Planet Rugby

Loose Pass

22nd October 2012 06:53

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Lithuanian rugby team players train in Siauliai on March 6 2010

A different world: Rugby in Lithuania

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with competition integrity, the validity of records and a cheap shot from the onlookers...

So how's this: having battled and slogged your way through a season in which you had your top-flight status unceremoniously and unfairly taken away from you, with players considering their options, the best heading off on loan or off full stop and the bean-counters sniffing around the corporate accounts, you manage to scrap your way through to the national cup semi-final, twice beating one particular team on the way.

You are up against this particular team in the semi-final and approach it with understandable confidence but then realise that the team you are up against has changed since the last time you faced it. Gone are some of promising youngsters/grizzled veterans/journeymen (delete as applicable) and in their place are some - admittedly somewhat battle-weary but still - world-class players of global renown.

It's a different playing field now and one on which, despite your very best efforts, you lose on. Would you not be just a little bit miffed at the way the field suddenly got skewed though?

It's the scenario that faced the Lions this weekend past in the Currie Cup, one that faces at least one team every year in that competition these days.

SARU needs, in this coming off-season, to have a long, hard think about its internal structures. Heyneke Meyer has not gone ahead and said it publicly but it's no secret he is desperate to get his international players centrally contracted and into a system whereby their workload can be better managed.

Meanwhile the big provinces in SA continue to master the art of scraping their way through enough of the Currie Cup safe in the knowledge that a phalanx of Springboks will return to the fray just in time to ensure the old order is maintained. The ridiculous new truncated format - where it is feasible you could lose more than half of your games and still make a semi-final - simply facilitates the internal ring-fencing.

It - and the absence of a salary cap - makes for dishonest competition, one in which the final showpieces will be watched by big local crowds, but one in which the general level of enthusiasm from outside has been pretty meagre, bar the faithful hard core.

Surely it cannot escape the wit of those in charge that central contracts would create both a fresher Springbok team and a Currie Cup where competitive integrity would be paramount. It's so important.


So it turns out that New Zealand didn't make it. But if they had, would they be the holders of the new record for most Test victories or would it simply be an extension of their existing record?

It was an interesting - at times colourful - debate that raged for a good half-hour with a colleague this week: is the current record of 18 consecutive Test victories held by Lithuania the valid record or is the record of 17, jointly held by South Africa and New Zealand, the real record because of the calibre of the teams they had to beat along the way?

Lithuania beat several teams ranked above them at the time. When they started their run they were ranked 73rd in the world, but by the time they finished four years later they were 37th and were regularly beating teams a good 20 spots down the list. Some of the games - including the triumphant 77-5 battering of Serbia to set the record - were simply statistical mismatches from start to finish.

Meanwhile, both All Blacks and Springboks were, of course, regularly playing and replaying their peers, often under heavy pressure. During their run, South Africa only once played a team ranked outside the world's top ten. The All Blacks' run included a Lions tour.

Yet you also have to consider they had the luxury of picking their best available teams every time, with every need catered for. The Lithuanians, hardly among the world's rich, were sent off to places as diverse as Serbia, Armenia and Norway, often at huge personal sacrifice from the players, often staying in meagre accommodation and playing on distinctly average playing pitches. Moreover, they had to keep that run going for four long years, with huge pauses in between matches and training schedules.

Different worlds. Comparable records? The argument never really reached a satisfactory conclusion. Over to you...


Finally - and to give you a good laugh - this little gem emerged from the popular press in the UK this week.

Sam Allardyce, for those not in the know, is a soccer manager who has rarely been shy of a histrionic tantrum or a level of expenditure on single players totalling more than the Premiership's season-long salary cap.

He seems to feel that we egg-chasers have an axe to grind over soccer players.... that we are jealous of the soccer life, that we....

It's too sumptuous for words really. Have a read here and we welcome your thoughts below...

Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson

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