Some years ago, Jerry Guscott and I were watching a Bath match at the Rec where we had enjoyed so many good times cutting up the opposition – often courtesy of Stuart Barnes. As we looked on, every time the ball got to the Bath 12, he kicked it regardless of position or opportunity. We shook our heads at the preplanning of it all apparently at the behest of the coaching team, who were likely to take action and replace the player if instructions were not followed.
It seemed that spontaneity had been lost to the game for good in favour of some playbook.
The post lockdown Super Rugby on offer has shown much more immediate ambition and the breakdown changes have allowed turnovers to result in counterattack opportunities. Are we seeing the first signs of this in Europe? The Premiership after a shaky start seems to be embracing the thought. This has brought some space for midfield play to reassert itself. A throwback.
Exeter’s stunning opening try against Sale Sharks featured an inch perfect cut out pass from Henry Slade, followed by an even smarter inside flick by the same player to set up the try. Poetry in motion and a contender for try of the season.
Jack Willis’ efforts have revolutionised the Wasps open field play and their attacking lines are too hot to handle as they race up the table.
Semi Radradra could be the best signing ever by Bristol against this backdrop and Lasike of Harlequins came in twice on an angle from the scrum half which looks suspiciously like an old Bath move but similarly unstoppable.
Youngsters are being blooded because they have to be but I am already seeing unknown names grabbing the limelight and that is so promising.
The crowds would be loving this and no amount of shouting from the bench or piped in music can make up for the emptiness, cue the question at what stage does sport receive a specific answer on what is an acceptable risk to return supporters to a stadium? In Scotland Edinburgh and Glasgow managed 1,000 at the weekend. It is a start but only that.
Moreover, what is an acceptable risk for the community game to resume action? I know a very senior medical practitioner on the committee of one of our famous old clubs who cannot understand the rationale. What price our amateur game?
From the rugby we can see, onfield the ambition grows, elite players are vocal about their own health and the game is being forced to communicate across their own sometimes self constructed borders. Promising.
Simon John Halliday