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Sunday, July 18, 2004

A Balmy Wellington Evening 

Watched the game last night, in which NZ dominated throughout, but had trouble scoring. In the first half the team seemed to be under the distinct impression that they wouldn't be able to catch the ball when it's wet (unlike, say, most players over the age of 13), and so they tried to slog it out, with "runners" receiving the ball from a standing start right next to the ruck. I was reminded of what Yamis wrote after NZ's predictable loss to Australia in the WC: 

Aussie didn't even  have to defend that well because we simply didn't even  test them. Guys were getting the ball 4 metres wide  of the ruck standing still and trying to set up second  phase ball, but it was pointless because we were  getting belted backwards and they didn't have to  commit anybody to the breakdown. Hell any good club  rugby team would have clobbered some of the runners we  saw last night. Fuck even my team wouldn't have  believed their eyes at the sight of a bloody great  forward getting static ball right in front of them and  barely raising a jog into us. It's meat and drink defensive work.

It's just that on this occasion the Aussies weren't really up for "belting" our forwards backwards, or in fact doing anything that might gain them some territory and some advantage.

The second half was a different story, with both teams - but especially NZ - realizing that they could string two or more passes together without necessarily spilling the ball. For heaven's sake, it's a winter game people.

More generally, I got to thinking about "what are the qualities of a good sport" ... a few suggestions applicable to most "running with a ball/puck and try to get to the other end" sports:

1. There should seldom be any incentive to give away possession
2. There should seldom be any incentive to put the ball/puck out of play
3. If a ball/puck does go out of play, it should be quickly reintroduced
4. Where stoppages occur, the game should restart quickly and simply
5. There should be few occasions on which the ball/puck is static for any length of time
I'm afraid on all these counts, rugby union is often severely lacking relative to sports I enjoy watching, most notably league, hockey, and soccer.

Compare the method of restarting the game in soccer following the ball going out of play (overhead throw from the touchline) with the often torturous process of setting up a line out.

Compare the relative simplicity of the NHL face-off with the cumbersome rugby union scrum ... after 3 or 4 attempts to get the scrum to set properly, and the associated waste of 60 seconds or more, I'm reaching for the remote control. While the commentators harp on about the NZ forwards' dominance (not evident in any metres being gained during the scrum, btw) I reach for the remote control. 

The words "paint" and "drying" spring to mind...
I guess basketball meets most or all of the criteria I mention above, and in light of this I'd like to propose a 6th: scoring a goal, point, try or touchdown is something that should require considerable effort and skill - not something that occurs every 25 seconds.




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