Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Watching bunnies thrash c-, er, male chickens


I've got nothing against rugby league - it's just that I rarely get to watch it.  These days if I have time to watch telly sports, it invariably has to be union since I tend to harp on it now and again.

But despite the code preference there was still plenty of union interest for me in last weekend's NRL playoff between the Sydney Roosters and the South Sydney Rabbitohs, so I thought I'd scribble an aul blog post on it...not a match writeup though, rather a couple of mini-posts on different topics arising from the match that interested me.

Before we get to those headings, some brief thoughts on the match & league itself - despite the fact I think the overall concept that is known as rugby would be better off if somehow the two codes could be united, I have to say the NRL is an enjoyable product to watch and I can see why it is so popular.

Unfortunately for the game of rugby league itself though the competition is so far ahead of its competitors around the world, yes, even Super League, that it pretty much makes taking the game worldwide impossible.  Sure, there will be fans everywhere thanks to global TV coverage but will it ever be played to a level to come close to the NRL anywhere else?  Hmm, I don't think so.

Anywho, that's just my opinion.  Here are some more...

IS BEN REALLY LEINSTER'S CUP OF TE'O?

Since it was confirmed that Ben Te'o was coming to Leinster I have tried to watch the Rabbitohs play whenever I can to see if I can get an idea what we can expect him to bring to our lineup.  

I was doing it with a view to writing a post like this long before now, but to be honest I hadn't really seen anything from him to make me what to get tapping on my keyboard.  Well that has all changed after watching this playoff, and hopefully that has to do with an ability to rise to the big occasion, because Leinster's reputation has been built on just that.

He actually wasn't in the Rabbitohs' starting lineup for this "preliminary final" (better known north of the equator as a semifinal) because he was just off a four-game suspension for what is brilliantly called a "chicken wing tackle" (just the job for playing the Roosters I would have thought).

But when his team found themselves 12-0 down early in the contest, he was thrown in after just 16 minutes and don't just take it from me that he was impressive throughout, the press who follow the league week-in week-out were saying this was his best outing of the season.

Clearly the tackle which led to his ban will be a concern, and soon after taking to the field he unnecessarily lifted an already-tackled Rooster from the ground to smash him back down again, which gave away a penalty and helped relieve pressure.

Let's just say that if what I hear is true and Brian O'Driscoll spends the odd afternoon with at Leinster training session, it wouldn't hurt for him to give Ben a few pointers on positioning and discipline.

But if the Queenslander can control that side of his game, what he can bring to the table offensively is immense.  And Matt O'Connor in particular could well see him as the missing piece to his puzzle.

Despite being 16 minutes late to the party in this match, Te'o carried for a whopping 95m.  Anything around triple digits for a full match is good, and though nobody would hope to get near the 171m gained by Sam Burgess (also union bound as he's heading to Bath), Ben broke 5 tackles including one which led to his impressive try which came at a crucial stage of the contest.

Can I see him as Leinster's centre answer?  Eh, well...no, not right now, but he does have a role to play.

As I said in my match writeup yesterday, when we try to select an "ideal" Leinster matchday squad, we must think of one that is going to be able to square up to Toulon in the Stade Mayol.  We had set the bar prior to 2013, they raised it, and we got a taste of where it is now in that quarterfinal last season.

There's no denying that Te'o has the power to face those who ran roughshod over us at times last April.  But power is nothing without nous, particularly on defence.

However, there is most definitely a Leinster jersey for a player like Te'o on European matchdays if he makes a good early transition...23.

He could be the absolute epitome of an "impact sub" for us in the final quarter of tight contests and for all that fans have moaned about the seemingly dull "pass, pass, cut inside" series of phases we have put out so far especially in away matches, that approach could actually be the making of Ben Te'o in union and if so, then who knows, even Matt himself might get a bit of credit.

Yeah, I'm really stretching the point at the end there, aren't I?  Sorry.

Anyway, those were my thoughts on Ben for now.  Best wishes to him & the Rabbitohs in the Grand Final and we look forward to welcoming him to the RDS.

SONNY-BALL

What's that?  You haven't heard of Sonny-ball?

It's a unique hybrid of league and union and the rules are simple...you just get to play whichever code you want, whenever you want, once the money is right.  You even get to throw on boxing gloves once in a while to spice things up.

Look...I've heard all the arguments about Sonny Bill's code-hopping.  And I know it's not so much about him rather his agent Khader Nasser doing the best deal he can for his client.  Particularly in sport with its short time span career-wise, it's hard to fault someone for chasing the money when they can.

But where do we draw the line?  Or do we draw one at all?  Well I do, and I would do so at the Rugby World Cup.

It is played every four years because it is more than a tournament.  Yes, I know, it's a means for making a bucket-load of cash and it's full of marketing opportunities for sponsors and what-not, but there is another purpose - it is a showcase for the sport and all that it stands for.  You could say it's rugby's Olympics.

If that is true, then why don't we have minimum qualifying standards for the RWC just as the Olympics does?  You can't just say you play a particular sport to take part in an olympiad, you generally have to post a particular time or throw an object particular length.

Whether intentional or not, Sonny Bill is making a mockery of the rugby union code in general, and in particular those who have worn the All Black 12 jumper since 2011.  Not only is he switching back once the Roosters were eliminated to rejoin the All Blacks setup, he's even talking about going BACK to league once the World Cup is over!

Of course actually legislating for this would be tricky.  But the fact remains league is not just a different rugby code, it's essentially a different sport.  Can you imagine if the Republic of Ireland qualified for soccer's World Cup (don't be smart - I did say IMAGINE!) and, say, Simon Zebo declared he'd fancy playing up front for Martin O'Neill's side?

Sonny Bill Williams is an amazing talent.  A powerful presence at inside centre and an unbelievable offloader of the ball.

But for me, no player should be able to cut the cloth of sport to suit themselves as easily as he is being allowed to do.  If you choose to leave there should be a consequence.  If he wants to come back to play for the Chiefs then who am I to stand in his way, but for me, a World Cup should be reserved for those who commit to the sport, and he obviously can't.  JLP
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