Long live Test match rugby

The Tight HeadIt’s been a little over a week since the Ellis Park Test between the Springboks and the All Blacks and I’m finally starting to recover from the sheer magnitude of the occasion.

It needs to be discussed but it’s not the focus of this article, so I’ll try to be brief. The Boks lost 38 – 27. This was largely as a result of our porous defence and the All Blacks’ direct running. Where the Boks were creating tries through imaginative play and clever offloads, the All Blacks were simply running ordinary lines and testing one-on-one defenders. Of the 5 tries the All Blacks scored, only the last one by Kieran Read, was created by a genuine overlap.

It’s disappointing because we finally got to see what we can do with ball in hand, but made it look like attacking rugby and solid defence can’t be part of the same game plan. Of course it’s true that an expansive attacking game plan may lead to gaps in the defensive line (just ask the Cheetahs of 2012 and earlier), but that isn’t what happened last Saturday. For the first 4 All Black tries there were no gaps in the line, the line was fully intact. The line just missed simple one-on-one tackles. Whether it was as a result of fatigue, nerves or a lack of technique is debatable; but it certainly wasn’t because of our attacking game plan, which I hope like hell won’t be discarded to refocus on defence!

Springboks-VS-All-Blacks

That being said, it was a massively entertaining Test and one which will be remembered for a long time to come. It has also shown us that the Boks are improving steadily under Heyneke Meyer and that we as Bok supporters can sleep much more comfortably than we could one year ago.

Okay, with that out of the way we can get down to the real purpose of this article. Long live Test match rugby. And more to the point, long live live Test match rugby. I read an article in the newly created scrum.co.za online publication (which I highly recommend) which explored the idea of whether, with what television audiences have at their fingertips today, live rugby is in danger of becoming neglected. Let’s face it, if you have a 55 inch flat screen TV, an HD PVR decoder, Naas, Nick and the boys to keep you company, a comfortable couch and beer and snacks at your fingertips, why would you want to trudge off to the middle of town, struggle with traffic and crowds, pay R25 for a beer to watch a live game on a hard plastic seat next to a guy big enough to fill two seats? On paper the live game doesn’t stand much of a chance.

But if you ask me why, I ask you why not? The atmosphere at Ellis Park last Saturday was phenomenal. The national anthem rang out louder than I have ever heard it before. 60 000+ people roared in unison each time the Boks made a break for the line (and luckily for us they did that often!). The ground literally shook with every try scored. Even though it is difficult to describe it to those who weren’t there, on TV one could hear the noise, almost see the noise. What was heard on TV, however, was about a quarter of what the noise level was inside the stadium. No level of Nick Mallet referee ranting can replace the gees of the live game.

BoksTo be fair to the scrum.co.za article, this was the biggest test of the year and their article focused on Super Rugby games throughout the entire season, which is a vastly different comparison. Somehow I don’t foresee the same level of gees emanating from a Lions / Rebels game in the middle of July next year on a cold Johannesburg night.

The live rugby debate aside, there is also something very special about an All Black/ Springbok Test. Not necessarily always in the quality of the match-ups, as the All Blacks do tend to have the rub on us more often than not. But the respect between the Springboks and the All Blacks is something which you don’t see between other teams.

Willie le Roux

From Bismark and Jannie chatting to Andrew Hore for a good 20 minutes after the game, where one could see a genuine friendship, to Steve Hansen seeking out every Bok player to have a quick individual word while the interviews were being conducted. Its heart-warming to see that rugby in the traditional “enemies on the field, mates off it” sense still exists. It’s these little aspects which the broadcast might not show the viewers backs home, but which make the effort of getting to the stadium even more worthwhile.

We lost the game, but somehow I still left the stadium with a smile on my face. That being said, it might have been from one too many of those R25 beers, they were delicious…

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