This week we concern ourselves with standards, Europe's mess, and discipline…
This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with standards, Europe's mess, and discipline…
It didn't take long. Not half an hour after the final whistle had blown on the enthralling Aviva Stadium contest, Facebook was awash with outpourings of sympathy to Ireland. 'So unlucky', 'fantastic effort', 'Ireland be proud', 'great effort', and of course the ubiquitous 'Ireland were robbed' (although that guy is not without a deeply ironic sense of humour).
Anyway, everybody seemed to be of the opinion that Ireland had achieved something magical already, which for this correspondent only served to show just how ingrained into the psyche the perceived difference between the hemispheres is.
For the record: Ireland lost. In fact, they did not only lose, they were at 19-0 up at home after 20 minutes, 22-7 up at half-time, and they utterly, utterly blew it. A missed penalty that would have sealed the deal with five to go, a crazy penalty conceded with one to go, umpteen missed tackles, a couple of botched chances…
As a native northerner, I also have nothing but tremendous respect and admiration for New Zealand, which is only enhanced by their achievement this year of 14 from 14. You can't knock their skill and tenacity. Nor can you knock South Africa's continued ability to suffocate every opponent they come across, nor can you say Australia are spent as a competitive force.
But you can now start knocking a general attitude up north for being too satisfied with being second. Only in Wales over the past couple of years has there been a tangible sense of anger and frustration at not being able to claim a big SH scalp, rather than a pat-on-the-bum, never-mind-you-did-your-best, Mum-will-give-you-a-hug, take solace from being close in defeat kind of attitude.
When South Africa lose at home there's a national inquest. When New Zealand lose at home it is unwise to talk positive rugby there until the order has been restored. And you only have to look at how Australians are all up in arms despite a relatively successful tour to understand how important success is to them.
So here's a thought for Ireland – and for that matter, England (after the New Zeland game anyway), Wales, Scotland (after the Australia game) and France, who had both South Africa and New Zealand in their sights this November: you are two years out from a 'home' World Cup, and losing the close games from winning positions is just not good enough any more. It should not be good enough for the fans and it should not be good enough for the teams either.
Only when the players and the fans up north really start to understand that, to understand the difference between unnecessary negativity and the critical process necessary for improvement to the elite level, to understand that giving one's best is not good enough unless one understands how to improve one's best, will the teams in the north catch up.
So sorry Ireland. Good game and all. But no pick-me-ups here; you stuffed that up good and proper and you need to go and work out why.
Other takeaways from the weekend:
1 – Wales' strength in depth still isn't all that. A useful outing it was, but there needs perhaps to be a degree of experimentation in the forthcoming Six Nations with some of these youngsters, who looked a little overwhelmed by the step-up in intensity.
2 – Both Italy and Argentina are transitional now from their respective golden generations. Close the game in Rome was. Skilful and high-quality it was not.
3 – South Africa are still the masters of niggle. For neutrals it is tough to appreciate their quality when it is masked by a succession of pointless bits of off-the-ball rubbish. Classy teams don't do that.
4 – Freddie Michalak is possibly more popular in South Africa than France. Just the number of hugs from Bismarck du Plessis alone – the hooker did a passable imitation of a wife whose husband has just returned from a fortnight-long business trip – were evidence of that. Michalak certainly was not smiling at his team-mates at the end…
5 – The turf at the Stade de France remains an insult to international rugby. A game of potential quality, in which scrums would undoubtedly be a pivotal part, utterly eviscerated by the shoddy state of the turf. Granted the French had to accommodate soccer on the Wednesday, but a pitch that disintegrates that badly…we've dealt with a few cases like that this November, is it worth daring to suggest punishing unions who can't get their houses tidy ahead of illustrious visitors?
Here's a great bit of business from the idiots trying to revolutionise European rugby at the moment. In the second paragraph of quotes in one of this week's press releases:
“We are meeting the French clubs again next week to sort out details about our cup, such as a logo…”
Good to know they are getting the really important part sorted out then… I mean, does anybody know without looking it up what the Heineken Cup logo actually looks like? I know it's green in bits…
Seriously though, the first paragraph was more worrying: “A problem in all this is that the unions see it as a power struggle, which it is not,” said Mark McCafferty.
So what is it exactly then? Some people leading some clubs away on one side, while some other people lead some other clubs away on the other side.
The minutiae of this prolonged and acrimonious debate over the future of the Heineken Cup can be found elsewhere on this site for you to read. Our message remains simple: please just sort it out and sort it out soon.
If the north loses the bridge between Premiership/Pro12 and Test rugby, it will put rugby in the north back a decade.
Finally, Ewen McKenzie gave out a resolute message this week, suspending six, warning nine and cautioning others for a boozy night out last week.
By far the best aspect of it all was the reaction of Adam Ashley-Cooper's ma, who went on air on a Brisbane radio station to lament the fact that the 90-cap Wallaby was being made an example of.
“…he's missing a game for not upholding the behavioural and cultural standards of an elite athlete representing the Wallabies. He said he'll cop it and move forward, but he's really upset…” said Mrs. A-C.
Bless. But fair dos to McKenzie, who is only sorting out a problem in Australia that has been festering ever since Eddie Jones was ousted.
But it may come back to haunt him. We hear that among his mail on Monday morning will be three sick notes, a further two off-games certificates, and a letter explaining that little Johnny needs to be excused because he's not allowed to do hobbies this week after not tidying his room.
Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson