In celebrating the best ever performance by a British team at an Olympic games, let us hope that Brexit does not herald the end of all that. Already the most successful per capita sporting nation in the world, we are in position to launch an assault on the aggregate gold medal peak held by the US.
It may stretch the imagination but I would argue that the dramatic arrival of Rugby as an Olympic sport was a major catalyst to help viewers into the spirit of the games. The Sevens competition showed off the essential qualities of rugby – power, skill, fitness, pace and the constant action which characterises the shortened form of the game. I was rather amused to hear Sir Clive Woodward eulogising over the excellence of the British Ladies team when it was the Brazilian 7 who were making their own joyous rugby statement, despite being half the size and lacking any of the resource available to the opposition. It laid down a marker for the tournament.
England Ladies are the World Champions but Team GB were eventually no match for the aggressive Canadians who tore into their more fancied opponents and thoroughly deserved their win. Interestingly Team GB played a direct and unimaginative brand of rugby which was always vulnerable. Lessons to be learnt.
On that note, Fiji’s first ever medal – Gold – was entirely appropriate given their history and tradition. But it was more than that. When it came to the final they showed ball-handing skills from a bygone amateur era – excepting the All Blacks or the Australians on a good day. They ran into space, passed out of the tackle and constantly put their colleagues into better positions to attack and score tries.
It is an attitude of mind whether in 7s or 15s, one which the French used to dominate, although no longer. The All Blacks have that mantle, and no one characterises this more than Beauden Barrett who has to be the best player in the world currently. Ford and Farrell will watch and admire and hopefully aspire to those lofty levels. Wise move that Eddie Jones is not over celebrating his series win over the Aussies as he may have predicted how they would be dismantled by the rampant All Blacks. One team so far ahead of everyone else in World Rugby doesn’t exactly get the pulse racing, but England is at least chasing. They may end up with only occasional clashes with the All Blacks in the next few years due to the financial spat between the RFU and NZ administrators. A rather nice unintended consequence. Scarcity has a value.
Back in Rio, Team GB men exceeded all expectations but a scratch team was always likely to find that passion and commitment can only go so far. The perfect planning and consequent dominance of various gold medal winning teams stand in contrast. As in football, National Unions will be cautious about how they support the Sevens team concept, which brings me to another point.
Sevens should stand on its own merits and yes, it will help the global game of 15s, witness Spain’s emergence. But it will struggle to be a rugby version of the 20/20 cricket phenomenon. Socialising through a sevens day is as vital as the games themselves so there will always be a lack of intensity. The Hong Kong Sevens stand testament to that, whereas in the 20/20 match arguably every ball matters.
We can surely learn from the skills on show and remind the 15 a side game not revert to physical type as it too often does – by the way I am enjoying the overdue emergence of more coaches who played in the backs. By definition they will be more enlightened and that mindless two man pop drive off rucks etc. or whatever they call it can be consigned where it belongs – not to mention its impact on the body. Talking of which …….
THOUGHT OF THE YEAR
I am going to mention concussion at every opportunity until two laws are changed – the high tackle and clearing out of players at a ruck or maul. It’s highly dangerous, as if we aren’t seeing enough head injury problems. The game is on notice from a growing band of players who are resorting to legal action alleging clinical mistreatment. Anyone seen the film ‘Concussion’ or followed the NFL saga? Let us take responsibility for our players welfare and let us mean it.