Weekend review - What’s hot and what’s not...
For probably the first time since the professorial Carwyn James outwitted New Zealand in 1971, a Celtic coach ought to be describing how it feels to beat the All Blacks.
By daring to play them at their own game throughout the course of an electrifying match, Gregor Townsend had the world champions running scared – some achievement by a country dismissed by some as no fit place for a single current Test Lion. And to think Zinzan Brooke figured they would be ‘whacked by 50 or 60 points.’ From the Outer Hebrides and Inner Glasgow, Scots will be kicking themselves all week long for being left with another hard-luck story instead of going one better than the previous two draws at Murrayfield in 1964 and 1983. That Finn Russell didn’t get to kick the decisive conversion was due entirely to his opposite number.
Stuart Hogg had torn the Kiwis shreds with a pace nobody could match, except for Beauden Barrett. With fewer than ten seconds remaining and Hogg scorching towards the left corner, Barrett came haring across to avert the crisis with only metres to spare.
There was a time a year or two ago when Scotland getting within ten points of the All Blacks would have been a cause for celebration. That the country woke up yesterday regretting that a moment of historic significance had slipped away underlines their vaulting ambition under Townsend. It is to the huge credit of an all-Glasgow back line and an Edinburgh-dominated pack that they made the supposed untouchables look vulnerable – and they haven’t looked remotely like that since the early nineties.
Sonny Bill Williams has a magician’s touch, conjuring tries out of nothing but where would they be without Barrett. He makes tries, scores them in greater number than any other current Test stand-off and on top of all that he prevents them, as Hogg will testify.
To say that Irish outside halves are all the rage in Europe these days would be over-hitting the mark but never can there have been more in simultaneous Test action at so many venues.
Ian Keatley’s penalty winner against Fiji shortly after replacing Joey Carbery wasn’t the half of it. While Ian McKinley lengthened his embryonic Italian career by nine minutes against Argentina in Florence, another nomadic Dubliner was filling his boots beside the Rhine.
Alan ‘AJ’ MacGinty swept Germany away in the old spa city of Wiesbaden, one try and seven goals accounting for almost half America’s points in a 46-17 win. This weekend he’ll be back at the day job in Manchester for Sale Sharks.
He seems to have been cast in an almost permanent state of sackability since his appointment as the Springboks’ head coach 18 months ago, a position so precarious as to be akin to managing Crystal Palace and Sunderland at the same time.
Basket cases don’t come any bigger than picking a squad where quotas are part of the criteria. As the Bokke imploded in Europe this time last year, every defeat spawned the same headline: Coetzee faces the axe.
What Ireland did to them in Dublin nine days ago left the same man facing the same fate as he headed for Paris. How wonderful that a city synonymous with the guillotine should witness a retaliatory blow for South African rugby’s black leader as well as put-upon coaches the world over. Coming at the end of a week when they saw France usurp their right to stage the 2023 World Cup by picking it out of their pocket made victory on the field all the sweeter.
And what’s not...
World Rugby will open another investigation today into how another outbreak of scrum shenanigans brought the game at large into disrepute. Not least they will have to confront an absurd question evident to anyone peering through the fog of confusion at the end of the Wales-Georgia match.
Why should the innocent party be disadvantaged as a direct consequent of an opposing prop being sent to the bin? Tomas Francis’ ignominious exit left Wales in the desperate pickle of how to prevent Georgia’s Iron Curtain of a scrum pulverising its way over from almost under the posts.
Leon Brown, the novice tighthead who had been replaced by Francis barely 20 minutes earlier after conceding more than one set-piece penalty, would have to return. The scrum, manna from heaven for the Georgians as means of salvaging a draw, never materialised.
Nor did an alternative prop. Wales claimed that neither Brown nor the substituted loosehead, Nicky Smith, was fit. Brown, according to head coach Warren Gatland, was ‘cramping up, a bit.’ It took Mathieu Raynal and assorted others almost eight minutes to negotiate the outcome, an uncontested scrum which offered Wales hope of saving their hides.
So at a stroke Georgia’s most potent weapon had been neutralised when they needed it most.
In Paris at the end of last season’s Six Nations, Wales cried foul when France changed tightheads at the outset of 20 minutes stoppage time over one scrum: ‘A loss of integrity within the sport.’ Cynics would have had a field day. Wales finished up denying any accusations of cheating, just as France had done last March. In calling for an official inquiry, Georgia’s Kiwi coach, Milton Haig, added a dignified post-script: ‘You probably want to make sure (what happened) is within the spirit of the game.’ Before Monsieur Raynal extricated himself from a caricature of Inspector Clouseau, the French referee added to the confusion, telling the Welsh captain, Dan Lydiate: “If you go to uncontested scrums, you go down to 13 men.” That is the rule in the French domestic game, a deterrent against any team trying to dodge its way out of a splintered scrum. World Rugby could do worse than enforce it at Test level before the sport descends into its next performance of Fawlty Towers.
Australia’s volcanic head coach departed Twickenham in a mood foul enough to provoke the best ‘Raging Bull’ impersonation of the season. A shame Jake La Motta happened to be ringside at the celestial Madison Square Garden on the not unreasonable grounds of having taken the final count two months ago.
A sequence of TMO verdicts that left his team torpedoed amidships explained why one post-match interview sounded as though it had been conducted at a Trappist convention. True to form, Cheika’s portable Mount Vesuvius had by then blown its stack.
The disallowing of a try which would have pulled the Aussies level at 13-13 left an enraged Cheika mouthing something along the lines of ‘f-f- frightful cheats.’ The f-word may have been more earthy but the c-one, casting aspersions on the integrity of those involved, is much more likely to cause offence. Cheika denied he said it.
The old Lion has found himself in some invidious positions in his time, not least at the Drum and Monkey in Glasgow where over a pint and a pie he negotiated England’s return to the then Five Nations after the Celts had thrown them out.
The horse-trading behind the election of France to host the 2023 RWC left World rugby’s chairman in the tightest corner of all.
A special report commissioned at considerable expense by World Rugby recommended South Africa, the executive supported and World Rugby’s Council then ridiculed the whole thing.
“We live in a democracy and sometimes democracies do funny things,” said New Zealand’s chief executive Steve Kew.
Beaumont would have found that about as hilarious as the Irish bid team.
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