Fancy seeing some running rugby?
We’re counting down the seconds here at The Rugby Blog HQ, and Stuart Peel has listed a few reasons to be cheerful about the new season.
The World Cup run in
The World Cup may be over a year away but this is in effect the start of the World Cup season. The top players will have very little in the way of rest between now and then, and whether that serves to damage the tournament remains to be seen. But it will be fascinating to see which players come to the fore, which players disappear, who will make a late run and, inevitably, who will be unlucky enough to be struck down by injury.
Few remember that it was not until 2003 itself that Trevor Woodman and Josh Lewsey broke into the England team, that Ben Kay firmly established himself as Martin Johnson’s second row partner and the pecking order in the centres became clear. Hell, Charlie Hodgson started the Six Nations that year at 12; Phil Christophers and James Simpson Daniel played in the summer test against New Zealand. Who remembers that now?
And there will be fascination in watching the development of the international teams. Can the North fare better against the South than they have done of late? Who are the real France, the Grand Slam champions or the shower who got pumped by South Africa a few weeks later?
Was England’s victory in Australia a flash in the pan or the start of something? Will they trust their ability to actually play rugby or revert to type? Can Wales get back the zest of 2 years ago, how far will Scotland’s improvement take them and are Ireland, like South Africa, just the wrong side of their peak? It will be exhilarating finding out.
A coherent and balanced set of laws at the breakdown
The early part of last season was ruined by laws which were loaded too far in favour of the defending team. It was actually advantageous to not have the ball as you were far more likely to win a penalty. We therefore saw no risk, no reward rugby characterised by seemingly endless bouts of aimless kicking.
By the end of the season, the balance had been restored and we saw some magnificent running rugby, and this translated to an extent into England’s performance in the Second Test in Australia.
There does need to be a balance here though. The sort of touch rugby we saw in the Tri-Nations game between South Africa and Australia on Saturday is far too far towards the other extreme but if the laws are applied correctly there is plenty of opportunity to run the ball and also have a contest at the breakdown. Good, accurate rugby, in both attack and defence, will be rewarded.
There are signs that the primacy of the set piece over the breakdown may be about to reassert itself with teams realising that without a firm primary platform you can do very little. Australia have come unstuck in this respect having been hammered in the scrum by England and New Zealand and the lineout by South Africa. This can only be a good thing, as a contest there leads to more space off first phase as back rowers have to stay engaged for longer.
All of the above will hopefully combine to lead to…
Plenty of running rugby
There is a place for the kicking game for sure. When executed well it is a devastating tactical weapon and can provide the position from which teams can launch attacks. But hands up who wants to see it the whole time? Thought not.
Rugby should be a game where, within reason, he who dares wins. The Premiership contains plenty of outstanding ball players but the likes of Geraghty, Lamb and our perennial favourite, Simpson-Daniel, are too often wasted in favour of one-dimensional mutes who will guarantee you possession for another phase even if they lack the wit to do anything other than bugger all with it.
The back end of last season saw the runners and movers come to the fore and it made for a wonderful spectacle. A whole season of that and we will all be purring, whether our team wins or not.
Other things which may or may not happen
– Miles Harrison to express an opinion of his own rather than just agreeing with everything Stuart Barnes says.
– Has anyone else noticed that Dewi Morris looks increasingly like an owl? At some stage in the season I expect him to turn his head through a full 360 degrees.
– Shaun Edwards to release a book of romantic poetry.
– James Haskell to carry the ball in two hands and complete an offload out of contact.
– Nick Easter to score a hat-trick of pushover tries against Australia.
– Richard Cockerill to give a referee a big hug and a kiss on the cheek after a match.
– Danny Cipriani to have a fling with a member of the Neighbours or Home and Away cast.
– New Zealand to win a Grand Slam on their autumn tour and choke a year later.