Perhaps old school is cool?

2007-10-09 09:41

Tank Lanning

This obsession with the Rugby World Cup has to stop!

No, not from us fans, but from the international coaches and rugby unions. How many times have we heard from coaches in the four year period building up to a tournament: "Judge me on our World Cup performance"? This as they bugger around with 'A' and 'B' squads, ruin both local and international tournaments by resting key players, and generally obsess with the four yearly tournament.

And just one solitary game later, one of the greatest teams the world has ever seen is deemed a failure, and the union is willing to chuck one of the more astute coaches in world rugby into the abyss.

Because while this tournament has been sensational to watch, and can already be classified a success given the crowd participation from the locals in France, and the performance of the so-called "minnows", for the top teams it is actually about one relatively tough group game, and then a quarter-final, semi-final and final. This in a period of six weeks.

Human nature

So I have two questions. Do the world's best athletes really need to be rest managed and molly coddled for four years in order to play four (or perhaps just three) tough games in six weeks? And should a team (and coach) be judged in a single knock out performance in a particular tournament, even though they mauled that same side 61-10 and 42-11 in their own country just a few months prior?

The answer to the second question should of course be "no", but human nature dictates our need to be be the best, and given the power accorded to the World Cup, people are naturally going to fall into this obsession trap. And for the All Blacks, given the lack of performance in tournaments past, it has quite literally, become an obsession. The immediate sacking of Graham Henry, and the complete meltdown of the rugby watching population on the island (which might exclude the three ex-pats from Ghana) provide proof of this. Just imagine the pressure on the poor fellows carrying the flag come RWC 2011 in their own country!

And the answer to the first question?

Well given the answer to question two, it is going to be tricky to get away from this. But to my mind, it really is a bit of an issue right now, and the IRB does need to find a way to up the value of games played between World Cups.

Team spirit

David Campese, on one of the many RWC shows you can find on the box right now, had me thinking with this comment: "When we won the World Cup, we had 26 people in our squad, and two of them did not get to see a blade of grass".

Sure he is "old school", but his point about getting the same side out for all your World Cup games is a good one. He suggests that it builds confidence and team spirit.

And perhaps reducing the size of the squad allowed at a World Cup (especially given the fact that injured players are allowed to be replaced) is a way to partly address my first question. It would at least have prevented tournament clip ons, Scotland, from putting out a 'B' side against the Kiwis.

And in effect, even if by default, given that it was only against the Tongans that the Bok dirt trackers got a run, this is what the Boks have done. And you could see the engendered confidence work its magic with scores even and 20 minutes to go against the Fijians. One top team in this same situation went into its shell and changed its gameplan to an insular "pick and go", while the other top team trusted their original gameplan and players to implement it. One team went home and the other is in Paris awaiting a RWC semi-final...

Perhaps "old school is cool"...

  • Tank is a former WP tighthead prop, and now Sport24 editor and the author of the blog, Front Row Grunt.

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