Many a team came to Bath’s Recreation Ground in the champion years of the 80’s and left shaking their heads at a scoreline they felt was grossly unfair. Opposition front rows or line outs often claimed moral victories despite conceding 30 points or more. We just smiled and knew the real difference. Brutal speed based training orchestrated by ex SAS Olympic Pentathlete Tom Hudson was designed to give us critical finishing power and skills when everyone was tired in the last 20 minutes.
Sound familiar? England has altered its training pattern to have that last 20 minute intensity and Danny Care in particular took the art of making an impact from the bench to a different level last weekend to achieve what seemed a crazy scoreline only 15 minutes earlier. Care must think the game rather easy having scored or created three tries in 8 minutes! No wonder Jones calls his bench the ‘Finishers’, it is the strongest in world rugby and that includes the All Blacks.
More than one senior rugby figure has suggested to me that substitutions should be injury not tactical based, which would reduce onfield collisions between fresh impact players and their tiring opposition. Whether supported by statistics or not, this has logic and I support also the reduction of interminable replacements at the end of games which is so disruptive. It will not get Eddie’s support however. His focus on the last 20 minutes and who should be on the field could win the World Cup.
People are queuing up to highlight weaknesses in the All Blacks as they come to the end of a very long season and just squeezed past Scotland. I prefer to pay credit to a nation which is riding on the crest of a wave. Top 5 in the world, real pace and ingenuity in the backs, and unforeseen depth in a forward pack riddled with injuries. They would also have been motivated by the inspirational sight of their afflicted hero, Doddie Weir, who presented the match ball. The world of rugby is rallying round efforts to raise awareness of Motor Neurone disease from which this great man suffers, and that battle will continue.
With a weekend to go before the Autumn Internationals come to a close there is no doubt in my mind that a top 4 has emerged in the world order – New Zealand, England, Australia and Ireland. However, I am already looking forward to the Calcutta Cup 2018 – I played against Scotland 7 times and every one was fiercely fought with no quarter asked or given. The 2018 vintage could be right up there and, even with the Aussies in town and possibly there for the taking, the Auld Enemy is on the horizon and the glens are stirring impatiently to fashion an appropriate welcome.