Friday, 27 May 2011

Hybrid Rugby

I have a confession to make: I like it both ways. Despite preferring the 15-a-side game, I am also a supporter of my local rugby league team: St.George-Illawarra Dragons, the reigning NRL premiers. 

In contrast to the muted ambience at Waratahs games, when you're dressed in red and white in the midst of the Dragon Army the atmosphere is intoxicating, the cameraderie overwhelming. The difference boils down to demographics: Dragons fans are blue collar, while 'Tahs games are attended by the gentry. 

Due to the disappointing standard of local SuperRugby games this week (the Reds had a bye), the entertainment highlight was provided by league's State Of Origin game. It was a typically brutal stoush, complete with post-match pugilism. The QLD combination of Lockyer, Thurston, and Slater showed once again that creatively they have no equal, coming from behind to clinch the game with a classically worked try. 

Aussie rugby union could do with players like that. 

SuperRugby's Australian conference has degenerated into a lop-sided farce because, although the ARU has created five SuperRugby franchises, there aren't enough union players of sufficient quality to ensure that more than one or two teams are competitive. The Reds are superb, the 'Tahs are disappointing, and the rest are rubbish.

The dearth of quality players owes to the fact that the ARU, which represents the elitist upper class of Australian society (private school old boys), has never made any attempt to spread the grass roots of rugby to the masses. This has not happened by chance; throughout the history of the game there has been an unspoken policy that rugby union should remain a game for the privileged.

No wonder concerned individuals are promoting a union-league hybrid game: Read the description of the game here.

With no grass roots of note, the cross-pollination of the code with league players is the only hope Australian rugby has of achieving consistent success at international level.

Unfortunately, league’s popularity in Australia has now marched so far ahead of union that the NRL is in no hurry to co-operate. Still, this blogger lives in hope that one day the schism will finally come to an end. With News Ltd reportedly lending its support to a hybrid game, perhaps it is not as far-fetched as some might think.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Only One Team To Watch In Australian Rugby

By only watching Reds games, Australian fans can save themselves a lot  of wasted time in front of the box each weekend, because the rugby played by the other Australian franchises is woeful.

The Waratahs, contributing a quarter of the weekly rubbish dished up by Australian sides, play like a limbless torso floundering around in the SFS mud, expending much energy for naught. Empty seats are increasing exponentially with every home game, while the bright idea of a forum inviting public criticism only serves to call attention to their clueless administration.

Williams, Kennedy, Dwyer, McKenzie, Hickey……. over the years the coaches have come and gone, but the song remains the same. Unless the franchise is taken away from the incompetent NSWRU and handed to a consortium of private enterprise, the tale of Sydney's boring under-achievers will continue.

Things aren't much better to the south and west, from where the remaining 75% of uninspiring rugby originates. Since being labeled rugby’s Real Madrid, the Brumbies have been a major disappointment, every week sinking deeper into the abyss. They are a team miserably playing out time while awaiting the arrival next year of their anointed saviour,  Jake White.

Further south, Danny Cipriani has driven a stake through the heart of the Rebels, leaving them spiritless, rudderless, and their debut season in tatters.

Across the Nullabor, the Force are a franchise that has been transplanted too far from rugby's roots to ever reach any heights in this competition.

The Reds are the only Australian team worth watching. Genia has claims on the title of world’s best halfback. Cooper, when on song,  has the magician's sleight of hand. Samo, Higginbotham and Ioane are powerful and inspiring players who get the team on the front foot. Queensland have self-belief, there's depth in the squad, and they are astutely coached.

After a bye, the Crusaders will be the Reds next opponent.  Despite the Saders' loss last weekend, the Twickenham game showed that the combination of Dan Carter and Sonny Bill Williams (who could be the player of the tournament in this year's world cup) can be almost unstoppable. 

The Reds, however, will have the home ground advantage, in front of 30,000 roaring fans. It should be a cracker!

Monday, 9 May 2011

Cipriani Derails Rebels’ Season

Team morale is a precious commodity. Once lost, the wheels inevitably fall off.

And so the Rebels’ season has gone. Despite inconsistency, early season performances had marked them as a dangerous proposition at home, disposing of the Hurricanes and Brumbies before narrowly going down to the Sharks. They followed this with a thrilling win over the Force in Perth, proving they could re-produce the same form away from the cauldron known as The Stockade.

As time went on, however,  it became increasingly clear that all was not well in the Rebels camp. The player with the number 10 on his back -- the most important member of the team-- was repeatedly in trouble for late night drinking escapades. Coinciding with this, Cipriani’s defense started to resemble a revolving door. Against the Highlanders, while the rest of the team busted their guts,  his laughable attempts at tackling led to three tries which gifted the North Island team the game.

Clearly Cipriani has an attitude problem. There is the suspicion that he is an outright alcoholic. With the entire Rebels game plan dependent on him, he has not only let himself down, but he has let down his teammates, Rebels fans, and the coach and club who were prepared to give someone of dubious reputation a chance at redemption. 

Blessed with prodigious talent, Cipriani doesn’t have the ticker for rugby. You can bet he won’t be in Melbourne next season, and it’s hard to imagine any other club signing such a liability.