Friday, 25 July 2008

The Fall and Fall of the All Blacks

Nick Farr-Jones smells it. John Eales knows it is true. Tim Horan has said it publicly. David Campese knew it from the day he was born. The era of All Black invincibility has come to an end.

There are any number of milestones, including some that didn't occur in the quarter and semi-final of World Cups, that chart the inevitable demise of All Black Rugby - Carlos Spencer's mohawk for example, Byron Kelleher dating a porn star, or Tana Umaga going the thump with a handbag in a nightclub. Such public displays reek of ill-discipline, lack of thought and general decline.

A fish rots from the head of course, and no fish is more rotten than the administration of the NZRU that handed a World Cup to Australia, stole one from Japan, and reappointed a coach after admitting he stuffed up another.

Now a first ever loss to South Africa in Dunedin (at the house of rain) and the New Zealand media and public death riding the All Blacks. It's all very uncharacteristic and points to only one conclusion - that New Zealand Rugby is not far in terms of Rugby World standing from what the Black Caps, the NZ cricket team, are to World cricket - honest triers with occasional good players and very very occasional great ones. Indeed the All Blacks could ultimately go the way of the Tall Blacks, the NZ basketball team - great novelty value only.

So coming soon near you - New Zealand versus Vanuatu in an Oceania Zone Rugby World Cup qualifier.

(Quick note - this was posted on the eve of the Wallabies vs All Blacks Bledisloe clash on 26 July. In the unlikely event that the All Blacks win, the post will, of course, lack some credibility. But the Rolling Maul would like to point out that credibility has never been its strong point, and for the sake of posting anything, credible, fictional or otherwise, and in order to maintain the interest of the 3 or 4 regular readers of the Rolling Maul - you know who you are - semi-regular postings on any topic are necessary. The Rolling Maul also lacks pride or vanity, so the posting stays irrespective of the result)

Saturday, 19 July 2008

The Wallabies' Lose-Lose Situation

Win, lose or draw the Tri-Nations, and every match that they play from now until the end of the next World Cup, the Wallabies are in a no-win situation.

Win anything, and all the credit will go to Robbie Deans. The players will be acknowledged, but at the end of the day Deans will be identified as the factor most influencing the difference between the team that meekly succumbed at the last World Cup and the one that won the Tri-Nations/Bledisloe Cup/World Cup/all those other cups invented on a monthly basis to give meaning where pride in performance is not enough.

Lose, and Deans will be free of blame owing to a limited Australian Rugby talent pool, inept administrators, competition for players from Rugby League, Aussie Rules, Soccer and every other sport, soft Mums and Dads not letting their kiddies put their heads in scrums and rucks and Matt Dunning.

Clearly the Australian Rugby administrators must save the Wallabies from Robbie Deans by sacking him just as his plans for World domination take fruition, that is, on the eve of the next World Cup, and not replacing him. Freed of the Robbie Deans weight of expectation, the Wallabies will be free to play for themselves knowing full well that World Cup glory will be heaped on them while Robbie Deans cools his heels back in New Zealand watching the team he should be coaching, the All Blacks lose another World Cup semi final.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Something's Missing

This time last year the Rugby World was abuzz with nervous anticipation at the imminent of arrival of Australian Rugby's latest 'innovation' (innovation meaning desperate attempt at survival as in "innovative selection in the back row"). Colour, excitement and experimentation were promised by Australian Rugby's brand new third tier - the Australian Rugby Championship.

Whether the ARC delivered is open to debate. But what cannot be denied is that the ARC did provide playing opportunties to Australia's Rugby elite, barring those playing for Australia, Australia A, the Australian 7s teams, injured players and those playing in Europe and Japan.

They went head-to-head for eight weeks in front of screaming enthusiastic crowds. OK, so maybe they weren't that hyped but the reasonable crowds (compared to club Rugby) appreciated that some real talent was on offer.

The players responded and some real talent was unearthed such as Ben Alexander, Luke Burgess and Dean Mumm who up to that point were each fringe or non-Super 14 players.

So now we're back to the same old. Club games in front of scattered spectators, Rugby of variable quality, some excellent talent not being pushed or being able to test themselves week-in week-out against class opposition, the Wallabies playing two out of every three weeks against understrength European teams enjoying an end-of season holiday down under before the annual Tri-Nations roundabout.

The point of this post is not to argue finances or success of the ARC by some unmeasurable measure.

The point of this post is that Australian Rugby needs a third tier and needs it now. The players need it, the Rugby Public want it and would support it no matter what its form (though they may not turn up to watch - not initially anyway). Fox would broadcast it. Just today the Rolling Maul was watching Currie Cup so surely there's a market for an ARC equivalent.

So ARU, Provinces, franchises, old clubs, 'elite clubs', expansion clubs, suburban clubs and broadcasters, pull your fingers out and smell the reality. You're in the way. If you can't nut out a viable third tier by the start of next season season then piss off. Appoint a consultant, sign on the dotted line and do what they say, no questions asked. Only then can the rest of us get on with our viewing pleasure, and only then can Australian Rugby reach its full potential.