Australia complete clean sweep over Wales
Rob Horne makes a clean break. Photo: Anthony Johnson
There's no downhill in sport, progress is continually uphill. Just because the Wallabies had sealed the series against Wales after game two didn't mean they would relax. Their subsequent 20-19 victory and series whitewash was exactly what was needed. It wasn't easy, at times it wasn't pretty, but in the end it showed character and gave cause for pride.
Even the Welsh, although they would have preferred a trophy or at the very least a win and as devastated as they would be, can take much encouragement from their efforts. They certainly demonstrated that as Six Nations champions, they are no pretenders, they are contenders who can mix it with the south.
To understand how good the Welsh team's performance was, it helps to look at how poor their Celtic neighbours, Ireland, were across the Tasman. Now the Wallabies are no All Blacks just yet, but they still rank as the second-best team in the world and can be difficult to beat at home. After losing the series in Melbourne last week, it would have been typical of previous Welsh teams to drop their bundle and capitulate. Such thoughts never entered their psyche.
For the duration of this three-test series they matched the Wallabies, as both teams tinkered with and redefined their tactics attempting to outwit their opposition.
The difference between the Irish and the Welsh responses were dramatic and a great measure of the Welsh team's mental toughness and the lack of the same from the Irish.
The Irish were poor in their opener against the All Blacks, losing 42-10, were unlucky to lose to a field goal on the bell in the second match last week, but surrendered meekly, 60-0 in the third match of the series.
In South Africa the English were similarly steely to the Welsh, drawing their final match 14-all after two close encounters.
The Welsh were pipped in all three, twice at the last, though never once in attitude or endeavour. They shed their rust in minute one of the series and battled through four hours of evenly contested, hard but fair, see-sawing rugby, to finish devastated but hardly defeated.
“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same . . . Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools . . . . . . you'll be a Man my son!”
Of course Kipling (though liberally cobbled together here) wasn't writing on matters as serious as rugby but, if he were, his wisdom was aptly penned for the Welsh; a pejorative limerick may have been more relevant for the Irish.
The only downer on a perfect Sydney winter's day, as a capacity Allianz Stadium warmly welcomed back Saturday afternoon Test rugby, was the pedantic nature of the officiating.
On a quick survey of my AFL-loving mates, they could nominate just one umpire by name – McBurney – and solely by his surname. A rugby supporter could name many, although they often substitute unsavoury, sometimes unfair, adjectives for Christian names nominated in programs.
When rugby's complexities are mastered, it answers to no sport but too often it is compromised by incidentals that otherwise have no bearing on the game's outcome. For example, if a ball is out of the scrum and the scrum collapses – but no team has been disadvantaged and no one's safety compromised – then it should be play on.
In selecting teams and refereeing matches you would almost invariably attain the fairest result by surveying the crowd rather than relying on the eye-witness of one, two or three men.
Craig Joubert is a good referee and deservedly was awarded the World Cup final last year, but it is a difficult duty over which he and others must preside. Although it is too simplistic, I can't help but think that rugby would be better served if referees were principally concerned about game's flow rather than focused on playing advantage to its fullest and obstructing it.
While there is some degree of subjectivity in how the laws of the game are to be interpreted
(although that is not the intention, it is the reality) then one of two things should happen. Some laws need to be simplified (e.g. in the scrum – and we do not have time or space to go into that detail here) or referees should be classified as artists and given licence to create the most beautiful art that rugby can produce. The best artists would then be appointed to the biggest matches.
The latter is enticing but somewhat frightening and unrealistic. So that leaves simplifying and decluttering the rulebook, but that is definitely an uphill climb.