The view from the couch

Fri, 11 Sep 2009 00:00
rugby365 columnist John OConnor says this week the view reaches a level of whinging that is nearly supersonic, as we look at the superlative management of the game by the IRB (who couldn't arrange a sleepover in a morgue).

rugby365 columnist John OConnor says this week the view reaches a level of whinging that is nearly supersonic, as we look at the superlative management of the game by the IRB (who couldn't arrange a sleepover in a morgue).

On any given Saturday afternoon I know I will be on a couch. Mostly it is my couch. It could also be the couch of a mate, so long as his fridge is well stocked and his family well trained. But whoever the owner of said couch may be; it is the view from the couch that is all important.

The last three weeks have seen me move slowly but steadily, from peeved, through irked to thoroughly vexed. I feel like a Griquas supporter with a fistful of Klippies (a Seffrican brandy) and coke and not a referee in sight; or a touring Wallaby without so much as a hotel room, taxi or Bok scrumhalf to relieve his frustrations.

But why you ask, does my cup of vitriol runneth over. "Cowboys don't cry," I hear you, and Steve Hansen, say. Well...

It's my column and I'll whine if I want to.

Because I'm peeved that the Ozmob somehow twice managed to escape the 50-point pasting they so richly deserved. I am irked by the churlish criticism of the Boks by members of the Turd Estate (or is that the Filth Column). I am vexed by the ludicrous management of the game by the IRB (who couldn't arrange a push-up at either Virgin Active* or Victoria Secret). And I am p.i.v.'ed that I have been brought to the point of using a word like 'peeved,' 'irked' and 'vexed', surely words reserved for columns on croquet or carpet bowls. Any minute I'm going to use the word 'twixt' and my boys, Cain and Abel, better duck.

And then came the final straw that broke the Australian pack animal – as diabolical as the ref was on Saturday, the Boks didn't deserve to win in Brisbane. I couldn't even find solace in the cry of the mediocre, or a '95 All Black i.e.: "We wuz robbed."

Oh yes, and my boss predicted an Ozmob victory. So the whole week He Who Must Be Obeyed has been impossible to live with.

You would whine too if they gave one to you.


Part One – INCOMING!

It's the first few minutes of the Wimbledon final. Roger Federer hits a powerful forehand down the line and his opponent fluffs the backhand. On the very next point, another backhand is miss-hit. Where will Federer hit the ball for the next 90min?

Can you imagine John MacEnroe commenting: "This is very poor tennis from Roger. By targeting the backhand he is denying us the spectacle of long flowing rallies." He is far more likely to focus on the opponent's inability to hit a stroke that is fundamental to the game.

I am not a fan of endless kicking, or the pick and drive, but if your opponent cannot catch the ball properly then he must feel like the Luftwaffe is coming.

Part Two – Speaking of Nazis

I once played a match where I was captain and one of my players was getting out of hand. He was a buddy, much older and much better than me, but hyper-aggressive. The ref, also a mate of both myself and the head-case, reached a point where he called me over and said: "John, get him under control or I'm sending YOU off!"

Now there is nothing in the law book that even remotely justifies that warning (and that was a fully qualified ref from the union) but everyone who has played rugby understands the ethos behind it. It was done in the interests of the game and it worked. I was also conveyed to me in the spirit of the game and not like I was an errant schoolboy about to get lashed.

I understand that not every ref is going to have the easy rapport with the players that Andre Watson had, but quite frankly I am sick to death of these officious, pompous prats that behave like classroom monitors who have let authority go to their heads. By all means take the hard decisions, censure the players, but treat them like adults. Telling the captain to "Go away" and flicking the back of your hand at him is unacceptable.

All these guys need are little thin moustaches and jackboots

Part Three – Seize the moment critique

About 10min into the second half the Aussies dropped two Garryowens in quick succession.  Sitting on the couch, I immediately thought – there we go, the Boks will target that and put them away. But they didn't and couldn't. It told me two things.

One is that they still have some way to go before they are comfortable with P. Divvy's intention that they can change plans during the game and adapt to what they see in front of them. They are very capable of playing in different ways (especially with Ruan Pienaar at first receiver) and very good at changing strategy between matches but they are not there yet when it comes to changing mid-game.

The second is that Morné Steyn is not yet a general. He needed to take control, overrule the calls if necessary and drive his team over the line. Just watch Carter on Saturday and you will understand.

Forget goal-kicking, forget getting the backline away. The #10 jersey at the World Cup will go to the player who is not content to just be a foot-soldier.


Part One – Time to wake up chaps

Rugby's rules are a mess. Before Kimberley's Watergate affair (too much brandy and not enough soda) the most off-putting thing to anyone wanting to join the bewhistled brigade was trying to learn Rule 3, Annexure B, Sub-clause IX, Para 9. No wonder the spectators are bemused which one of 27 different visible infringements the ref has blown up.

I believe that two changes, one fundamental and one specific, will go a long way to sorting out the problem.

A. The rules have been changed repeatedly over the last twenty years to try and make the game flow – mistake.

For every rule that is made to keep the ball in play so that a team can attack, there are a million coaches trying to work out how to get around that law. It may take them some time but when they come up with a sneaky plan, the IRB calls for a think tank or a directive or worst of all – another law change. And so it goes on.

What we need is a fundamental change of attitude. After the safety of the players, the number one function of the rules must not be to keep the game flowing or even to protect the unique aspects of the game (like scrums, line-outs etc.) it must be to MAKE THE GAME EASY TO UNDERSTAND.

Every law must be viewed in this way and re-written if required. If the rules are easy to understand, then rugby will be easy to ref, easy to 'spectate' and most importantly – easy to play.

