Friday, 26 July 2013

on finals footy- and booing

I didn't make it to the game between the Crusaders and the Reds because Finals footy has lost its edge.
 Is this disenchantment? A sense that the  super rugby series- if not the game- has lost its magic?
 When I recently did a public lecture on the religion of rugby a very pertinent question was asked in the lead-up to the Crusaders- Reds game: Why, if we are in the finals playoffs, is there so little celebration and excitement and interest.
This was evident in the failure to have a full stadium for that game, evident in the slow sales for tonight's semi-final between the Chiefs and the Crusaders.
 My reply was that the dictates of sky tv has caused the disenchantment. The season is too long and too many games are now played in the evening in the middle of winter.  A season stretching over so many months, a season broken by what was, to be honest, a totally meaningless tour by the French, a season that could never hope to compare with the intense passion and interest of the Lions tour of Australia.
 It is hard enough to get yourself and your kids- to 7.30 games in person, especially on a friday night; even more so when it is cold and dark and there is a threat of rain.
 It is hard to keep your family on side when they face months of 7.30 friday and saturday nights dominated by often poor- and to be honest- often quite meaningless rugby games.
I will watch tonight's game- but i will watch it on replay at 9.30 because the rest of my family- quite understandably- would prefer to watch Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries at 8.30.

 In the end the question I think increasing numbers of us ask- and these are not the temporary fans- but those of us who are in some ways sports and rugby tragics is- what is the point?

Super rugby has lost its lustre. It is too long, too large and needs to get its mojo, its magic, its enchantment, in fact its point, back. The attraction of the northern hemisphere game is the number of different competitions that a rugby season entails. Super rugby is  just one, overlong and ill-timed competition.  The glory that is the ITM cup occurs over a very short, intense period with a good number of afternoon games. This is real sporting tribalism, real sporting competition. A short sharp shock of footy. Similarly, this is why the Ranfurly Shield is so important- it actually has real meaning, has a real history.
 I was reminded of this when i sat up too late, too often, watching sessions of the Ashes. The Ashes is an event in the truest sense,  a rupture into and of daily life and existence when what occurs transcends the mere occurrence unfolding.

Super rugby has lost its sense of the event. That is why the booing of Quade Copper was so indicative of what has gone wrong.  In our household he is known as the aussie fossa- given his  resemblance to the civet-like predator of Madagascar. We don't like him because of the type of person he seems to be. But we can admire his skill as rugby player.
 The booing of Cooper signals a shift from a crowd who are there to watch the skill and drama of the game to a crowd looking to express a herd-like mentality. A crowd ultimately bored by rugby will boo at every opportunity, just like they will indulge in the mass stupidity of constant mexican waves.

I am not bored by rugby- but i am disenchanted by what has become an overlong, seemingly meaningless series.
For the record, the Crusaders will win by 10 or more but will loose to the Bulls in the final. But do I really care? Not really. And i suspect- and hear- increasing numbers of fellow rugby tragics agree. The NZRFU would be wise to take note.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Learning from the Lions

The magnificent series victory by the Lions over the Wallabies demonstrates two simple facts.
 One is that the secret to coaching is as much knowing who not to select as who to select- and being able to follow that through. The second is that team culture is central.
 The team must be able to transcend the internal differences that exist and that will always exist. A coach that has created a good team culture will be able to not select certain players- and survive; a coach that has failed to create the team culture will always fail.

 An important element that Gatland and his team were able to bring to fulfilment was the mythology of the Lions.  In many ways this tour was the make or break time for this mythology. In a world of professional sport could a concept like the Lions exist and succeed  when players appear to have so many transitional and divided loyalties? Was the Idea, the Concept, the Myth, the belief in 'the Lions' strong enough, big enough, meaningful enough to be able to triumph?

 The secret of the Lions is that  is a scarce experience, it exists separate from anything else in world rugby. The Lions exist in many ways as a sacred event, in the sense of sacred meaning 'set aside'. If the Lions became an annual event, or even occurred every 2 years the experience would be in danger of being profaned. Because the chance to wear the red jersey, to play against the red jersey, is a scarce event it remains perhaps the greatest mystique and value in world rugby.

 The All Blacks have tried extremely hard to create and perpetuate a similar mystique with the black jersey- but theirs is actually based on the success of the team, not on the more transcendent mythologies that the Lions embody. If the All Blacks lost more regularly then the mystique would fade. The only way to restore it would be to play less often.

The biggest problem facing Australian rugby is not the rebuilding of team culture, for McKenzie has demonstrated that he is capable of doing that. it will be that of not selecting players. Already the Melbourne Rebels have shown the way forward.
 The irony is that in the past, when Deans was coaching the Crusaders talented but troublesome players like O'Conner would have been shipped south to be sorted out.