darkness match.

The Giteau Law Is No More

To be absolutely blunt: I fucking hate this idea. I have never been a fan of any form of lessening of restrictions and/or abolition of the policy.

Firstly, it is a curious thing to announce after a record-breaking belting from the Darkness; once again the cynic in me suggests that this is a diversion! There is very little hope of any of the possible players, of whom there aren’t really that many, being involved in a capacity for the 2021 RC. Apart from Samu Kerevi, other Australians are outside of the Covid bubble which the national side has been in since prior to the French series. All governments will be looking to ensure that there is no chance of any Covid breaches, so the thought of allowing a rugger player or two in will sink faster than Morrison in a crisis. This means that any of Rory Arnold, Tolu Latu or Sean McMahon won’t be seen in gold until 2022.

Secondly, it is even more curious that Rugby AU would look to ease restrictions as other countries are beginning to tighten both their purse strings and, more significantly, their eligibility criteria. World Rugby has backed a five-year period for qualification (I still think it’s too short…), two of the top three destinations (Japan and France) have introduced quotas to ensure that players of their national origin are selected first and foremost (common sense…) and the inevitable financial losses endured by the Covid-induced chaos of the previous two years. Added to this is that, in the modern era, players are assets, and will not want to be lost by their employers who are paying a premium for their services. Already in the Six Nations, the French owners showed their hand in the debacle of the match outside of the window, thus forcing Galthie to select an even weaker side than played Australia. Only the most optimistic person would believe that a French club would release an Aussie player back to play, especially if they wouldn’t do if for their own country… Dulce et decorum est pro patria (insert play instead) mori be absolutely damned!

Third, apart from the continued dominance of New Zealand, the other country that has benefitted most from selecting players (thus providing better level competition for their own players) is France. They are closely followed by England. We all saw how France, sans many of their alleged ‘B’ side came to our shores and went pound for pound against our ‘A’ side in a three-match series. If ever there was a clearer reason for keeping your players in country, this is it. With a future of a BIL series of our own and, most probably, a RWC, surely the sense is to find away to keep players on our shores.

Fourthly, after a vigorous discussion with a mate who claimed that Super Rugby is dead… well, I found it hard to agree. There is an appetite, as demonstrated with the crowd attendance at the Brumbies v Reds final, and of Stan Sport viewership, that rugby, or at least the dream of rugby, is very much alive. We digressed and both agreed that Super Rugby, in its current format, is indeed, dead. Some clarity on what is happening from the head honchos ASAP would give us all something to look forward to. Over to you, Andy Marinos!

Fifthly, all the narrative from this season, especially post-SR TT, was that to be the best you have to play the best. I can’t see how players going to the Japanese league, where half the games are more one-sided that the TT games, would benefit out players. The intensity and skill level simply is not there (yet!). Similarly, in what shape would our players come back from after an arduous season in the UK? With the exclusion of the Saffas from SR, we now have a much less travel demand.

Sixthly, we only have to look over at South Africa’s slide in the domestic side of things. Imagine if an Australian or New Zealand side had lost to Benetton (OK, the Tahs probably would right now….) but that sort of performance would simply not be acceptable on these shores. The majority of the Saffa side play overseas, mostly due to a weak rand and a dubious transformation policy. OK, I’ll accept that they have won a RWC and a BIL tour, but at what cost? Their style of rugby is utterly shit (Australian rugby is up the proverbial creek enough as it is without resorting to Jake White-ball) and, after this generation of players, what do they have left? They already are raided of their talent by NH sides and, as above, a ridiculous WR policy of residency that has cost them many a player. Indeed, this has happened already with Australia losing young talent to residency in Japan!

I will never pretend to know exactly how to fix many things in Australian rugby, but I simply cannot see how rugby in Australia can survive by doing this. I will gladly watch players do what Hooper has done and sign overseas for a sabbatical and am more than happy for that to be given to more players; but to essentially lose the cream of the crop, the current and future stars of our game, away from the sight and mind of the generation next in the lead up to some of the biggest rugby events in the calendar, would be extreme folly indeed.

The Turning Point

As a referee, the higher up you go in the food chain (i.e. to more important games), the more the discussion turns from areas to improve (which, in fairness, there ought to always be) to the technical. One area that is looked at within the post-match review is the occurrence of a ‘High Impact Decision’. Even a referee on their best day will have at least one or two of these per match so by no means is this any sort of isolated incident from the match. I look at this purely from a technical aspect, without the finesse of Nick Bishop over at The Roar.

