Saturday, 29 September 2007
Mrs Maul hasn't worn her Manly Rugby League jersey since Des Hasler was looking up Cliffy Lyons' nostril hairs. She gave up on them with the onset of puberty and Super League. Two years ago she promised to wear the jersey if Manly made the Grand Final. And on Sunday they play the Melbourne Storm in the Grand Final.
For those not familiar with these teams, everyone hates Manly except for those that love them, and those that love them come from a small section of coastal Sydney unaffectionatly known as the insular peninsula. The reasons for this hate are lost in the dim mists of time (around 1978 to be precise when dinosaurs like Roy Masters ruled the Rugby League paddock), but like all good family feuds the reasons for the hate aren’t important. That the rage is maintained is.
Melbourne come from Melbourne so they should be hated too. Unless they’re playing Brisbane.
Still with me? The Rugby angle is coming.
So the Rolling Maul’s dilemma is that both teams are deserving of hate. Now, sure it’s only the other Rugby code, but it is sport and like the State of Origin, Soccer World Cup or the Olympics, has enough event gravitas, prestige and pinnacle of the sport element to maintain interest for the event’s duration. Just.
So, if your enemy's enemy is your friend and you have two teams to choose from you hate what do you do if your wife is effectively the enemy?
Well the Rolling Maul has decided to support whatever's best for Rugby Union. This principle works quite easily in Aussie Rules too – support the Melbourne and Adelaide teams to defeat the Sydney, Brisbane and Perth teams as Swans, Lions, Eagles or Dockers failure translates to less interest in that code and more in any other. After all, there is no support for Rugby Union in Melbourne. Or is there? And what bearing does Manly Rugby League success have on the plight of Rugby Union on the peninsular?
Is it better or worse for Rugby if the Melbourne Storm are successful? Better because any rugby code getting publicity is better than none or worse because any kiddy that grows up wanting to play a Rugby code in Melbourne will want to be a Storm and not a Rebel or a Wallaby?
Manly of course has a rich history of Rugby Union and Rugby League. The peninsular has been the breeding ground of many great Wallabies such as Michael O'Connor and Rex Mossop who plied their trade and ensured a rich supply of players who were later stolen by Randwick and then Rugby League.
Furthermore where would Australian rugby be if it weren't for Rod Macqueen, a former Manly Rugby coach? He plied his trade for many years on the peninsular, doing his best with a bunch of locals against the well reimbursed Randwick squad. Without that chip on his shoulder Australian rugby would never have reached its full potential and a full trophy cabinet. Not to mention another former Manly Rugby coach Alan Jones. OK, so it’s not all good.
So what has Melbourne, or at least Victoria (of which Melbourne is the state capital), produced?
Well according to research (with thanks to Google) at least 23 Victorians have represented Australia in Rugby Union at senior level.
Two Victorians toured New Zealand as Wallabies in 1931. Sir Edward “Weary” Dunlop, famous as a surgeon in the Australian army during World War Two and for the care he took of soldiers who had been taken prisoner by the Japanese, is arguably Victoria’s best known Wallaby, having played for them in 1932. He is the inspiration behind the name Melbourne ‘Rebels’.
Three Victorians toured South Africa as Wallabies in 1933. Owen Bridle was a flanker on the 1933 tour and Dave Cowper a centre. Eric Davis went to Britain in 1947-48 and New Zealand in 1949, but the next Test player for Victoria wasn't until Robert Kat in 1958. During the 1960s, seven made the step up to International caps. These include - Paul Gibbs, David Shepherd and Dick Webb (admittedly all English born). In the 1970s, John Meadows with 22 caps in ten years and also Doug Osborne (born in New Zealand) became Wallabies.
In recent years, Ewen McKenzie (all time great test prop and now Waratahs coach), Andrew Heath (became a Wallaby in 1996) and David Fitter have played for the Wallabies. Current Victorian born Wallabies include Rocky Elsom and Digby Ioane. Tom McVerry has represented the Australian 7s side.
