Rugby Union: Look and learn from a whole new ball game

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The Independent Online
Who would have thought there would be occasion to say it - let alone write it - but here goes: thank God the All Blacks won last weekend. I hope they go out and do it again in spades today.

With one almighty performance they have transformed the 1995 Rugby World Cup and shown all of us how the game of rugby should be played. I include the Wallabies in that diagnosis and hope our New Zealand cousins can keep on doing it for years to come.

Am I being a traitor to Australian ambitions? I don't think so. Let me explain.

The All Black power, finesse and committed desire to run the ball in broken-field play was a revelation which left England gasping. A cynic might argue that the last English rugby player to pick up the ball and run with it was William Webb Ellis, however even the English managed some good tries late in the game when they realised that tries could come by keeping the ball in hand.

Simply kicking the lacing off it against the All Blacks circa 1995, a team well versed in ensemble play with backs running like forwards and vice versa, was never going to go anywhere. Although I am an admirer of the consistency England has maintained at international level over the past few years, and the excellence of their technique and control, for them to win the tournament playing 10-man rugby would have been a travesty.

The All Blacks have thus set a great model for everyone to follow. England's model would have retarded the game by 10 years and I think we'll get another example of total rugby on display in Johannesburg this afternoon.

The men in black shirts look just too fit and too fast all around for South Africa. Expect them to spread the ball wide at every opportunity and make the big Springbok forwards chase all day. This will limit the amount of damage they can cause in the close-in encounters which their rugby ethos craves.

Not that South Africa will be rolling over for New Zealand or anyone. They will be playing on a tidal wave of expectation and goodwill, as well as the pride they always have in the Springbok jumper; however nothing will have prepared them for the sheer speed of the All Black assault.

When you see back rowers like 24-year-old Josh Kronfeld taking the last pass from a winger to dive over in the corner for a try - off a back line movement to boot - you realise what South Africa must counter. This is nothing new in itself. It is just being done at a new pace. Denying New Zealand the ball at set-pieces will help, but giving it back to them by kicking for position will only serve to unleash the most damaging runner in world rugby, Mr Jonah Lomu.

For the sport to flourish on the world stage it needs stars of the magnitude of Lomu. He brings excitement every time he touches the ball and, along with Springbok Chester Williams and Wallaby lock John Eales, has been the outstanding player.

As for Australia, we are now regrouping before a two-Test series against New Zealand for the Bledisloe Cup and for that reason alone the World Cup final will be watched with avid interest. Even though the players are still coming to grips with our early tournament exit it has not stopped us planning for the years ahead and the style and conviction I expect New Zealand to display today will be facing us all too soon.

I think a natural cycle of player attrition is just about to start. David Campese is now in his 14th international season and Michael Lynagh in his 13th. With world rugby entering four-yearly cycles courtesy of the World Cup, we have no time to lose in rebuilding the side and finding the personnel to lay the game as defined by a resurgent New Zealand.

Therefore the rugby we will see on display today in South Africa, its style, tactics, form and content will be ruthlessly studied and copied by every nation in the game. To do anything else would be criminally negligent as the two best teams in the world come face to face.