The Quade vs. Dingo debate reminds me of the following joke.
A tourist is backpacking through the south island of New Zealand when he stops at a pub for a drink. The only people in the bar are the bar tender and a local nursing a beer. They sit in silence for awhile before the local turns to the tourist and says,
“Do you see this bar?” I built this bar with my bare hands, using the finest woods in the land. I gave it more love and care than my first born but do they call me Roberts the Bar Builder? No.”
“Do you see that cathedral out there? I also built that with my bare hands. In the driving wind and rain I placed every stone just so. But do you think they call me Roberts the Cathedral Builder? No.”
He points out the other window. “You see that pier on the lake out there? I built that pier with my bare hands, driving the pilings 10-feet into the sand, laying the pier plank by plank but do they call me Roberts the Pier Builder? No.”
“And yet you f*ck one sheep…”
This, I suspect, is how Quade Cooper feels. “And yet you miss one tackle…”.
His flat, double cut-out pass to Saia Faingaa, his hit on Rene Ranger, his sublime step around Aaron Cruden. These are Cooper’s metaphorical bar, cathedral and pier. His awkward attempted tackle on Piet Van Zyl during last week’s Cheetahs game; his sheep.
Robbie Deans’ focus on Cooper’s shortcomings rather than his achievements must be maddening for the mercurial number 10. However, for the Wallabies coach the joke is also apt, except for one crucial point: Cooper isn’t the hard-done-by local but rather the sheep itself.
If you think back to his treatment during the 2011 World Cup it’s hard to argue. New Zealanders, players and supporters alike, openly practiced a pastime usually kept behind closed (barn) doors. They rode roughshod over Cooper – our mutton dressed in gold – all the way to World Cup glory. This is a scene Deans will be keen not to repeat against a Lions team full of Welsh farmers.
Jeremy Bentham, the great British philosopher, once quipped that “there are two types of people in this world: those who divide the world into two types and those who don’t”. I’m of the former group.
I think the world can be divided into those who stay until the full-time whistle even when their team has no chance of winning and those who pop out early to beat the inevitable post-match traffic jam. Again, I’m of the former group.
Most occupants of the first group, I’d hazard to guess, are also Quade Cooper fans. You see we go to a rugby game for the beauty of the spectacle; the unpredictability of it. If our team wins, all the better. While the second group go to a rugby game to see their team win. If it happens to be entertaining, all the better.
Robbie Deans is of the latter group. This is not surprising given his livelihood depends on achieving significantly more wins than losses.
However, I get the feeling that Ewen McKenzie is of the former group. It’s not that he doesn’t care if he wins or loses; far from it. It’s that he believes that to win you need to be unpredictable and a side-effect of unpredictability is entertainment.
Reds fans love it when their team scores from a rolling maul. Why? Because it happens so seldom. “The Reds are so random” as the kids would say. Opposition teams struggle to negate this tactic for the same reason; it’s random. Instead of stopping the maul at its source their loose forwards are fanning out to cover the perceived threat from the 9-10-12 channel.
And yet when Cooper played to Deans’ inflexible game plan during the World Cup it was the worst of both worlds: neither champagne nor winning rugby. To continue the analogy it was like watching the All Blacks do unimaginable things to a farm animal – you didn’t want to watch but it was hard not to.
Given the best of both worlds – Cooper playing to a McKenzie game plan – is beyond the realms of possibility for this Lions campaign, what do we – those of us who love the game as a spectacle – have to hope for?
Despair not. It’s the Lions. They visit these shores but just once every twelve years. The event – like the Olympics and World Cup – will ooze entertainment, spectacle and unpredictability without even trying. And if the Wallabies win, the champagne will be flowing. Just don’t expect it on the rugby field.