The moment I would like to look at is at 35:10 in the first half. Aaron Smith box-kicks and Tom Banks takes the ball uncontested just over 40m out. He is tackled by Ardie Savea (questionable tackle-release, but this is consistent with how NZ referees have been all season) slightly over the gain line and slow ball comes for the Wallabies. McDermott passes behind the gain line to to 7As who passes to Lolesio (under slight pressure) to Philip who makes a strong run past the gain line. Important to note is Swain on his arse who completes an effective cleanout for Tate to get quick ball. Critics of Tate will argue that it was a fortunate bounce pass to Hooper (and they’d be bloody well right), though Hooper makes his run of the match and battles to about 15m out. This passage of play has taken 19 seconds (35:29). 7As has made incredible ground for a tight forward and is there to clean with Lolesio. Tate to Two Cows as first receiver with a poor pass behind Valetini who still reels the ball in and out to Kellaway. Kellaway steps in and is tackled approx. 5m out and presents the ball cleanly to Tate. Time elapsed to this point is now 29 seconds (35:39). Some smart off-the-ball running by loose forwards as decoys and the ball is spun by Tate to BPA who is tackled literal inches short at 35:44 (questionable extra movements {NOT double movement… no such thing in Union!!} attempting to get to the try line….). At 35:47, Tate picks and goes from halfback and is tackled by Dalton Papalii (who was McCaw-esque in his ability to infringe sans detection all night!!) who, again, shows no clear release, is at absolute best 50/50 on his feet, and then, at 35:48, goes right off his feet and kills any form of contest and quick ball. As Pickerill is blowing for a penalty, Mo’unga and Codie Taylor blast through the ruck, also off feet, and prevent any form of advantage. In the space of 30 seconds, and in five phases, Australia have gone from behind the gain line to all-but-scoring. Their chance of scoring a potential try on the 6th phase is cynically ruined. This is where the HID occurred: it was a non-decision!

My contention is there is clear evidence of a cynical ruck penalty, 0.5m out after five phases of extremely quick ball. The side under pressure was New Zealand. The side with everything to lose in that moment was New Zealand. Who lost out due to the clear and obvious illegal action? Australia. I don’t think there was a case for a penalty try (this infringement was not in the act of scoring, nor prevented a probable try) but, for me and some refereeing colleagues, this was a definite case for a cheese if there ever was one! When we referees give the cheese, we generally want that penalty and moment to be one that ‘we can hang our hat on’. This was it. Alas, the game was slowed down, Papalii stayed on field, the momentum was (briefly) lost and players were fatigued after four scrums that ought to have been avoided before the almost consolation try was scored by Tate. Whilst there was a yellow to Savea in the early minutes of the second half (definitely took one for Papalii there…), the damage had been done. I will note that this absolutely did not cost Australia the match; we lost it well enough by ourselves. Some HIDs are match turning. This, however, was match-influencing and could have allowed a slightly different outcome.

 

Australia v New Zealand and South Africa v Argentina

Wallabies v NZ match – once again, disappointment for the players and fans in gold. The recap of the match as written by Shane can be found here. For me, we were simply out-thought and out-worked. We did not utilise the wind advantage in the first half and we failed to treasure any gift-horse possession we worked hard to achieve. Cut out passes, whilst the idea may have been OK-ish, simply didn’t work out. As George W Bush said, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice… shame on you!” Sigh. Although it has been repeated many times, the ‘we will learn from this’ mantra will surely sink in!

South Africa v Argentina match – I’m sure that the score line of 32-12 will have English rugby fans breathing heavily into their tea and crumpets for the next few days. Yet again, it was not the most exhilarating of games, but with enough action to satisfy the masses. In all fairness to the Bokke, the mental and emotional toll to come off winning a BIL tour to then front up against a spirited Los Pumas side must be commended.

Substitutions in Rugby

Regular readers (LOL! Do I even have those yet??) will recall this mentioned briefly in Monday’s news last week. It was one of Nigel Owens’ three ways to improve rugby. Whilst impossible in the community level, there is indeed merit for this in the professional level.

“In an open letter to World Rugby Chairman, Sir Bill Beaumont – signed by Sir Ian McHeechan, Willie John McBride, Sir Gareth Edwards, Barry John and John Taylor, as well as consultant surgeon Professor John Fairclough (consultant trauma and orthopaedic surgeon) – it is claimed that the professional game “has become unnecessarily dangerous”. The letter references fears of current players not daring to speak out over “fear of losing their livelihoods” and quotes the concerns of former Wales captain, Sam Warburton, that someone “will die during a game in front of TV cameras” if nothing is done. Whilst drastic, the way players have bulked up, the way the game is played (far lower than previous years) and at such a high intensity leaves cause for concern.

“Rugby Union was conceived as a 15-a-side game for 30 players. With the current eight substitutes per side, many of whom are tactical ‘impact players’ or ‘finishers’, this can and often does stretch to 46.”

“More than half a team can be changed, and some players are not expected to last 80 minutes and thus train accordingly, prioritising power over aerobic capacity. This shapes the entire game, leading to more collisions and in the latter stages numerous fresh ‘giants’ crashing into tiring opponents. The simple change we advocate is to allow eight subs on the bench if you must but limit the number than can be utilised to four and only in the case of injury.

My contention is that this would create a very different game to what we have now, and for the better. The ability for teams to have open space, to utilise their smarts and tactical knowledge rather than a fresh monster of a player would allow for more genuine rugby. Again, the cynic in me would believe it would be very difficult to police sans any independent medical practitioner influence, Further, I would expand to include some form of HIA substitution to ensure that this area of the game is continued, rightly so, to be managed. I would assume that other substitutions, i.e. blood and front-row yellow card replacement, remain intact and it is only for genuine, match-ending injuries, that a player can be subbed off.

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