When Winning Ugly is Beautiful

The Rolling Maul can recall every Rugby World Cup upset. There was Fiji over Argentina in 1987, Samoa over Wales in 1991 and Samoa over Wales in 1999. And really that's it. Australia over the All Blacks a couple of times is not an upset, it's just unexpected.

Rugby is truly the anti-soccer in this respect. There's no such thing in Rugby as a fluke victory or a stacking of the defence to secure an unlikely nil-all draw against a much stronger team. In Rugby, over 80 minutes of action, the strongest team will always win. It is both a strength and a weakness, and of both games.

Soccer fans love the chance of the unexpected. Rugby fans love the fact that the relative strengths and weaknesses of both teams are reflected on the scoreboard, and if you've done the hard work on and off the paddock then you will be rewarded.

So when Argentina upset France, this was truly an upset as a traditionally second-tier team (and in this category you can add Scotland, Ireland and Wales who have all had their brief moments in the sun, but rarely in the professional era - say since the 1991 World Cup - and never in a World Cup when it counted) defeated a traditionally first-tier team (those teams being France, England, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand - or the only teams with a chance of winning a Rugby World Cup - ever).

Professionalism has ensured that much like it's older brother capitalism, the rich (the best) will always get richer (better), while the poor will struggle to improve their standing. So teams in a lower tier (to keep the analogy going - third tier being Italy, Fiji, Samoa, Canada; Fouth tier being Tonga, USA, Japan and Romania; forget the rest) may spring the occasional surprise and earn a fully deserved upset against a team in one tier higher but it has never happened in a meaningful tournament that a team will cause an upset of another team more than one tier higher. I use Italy in the six-nations as the perfect example.

But this is not to take anything away from Argentina's performance in beating France. Sure Argentina have a good record against France, but never when it mattered - in a World Cup. Indeed they've never beaten a first-tier team in a World Cup. And sure their tactics were ugly - boot the ball high anywhere in the air and scramble for the fifty-fifty possession Rugby League style - that's how ugy it was. Back it up with desperate scrambling defence and there you have the recipe for beating France.

Any upset is going to be good for the game no matter how ugly it is. But don't expect Namibia to beat Ireland or Samoa to beat South Africa. That's just Rugby, and that's how it should be.

FOOTNOTE: As I write this Canada lead Wales 12-9 at half-time. I rest my case. And go Canada. Or will that be O Canada?

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