So no doubt the Victorians have had some representation in the Wallabies team in recent decades - but how much of that is/was part of the of the ARU's/Eddie Jones ‘give everyone playing first grade a turn’ policy, is not known
In Melbourne there is no senior level team not composed largely of ex pats (especially Islanders). There is no media coverage yet they still get test matches that actually draw interest away from the game in Sydney, further destroying junior ranks. Any player with potential would of course be most likely signed up to the Storm since there is no permanent top level rugby team for them to join.
Thus the ARU is its own worse enemy and playing into the hands of the AFL’s (Aussies Rules) plans for global (ie Australian) dominance.
Not only that but Aussie Rules has become less of a kicking and catching game and more a running with the ball (possession is king) game. Once caught with the ball, in order to not lose possession the players all go down into a heap with the ball trapped at the bottom. At the moment this just means a ball up and it is becoming more common. This will eventually lead to a rule allowing players to extract the ball from the middle just to keep the game going - in other words a ruck. The ball ups that remain will be adjusted to permit players to lift up other players to clear the massed scrum on the ground - thereby creating a line out, and on it goes. In other words they are slowly evolving their game into rugby - which will further distract from the pure form of the game.
Perhaps the ARU could meet the challenge of Aussies Rules head on and speed up Rugby with a few subtle rule changes like a ball up to restart play. Imagine that the ball is bounced into the air surrounded by forwards who instantly lose slight of it due to the fact that they don’t have enough flexibility in their necks to actually look up. They all just hold their hands out hoping the ball will land in them - when it does all the other players from both teams jump on the catcher in scenes reminiscent of the Monty Python -old boys match.
Is all of this enough reason to support the Melbourne Storm against Manly?
Well Mrs Maul is trying to convince Baby Maul that he's a Manly fan. I'm working on ‘Wallaby’ as his first word. Go the Storm.
*with thanks to Still Last and Maulburnian
Wednesday, 26 September 2007
And what do we get? Only one match to date has blown out to over 100 points and even then the All Blacks let Portugal get the biggest cheer of the day when they score a try. Australia only put on 91 against Japan. France let Namibia get within 77 of them. And Argentina played it tight and safe to secure the bonus point then shut up shop against Namibia and only won by 60.
This is not what we have come to expect of a Rugby World Cup. The Rugby World Cup is about letting the best teams on the planet show-off their skills to the Rugby public by racking up cricket scores against teams that applaud as they show them where the try line is before getting their autograph and doing a lap of honour to thank the crowd for the privilege of letting them turn up and roll over and let the big boys tickle their tummies before plunging in the knife.
Surely the standard of the minor teams hasn't improved to the extent where Georgia can nearly beat Ireland or Tonga can scare the pants off South Africa. Surely they were only patronising them. Surely the talk of reducing the World Cup to 16 teams is just that and South Africa and Ireland played dead to ensure the participation of the laughing stocks in future World Cups thus ensuring future embarrassing annihilations. Surely England aren't really that crap* and, as they have always done throughout the history of the game, have fallen on their sword because it's only good and proper and in the best interests of Rugby. Surely the Northern Hemisphere teams have recognised that it's the turn of the Southern Hemisphere to rule the Rugby World for a change and in the best interests of spreading the popularity of the game around the isolated jungle and beach villages of the tiny atolls and volcanic pimples on the face of planet have supported Fiji, Tonga and Samoa in their quests for World Cup respect.
There is, however, still time. Time for England to forget their altruism and put Tonga back in their box. Time for New Zealand to send the Romanians packing back to their Transylvanian castles. Time for Australia to remind Canada that they should stick to sports played on snow and ice. Time for France to let people put away the atlas and forget where Georgia is. And time for South Africa to let the USA stick to sports no one else plays and to not get any sympathy for the sins of their President or the sins of their Rugby team.
