Welcome back, entertainment
March 1, 2010
Will Genia has starred for the Reds so far this season © Getty Images
Entertainment and rugby were once seen as synonymous and went hand-in-hand all over the world. But then something changed, the relationship went sour and the once harmonious bedfellows went their separate ways. There was now no room for entertainment in rugby's world as a new companion, `pragmatism', became flavour of the month.
The Big Brother of rugby, the IRB, concerned that rugby was quickly becoming commercially unviable, tried to spice up life by introducing new laws which were meant to speed up the game, send pragmatism packing and reconcile the differences between rugby and entertainment . But they failed and pragmatism and rugby looked like living a long life together.
However, in the 2010 Super 14, rugby has finally seen the error of its ways and has again embraced entertainment. Why? New interpretations at the breakdown, requiring the tackler to release the ball and ball carrier immediately on hitting the ground has greatly sped up the ruck and allowed backlines to be used for more than just kick returns.
Teams now want to hold the ball and use it as an attacking weapon, rather than solely kick for territory and use their defence to cause turnovers. The SANZAR referees deserve a lot of credit for their consistency so far and if crowds in Brisbane are anything to go by, than the new interpretations are the tonic rugby here desperately needed.
While results have been mixed for the Aussie teams, the performances of the Reds in particular have been heart-warming and they can count themselves unlucky to have only one win so far. It could have easily been a different story had the Reds held on for a deserved victory against their bitter foes in round one, with even the most 'dyed in the wool' Waratahs fans finding it difficult to disagree that the Reds were the better team that night.
With coach Ewen McKenzie providing experience and an injection of confidence, the Reds' form can also be attributed to their halves duo of Will Genia and Quade Cooper. Halfback Genia goes from strength to strength and has been the best player on the field in all three matches this season. His try against the Blues on Saturday highlighted his skill, athleticism and opportunism all in a split second. If you haven't seen it, look it up on the web as you won't see another try like it this season. All this, while managing the extra burden of the captaincy after James Horwill's season ending injury.
Cooper's form, on the other hand, proves his mental strength is every bit the measure of his undoubted talent. With criminal charges and a court hearing hanging over him, there were valid reasons for Cooper to play no part in McKenzie's plans this season. Whatever the public opinion on the Reds' and ARU's decision to allow Cooper to return to the pitch, he certainly has repaid their faith and is the form fly-half of the Aussie tilt.
As expected the Brumbies loom as the most likely Australian threat for the Super 14 title, with a strong win away in Perth and a fortunate victory in Cape Town against the Stormers in round three. Their only loss was a far from disappointing outing against the 2009 Champions, the Bulls, in Pretoria, where many rival teams will also come unstuck in 2010. Just ask the Waratahs.
Speaking of NSW, they have struggled to get their star-studded backline to function but with a series of home matches to follow the conclusion of their South African tour, we should see improvement in the sky blues, especially Berrick Barnes.
The Force currently prop up the ladder and having already played two of their six home matches, it appears like a long stretch for the Perth based franchise in 2010. However, appearances can be deceiving and they have been competitive in all three matches, against teams expected to be title contenders. Their next two matches against the Reds and Waratahs will determine their season.
Australia's fifth team, the Rebels, may not be competing on the field, but they certainly have all the media attention off it by being linked to almost every professional player in the country in what has become another player contracting fiasco. Despite the harsh lessons learnt during the Western Force's introduction in 2006, it seems the Australian rugby family, including the players association (RUPA) has again fumbled in developing adequate contracting protocols.
With the whole situation predictably played out through the media, with the customary threats of arbitration, RUPA and the ARU have finally brokered a compromise which allows the Rebels to approach and sign players from the existing four franchises from March 15, rather than post-tournament May 31. Unfortunately we're now in a scenario where players could be pitched into virtual auctions between provinces during the closing weeks of the Super 14 season. Not the distraction teams vying for a semi-finals berth would want. At least Rebels coach Rod Macqueen has managed to sign one player with England international Danny Cipriani locked in from 2011. Now, only 29 signatures to go…
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