Sunday, 24 February 2008

ELVs Achieving Nothing

Two weeks into the new era and the Experimental Law Variations (ELVs) have not achieved their express purpose of preventing the Crusaders dominating the Super 14s and ensuring the Waratahs win the competition.

The ELVs were introduced after much discussion between the major Rugby World powers, both those in Sydney and in Europe. It was agreed by all parties that in order to reinvigorate the provincial game, the Crusaders had to be stopped as their continuing success has the potential to kill the game in much the same way as Walter Lindrum killed billiards.

Similarly, Rugby can not be a truly World game without massive popularity in Australia, and popularity in Australia means success in Sydney, the home of the most ardent supporter of their local team so long as they’re winning.

With massive wins over the Brumbies and Bulls the Crusaders have emphatically demonstrated that the ELVs are not working. Similarly, the Waratahs have been unconvincing in defeating the Hurricanes while clearly being frustrated by the ELVs in losing a match to the Chiefs that by all rights they should have won comfortably if only the laws were rewritten properly.

It is for this reason that the Rolling Maul once again steps into the breach and makes the following suggestions to ensure the Waratahs dominate Super 14 Rugby for generations to come while the Crusaders become mere road bumps on the Waratahs Superhighway:

1. The Mascot Law: Tah Man was introduced by the Waratahs this year to explain the ELVs to people who read with their lips moving – namely children and Queenslanders who had wandered into the Sydney Football Stadium by mistake. The Rolling Maul suggests this initiative needs to be rewarded by the legislators by giving a 7 points head-start to the Waratahs at every home game. Other teams can get this leg-up too but only if their mascots are as well thought out, educational and as good looking as Tah Man – and that’s impossible.

2. The League Law: No team has recruited more Rugby League players than the Waratahs. By taking the best talent out of Rugby League the Waratahs have dealt numerous fatal blows to League while ensuring their success and Wallaby success (it just hasn’t happened yet). Any team that takes the field with ex-league players deserves 2 bonus points for each player (note that Brad Thorn doesn’t count because he’s an ex-league ex union ex-league player).

3. The Three-quarter-season Law: For so many years the Waratahs have been a Super 14 powerhouse after Round 10. Clearly, the structure of Super 14 scoring is wrong, and matches from rounds 1-10 need to count triple.

4. The Lote Tuquiri Law: The ARU paid big bucks to secure Lote Tuquiri’s signature and even more to keep it. Lote is box office gold. He’s a hunk of spunk that even men can appreciate. Every time he touches the ball spectators get to their feet to urge him on. It’s about time this loyalty to Lote is rewarded. Each match Lote should be awarded a try underneath the posts, but not until he’s made half a dozen jinks past 15 despairing opposition tacklers aware of the law.

5. The Hippo Law: South Africa’s lumbering forwards may spend a lot of time wallowing around a Rugby paddock in the same way a hippopotamus lolls around a swamp, but it works and they won a Super 14 and World Cup as a result. For too long now having the girth and looks of a hippopotamus have been an asset. It's time to put an end to this nonsense by banning (or maybe even hunting) the hippos so that the Waratah's gazelle-like fleet footed front row will be free to dominate and roam the savannahs that are Rugby playing fields (except Matt Dunning who may get caught in the cross-fire).

This is just the beginning. These tweaks to existing laws are necessary to ensure the survival of Rugby as we know it, or, at least, as it should be.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Message to ARU: Hold the Back Page

(With thanks to Still Last)

John O'Neill is spot on.

John O'Neill has hit the nail on the head that Rugby needs a shake up to become more interesting or risk shifting from the back page to the insode back page and eventually to the small print sports listings next to the grade cricket results.

And what it needs is more publicity. Despite the best efforts of the Rolling Maul, Rugby is drifting further away from the headlines each year. Sure Matt Henjak is doing his best to stem the tide but he can't do it alone.

Time to take a page out of the National Rugby League and AFL media managers' guides, get on the front foot, put out those media releases early and create some headlines.

Take the traditional NRL approach - With four weeks to go before the season it's time to start the ball rolling with your traditional "Bulldogs star arrested on drink driving charge" headline. Two weeks before kick off and it's an incident at a country resort where the team was staying after their trial match. The steady stream of carefully crafted 'news' will ensure Rugby's proper place front and centre on the back page of every newspaper (except the Age - that would be ridiculous and Wayne Carey has a mortgage on that).