It's only proper.
*actually they are
Sunday, 23 September 2007
Already in this World Cup we've seen penalties for stepping on a player at the bottom of a ruck as opposed to rucking someone which traditionally means using as much force applied to the base of your boot studs to propel an opponent at the bottom of a ruck out the back of the ruck. It's the price you pay for being there.
In the France-Ireland game Sebastien Chabal was on the bottom of a ruck and making no effort to roll away. In the good old days, defined here as pre-television when men were men and dinosaurs ruled the football field and the blood flowed freely, the onus was on the player at the bottom of the ruck to get the hell out of there or face the fury of your opponent's boot studs. This had the effect of freeing up the ball and allowing the play to move on to the next battle. The referee was redundant as the players unwritten code of ethics (or lack thereof) took care of any misdemeanours.
Yet during the week we saw Chabal lie down at the bottom of the ruck as if he were at his hairdressers getting ready for the haircut that he threatened but never eventuated while his Irish opponent, who rightly took offence at this outrageous behaviour, expressed his displeasure, not by dragging his boot studs across his bearded face but by lightly stepping on him and being penalised in the process.
But as appalling as the passage of play was, nothing comes close to the disgusting display put on by Frederic Michalak. Taking a leaf out of that lesser World Cup - the soccer World Cup, Michalak took at least two dives. Now for the uninitiated who do not follow soccer (and congratulations for doing so) a soccer dive is when a player, threatened by the humiliation of being touched by an opponent throws himself at the ground, hands to the face before rolling along the ground, writhing in agony in a pathetic attempt to earn the sympathy of the referee and so mask his questionable sporting skills and inability to play the game as it was intended.
Michalak did this twice and succeeded once in conning the referee into awarding a penalty. Now this may or may not be a French thing. But unless the IRB stamp this out and soon it will become a Rugby thing and the game we all love will be played by weaklings wearing make-up and carrying handbags.
Ban the TV replay, get rid of the TMO (television match official) and let the players tell the ref who was right and who was wrong. Referees are paid to referee Rugby, not to police children. The laws off the field are different to those on it, and many of those are unwritten and known to men who have had to learn them the hard way. Is the IRB's philosophy not to antagonise the mums watching at home because they might not want their kids playing Rugby? Well mums who don't like that sort of thing breed kids who are soft and shouldn't be playing Rugby anyway. Soccer mums may get all the publicity but it's the Rugby mums who quietly go about their business cutting oranges into quarters and screaming at their kid to get stuck in and have a go. No soccer mum has ever screamed out "smash him".
But for all my indignation at the plight of Rugby, it is nothing compared to that of the English Rugby commentators. Tortured by years of humiliating performances they have begun to turn on their own team. Just check out some of these comments from the England-Samoa clash:
"It hasn't been a vintage (English) display - well it has been a vintage display but not in the way they'd like."
"The old men of the English bench."
"The selection of Lawrence Dallaglio is looking more bizarre by the day."
"(England) have no one who looks like breaking the line... (It's) been a problem with the English backline for years."
"These lumbering old men that England have in the side - it's pointless giving the ball to them."
"England punished for this very slow ball that they continuously seem to be hampered by and have been for so long now."
"It's not working (slow ball) and it's never worked in World Rugby."
"The difference between the English cavalry and the South African cavalry coming off the bench is quite startling."
"The English players are not tier one players."
"You just sense the lack of confidence... coming through in spades."
"You wonder if their mental focus has been misdirected."
It must be said that mid-way through the second-half one of the commentators admitted that he was Scottish. Why the English would employ him to do their commentary is baffling, but I can't wait for their next game.
Thursday, 20 September 2007
No coaches have been killed (allegedly) for the sake of headlines, no minnows have proven to be giant killers (though Georgia came close), locals can afford ticket prices and are turning up in droves denying us the pleasure of laughing at empty stadiums, insane scheduling means games are being played at ridiculous hours so the supporters of the two best teams in the World sleep through their teams' games, and no world record thrashings have been recorded (because it's fun to watch minnows get massacred and to debate their worthiness).
