The media reaction to an epic British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa suggests that many rugby pundits are out of touch with the game, writes ZELIM NEL.
The Springboks beat the Lions 2-1, responding to a reverse in the opener with successive wins to consign Warren Gatland to his first series defeat in three tours.
With the exception of the second half of the second Test, each of the three contests at Cape Town Stadium were tight as the teams duelled in a glorious tactical chess match. But you wouldn’t say so from the post-tour reaction where a number of scribes, pundits and supporters have decried a dour series that was bad for the rugby ‘brand’. Pffft.
Rodeo is something that has never really appealed to me. I don’t know, I just don’t get it. Watching a bloke strap himself on to a 900kg beast with horns is very brave, and I love that none of the riders shave their legs or wear skinny jeans. But I don’t like the variable of riders mounting different bulls and there just doesn’t seem to be much strategy to each ride (other than ‘don’t get killed’) which generally ends in less than eight seconds.
Now mechanical bull-riding is much more to my liking. Enjoy a couple of beers with mates at a pub with sport on the big screen, and then take turns getting spat off a bull that doesn’t have horns and (hopefully) land inside the padded zone.
Apparently, a guy called Nigel Medley rode the metal bull for two minutes and 15 seconds at The Pub With No Beer in Australia in 2005.
It makes sense that the Aussies are very good at not-the-real-thing given how good they’ve been at playing not-Test-rugby in recent times. Not too long after Rod Macqueen and Eddie Jones put Australia on the rugby map, the game in that part of the world lost its mind and amended the mission statement to replace the word ‘win’ with ‘product’ and ‘brand’.
Despite the very best efforts of the marketing nerds, rugby remains a game that bears little resemblance to the one they’ve been trying to sell in Australia for the past 15 years.
When it’s just the Aussies playing each other it’s easy to be duped into believing they know what they’re doing, as most of the teams concerned have been built to place greater emphasis on expressing themselves in rugby art than scoring more points than their opponents.
There’s a similar situation in the English Premiership where the gap in quality between the best and worst teams and players is vast, but everyone associated with it believes it’s the game’s leading competition.
From a marketing perspective, it probably is. But, as is the case with Super Rugby AU, when the best players from the countries involved are drafted for Test duty, the sudden clarity puts the standard of those domestic competitions in an unflattering light.
Unlike those competitions, every position in a top Test-rugby team is stocked with a world-class player who knows his future depends on defending the pride of a nation. Professional clubs are often run by wealthy benefactors whose understanding of the game is rooted in the memory of a schoolmaster more concerned with inclusive, entertaining play than results.
Such is a luxury of the amateur ranks but, somehow, this thinking permeates several tiers of professional rugby. The mirage of entertainment-over-results has been used to lure supporters to a false oasis and this results in a weekly news cycle of optimism preceding the match about the potential for expansive rugby followed by the surprise that it never materialised.
I never complain that the rodeo riders don’t drink enough beer before jumping on a bull, or that the horns are an unnecessary threat to all concerned. Real rodeo fans don’t whine that rides would be longer and therefore more entertaining if they used less robust bulls.
I’m not a rodeo fan. Maybe it’s time to admit you’re not a fan of Test rugby.
Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix