Sunday, 30 November 2008

10 Things We Have Learned

The Wallabies northern hemisphere tour is over bar the Barbarians (I think there's a Beach Boys song about that). A month of discovery for the players and lessons learned that will hold them in good stead the next time they're sitting on the bench with their arm in a sling watching their colleagues lose to the All Blacks.

The Rolling Maul has cast his (its?) eye over proceedings and learned a few things too:

1) The experiment of playing Bledisloe Cup games outside of the Southern Hemisphere was a rounding success. In years to come the concept of playing Bledisloe Cup games in Sydney, Brisbane or Auckland will seem as quaint and old fashioned as Test Cricket or Royal Tennis. "I was there" you'll be able to tell the grandkids, "at the first Bledisloe Cup game played in Mexico City".

2) Italian Rugby is still a vital and important indicator of the health of Rugby in the Northern Hemisphere.

3) All Black Rugby has never been stronger. They are scoring more tries while preventing the opposition from scoring any. Players like Richie McCaw are in their prime while others such as Ma'a Nonu and Brad Thorn are finally fulfilling the promise and faith shown in them by Graham Henry, another Kiwi on top of his game. It's all falling in place. Three years early.

4) As a coach, Martin Johnson makes a fantastic second rower.

5) Sebastian Chabal still looks like he eats babies. This can only be a good thing. Australian Rugby hasn't had a player with enough mongrel in him to even contemplate eating a baby since Owen Finnegan retired. The closest thing to a baby eater now is Matt Dunning, but that's only because he'd eat anything.

6) For too long George Gregan was ridiculed for his habit of taking two steps back before passing, thus wasting time and heaping enormous pressure on his five-eighth. Now, with Luke Burgess, we see that Gregan was an inspiration to kids everywhere to take two steps back before passing. But not only has Burgess perfected the two-step, he's also perfected the pass to no one. At the upcoming Barbarians game Gregan will defend his legacy by not only two stepping and passing the ball to no one but passing it to the opposition. Take that Luke Burgess.

7) Stirling Mortlock has a very hard head.

8) It took 60 matches, but Al Baxter has finally learned how to scrummage.

9) Babysitting Wally the Wallaby team mascot may help you get a root but it won't get you any game time. Then again, who's complaining?

10) First there were the ELVs. Then there were the SANZAR ELVs. Then there were the Northern Hemisphere ELVS. And now there are the Alan Lewis ELVs. Irish referee Alan Lewis refereed two Wallaby matches - vs All Blacks in Hong Kong and vs Wales in Cardiff. The Wallabies lost both. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Limping Around the World

The Wallabies are on an East-West journey for the next few weeks, taking in the sights of a Chinese outpost and some European tourist traps and playing some Rugby along the way to pay for the thing. Much like hordes of backpackers before them, the Wallabies will make sure that the local ladies remain as impressed as their opposition with their tackle and ball skills and leave a few pubs dry for good measure.

So how will they go? The Rolling Maul won't dare to prophesise on their success with the ladies, though one can bet that James O'Connor won't let the inherent female fascination with all things furry (such as a Wallaby mascot caled Wally) go to waste. So traditional as it may sound, the Rolling Maul will have to limit its predictions to the matches (maybe):

Wallabies vs All Blacks - Hong Kong November 1
Despite starting promisingly, an inability to play rules invented on the spot by an Irish referee will see the All Blacks claw back the lead and finish the less confused and slightly more successful team on the night.
Prediction: 1.2 billion Chinese people politely fail to take notice and allow 40,000 expats to buy up all the seats. The Rolling Maul realises that making predictions after the game has been played is much easier than the usual method of sport forecasting.

Wallabies vs Italy - Padova November 8
Despite promising not to take Italy lightly the Wallabies do just that and start rookies in nearly every position, eat too much pasta during the match under the excuse of 'carbo loading', and try to outdo the Italians at their own game by spending more time promenading for bellas than Rugby balls. Silvio Berlusconi admires Lote Tuquiri's tan.
Prediction: Wallabies by 9. Or 90.

Wallabies vs England - Twickenham November 15
Despite pretending that revenge is not an issue after their World Cup humiliation, the Wallabies target the England match as the reason for being in Europe and Asia with everything else as filler. When they fail to win, again, after more Northern European refereeing antics, the Wallabies cry 'conspiracy' and refuse to leave the dressing room after the match. James O'Connor sneaks out as Wally has a big date so the rest of the team reluctantly follow to make sure he stays out of trouble. It doesn't work.
Prediction: England by 1. Or maybe the Wallabies by 1. James O'Connor will definitely get one.

Wallabies vs France - Paris November 22
Is Sebastian Chabal still in the French team and has he cut his hair? The Wallabies only turn up to find out and when he's only selected on the bench refuse to take part until the host broadcaster (Nickelodean) pressures the French Government into pressuring the French Rugby authorities to start him. It fails to work, so the Wallabies settle on Carla Bruni to start in the second row. Bruni makes an impressive debut pulling off some stunning tackles and James O'Connor.
Prediction: Wallabies by 17 (at half time) and France by 3 (at full time)

Wallabies vs Wales - Cardiff November 29
The Wallabies return to the scene of their only victory is recent history over a Northern Hemisphere team in the Northern Hemisphere, when they beat a Welsh drinking team at the local Cardiff pub after a training session during the World Cup. Reliving old glories proves harder than expected, and the Wallabies accidently turn up sober. It shows on the field, and struggle to win by less than 100. James O'Connor escapes amusing commentary from the Rolling Maul by refusing to leave France.
Prediction: Wallabies by 99. Pints.

Wallabies vs Barbarians - Wembley 3 December
The traditional end-of-season celebration of running Rugby turns into a farce when a Northern Hemisphere referee rules running as a blight on the game. Passing is also frowned upon and 80 minutes of scrummaging ensues. A stained and sticky Wally takes man-of-the-match honours.
Prediction: A late pushover try from 88 metres out with a 15-man scrum sees the Wallabies win but no one notices as everyone has turned off or left the stadium.