Now, Australians (and New Zealanders) have two World Cups at the same time to sleep through - the Rugby World Cup and the Twenty20 Cricket World Cup. The Twenty20 is considered by many to be a success for all the reasons that the Cricket World Cup was considered to be a failure, namely that it's over so quickly that the players don't have a chance to get sick of playing such meaningless dross and the audience at home don't have time to get bored.
So if Twenty20 cricket, a sport that's as about as relevant to the real thing (Test Cricket) as sleeping in the wet patch is to sex (it's the price you pay), can be considered a success then what are the lessons for the Rugby World Cup?
1) The blink and you'll miss it principle. The shorter an event goes, the more 'must-see-ability' it has. Two weeks for Twenty20 is of course about 1 week 6 days and 23 hours too long, but at least you don't have to wait long for it to end. Too much Rugby, on the other hand, is never enough. So how to reconcile these opposing forces? Have a two week Rugby World Cup every three months. Promotions and relegations, divisions and pools, knock-out stages and grand finales. It's so crazy it's probably the most sensible thing the Rolling Maul has ever come up with.
2) The random finish for laughs and everyone's a winner principle (also known as the Twenty20 bowl-off). This is as opposed to the random finish and everyone's a loser principle that the penalty shoot-out in soccer is. In either case, like a good car crash or cleavage, you know you shouldn't but it's hard not to watch. Rugby threatens to have a field-goal-off if it gets that far but that misses the point. Bowlers are the engine room of cricket and forwards are the engine room of Rugby. So if everyone's to finish a winner then forwards need to determine the winner in the event of a tie at the Rugby World Cup. So the Rolling Maul proposes just that. A rolling maul set 20 metres out from the try line and three minutes to score. Five to each team and there's an extra half hour that even purists could enjoy.
3) The over-penalise the infringement and they won't do it again principle. The free-hit after a no-ball in Twenty20 may be one innovation too far but it does make bowlers toe the line (pun intended). in this spirit, the Rolling Maul proposes extending the card system beyond just red and yellow. Any penalty deserves more than a simple three points on offer if close enough. Send the offender off for good (a black card). It won't take long for the team with six players left to get the message that if they just played it straight they could wallop the team with four-players left. The IRB wants to clean up the game - well there's your answer.
Any other suggestions?
Tuesday, 18 September 2007
And this is it now (on the left)
All comments on the current state of jersey design accepted - starting with the Wallabies man-boobs abomination - it may save 1.5% in lactic acid build-up by chemically transforming sweat into positive karma or some such crap but it just looks shit. Mind you, as Phil Kearns once said during the great budgie vomit debate (the jersey had a strip of white over one shoulder), "I'd happily play in my undies if that's what it took to play for the Wallabies" or words to that effect.
Thursday, 13 September 2007
The good news of course is that we are about to see the death of Rugby in Europe and quite frankly it's about time. For too long now the Europeans have been running around like a fat old tabby cat as if they owned the place, leaving their messy paw prints where they don't belong, vomiting up all sorts of rubbish and then demanding that the rest of the World feed them because that's the way it's always been.
Well no more. When the Southern Hemisphere takes all four finals spots and Argentina is let into the Tri-Nations, that tournament will become the true World Cup and every four years the rest of the World can play a qualifying tournament to see who will be let in to wave the token Northern Hemisphere flag. Better still, let's get a combined Europe team and flog them too.
The highlight of the week of course was the first streaker of the tournament during the Japan vs Fiji game. Much to everyone's surprise in Australia he was shown, deliberately or otherwise, in all his full-frontal glory on the World Cup broadcaster Channel 10. Such a thing hasn't been done here since about the time Kerry Packer was running World Series Cricket. The danger of course is that next time this happens the bastards that run television in this country will at best pixelate and at worst instigate a seven-second delay.
