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Friggin’ NZ still in the box-seat while north hots up

  • By ClintonV
  • December 4, 2017
  • Comments Off on Friggin’ NZ still in the box-seat while north hots up

Formula One is a world far removed from rugby.

But in trying to map the shifting tectonic plates of the international game, F1 racing offers a useful metaphor.

The All Blacks are the Mercedes team of rugby: sleek, excellent and seldom beaten. England are like Ferrari, their past glories weighing heavily on their present ambitions. And they remain formidably capable. Wales are as Lotus were; great in the 1970s, forgettable thereafter.

The Springboks, oh dear, are like the Williams team, all earnest endeavour with trophies galore (none of them of recent vintage, mind). They scrap and they snarl, but the podium eludes them.

As the international season concludes, these comparisons are truer than ever.

The Boks have had their moments, but the engine now splutters rather than purrs. Sometimes they break down. They’re in urgent need of a tyre change with the weight of their grand history fast receding into memory.

The chief mechanic is on borrowed time. The new man is being sized up for his overall. Hope remains the fuel that will get this jalopy firing again.

HHope remains the fuel that will get this jalopy firing again

With losses against the British and Irish Lions and Australia this year, the All Blacks have had a couple of chinks exposed. But in romping their way through Europe this month with a largely makeshift team, they have confirmed their remarkable depth. Beauden Barrett may have been crowned king at the World Rugby awards, but the assassin among them is Rieko Ioane, another product of New Zealand’s maddeningly prolific conveyor belt of talent.

They breed them big and fast in Kiwi land and Ioane may be among the very best of them.

England have continued their merry march under Eddie Jones, plundering sides everywhere they go. It’s a daunting prospect that they’ll be travelling to South Africa for three Tests next year, although for all their rugged efficiency, they lack a spark. They get the job done almost every time they’re asked to, but little of what they do gets the pulses racing. They may be “Ferrari” in stature, but they’re Teutonic in delivery: cold, calculating, clinical.

Scotland are a far more exciting team. They produced the fastest rugby of any team this past month, the All Blacks included, and have balance front and back. A new dawn has been threatening for years, but under Gregor Townsend, continuing the fine work of Vern Cotter, they may yet reach the promised land at the Six Nations.

Australia are treading water. They arrived in Europe with ambition and big talk, but a one from three return puts them near the back of the grid. They were always going to be up against it the moment they let Israel Folau take a timeout. And they desperately miss David Pocock, soaking up the sun on this strange ritual called a sabbatical. Poor darling.

Ireland look there or thereabouts in the reckoning and will add to a magnificent brew at the next Six Nations. No-one will fancy a trip to Dublin in the next 12 months. Ireland are stroppy and savage, as the meek Springboks discovered a few weeks ago. Conor Murray, their scrumhalf, may be the finest number nine in the game.

Wales are, well, Wales. They have their moments, but they remain predictable. They can go mano-o-mano with any team for 60 minutes, but they lack the killer instinct of England or Ireland. For all their swagger and bull dust, their record against southern hemisphere teams remains dire.

So, to France. They are in a pickle. It would cost €1,5-million to get rid of Guy Noves and his staff, so France may be stuck with Monsieur Average. Too bad, because the Tricolors are dreadful, having drawn with Japan last week. Even with their domestic league awash with foreigners, they have the players, but finding the right coach to summon their best is a fraught business. Being French, they could always summon a one-off, but they ought to be better than that.

Argentina, too, have lost their way. Super Rugby has emasculated Los Pumas who are where they were 20 years ago: on the outer.

The paddock, then, is looking like a mixed bag. There’s a lot of shiny, sleek machinery and a couple of dogs about.

Rugby, unlike Formula One, is never predictable. – © Sunday Tribune




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