The ‘contest’ between New Zealand and South Africa on Saturday night was not worthy.
It may have been the much hyped 100th match between the two Rugby Goliaths but it did not do justice to the feature.
Hell, it didn’t even do justice to the subscription price.
As rugby people, we are kidding ourselves to think that match, first against second in the world no less, was in any way a good advertisement for the game.
I’ve spent decades telling anyone who will listen how great the game of Rugby Union is. The continuity and flow of the game, the rewards available for sides who dare to dream.
If you want aerial ping pong watch Aussie Rules. If you want boredom watch a nil all soccer draw. If you want a lack of imagination watch leaguies run into brick walls.
Yet on a night that league produced a gripping semi and the AFL a pulsating grand final, we got drivel from the Boks and All Blacks.
How do you defend the game to ‘leaguie’ mates and grumpy uncles anymore? How do you argue that ‘Ra Ra’ as they call it is more than the pre-match entertainment?
“Watch something else if you don’t like it” you may say. Well the sad fact is that many are, not just in Australia. The game is much more fragile, especially in the Southern Hemisphere than many like to admit.
Some have pointed to the easy target, an English referee, as being the main detractor from the spectacle on Saturday.
Admittedly, he did dish out 26 penalties and 2 free kicks in 80 minutes but he was only applying the laws as they are written.
Sure those laws are confusing and inconsistent. Pedantic referees compound the failures of pedantic law makers.
But it’s too easy to simply put this one down to the ref and world rugby.
The real culprits were the sides on the field, both sides.
The Boks predictably persisted with their kick-and-chase master piece. They kicked 38 times from hand versus New Zealand’s 18 and passed 65 times as opposed to 141.
Just let those stats sink in. Kicked 38 times in 80 minutes of Rugby. Passed 65 times, less than once per minute of the game.
The Boks are quite clearly fearful of playing rugby. The current coaching staff are so blinkered they are now damaging their country’s reputation and tarnishing the side’s past achievements.
In a city where Jonathan Thurston is a living legend and testament to running and passing a ball, the Boks disgraced themselves once again.
Sure they might not know or even care who Thurston is. But they don’t appear to remember or care who William Webb Ellis was and that’s a problem, for them and the game we love.
Sure, as we are constantly reminded South Africa have several trophies with Bill’s name on it but I bet he’s turning in his grave.
The All Blacks didn’t cover themselves in glory either.
The only positive I could find from their performance was the emergence of young Ethan Blackadder. The son of a gun can sure play.
The rest of the All Blacks let themselves down. Basic skill errors, unforced by any looming dark green presence were perhaps the most startling.
Some have said the Boks put New Zealand under enormous pressure. I simply didn’t see it, it was to my eye no more pressure than the Lions or even Wallabies were put under.
The South African game plan and personnel were mostly unchanged from the weeks before.
(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)
Pressure at the set pieces, especially the line out was applied. The game was slowed down by South Africa resting at most stoppages. Breakdowns were hard fought as they always are. And box kicks and ‘up and unders’ dominated the Bok ‘attack’.
Yet the Kiwi wingers chosen for their prowess under the high ball somehow dropped more than they caught. That must be a cause for concern. They were even worse in this aspect of the game than the Wallabies were.
The lack of leadership on the field was also a major problem for New Zealand. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, a side that’s lost Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Kieran Reid, Kevin Mealamu and Conrad Smith all relatively recently was going to suffer.
That gaping hole in the leadership core certainly wasn’t helped by the absences of Sam Cane, Aaron Smith and Sam Whitelock.
The All Blacks were headless chickens at times and put in their worst performance in at least 15 years on Saturday night. Again, a horrible occasion to turn it in.
I was astonished after the game to read comments such as “A close match at this level is always a good one”. To my mind, the closeness of a match means nothing when it is married by 26 penalties, dozens of handling errors and turnovers accompanied by an endless aerial assault.
Fans need to stand up and say “So far and no further”.
The 100th test played by these two great nations should be declared a no contest and voided, both sides ordered to return next week and try again.
Oh and they can invite the Argentinian Captain to attend another photo call too. They may not respect the game on the field but there is no excuse for not doing so off it.