Still, even that won't be enough to prevent us from Bill Woods' banal comments or Rupert McCall's squawking. At least the Bens (Tune and Darwin) have played the game though last time I checked Woods was a motor racing commentator. According to the Channel 10 website "Woods is still an active sportsman, reader, musician, fisherman and home handyman". Well that's about half the blokes I know and we make make more intelligent Rugby World Cup observations at the pub.
What's Gordon Bray up to? He's been commentating Australian Rugby since before William Webb Ellis had invented the game. Rugby without Gordon Bray is like pizza without cheese - it's just not right.
And who the hell is Rupert McCall anyway? Again, Channel 10 tells us "Rupert is the author of five anthologies of verse that have collectively sold over 120,000 copies" and "he now hosts the Sports Today program on radio station 4BC and writes a blog for the Brisbane Times. In many sectors, Rupert McCall has become the poet of our generation." Bloody hell. Even I'm more qualified to commentate on Rugby than he is - now there's a thought...
Wednesday, 12 September 2007
Of course even the original messiah (admittedly depending on who you talk to) wasn't recognised as such until after he rose from the dead. Not only has Berrick Barnes not performed any miracles yet, he hasn't even had the chance to prove that he's just a naughty boy.
The big concern is that Berrick Barnes is the new wonder kid after just 28 minutes against Japan while back in Australia former wonder kid Kurtley Beale must feel all washed-up and ignored at the age of 20 despite winning man-of-the-match after man-of-the-match award in the Australian Rugby Championship.
Even John Connolly admitted that Barnes was only selected for the World Cup squad based on his 2006 Super 14 form which is strange considering how well his Queensland Reds did that season (they finished 12th). Meanwhile Kurtley Beale, Lachlan Turner, Josh Holmes and Totafu Polata-Nau starred for the Junior Wallabies, or Joeys or whatever they're called when they won the Rugby Under 20 World Cup. None of them was good enough for the real thing yet league-convert Barnes, who earlier in the year threatened (or at least was rumored) to return to Rugby League, made the squad.
Now the Rolling Maul isn't one for conspiracy theories - actually that's not true, JFK was shot by aliens who escaped from a hangar in Nevada before moving to Paris and causing Princess Diana's car to crash - but with Kurtley Beale contracted to the Waratahs for the next few years it doesn't stretch the imagination to contemplate the Wallaby hierarchy 'investing' for the future by showing Barnes what he could be missing out on.
That doesn't explain the glowing report card from his cameo against Japan though. That's just desperation and wishful-thinking from a coach who knows his teams chances hinge on one player staying upright for the entire tournament.
Sunday, 9 September 2007
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?
Wednesday, 5 September 2007
It's about seeing Namibia losing by 100 to Australia. It's about unpronounceable Georgian names. It's about seeing the Americans get spanked in sport. It's about Canadians boasting about being the best in North America. It's about teams that don't have a clue making school boy errors. It's about debating whether your club colts team could beat a nation's best.
Well like schoolkids that go to a selective school only because their Dad went there and not because of any academic talent, the Rolling Maul has decided to sit the World Cup minnows down for a stern talking to about some of the harsh realities of life:
The Rolling Maul's Advice to The Teams That Have no Chance Whatsoever Ever Ever of Making the Quarter-Finals and Probably Wouldn't Be There in The First Place if it Wasn't for the IRB Finding a Way to Satisfy the Yanks and the Japanese
Ever since you won that Olympic Gold Medal in 1920 you've liked to think you know a thing or two about Rugby. That only two teams were competing is irrelevant. And so what if Grid Iron evolved from Rugby Union, humans evolved from monkeys but that doesn't mean we should play poker with them. And so you beat Japan twice (in World War 2 and in Gosford in 2003), well we don't care. You're only here because we like to see you lose at every sport we care about (Athletics isn't a sport by the way - running fast for the sake of it is pointless unless you have a ball under your arm and don't get me started on the triple jump or even worse - race walking).
