Tuesday, 29 April 2008

South Africa Survival Guide

For too long now, Australian Rugby Union teams have struggled to come to terms with playing in South Africa. And for good reason, the locals are thin, the air is savage. The distractions are numerous and not just limited to the beaches of Durban. It's also a long way and in the wrong time zone.

So with the experience of Africa limited to having spent a week smoking its way around Morocco and looking across the border at Egyptian security forces from Israel, the Rolling Maul is proud to present, for the benefit of the Brumbies and Waratahs who are about to embark on South African 'mini-tours', this South Africa Survival Guide in 7 easy lessons:

1) The flight over there: Deep vein thrombosis from sitting in cramped conditions is a real danger on long haul flights, especially when you have thighs like tree trunks. Avoid potential DVTs by checking your legs in as carry-on luggage. There is much more room in the overhead compartment for them to stretch out.

2) Food: The All Blacks lost a World Cup when a waitress poisoned their tucker before the final. To avoid any chance of this, don't eat. By the same token best not to breathe, you don't know where that air has been.

3) Acclimatise aschlimatise: 'Foreign' teams have always had trouble adjusting to the altitude of Pretoria and Bloemfontein. Get there early or get there at the last minute. Special exercises. None of it works. Yet astronauts have never had any trouble adjusting to no atmosphere simply by wearing a specially designed suit. Rugby players should follow suit - literally, and wear space suits onto the ground. This has the added advantage of providing head protection in scrums and tackles.

4) Language problems: With about 17 officially recognised national languages (ensuring the national anthem goes for over an hour) and another hundred or so local dialects, South African Rugby teams have always had an advantage in lineout and playbook calls. Take the locals on at their own game and speak Australian dialects, such as Bogan, Surfie, Bushie or Wog. Watch the confusion on their face when after winning the toss Phil Waugh says "Heapswickedmate".

5) Aggressive spectators: South African spectators are known to show their displeasure at refereeing decisions by storming the field and tackling the ref. This is unacceptable behaviour and is obviously designed to throw visiting teams off their games that aren't used to that sort of thing. Avoid this by purchasing all the match tickets in advance and flying 40,000 Australian supporters to the game to fill the stands.

6) Massive props: Os Du Randt was just one of many behemoths to play Rugby for South Africa and the tradition continues. Australian scrums struggle against these immovable objects, so it's time to fight fire with fire and fatten Matt Dunning up. Oh I see. Well we'll put that in the too hard basket then.

7) Schalk Burger: Supposedly the world's best flanker, Burger is a threat to the Waratahs and must be stopped. Well that was easy.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Ruling NSWRU With An Iron Fist

For far too long the NSWRU has been characterised by in-fighting and backstabbing to the detriment of Rugby Union in NSW. On field success has been no guarantee of Board harmony.

It is no coincidence that as soon as Ewen MacKenzie freed himself of the pressure of the board through the ingenious tactic of manipulating his amicable sacking, the Waratahs started performing. It is also no surprise that each potential new Waratahs coach, Michael Cheika, Scott Johnson and Todd Louden to date, have knocked back the head coach job because of the board.

In an ideal world (in which Soccer, Aussie Rules and Rugby League don't exist, Rugby has a dedicated free-to-air TV channel and pig skin footballs fly again) the coach could sack the board instead of the other way around.

A firm handed is need to guide the Waratahs into the new professional age...
Someone with experience as a leader, the courage to take tough decisions, who isn't afraid to to be disliked, and who has a great moustache and a wonderful head of hair. The Rolling Maul proposes Joseph Stalin (cloned from DNA extracted from remains secreted from a Russian vault guarded by the IRB) as the new Waratahs coach.

Old Joe was a funny bloke who knew how to get others to agree with him at Board meetings which is exactly what the NSWRU needs in a Waratahs coach. The fact that he knows nothing about the game is a real bonus as for far too long now coaches have approached the Waratahs with strange ideas about lineouts, scrums, rucks, phase ball and other incomprehensible, so called "innovations".

There will of course be several years while Joe comes out of the test tube and learns to walk etc - so while that's happening let Tah Man conduct Board meetings with a baseball bat, Scarface style. The bickering board members would think twice about opposing the chairman's motion when the first person to do so would be left as a bloodied stump courtesy of a Tah Man counselling session.

The Rolling Maul recognises that installing Joseph Stalin as head coach of the Waratahs is controversial and technologically difficult, but a dictator of some description is required. The Waratahs require a man prepared to recruit old front rowers to stand around Board meetings and "sort out" any differences board members may have with the coach. Unfortunately George Gregan is still playing Rugby in France so he's out.

But even dictators need to have background tests to see that they are suitable for the position. Once it's advertised that the Waraths are looking for a dictator every tin-pot deposed president for life from Africa or Central America will be putting his hand up (and in the till). The Waratahs don't want to see a bloody coup every time the ticket price went up. But then again...

A potential head coach with form on the Board is Robert Mugabe. Mugabe may be looking for a new job shortly too. Only he could print 100,000 free entry tickets for a 40,000 seat stadium. Only he could get the local press to say that the Waratahs won every game played regardless of the actual result. Only he could take over opposition football fields by sending in old Waratahs and then proclaiming them as new home grounds. Only he could order a recount of the score even if it has been posted on the scoreboard for three weeks. And only Robert Mugabe could stand up to the colonial powers of Britain and Christchurch.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Buying the Waratahs

John O'Neill has put it on the record that he would accept private ownership of Super 14 teams, and this has been supported by the provinces and the Players Union.

As a result, the Rolling Maul is willing to smash open the Matt Dunning piggy bank which contains $62.98, most of which is available to purchase the team. While the Rolling Maul admits that this is a highly inflated price given the Waratahs track record of failure, it will pay above the line if the following conditions are met:

1) Ownership of the team would mean more than just a name change. There is a rolling maul philosophy to be embodied and this would be encapsulated by The Rolling Maul Waratahs who would proudly display the style, patterns and colours of your traditional rolling maul in their new uniform; red around the jersey collar, signifying the blood spilt by backs caught under the studs of forwards; white lines and green stripes across the rest of the jersey, signifying the lines across the field progressively crossed as the maul rolls across the paddock; and brown shorts, signifying the panic experienced by the opposition when feeling the full force of a Waratahs rolling maul.

2) The Rolling Maul Waratahs should be a true people's team, playing matches at Drummoyne Oval, Granville Oval and Forshaw Park on Saturday afternoons straight after the local Shute Shield or Subbies game.

3) The team will be required to drink beer after matches and pies before them.

4) The Waratahs team song which hasn't been heard of since it was invented last year will be replaced by a modified Eastern Suburbs "Beastie" cry. Instead of "Beastie, Beastie, Beastie", "Tah, Tah, Tah" will be required to be screamed at full volume by all the players in a circle in the middle of the ground after each win. With shorts around their ankles of course.

5) Corporate boxes will be made available to members of local Rugby clubs and their families on a roster basis.

6) Ticket prices will be changed to reflect reality. One price fits all, $20 first in best dressed (no reserved seats). Not only will this ensure people watch the early match but will ensure more food and drink is served. The scheme will thus pay for itself.

7) In a gesture of goodwill, all Rolling Maul Waratahs will be made available to their club sides for at least half the Shute Shield Season.

If these conditions are guranteed, then the Rolling Maul will happily take ownership of the Waratahs. Admittedly it would be a bold move on the part of the NSWRU to accept this offer but it is likely to be the best offer they will receive.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Lies, Damned Lies, and the Waratahs

The Rolling Maul was flabbergasted. Not only were the Waratahs playing running Rugby on Saturday night against the Blues, not only were they doing it successfully, not only had Kurtley Beale finally learnt (or perhaps been told) that it was OK to pass the ball, but Lote Tuquiri became NSW's all time Super Rugby try scorer (though he is still 4 short of even getting to half way to Doug Howlett's 58 tries). Seems like only a couple of years ago that the ARU dished out millions to sign him up. Actually, it was last year.