Now I don't want to tell those people at ARU HQ how to do their jobs but here are a few media releases that should make the back pages well before the local hacks start enquiring deeper into those notoriously misleading police charge sheets;

1) Western Force Boxing Clinic a Huge Success - Numerous players at the Western Force felt intimidated last year by the size and aggression of the big South African teams, so in a novel approach to fighting fire with petrol Western Force coach John Mitchell turned to the experts. Mike Tyson has been employed as a special training coach.....

2) Skills Coaches Clinic held on Rottnest Island - Poor positional kicking is now a thing of the past at the Western Force courtesy of their latest kicking training on Rottnest Island. Local marsupials have agreed to lend a hand...

3) NSW Player seen beating panels in local smash repairers....

4) Ben Cousins to Lecture ARU. Ben Cousins has agreed to speak to John O'Neill and other ARU bosses on securing overseas contracts, maintaining a corporate image, and performing under third party induced pressure...

Lets face it there is a general lack of investigative journalism these days with reporters simply reprinting press release and putting their name at the top. If we were on the front foot most of these would generate valuable press and thereby create revenue without the need for John O'Neill to put the remaining 2003 world cup operating surplus on 36 black at the casino.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Super 14 2008 Guide for Fans and Punters

Betting agencies have released their odds for this year’s Super 14 and as usual there is a mish mash of the perennial favourites, the perennially overpriced underachievers, and the perennially underpriced over achievers.

So to see whether your team is worth putting any money on, consult this betting guide:

The Super 14's traditional favourites are once again the bookie’s favourite despite a disappointing 2007 by their lofty standards. Coach Robbie Deans will have one eye on the Australian teams this year as his potential Wallabies chargers try to impress. Dean’s second job may prove distracting and tiring and take away from his social life, certainly that was the Rolling Maul’s experience when delivering pizzas many years ago.

Current Price: $3.50
Recommendation: Not worth it at that price
Prediction: 5th place

David Nucifora is mightily peeved that Robbie Deans stole the Wallabies coaching position from under his nose and has a point to prove. The Blues fell into the finals last year after being frontrunners for much of the season despite Graham Henry resting most of the team’s stars. With a full compliment of All Blacks at his disposal Nucifora is ready to rumble.

Current Price: $4.75
Recommendation: Reasonable odds but not great value
Prediction: 5th place

Look up ‘Rugby “perennial underachievers”’ in Google and up pops the Waratahs (really). The Waratahs are always loaded with talent and expectation and their long suffering fans have rebelled in response with the near-empty Sydney Football Stadium echoing to the missed kicks and fumbled passes of another missed try or conversion that would have sealed a finals berth. This season promises a return to the glory days, early form, glimpses of the promised land, failure in South Africa, upset losses at home. Still, it’s a mighty improvement on 2007.

Current Price: $6.00
Recommendation: Tell ‘em they’re dreaming
Prediction: 5th place

Everyone’s easybeats won the comp last year but there were extenuating circumstances. None of the New Zealand teams performed as normal after being hobbled by the National coach, and even when those players did start they either got injured or were out of form as would be expected from players that had no pre-season matches. Things should return to normal this season, with calls emanating from the South African media within weeks of the Super 14 starting for South Africa to abandon the competition due to the inherent travel disadvantage.

Current Price: $9.00
Recommendation: Forget it. If you’re going to put your money in South Africa buy gold and diamond company shares.
Prediction: 5th place

The invisible team of the Supers 14s, no one knows if the Chiefs have ever made the Finals or not. Looking at least year’s results it seems they won 5 on the trot to just miss out, making them the anti-Waratahs. Will the streak continue? Will this team have enough Indians? And where the hell is Waikato anyway?

Current Price: $9.00
Recommendation: Who knows?
Prediction: 5th place

See ‘Bulls’.

Current Price: $11.00
Recommendation: Forget it. If you’re going to put your money in South Africa buy gold and diamond company shares.
Prediction: 5th place

So abject was the Hurricanes’ 2007 season that they capped it off by losing to the Waratahs in the final round. And now with Tana Umaga retired and Ma’a Nonu a mere shadow of his former self there is little to look forward to. Though with Neemia Tialata, Rodney So'oialo, and Tane Tu'ipulotu also in the team the Hurricanes tradition of boasting the most apostrophes and vowels in the Super 14 is set to continue.