A nation full of sumo wrestlers and you can't produce one decent front rower. Don't give me that rice diet and raw fish excuse, I've seen Fijians go all day on a strict diet of yams and kava. And what kind of a line-up do you call this - James Arlidge? Glen Marsh? Luke Thompson? Bryce Robins? At least Luatangi Samurai Vatuvei is pretending to embrace Japanese culture but really - Samurai? Stick to Nintendo and your Sony playstations.
Don't tell me you shouldn't be in this list. I know you made the quarter-finals in 1991 but that's only because South Africa were still under suspension. Still it could be worse I suppose. If it wasn't for you the Americans would be unbearable. And the other thing I don't get with you guys is why you play like the English when it's that little French rump of yours that has all the jois de vivre (excuse my French).
The Lelos? What the hell is that? When I was a kid we floated on them in the kiddie pool. Oh I see - it's a traditional Georgian game that's similar to Rugby. Well using that logic the English should call themselves the Walls. And let's face it, no one knows where Georgia is except that it's not that one in the USA. Well at least you have that going for you. Nice jerseys though.
142-0. That's gotta make you wonder. The Wallabies did better than a try every four minutes against you. And if that's not enough when you went home you had more political squabbles than the South Africans. Must be tough knowing you're the second best team in Africa. Now that's a frightening thought. What's third best like? Boy, that clash against Georgia is going to be worth staying up for.
Welcome to first grade. I read it took you 31 years just to get your first win and that was in 1966. Well I predict it will be at least 131 years till you get your first win in the World Cup, but won't that tournament in 2138 or thereabouts be a ripper? So you're playing the All Blacks. A piece of advice - when they do the haka pay close attention and enjoy the moment. It's the closest you'll get to them on the scoreboard and the only chance you'll get to stand toe to toe with them.
So are you called the Oaks because you don't move much on the field or because when you do you lumber? OK so that was a pretty bad joke but so is Romanian Rugby so it's all in context. Anyway, I know it's a cliche but have you considered getting some of your vampires in the front row? Would give a whole new meaning to the term blood bin. Where do you get one of those anyway?
1974 was a long time ago. I know you beat the Wallabies then but now you can't even beat Japan. Maybe you should spend less time working on your spear throwing war dance and more on your catching and passing. But then again, your war dance is worth the price of admission.
Saturday, 1 September 2007
I would like to apply for the position of Coach of the Wallabies.
I have a long experience of shepherding drunks from location to location having organised both my brother's and my mate's bucks parties. Unlike the Wallabies, no one ended up being questioned by police and no one was beaten up.
I share traits associated with many of the other applicants for this position. For example, as with Ewen Mackenzie, as coach, I have never won a major Rugby trophy, enjoy eating meat pies and am overweight. I also have facial hair similar to that of Laurie Fisher.
I have an extensive knowledge of Rugby issues as is demonstrated by my Rugby weblog the Rolling Maul. Of course, you should not take my insults of you, the current Wallaby coaching staff or anyone else who runs the game too seriously. Each point I raise is meant to be in the best spirit of the game of course and in a futile effort to get some of you lazy bastards to do something for a change.
I am a great supporter of Australian Rugby. My Waratahs sticker that came with the Sydney Morning Herald is stuck to the fridge behind the menu to the local pizza restaurant. I also embrace the Australian Rugby Championship and am even considering going to another match.
My coaching philosophy is that you shouldn't over coach and that the natural talents of players should not be impeded by too much coaching theory, too many instructions, or too much training. Indeed I'd like to think I take a 'hands off' approach to training, often just watching from the sidelines, the grandstand, or the local pub.
Thank you for considering my application. I am available from next winter but in summer I intend to coach the Pakistan cricket team, unless that position's already gone, in which case you can find me at the beach.
The Rolling Maul