B. As an example of this philosophy, the first and most urgent area that needs changing is the ruck and maul. SCRAP 95 PERCENT OF THE RULES AT RUCK AND MAUL TIME.

Keep an off-side line through the ball and make sure that everyone enters from an on-side position and then...

Who cares if there are hands in the ruck? Let them use hands, knees, feet and elbows; cause I certainly don't. The strongest team will get the ball.

Instead of legislating against it, let the tackled player hold onto the ball. Let the tackler lie on the wrong side. And let the game work out how to deal with ball-huggers and lazy-loungers. It won't be long and they will be dealt with by the same sneaky coaches.

It's time that we on the couch call for radical changes like these. And the IRB suits need to implement them pretty jolly chop-chop, old chap, what what! Because us natives are big heap restless.

Part Two – This is not rocket science

My amazement at the sheer ineptitude of the IRB knows no bounds. They can somehow contrive to have two sets of laws in operation at the same time, yet they can't find the time to write up a definitive disciplinary code.

How Matt Giteau got away with not even appearing before the citing officer... well it beggars belief.

Rugby league had a major problem with foul play some years ago. They dealt with it admirably by setting up a strict code with prescribed penalties for certain actions. It's not difficult to do something similar for rugby.

If you tackle a player in the air – x weeks. If you tackle a player with an elbow up – y weeks. And if you tackle a player without the ball – z weeks. If you do all three – then it's x+y+z weeks (yes that's you Matty boy)

If you attack a player's face – one year.

And this policy of reducing the sentence for a good reputation is rubbish. If you do the crime... well, you know the line. But if you have form (say in the last two years) then the ban should be doubled.

Implement something like this and we'll soon see the change in foul play. At R100 000 per test match, you better make sure you time your tackle right!

Part Three – Ain't nothing like it

In all of rugger there is nothing like an All Black/Springbok test. They are the teams with the best win-loss records in world rugby and even from thousands of kilometres away, the anticipation is tangible. The only thing missing is getting up at 4:30am to watch the game being played in what passes for sunshine in NZ.

And off course, every little Seffrican rugby fan dreams of facing the haka. While every little boy in the Land of the Wrong White Crowd can see himself doing the haka in front of a wall of green.

And if they don't? Well I blame the parents.

Part Four – What will he come up with next

In a world of carefully, politically-correct speak it appears that New Zealand have chosen a beaut for their head of government.

In response to the Bok decision to stay on Australia's Gold Coast as long as possible because there is "nothing" in Hamilton, NZ Prime Minister John Keys had this to say: ""I think it's misguided actually and I think when they come here on Saturday night, they'll come to realise that they like the place even less when they've been thumped by the All Blacks."

He's either going to come up smelling like roses or smelly – there's no middle ground. And good for him.

Can you imagine what form he may reach come WC time in 2 years?

"I can't follow the rules. Does anybody out there know what's happening in the rucks and mauls? Because I bloody don't." Sir Colin 'Pinetree' Meads – Knight of the Realm and NZ Player of the 20th century

You're not alone Sir Colin.


"I'm not surprised people struggle to follow it because I played it for five years and I still struggle to understand the rules. The whole technical aspect of rugby is just too much. There's the line-outs, the scrummaging and the breakdown laws you have to worry about. It's just information overload. Rugby is not for me." Matt Rogers – former NSW and Wallaby player

"I never kicked anyone. But I marked time on a few" Sir Colin 'Pinetree' Meads


Richie McCaw was selected as the IRB player of the year in 2006. In that year he averaged 14 tackles a test – a quite amazing stat.
Midway through that year, Schalk Burger sustained a very serious neck injury that kept him out for a year and very nearly ended his career. Schalk had been playing test rugby since 2003 and up until that injury he was averaging 21 tackles a test over three years – 150% more than McCaw did in 2006.

That is simply mind-blowing.


This week's thought comes from my Perfumed Steamroller. Following a close victory to the Bulls a few weeks ago a disgruntled, white Griquas supporter doused a ref with brandy and coke as the ref left the field in Kimberley. Twenty-four hours later a soccer ref needed a police escort to protect him from black Kaizer Chiefs fans that were angry at their team's loss in Cape Town.

I noticed this juxtaposition and mentioned it to my Perfumed Steamroller. Her reply was along these lines: "Obviously this financial crisis is affecting people more that we realise and they are starting to express their anxiety in appropriate ways."

I sat there with my mouth open. I always new she was bright (because she married me), but this was one of those moments when I realised how smart I had been.


I don't know about you (and this week I don't much care) but I am sick and tired of the continual whinge (no irony here) that emanates from the Ozmob about competing with rugby league. My mate, the Glorious Pessimist, lives on the Gold Coast and tells me that league dwarfs union over there. As a result they are continually trying to motivate for rugby to become more "league-like" with less kicking and less set-phases.

Let me explain how league works. It has very few stoppages and the game goes mostly like this: bash, bash, bash, have a go wide, if no luck – kick… your turn. It is boring like you can't believe.

Now to all our Aussie brethren… there is another sport in Australia that is even bigger than league, way bigger – Aussie rules. That has more kicking than the Aussie swim team, fair dinkum. And it's heeeewge!

So instead of trying to negate the things that make rugby FOOTBALL differ from league (a plan as shonky as a pair of budgie smugglers†), why not try emphasize the similarities to Aussie rules?

She'll be right!

Put another galah on the barbie.

*A South African chain of gyms. There is no known interlace between Virgin Active and Victoria Secret (at least in the men's change room**)
** We hope!
† Australian for men's speedo-type swimming costume. Truly, I got it from a website.(††)
†† So it must be true.

(John OConnor produced this masterpiece before the weekend's game and before Jaque Fourie's citing and ban. Maybe he knew something we didn't!)