World rugby has waited all year - no, make that two years - for a blinding light of inspiration, a clarion call if you like from someone on how to play this game properly.
The world champion South Africans have been a disappointment, scared of their own mighty shadow when it has come to embracing a proper running game with attacking intent. They have the players but their coaches have been too frightened to use them properly. Likewise the French who have forgotten how to utilise such talents.
No-one else has seriously put their hands up to make the point as the game has plunged into an abyss of mess, muddle and mediocrity.
Give thanks, therefore, for what New Zealand did in Marseille on Saturday night. Winning a game of rugby, just another Test match, was the least of their achievements when judged on a worldwide canvas. No, what the All Blacks did was re-affirm our faith in the game as something a whole lot more than just a series of bludgeoning forward charges, a contest about as subtle as the collision between two raging bulls.
By using the ball at pace, cutting devious and delicious angles and allowing players to read the game unfolding in front of them not demanding they perform like pre-programmed robots, New Zealand did the entire game an enormous service. They showed that timeless qualities that have under-pinned this sport down the years; namely, timing a pass, keeping the defence guessing with clever running angles on and off the ball and making the ball do the work, remain of paramount importance in the game.
New Zealand did not do anything we had never seen in the game before. But most crucially, what they did do was demonstrate that those old values and methods of playing are still potentially decisive even in the modern game when used at speed, with thought and with precision in execution. No wonder the French looked terrified; you don't see players running at you from their own 22 in modern day Test rugby.
To score five tries to nil against any opposition in a Test match these days is some achievement. To do it against the French in their own backyard, one of the most emotional and atmospheric sporting arenas in Europe, was of immense importance.
This display told the world the following: stuff your dreary, forward orientated, snail-like pace of playing the game. Forget your obsession with kicking from deep, a kind of 15 man rugby tennis in which the spectator's neck becomes sore watching the ball hammered aimlessly backwards and forwards. Here, we saw glorious affirmation of the fact that a team's own 22 is very often the most propitious place from which to launch attacks. If you have the cojones...
The argument that all that possession the timid, frightened teams of world rugby have booted away in the last two years on the pretext that you can no longer attack from deep, was proved bogus. It was revealed as an indictment of their own poverty of skills and adventure. All it took for the All Blacks to do it here was belief, commitment and the adherence to a philosophy. Instead of dwelling on negativity and the safety first option each time, they chose attack and executed with lethal accuracy as five unanswered tries suggests.
It utterly exposed the liars and dreary, defence obsessed countries who have suggested such elan could no longer be part of rugby. Blame the IRB, blame referees, blame the laws, blame everyone but themselves. Yet New Zealand performed wondrously under the exact same rules on Saturday night. Why was it all so different? Because their players were offered a philosophy based on courage, movement and attack. No more; that was all it took.
Of course, even the finest orchestra requires a master conductor and the All Blacks had one in Daniel Carter. The variety of his play was breath-taking, the array of his skills outstanding. When he did kick, and he did so often enough, it was with thought, accuracy and cunning not simply repetitive hoofing of the ball. His chip kicks exposed the flat French defence, he offered those outside him width and space in which to operate.
The New Zealand backs flourished under this policy of moving the ball from the point of contact so quickly. Conrad Smith read the play like a book, while one moment of Nonu opening up the space for his partner with such a clever in-out step under pressure, was exquisite. Further out, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Corey Jane offered speed and abrasive qualities in contact.
Rugby has been in desperate need of such a demonstration ever since two penalty kicking obsessed teams reached the final of the 2007 World Cup. No coach has been brave enough to attempt it, to hurl the kitchen sink at the opposition and see what happens. Now we know what is possible.Reuse content