Rugby Union's Bledisloe Opener to Be Game Played in Heaven
Many of us remember one of the greatest games of rugby ever played: When the Wallabies hosted the All Blacks at the then Stadium Australia, and lost when Jonah Lomu crashed over in the dying minutes to score a remarkable try and give a 39-35 victory to the All Blacks.
A world record 109,874 people were at hand to witness the most incredible opening to a test match, when the All Blacks scored three tries to canter out to a 21-0 lead in five minutes.
It would have been 28-0 had George Gregan—the smallest man on the field—not pulled off a heroic tackle to take down Lomu—the largest man on the field—in the seventh minute.
After Andrew Mehrtens kicked a penalty it was 24-0 with less than 10 minutes on the clock, but the Wallabies hit back to draw level at halftime, and all but had the match won before Lomu took an outrageous pass from Taine Randell to score the game’s 10th try.
The code could not have called for a better advertisement.
Since then rugby has had its moments, but has been marred by incorporating kicking and the changing of laws which has seen ball in hand attacking rugby, truly the glory of our sport, show little of its majesty when in recent years pragmatism has ruled.
Yet this year's Tri-Nations has seen a changing of the guard, where keeping ball in play and running back at an opposition has paid more dividends than putting the pill to the foot ever could.
While we could never take anything away from the way the Springboks strode through the rugby world like a colossus for most of the season in 2009, there can little doubt that the new hybrid of rugby we are witnessing is a far more attractive beast.
The administrators of the game are to be applauded for the introduction of the new law interpretations, and with the attacking team given more gratis at the ruck, keeping the ball alive is showing more reward and we the spectators are reaping the benefits.
It is also giving the game a point of difference over an old foe—rugby league.
League is generally regarded as a far more attacking game in union, due to the fact that it has fewer stoppages via set pieces and no contest at the ruck (something that any rugby aficionado always shakes their head over).
Yet so far this year, both the All Blacks and the Wallabies have run with the ball close to 1,000 metres per game, nearly double that of 2009.
As for kicking, part of the ethos behind the Springboks' dominance last year, the paradigm shift has become such that kicking the ball, and possession, away is seen as paramount to a rugby sin.
At Suncorp Stadium, the test match between the Wallabies and the Springboks saw the ball kicked just 27 times, less than all of the National Rugby League matches in round 20 of their competition.
The Tri-Nations is seeing 10 fewer kicks per game than last year.
Running with the ball is an art again.
It is a heady mix of runners hitting gaps, big ball carriers taking themselves into contact and looking for an offload, and always looking to attack the defensive line.
The beauty of this is that despite the fact that a defensive line is still stacked, as teams are loathe to contest the ruck under the new law interpretations, the two Trans-Tasman sides are looking to profit via consistent strikes.
There is a small risk that the importance of winning will see the sides adapt a safety first approach, but then this comes with the hidden penalty that it seems that a best defence under this wonderful style is a good offence.
Many believe that the Wallabies announced themselves to world rugby in the mid-eighties, coming out from a cloud of mediocrity to mount audacious attacks via a system sometimes fondly referred to as the “Randwick” style of play, where runners and passes are sent along a line so flat they are practically in their defenders' faces.
And the All Blacks, despite it being to their peril at times, boldly practice rugby with such zeal and alacrity, that when it all clicks, they are close to unstoppable.
These contests between two great rugby nations rarely disappoint and the omens are there for a clash of immense class and wonderful panache.
Once again, the Bledisloe Cup is among us!
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