By Al Dymock
WHENEVER THERE is an international series, the game of rugby and those that play it are put on trial. The old legal adage comes out: qui bono? Who Benefits?
With results and incidental occurrences varying throughout the autumn Internationals, it is not a case of saying that there were winners and losers. There is a cost for the smallest of efforts and a reward for the most taxing of endeavours. The key is to look at the whole picture and ask what is next for those who were fiercely cross-examined.
Stuart Lancaster’s side have had it all. They have lost out to the South Africans thanks to miscalculation and they have lost out to the Australians thanks to the heft of pride. Yet their own failing sdid not manifest themselves against the fearsome All Blacks. They just got on with playing hard, fast, exciting rugby.
It snuck up on us, as it no doubt did for their coach, that the fresh, new, different, unpredictable, unprecedented England existed. They played rugby we had never before seen and it blitzed the All Blacks and blasted England forward.
The job now is to build on this. No matter what is said elsewhere, this is not a complete team nor a mission accomplished. The losses in the weeks before tell us this. England need to work on staying ahead of their neighbours and even smashing France.
If they do this we can all worry about climbing back up to the top of world rugby.
Normally we expect more ceremony when there is a changing of the guard, but it has just silently happened in Ireland’s case.
Do not worry; the old boys are still there, just to help in this period of transition. However, there is a cost. The older bodies are not as agile or as sturdy as they used to be. The younger bodies are not as battle-hardened.
In the coming months Declan Kidney is going to have to reinvent himself. To get the most out of the squad he has he will need to become a slick combination of the players’ best friend and a hellfire-and-brimstone motivator. Is he able to do so?
There are not enough digits on the ends of human extremities to keep count of how many new starts and near-misses Scotland have had.
It may be getting to the stage where the charade is over and everyone in Scotland agrees to just play a negative and stifling game in the hunt for results, rather than trying to play rugby. Of course this depends on the new coach(es).
Andy Robinson brought in many changes, but the team of the moment cannot buy a win in Britain. They have to learn to play to their strengths and play away from those of the opposition. Scotland need a tactician, rather than a hands-on coach.
Analysing the Welsh is tough. They are an anomaly, inherently, so trying to figure out why they have collapsed after hitting dizzy heights is nigh on impossible.
They have talented individuals, but they look run down as if they have downloaded a virus, to a man. Confidence is always the easiest excuse to explain away awful form. ‘Confidence’ is as clichéd in sports as ‘nerves’ and crying are in reality TV shows. There is an illusion that these excuses will mean forgiveness or advancement.
Wales need more confidence, sure, but that comes from the next win. How do they get that next win? By playing belligerent front-foot rugby and generating the pace Wales thrive on. Their next matches must be played in a bullish manner.
Warren Gatland’s team cannot shy away from losses and hope they wake up on the right side of the bed.