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Poetic justice: Welsh show Kiplingesque courage

Date

John Eales

Wallabies vs Wales. Allianz Stadium. Action from the game. Click for more photos

Australia complete clean sweep over Wales

Australia edged the third and final Test to take the series 3-0 at Allianz Stadium. Selected Images available from www.fairfaxsyndication.com . Follow us at http://twitter.com/photosSMH 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.

28 comments so far

  • Fantastic article. I especially agree with your comments on the ref. I didn't see the match but by all accounts Joubert was pedantic to say the least. I still believe that the return of rucking would give that area much more freedom to ref as the players would sort most of them out themselves.

    In my few years of reffing I always gave "flow" much more priority (right or wrong), 'play on' being my favorite call.

    Commenter
    Shop
    Location
    Barcelona
    Date and time
    June 25, 2012, 12:34AM
    • Agreebwith your comments re: simplifying the job of referees. There seems to be so much happening at speed at the breakdown that the ref can't possibly see it all. Instead they seem to focus on one specific aspect (eg. Sealing off) but not bother too much about others like coming in from the side, not allowing tackled players to release etc.
      At simpler, slower (though a bit sloppier) levels of the game, refs can focus on 1-3 elements they deem crucial to set play and general play. Often this is a necessity as no trained touch judges are available.
      Rugby league has far less going on at the tackle and requires 2 referees on the field. Perhaps rugby at the higher levels needs something similar to fully protect the players and more accurately clean up negative play.
      players

      Commenter
      Robbo
      Date and time
      June 25, 2012, 6:24AM
      • We hear this one a lot Robbo, but it makes no sense to me.

        The biggest complaint about refereeing is the inconsistency of interpretation from one ref to another. And now we are talking about adding another ref's interpretation to the one game?

        I think the problem is not with the refs, but with the fans who cannot accept that 'the ref is always right'.

        Whatever happened to this? The players seem to accept it, why can't the fans?

        Rugby was, of course, designed to be self regulated, but the IRB in their wisdom have removed player imposed countermeasures such as rucking from the game completely.

        If we are going to make the ref responsible, then we need to respect his decisions.

        Commenter
        piru
        Location
        Perth via Rakaia
        Date and time
        June 25, 2012, 11:41AM
      • Unfortunately Piru, with cameras all over the place these days the ref these days is not "always right", because everyone can see a clear replay over and over 5 secs after and incident. In the amateur era there was no "complaining about the ref' because the stakes are much higher. As a professional sport, decisions made can affect upon people's livelihoods. At the highest level, I don't see why a ref can't call upon the video ref more often. I know your against this idea, but it wouldn't be as difficult as you think.

        Commenter
        Shop
        Location
        Barcelona
        Date and time
        June 25, 2012, 8:18PM
      • The ref is always right, it is enshrined in rugby law 'the referee is the sole judge of time and law' (law 6 I think) and long may it remain. Think that guy didn't release in time, that bloke came in from the side? If the ref says it's legal, then it's legal.

        I don't mind the ref calling for a replay so much, it's the idea of more people getting their fingers in the pie that irks me.

        Commenter
        piru
        Location
        Perth via Rakaia
        Date and time
        June 26, 2012, 11:18AM
    • As always, insightful and to the point John. However, I think you're being a tad hard on Joubert. In game 1 he was much less visible. It seems to me that both teams in game 3 were intent on doing whatever it took to nullify the opposition, and simply broke the rules too often in doing so. Yes, in the scrums (a blight) he was pedantic, but otherwise both teams left him little option but to blow the whistle.
      Simplifying the rules is a must if the game is to survive, but Joubert didn't write them - he just did a pretty reasonable job of enforcing them.

      Commenter
      Argy
      Location
      LA
      Date and time
      June 25, 2012, 8:29AM
      • I won't comment on Joubert's performance generally, but at the scrums he was appalling. His crouch/touch/pause/engage call was so slow and drawn-out that I am sure most of the collapses were due to both packs having fallen asleep while waiting for the engagement! Seriously though, when the call takes too long both packs try to anticipate the 'engage' call and the the hit is often mistimed. A much more brisk and consistent pace to the call would help both teams to engage at the same time, which should help reduce the number of resets.

        Commenter
        Dave
        Location
        Canberra
        Date and time
        June 25, 2012, 9:36AM
        • I'd like to add that if anyone thinks they can do a better job than Joubert they are kidding themselves.

          If he were a player he would be on the level of a Dan Carter - if you watch how he positions himself and his ability to read what is likely to happen next, he is almost always in a good position to make any necessary decision. A good percentage of being a good ref is putting yourself in the right spot to see what's happening, and Joubert is a master at this.

          Some comments made about his call at the scrum - let's remember that the front rows are in control of how fast the cadence goes. The pause call only lasts as long as it takes the scrums to become set and steady. If you watch carefully, the Welsh scrum squeezed in and was ready on the 'touch' call, but the Wallabies had trained to get set on the 'pause' (watch the replay and when all their arses stop moving) - so arguably, it was the Australians holding the scrum up.

          Commenter
          piru
          Location
          Perth via Rakaia
          Date and time
          June 25, 2012, 11:47AM
          • @Piru, bang on about the ref. He did a fair job in a game where there was plenty of scragging and offside. I do look forward to Crouch, Touch, Engage at a decent pace. Scrums will improve immeasurably.
            ps nice win by the blackers.

            Commenter
            Chris
            Location
            Kiama
            Date and time
            June 25, 2012, 2:40PM
          • I agree.I watched the last 20 minutes of the England - South Africa game and although there were fewer penalties the game was a mess. There were bodies lying all over the place in the rucks and it ruined the contest. Whereas with the Australia - Wales games I really enjoyed the up front contest. Rucking is a delicate balance between power and finesse. If you blast in too hard it is likely you lose your feet and get penalised but done properly it becomes an intriguing wrestle up front. When officiated properly the better team is awarded with quicker, cleaner ball and more attacking opportunities as we saw in the first Australia - Wales test. Indeed, were it not for Australia's inaccuracy and a lack of attacking edge they would have won each game by some margin. I think the balance in the midfield is something that needs to be addressed by Australia as they seem one dimensional in attack at times. I would like to see AAC at 13 and a playmaker at 12 or at least see Pat McCabe running good hard lines constantly the way Mortlock used to, punching holes and giving Australia good front foot ball so that on the next phase people like Beale and Ioane may find some space to work with.

            Commenter
            tokococo
            Location
            Melbourne
            Date and time
            June 25, 2012, 3:11PM

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