I confess I’m really struggling to write anything this week, I’m just so empty. And I’ve had a bit to drink so my chat is even more crap than usual. Normally I’m a pretty upbeat guy; I’m normally the guy who can find a silver lining in almost any cloud. I almost pride myself in that I can take nearly any topic and make it fire folk up, or make them reflect a bit. And the World Cup is on for Christssake. Surely I can be upbeat about something yeh?
But this week, I confess it’s all just a bit, well, ‘shit’ to be honest. Why? Because I look around me and I don’t see too much to get excited about.
Comparatively, I saw an absolute Rippa Rita of an AFL Grand Final on Saturday, both in terms of on-ground entertainment (well maybe not half-time) and an actual footballing spectacle of pace, skill and fantastic execution. Then yesterday afternoon I watched the mungo matches, and credit where it’s due because I watched a magnificent game of women’s footy followed in the evening by an even better game between the men that went all the way down to the wire. For those who missed it, what ensued will become recognised, in least in that code, as one of the greatest comebacks in contact sport lore. And it was glorious.
Then this morning I got to get up and watch Portugal largely match it and even momentarily lead against the Wobblies. I got to watch, and even pay a TV subscription service, as the Wobblies tried their absolute best to make our minnow opponents look as good as we could possibly make them look. And it was just crap footy. Ok, yeh, we got the win. But that was no real win. There was nothing heroic or outstanding in that. That wasn’t even mediocre.
I mean seriously folks, how far do we have to sink before we realise we have a problem?
For a giggle I’ll pick out three aspects of our play today that just blew me away:
- Up and In defence. Ok, so the Wobbs are clearly playing an ‘up and in’ backline defence pattern. We’ve done it 100% under EJ and to be fair, commonly under the predecessors Kumbaya Dave and Cheks. But EJ loves it. I get it, it’s the clear mungo influence. But in the maelstrom of pythagorean manoeuvering, it means your edge shooter who comes in hard from the blind side simply must make their tackle AND your back three must make the wrap to man up for the now-absent shooter and stop the naturally occurring overlap. Plus, assuming the shooter was a high percentage tackler, and your back three know their jockey roles, it does also mean you’re susceptible to either them playing a bit deeper to sucker the blitzer and so get the flank open with a numbers advantage/overlap, or they chip kick through for the same ends. So, did Marika make his tackles? Nope. Did our back three make the adjustment? Badly. Were we susceptible to the short kick or cut-out pass? All bloody night. Did the lowly Os Lobos recognise what we were going to do, plan for that and handle it? Of course they did. Did we adjust? Don’t be stupid.
- Falling for hook and push lineout mauls. What do I mean? So you throw to the centre of your lineout and your catching pod wins and then once on ground and the maul forms, they fade back, dragging the defenders with them. You do this to leave a hole for your real attacking pod to shear off your original lineout maul back towards the centre, into the hole left by the retreating pod, and push through to open territory beyond. It’s simple stuff we were doing at club level some 15-20yrs ago. Our Portuguese friends ran this lineout at least six times last night. Why? Because it took that long before the Wobbs ‘cottoned on’ to it. The defending of it is simple as: your end lineout guys need to pile in from the side/rear and push straight towards sideline to stop the catching pod from fading and so leave no hole. But do you think we knew that? Nope. Did we learn that on the run? Nah. It took a water runner to get out there and clue them up.
- And lastly for today’s examples, while I generally agree that any turnover ball inside our quarter should be immediately kicked away or out (as safety play), at least have a look first. Now, I like the energy and general skills of Issak Fines-Leleiwasa as an example, but there was absolutely zero need to kick those balls away as he did. There was an 8 on 3, a 5 on 3 and a 3 on 1 all given up for want of just having a look first.
I have to say, especially after watching the spectacles of the AFL and NRL over the preceding two days, I just found our play so … ‘meh’.
And it got worse. Being a public holiday Monday, an old rugby mate came to our place today for a long lunch. Let’s call him ‘Mark’. Now Mark is a lawyer, he’s smart, urbane, articulate and a well-read guy. He and I have played a lot of footy both for and against each other over the years. We’ve even played a fair swag of representative footy together (many years ago mind you, back when we thought reps meant something). But these days, not often enough, we get together, laugh at the world and we talk shite over a meal. And today it was over my wife’s magnificent brisket and home made coleslaw alongside his good red wine. And we laughed until the shadows lengthened and we needed to go home and feed the kidlets, These are good days.
But today, among the politics (yes, including ‘The Voice’ referendum), history and economics, we scarcely talked rugby. And Mark and I ALWAYS talk rugby. But today we didn’t. Why? Because there wasn’t much to talk about. He’d watched the Portuguese game as I’d watched it. And we both knew there wasn’t much to talk about. So we spent the day talking about the other codes and other stuff instead.
Then tonight, out of the blue, and while I was panicking about what to write here, I got a call from an old boarding school mate named Bob. Bob is, among other things, a broadacre farmer and grazier. Bob is the other end of the spectrum from Mark. Not in intelligence, for Bob is certainly cluey and more cunning than a shithouse rat. But Bob’s different to Mark in other ways. Bob is the archetypical ‘here and now’ calloused farmer who talks plainly, prefers no guff, drinks rum instead of wine, and is as transparent and straight-up as the gunbarrel highway itself.
Bob and I spent probably near an hour talking all sorts of guff: school stories, rain, beef and barley-crop prices, all the way through to laughing about trying to teach our kids how to ‘work’ and if our parents got as frustrated about us as we do about ours. Of course we touched on the footy and, to the points above, we talked about ‘Collingwood inbreds’ and the crap AFL halftime show, how it’s funny we all get our knickers in a knot over ‘trannies and cross-dressers’ but we all ‘get up’ for KISS, and then how Penrith were ‘dead and gone’ and then pulled a Lazarus.
And then Bob asked me the clanger: ‘Hey, did you get up to watch the Wobbs?’ And I lied and said ‘Yeh mate.’ (I didn’t, I watched it on replay this morning). He said ‘Bullshit ya did.’ And I laughed and confessed he had me dead to rights. And we laughed. And I said to him ‘Why didn’t you get up ya ponce?’ and his words hit me fair in the heart when he said ‘Mate, I couldn’t be arsed. I know you luv ’em, but for me mate, they just aren’t loveable anymore.’
And therein lies the problem, therein is the tragedy. For if we are to the point where even guys like Mark, Bob and I aren’t even bothering to be talking about rugby anymore, then who is?
So I look to our game leaders. I look to our executive leadership who sets the tone, who makes the strategy and who plots the course through these here troubled waters. I look to you McHamish & Co and ask: What are you going to do about it McHamish? What are you going to do about it Phil Waugh?
And don’t give me any ‘we’ crap McHamish. This hasn’t been ‘we’ for a long time. Us ‘we’ guys have been systematically sidelined, depowered, dispossessed and disregarded to the point where we know our place, and that’s nowhere near where the high and mighty sit. So again I ask: ‘What are you going to do about it McHamish?’
And the answer to that really frightens me even more because, based on last week’s news reports, McHamish reckons that if I don’t like what the Wobblies are cooking then I should just go watch something else instead. Well guess what McHamish? We/they are watching something else. And it’s all a better product.
Your move McHamish.