By Rugby World reader, Mark Shanahan
Another ‘View from the Sofa’ blog entry…..
I’ll leave it to others to comment on the anticlimactic ending to the Six Nations. In short: Wales did what everyone expected them to. Ireland had a choker at Croker – well done the Scots who proved that an average team on a very good day can beat a good team having an average day. Unfortunately, England didn’t quite have the belief to make the same thing happen in Paris. While the English should have won, they didn’t seem to believe it was possible. France, on the other hand, showed the key sign of a really good team, namely the ability to win when playing poorly.
Anyway, on to Sunday and far and away the best match of the weekend – the LV Anglo-Welsh Final between two well-matched teams in Gloucester and Northampton. This was a game littered with errors yet far more exciting than any of the International fare from the previous day. The sides, seemingly, played without nerves and with a willingness to play off the cuff: to try something different and to run the ball rather than indulge in relentless hoofing between one 22 and the other. Of course there was some tactical kicking – and some was brainless – it’s a creeping failing of the modern game that’s becoming endemic. But we saw plenty of ball in hand from both sets of centres with the back three of each team deeply involved in creating offensive opportunity, rather than just fielding up and unders.
But, however good fun this match was (unless you’re from Gloucester), my thoughts kept wandering to why it was happening at all – what’s the point of a set piece final, played for a shiny trophy and a guaranteed place in the Heineken Cup by two sides with squads severely depleted by international call-ups. The premise of the Anglo-Welsh Cup is severely flawed for a number of reasons. First, playing through the International window ensures it’s an apples and pears event – those teams contributing most to the International squads are unduly penalised. Second a format of picking pools and then playing matches against sides in other pools seems byzantine. Gloucester lost their first two matches in the competition yet still made the final. Somehow, that doesn’t seem right. Third, the public don’t seem to have bought into the competition. Last week’s semi at Cardiff was played against the back-drop of a sea of empty seats. Yesterday’s final at Worcester was hardly much better: the crowd packed largely into one stand (still not full) for the benefit of the cameras.
It begs the question: is there just too much rugby around at the moment? For me, the combination of so many injuries and tactical sterility suggests that’s the case. The money men and TV have the whip hand, but it’s the quality of the game that’s suffering.
Yesterday’s frolic at Sixways was great fun – but was it a match and a tournament too far? I think so.