New Zealand-based rugby writer Mark Reason says the All Blacks are on a mission to save Test rugby from the Bore Boks’ “barren wilderness”.
Following up on their 2019 Rugby Championship and World Cup titles, the Springboks have now gone on to clinch a thrilling 2-1 series win over the British & Irish Lions on home soil.
Last week, New Zealand head coach Ian Foster spoke to reporters the day after South Africa won the second Test to level the three-Test series against the Lions, and said the match “put me to sleep”.
Plenty of media coverage from the UK media corps has also been far from complimentary about the Boks’ kick-oriented, forward-based approach.
With the Lions series now over and focus shifting to the Rugby Championship, Reason has joined the Bok-bashing brigade.
“Thanks heavens for the All Blacks and New Zealand Rugby. And here’s the why,” wrote Reason in a column for stuff.co.nz. “The ABs are at least trying to play a form of rugby that encourages creativity and thought and flair. They may have made a hash of it at times, but at least they are prepared to have a go.
“Over in South Africa, the officials took four minutes of review and re-review to come to a decision over Cheslin Kolbe’s try and they still got it wrong. The players have had enough of this prevaricating nonsense and we the public certainly have.
“So, memo to World Rugby. Get rid of the TMO. They are a menace. They are the chief panjandrums of the cancel culture. Refs make mistakes just like players. Let’s suck it up and move on like virtually every other player does on a Saturday afternoon.
“Because there can be no doubt that this is what New Zealand Rugby wants. Sam Whitelock said after the test against Australia: ‘Ideally we come out here to play attractive running rugby the whole time’.
“South Africa’s method allows for no expansion and that’s a problem. When there are only three breaks in a game as there were in the second Test, then we have a problem. When the ball is being kicked from hand well over 50 times in a game, then we have a problem. When the Lions, with all that talent, manage two tries off driving mauls in the entire three Test-match series, then we have a problem.
“I don’t want to see Cheslin Kolbe and Anthony Watson, two terrific steppers, waste their lives jumping to contest high kicks. The South Africa bomb squad of the World Cup is now the bomb squad of endless high kicks. And my, is it dull to watch.
“I thought that the World Cup semi-final between South Africa and Wales might have been the dullest international match of all time, but this series rivalled it. Former South Africa coach Peter de Villiers said: ‘It’s very, very boring. We suffocate people with our bulk and then we base our whole gameplan around defending, defending, defending. Instead of creating, creating, creating.
‘Cheslin Kolbe is one of those individuals that comes around every 12 or 13 years. He’s somebody that children want to follow. A hero. But do you think he is in a team that creates enough opportunities for him to live out this greatness?’
“This Lions series was supposed to be the shop window of rugby this year. Well, I’m sorry, but most viewers will have given it scarcely a glance and moved on down the sporting High Street. Someone may even have spray-painted RIP Rugby on the glass front.
“So Warren Gatland can get as toey as he likes about the word ‘Warrenball’, as he did when the Lions came to New Zealand four years ago. But the truth hurts. That’s how his teams play the game and it is the yawn of the new era.
“Sir Clive Woodward said that if kicking takes over ‘to the extent we are seeing, it’s not rugby anymore … we need the coaches to bust the game out of its rut’.
“But it’s not just the kicking, it is also what passes for running rugby. During the final Test the Bore Boks carried the ball through 13 phases just after half time. And every single one of those phases was one pass to a receiver who then bashed the ball into contact. By the end of it my eyelids were heavy with dust.
“It’s killing the game. Some of Gatland’s players seem to have forgotten how to play. Liam Williams used to be a decent sort of footballer but now he can’t even execute a simple two-on-one. And it cost the Lions the series.
“Ironically that great Barbarians try of almost 50 years ago was scored off the All Blacks twice kicking possession away. But as they so often do, the New Zealand players quickly learned the folly of their ways. They adapted and they learned and, with the demise of Australia, they became the torchbearers for creative rugby.
“NZR are all too aware that financially they cannot survive if their team were to play like South Africa. People would leave the game in droves. So from Mark Robinson to Ian Foster to Sam Whitelock to Richie Mo’unga, they know as a group that they have to be creative. They have to play the beautiful game.
“We saw glimpses of it at the weekend, glimpses of the promised land. Let’s hope this generation of players can finally get there because rugby sorely needs to be led out of today’s barren wilderness.”
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