Inward-looking European style suppresses natural talent
IN THE STANDIAN SNOOK
Once again the All Blacks are about to start on their revenue-gathering promotional tour of the northern hemisphere.
Once again they are about to demonstrate how rugby can be entertaining as well as winning, proving that bigger is not always best, and brain will overcome brawn in most situations.
What is most surprising of all is that the European nations have stayed so rooted to what they know best and have developed teams that are comfortable in their own environment against local opponents.
Occasionally France will throw out something spectacular and Wales will score well against a weaker nation but, to be honest, with all the cash, players, highly paid coaching staff and facilities, the game has only evolved as a contest for bigger and stronger athletes as they pound each other into submission.
The running and passing concept that is supposedly the foundation of the sport has well and truly taken a back seat to the physical contest for the ball at set- piece and in the tackle zone, and little imagination or flair is demonstrated beyond these aspects of play.
Of course it starts well before the international stage. Further down the ladder - the European Heineken Cup, the English Aviva Premiership, the French Top 14 and the Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Italian RaboDirect Pro12 - there are hundreds of good and possibly great players just waiting to be coaxed out of their playing cocoons to be something far more spectacular and dynamic. Only occasional glimpses of this are ever put on show now.
Major rugby countries such as France and England must question what they are doing, as seldom are they ranked inside the top three nations in the world.
England, France, Wales, Ireland, Scotland and Italy fill fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, ninth and eleventh spots on the IRB rankings, so it is all in front of them over the next month to show some improvement.
Unfortunately for Scotland, the All Blacks are coming off an anti- climactic game against Australia where once again it was proved the mastery of the mind seems like an impossible dream in team sport.
Before the Australian clash, the All Blacks "talked it up" all week about how they were preparing to play at the top of their game, only to find they couldn't pull off the performance they had promised.
The human mind in this case did not have the required emotional preparation against a Wallabies team desperate for respect.
You can bet Scotland will now be on the receiving end of a steely focused All Blacks team who, for now, have lost their shot at the world record and also lost the likelihood of having the media regard them as one of the greatest teams of all time.
Perhaps the reintroduction of the "rotation" policy will ensure that sufficient players feel insecure once again so they will need to perform at their highest level to maintain their position in the side.
For a couple of oldies, as well as a couple of newbies, it is a chance to squeeze the foot inside the door and grab any opportunity with both hands, so they, too, will have plenty to think about.
So there it is. The best thing Scotland can offer is their national anthem. There will be some torrid scrums against Italy, some Welsh enterprise for 20 minutes and a rollicking hiding for England once the All Blacks have sorted out their best team.
What everyone should remember, though, is that international rugby in the northern hemisphere is about the occasion rather than the result and for those who have been there you will know exactly what I mean.
A great day out is far more rewarding than a victory, although if any of these four did by some magical trick knock over the All Blacks, then that day out may well turn into two or three days of celebration.
What a result that would be!
Ian Snook has coached professionally for the past 25 years in New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, England, Ireland, Japan and Italy.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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