And if that's not a stunning statistic, how about these found in the NSW Rugby Archives - a dusty manila folder kept in a drawer under the bar at Concord Oval (the perfect place really, no one ever goes there):

  • Matt Dunning holds the NSW record for most field goals kicked in Super Rugby - 1. He shares the record with 4 other players.
  • NSW has never kicked more than 2 field goals in a season.
  • Mark Ella holds the all time NSW field goal record, but with only 9, and he kicked 3 of those in 1 match (vs Waikato, 1981).
  • To put this in perspective, a Bulls player (L Koen) kicked 7 in one season in 2003 and Andrew Mehrtens holds the Super Rugby record of 17 including 3 in one match.
  • Matt Dunning is also the most capped prop to have ever played for NSW
  • Lote Tuquiri is the most capped winger in Super Rugby (68 matches) though is only equal with Scott Staniforth for most capped winger for NSW.
  • And in a poor indictment of the history of the Waratahs the record for most appearances at five eighth is only 41 by Manny Edmonds. Stephen Larkham, by comparison, played 116 games for the Brumbies.
What conclusions can we draw?

1) Bring back Mark Ella
2) Matt Dunning should either retire or kick more field goals if he wants to ensure his legacy as the greatest NSW Rugby player and field goal kicker of all time.
3) Lote Tuquiri will probably have to play another 68 games at least before people think of him as a Rugby League player first and foremost.
4) Kurtley Beale only has to play two more seasons for the Waratahs to be the greatest five-eighth they have ever had in Super Rugby.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Ewen McKenzie Dumped Along With Perspective

Rugby types like to reminisce. Forwards like to hark back to muddy fields and sharpened studs, upper cuts at the bottom of rucks and rolling mauls that went for days on end and made 15 metres in the process. Backs like to pretend that life was better when they didn't need to get mud on their jerseys (but other than that all the rules invented in the last 30 years and all the improvements to playing surfaces have made their life easier, just don't tell them that).

So to hear the ARU and NSWRU cry poor and bemoan the falling attendances and TV ratings is to listen to old men with selective Alzheimer's.

Back in the good old prehistoric days, around 1997, when the Super 14 was less Super and the concept of 26 rounds or a team in Japan wasn't even a twinkle in John O'Neill's eye, you could get into the Sydney Football Stadium for $15 on the night and have a whole bay of seats to yourself, and not behind the goal posts but on the 22. Beers cost $2, there were no beer queues and if you ran onto the ground you were just politely told to leave of your own account or be escorted away (as happened to the Rolling Maul one memorable bucks party).

Super 12s Rugby had a one-hour highlights package on channel 7 but if you wanted to watch a live game you had almost no chance. Foxtel was a luxury no one had (unlike now when it's a luxury everyone is almost forced to have) and apart from going to the game to see the match played you had to find a pub that showed it, and there weren't many of those.

Fast forward to 2005. In front of packed grounds, super coach Ewen Mackenzie takes a star-studded Waratahs to second on the ladder and the final of the Super 12s (where they get thrashed by the Crusaders). The game is in rude health after a highly successful World Cup where the game captures the imagination of the country and all matches are ridiculously well attended and TV ratings are massive.

So less than two years later is a legacy of a successful World Cup and Waratahs Super Rugby season squandered? Is Ewen Mackenzie leading a team of injury riddled youngsters and washed up has-beens to the bottom of the table. The answer to both is a resounding no. The powers that be that run the game have never had it so good.

Compared to the late 1990s, Rugby Union in this country is in rude health. Over 20,000 people saw the Waraths play the Cheetahs, a team from South Africa that no one knows anything about and haven't won a game all season. The Waratahs have won 4 from 6, as good as nearly any season they've had in the past and a massive improvement over 2007 when only a victory over an even worse Queensland outfit prevented them taking home the wooden spoon.

Yet the NSW Rugby heavies, with memories only slightly better than goldfish (OK, so that's a myth but so is contemplating League merging with Union) have pushed Ewen Mackenzie out the door.

Maybe they should thank the NSW public for giving them such a luxury. And while they're at it, try talking the game up rather bemoan a lost heritage that doesn't exist.