What did we learn from the autumn internationals?
December 5, 2008
Wales stare down the New Zealand haka before their clash at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff © Getty Images
Steve Borthwick Dan Carter Danny Cipriani Toby Flood Richie McCaw Ma'a Nonu Paul O'Connell Ronan O'Gara Jamie Roberts
Another round of autumn internationals has come and gone and, as it was in dark, distant days past, the southern hemisphere teams gave their northern rivals a series of sound beatings.
In matches between the Six Nations' and Tri Nations' teams, the north lost 11 to 1. To rub it in a little bit more, the solitary win (Wales against Australia) was masterminded by a Kiwi.
So what has been learnt from the past month of action?
You cannot please the All Blacks when it comes to the haka. It's getting a little tiring. However great the haka is (and this writer hopes it continues) the Kiwis have to remember they are privileged to be allowed to perform it when they are guests of other unions. And before people start writing in to scrum.com screaming about what a great tradition the haka is, remember, the current aggressive haka only dates from the Wayne Shelford era (and it was never performed in New Zealand until the 1970s). Want to see a few 'traditional' Hakas? Check out this version from 1979 and this amazing footage from 1925.
Other than meekly standing there and doffing one's cap, there seems to be no acceptable way to respond. Ask them to perform it before the anthems? The All Blacks get offended. Ignore it? They get offended. Consult Maori elders for a suitable response (a la Clive Woodward and the Lions)? They get offended. Stare at it? Very offended.
Also, the NZRU would do well to take note that it's very hard to take the moral high ground on the haka when you are happy to pimp it out for television commercials for a certain multinational sporting brand.
You cannot please Ma'a Nonu when it comes to the haka. Quote of the season, if not decade, comes from All Black centre Nonu, who got a little upset about the Welsh response to the Haka - re-live it by clicking here.
The centre complained, "What the Welsh did wound us up…The haka is a war dance. If you're going to stand there like that then in the past people would have charged, but it's a rugby match and you can't do that. People back home will have been hurt by what they decided to do. Standing in the way like they did is asking for a fight. My blood pressure was pretty high but then I regained my composure. I was a bit upset about it."
Just re-read that. According to Nonu it's logical to perform a WAR DANCE for a game of rugby but not acceptable to respond aggressively…by staring.
Just to top it all off and cover himself in more glory he came up with an awfully insightful theory as to who was behind the Welsh response to the haka. "They were probably told by Warren Gatland to stand there and wait until we leave." Really? You think so? A job as a private detective surely beckons when he hangs up his boots.
Wales have the worst kit in international rugby (see previous 'canary' kit article). And not only that, the WRU don't like you making fun of it and like to stress it isn't really made from canaries. Honest.
Fans from the southern hemisphere are going to make fun of fans from the northern hemisphere. For a long time. And why not? Home Six Nations' sides managed a whopping six tries in games against the big three. To put that into context, South Africa managed five in one game against England.
Ronan O'Gara still really likes to kick everything. Even if he has the likes of Brian O'Driscoll, Luke Fitzgerald, Rob Kearney, Geordan Murphy and Tommy Bowe outside him, O'Gara always seems to want to kick first and kick later.
Even if you are as good as Paul O'Connell, your coach should still take you off when you only have one leg functioning properly. In the Ireland v New Zealand game the Kiwi's second try came as a direct result of Paul O'Connell having a leg injury and the All Blacks' cleverly running at him to expose his frailty. Despite this, O'Connell bravely played on for another fifteen minutes. It doesn't say much for Declan Kidney's faith in his bench that he chose not to replace him.
The northern hemisphere is, at present, a bit rubbish.
Rugby union has officially gone all soft. The yellow card for England's Toby Flood in last Saturday's match against New Zealand was ridiculous. In rugby league it wouldn't have even warranted a mention by the commentator, in union it's now deemed a yellow card. Badly timed? Yes. Worth ten minutes off the pitch? Not in a million years.
Referees seem to blow up instantly for high tackles these days, not allowing any advantage at all. The problem with that is in blowing up so quickly is you run the risk of stopping a play for no reason. If the tackled player is injured or the defending team secure the ball, of course, blow the whistle. But if the ball is still available to the attacking team and no one is hurt just play on. Take a look at this clip (you may have seen it once or twice before) and look at what happens to the same player on both 23 seconds and 48 seconds. Nowadays we probably would have seen yellow cards and the whistle stopping playing immediately. We have a poorer game for it.
People always forget that Italy were playing autumn tests as well. They were, you know. Honest.
Scotland still have a naff kit.
Danny Cipriani is, apparently, a mortal. After a handful of appearances in an England shirt last season, Fleet Street's finest were besides themselves about Danny Cipriani. Bandwagons were jumped on and trumpets blown. How much hype was there? Well, during the Six Nations Stuart Barnes wrote, "Danny Cipriani has what it takes to be the England captain, and for good measure make it immediately." Another hack even hinted he should be Lions' captain. They weren't joking. The journalists were quite so much jumping on a bandwagon as scrambling onto a bandwagon that hadn't even been built yet.
Cipriani's 'below average' autumn campaign now has many of those same writers complaining that too much pressure and expectation was put on his shoulders too early. Really? Take a look in the mirror, guys.
Martin Johnson is, apparently, a mortal. Martin's 'failure' to get England back with the best has led to one or two Fleet Street hacks hinting that England should not have appointed a manger with no experience at domestic level. So who exactly were the writers hinting that he HAD to be appointed when Brian Ashton was struggling? It wouldn't be the same writers now would it?
Dan Carter is, apparently, a mortal. Did you see some of those missed kicks against Ireland and Wales? If he did that on a parks pitch he would be laughed off the park. He's pretty good though, otherwise.
Richie McCaw is not mortal. He can't be. It isn't possible to do the things he does and be in the places he is without having superpowers.
Richie McCaw is better looking that Steve Borthwick. By just a little bit. It really isn't fair is it?
The BBC's match coverage is much worse than it was twenty years ago. Back in the days when the BBC only had two or three cameras there coverage was sublime. Action was filmed from the correct distance (no irritating close-ups which give you no context of play) and no live action was missed.
These days the BBC still deems it unimportant to show more than half of the kick-offs, lineouts and scrums. Why show the live action when you can watch endless replays of the previous, inconsequential action and miss the actual game going on in front of you?
Much in the same way Paul McCartney needs to go back and listen to a few of his early albums and start doing things properly again, the BBC needs to go back and watch a few tapes from its own archives in the 1980s.
Forward passes are here to stay. Some of the passes this autumn would have done Brett Favre of the New York Jets proud. It seems increasingly difficult to believe that referees and two touch judges are missing all of them. A secret IRB directive to allow games to flow more for television? Don't be so cynical.
Jamie Roberts (Wales) is well hard. The Cardiff centre played on with a fractured skull after he collided with Stirling Mortlock (who wimped out and left the field). Word.
James Stafford is editor of The East Terrace (theeastterrace.com) - an offside view of life in the rugby world