Current Price: $13.00
Recommendation: Fo’orget it.
Prediction: 5th place

George Gregan and Stephen Larkham may have retired but the reality is that they had been effectively retired for years. Laurie Fisher knew that but valued his job more than David Nucifora so did nothing about it. Now that the deadwood has been extracted Laurie can get on with the job of giving Canberra its biggest thing to cheer about since the last Federal election, although Julian Huxley is no Larkham and Josh Holmes is no Gregan even if he is threatening to shave his head.

Current Price: $23.00
Recommendation: Worth an each-way bet
Prediction: 5th place

Isolation can do strange things to a man’s mind, and Perth is the most isolated city on the planet. It can also breed an us-versus-them mentality which, when it comes to sport, is not necessarily a bad thing. So with the added motivation of getting the West Coast Eagles off the back and front pages of the West Australian, Force players and administrators went to great extremes to embarrass themselves and their sport during the off-season. And it worked. After all, you’re not paranoid if they really are out to get you.

Current Price: $34.00
Recommendation: Good value
Prediction: 5th place

The one-man team that are the Chris Latham Reds were a no-man team last season and it showed. Well that one-man is back in action for this, his last season, so expect improvement, not that they could get any worse.

Current Price: $41.00
Recommendation: Not worth a bet at any price
Prediction: 5th place

The Rest
It’s probably more a comment on how much gambling the various countries do that the Waratahs and Reds are so favoured in the betting despite coming second-last and last respectively in 2007. That the three South African teams that only did marginally better than the Reds and Waratahs last year are poorly favoured in the betting may just show a lack of imagination and knowledge from those that frame the odds. Same thing can’t be said for the Highlanders though. An average 2007 and the loss of most of their All Blacks and even the jokes at the betting agencies recognise they haven’t got a chance in 2008.

Stormers, Cheetahs, Highlanders, Lions
Current Price: $51.00, $67.00, $201.00, $201.00
Recommendation: Always fun to go for a roughie and as the Bulls and Sharks showed it can pay off. Of this lot the Cheetahs may be the best bet, winning 4 games last season when most predicted they’d win none. The Lions too won 5 games so worth an each-way bet.
Prediction: 5th place

Friday, 1 February 2008

That's Not Expansion. This is Expansion

Another year another round of handwringing, head shaking and navel probing as Australian and World Rugby look to solve all their woes by adding more token teams and more token matches to an already underperforming global Rugby calendar. Last year it was all talk of adding a third tier to Australian Rugby, a poor argument never solved, certainly not by the euthanised Australian Rugby Championship and certainly not when the long neglected 11th and 12th tiers are crying out for funding and recognition.

The half hearted efforts to make the Super 14 more Super by adding a token team in Western Australia or, now, Western Sydney are never going to work when the heart and soul of the game is neglected and running around suburban grounds (and even some in Melbourne) without any proper support. For this reason The Rolling Maul, again, heeds the cries of the Rugby community and comes to the rescue with an idea so obvious that it took only 4 glasses of red wine and 6 overcooked sausages to see it. Expand Super 14 to Super 104.

It's completely absurd to be talking about inventing new teams when perfectly good ones are already playing the game on a weekly basis in front of crowds of friends and family and the occasional pet, yet they are prevented from taking on the best that the world has to offer. When the Penrith Emus take on and defeat the Auckland Blues, the world will truly understand the universal appeal of a game that enables thousands of participants to play at the highest level.

104 teams across the Southern Hemisphere naturally lends itself to a proper year long season of 52 weeks with each team playing two matches a week. No more off season, no more letting cricket and tennis hog the limelight, and no more trial matches. Every match counts. Every player will be expected to play every match of course.

A promotion and relegation system would be required to ensure quality and provide added motivation, so that the bottom, say, 35 teams of Division 1 drop down to Division 2 which of course consists of another 104 teams, the top 35 of which would be promoted to Division 1 and so on.

With the local subbies teams assured of quality competition week in and week out crowds will flock back to the games and playing rosters will swell as everyone realises they have a chance of playing internationally. TV audiences will grow just as fast as quality live matches are broadcast hundreds of times a week.

The limited international reach of AFL and Rugby League will ensure that they couldn't hope to compete against the people's game that will be Rugby Union. Meanwhile soccer will be tolerated as those Rugby players not talented enough to compete in the various skill disciplines of Super 104 (ie they can't catch, throw or run) need somewhere to go show off their only remaining skill, falling down for no reason.

As we embark on another Rugby season it would be worthwhile if the powers that be, or the ARU, seriously consider these proposals. The Rolling Maul has reasonable consulting rates if they require implementation.