Tuesday, 22 June 2010

What Rugby Can Learn From The Soccer (err Football) World Cup

By any measure, the Soccer World Cup (yeah, whatever) has been an unmitigated disaster for FIFA (Funny Idiosyncratic French Acronym). No amount of on-field player passion can make up for the joke that the player's on-filed antics, refereeing blunders and off-field controversies have become.

So with this in mind there is plenty for Rugby officialdom to consider as they gear up for their own version of the World Cup in 2011. Here are just ten things for them to take note of:

1) Do not allow musical instruments into the stadium
The vuvuzela, a cheap plastic trumpet made in China that somehow is a traditional South African instrument (no doubt they have been played at South African soccer matches since the 12th century) has become the defining noise of the 2010 World Cup. No, that droning in your ears isn't your work colleague yet again telling you why Soccer is a beautiful game, but the annoying buzzing of thousands of spectators trying to outdo each other by playing the same note at the same decibel level. True musical instruments require skill, not just a big set of lungs.

2) Don't let kids onto the field during the national anthems
No one has yet sufficiently explained why each soccer player holds the hand of a small child while walking on to the field and then stands with them during the national anthems. If this is supposed to be a calming down method, ensuring no swearing at opponents or eyeballing of referees then it doesn't work. All it does is bottle up the anger and contribute to cheating rates during the match-proper, which of course in soccer is astronomical. If it's about role models then surely the best way to prove soccer players are good role models is not to cheat!

3) Make singing national anthems mandatory (except for Spain of course, they don't have any words)
A bunch of blokes standing around chewing gum and looking bored during a national anthem is an insult. A bunch of blokes arm-in-arm singing off key and out of tune to a droning cinematic motherhood statement is stirring passionate stuff.

4) Penalise fake injuries with real injuries
Arm each referee with a baseball bat. If a player falls to the ground and there is no physical evidence of an injury, such as gushing blood, a protruding bone or a limb pointing in the wrong direction, then the ref should give the fallen player a good whack with the baseball bat in the claimed injury zone. A true injury should be treated with care. A fake injury should be treated with contempt.

5) Promote your sport by rigging entry requirements for minnow nations that play other sports
Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are ranked one, two and three on the IRB rankings and all three have benefitted from a stacked Soocer World Cup qualifying system. Surely this is no coincidence. South Africa as hosts qualified automatically, Australia got an armchair ride through Asia, and New Zealand were the major beneficiaries of Australia going off to play in Asia. This is clever thinking by FIFA and is clearly designed to undermine the popularity of Rugby in those countries. The IRB should do likewise and give a leg-up to those minnow countries where Soccer is threatened by Rugby, so while Argentina, England and Italy have already qualified all care must be taken to ensure those nations get an easy-run to the semi-finals. Well, except England maybe.

6) Make your religious leaders dance
The highlight of the Soccer World Cup's opening ceremony was Desmond Tutu jiving away in the VIP section. The IRB will need to invite the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Rugby World Cup opening ceremony and get them to do a few tangos and sambas if they want to compete.

7) Rig the scoring system to ensure upsets
The attraction of soccer to many people (or the inherent weakness of the game to many others) is the ever-present chance that a team, no matter how hopeless, can always beat or draw with a much stronger team by scoring a fluke goal and stacking the defence. Getting the referee to make a few timely blunders and faking a few injuries helps. So if Rugby is to give it's lesser teams a remotely possible chance of upsetting the giants of the game it needs to follow suit by awarding points where those minnow nations are strong. For example, 2 points should be awarded for every hit that leaves a player unconcious (that will help Samoa), 1 point for every hot dog consumed (USA), 1 point each time you get an autograph from an All Black (Portugal, Spain, Russia etc), and 3 points for each sevens winger you can field in the backline (Fiji).

8) One commentator is plenty
Since when was it decided the Rugby codes needed three commentators in the sound-proof booth, plus one on the sidelines, one with the coaches, one on the bench and one to interview the waterboy at half time? Martin Tyler does it all in Soccer over 90 minutes plus the insane extra time and is the best thing about the game - cynical when it matters and gushing on the rare occasions praise is deserved. Surely one Gordan Bray would do a better job that being talked over by his colleagues with their in-depth insight into nothing in particular.

9) Give SBS the broadcast rights and Les Murray the anchor role
SBS may be a commercial TV station these days but compared to the 'traditional' commercial stations it's a dream. Long periods of play up to entire halves with barely a break, no ads scrolling across the bottom of the screen, and no cross-promotional or gambling plugs. Couple that with Les Murray, who brings more gravitas to his role than a room full of Greg Martins, Phil Kearns' or any other Fox Sports commentator and you have the perfect broadcasting combination.

10) Design a ball that doesn't do what is expected, can never be fully controlled, and is inherently controversial
Oh yeah, at least that one's taken care of.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Only Robbie Deans Can Save Sydney Club Rugby

What has Phil Waugh done wrong to miss Wallabies selection? Who did he sleep with and how closely were they related to Robbie Deans? And why will picking Phil Waugh for the Wallabies be the catalyst to saving Sydney Club Rugby?

Sure Waugh has had an at times brilliant and at times less so season for the Waratahs but he captained them to the Super 14 semi-finals which is more than Stephen Hoiles can say.

Meanwhile Rocky Elsom gets picked for the Wallabies based on reputation and the fact it would look embarassing to drop the captain, and David Pocock gets the other starting flanker against Fiji spot even though he spent most of the Super 14 season injured. Also Drew Mitchell is on the bench and Kurtley Beale starts. Stranger and stranger.

Alas Fiji is up first and Deans is talking up Rupeni Caucau who was last seen being fat and slow, serving a drugs suspension or going AWOL. When Australia win by 60 he'll claim he picked the right team. When they beat England by 30 and 25 he'll claim they're on track to greatness. Then South Africa will thump them and the All Blacks will retain the Bledisloe, the Wallabies will win a token match at home and Phil Waugh will be leading Sydney Uni to another title.
Robbie, for the sake of Sydney Club Rugby we can't stand by and let Uni take out another title with a team full of 'students' with Super 14 pedigrees. So pick Phil Waugh for starters but don't end there:
  • Daniel Halangahu has been too good for Club Rugby for years without ever getting a look-in at the Wallabies;
  • Tom Carter is the new Uni captain so has leadership potential the Wallabies sorely lack (Rocky Elsom? - come on) and has yellow boots so already he's got the colour coordination with a Wallaby jersey sorted out;
  • Julian Huxley is just Wallabies selection short of the ultimate autobiography and could reserve a whole paragraph to your magnanimity;
  • Dave Dennis was a revelation for the Waratahs and if there's one thing you need it's another surprise and left-field selection to enhance the reputation of your foresight;
  • Jeremy Tilse is nothing special but he's a big lad and could prove to be an adequate speed bump at international level;
  •  Lachie Mitchell has a very Rugby soundig name; and
  • Mitch Inman is related to Luke Inman who was alright for the Waratahs for about half a season so has a solid Rugby pedigree and the game is in his blood so he won't let you down. 
Robbie, it is in your interest to save club Rugby. Not only will picking the bulk of the Sydney Uni squad (including some second graders) give the Wallabies their best chance of winning a meaningful test match against a Southern Hemisphere rival outside Australia, but watching Uni struggle against Penrith and Parramatta while Southern or West Harbour take out a title will give the local game the boost it needs and deserves.