A New Rugby Season: A Live Report From Twicker’s

6 09 2010

This is a first contribution from another guest contributor, Si, who writes:

A crowd of over 70,000 packed into a sunny Twickenham to welcome in the first two matches of the new season for the London-based Premiership teams – the first match a potentially open, free-flowing contest between London Irish and the somewhat more belligerent, rugged style of a strongly South African flavoured Saracens team. The mood was one largely of optimism, although the atmosphere at HQ seemed a little peculiar. Despite being one of the healthiest attendances for a club game, the mix of supporters around the ground led to a somewhat subdued atmosphere, with a background hubbub of talking, and a noticeable disinterest in some of the rugby on display from the non-involved supporters.

One cannot help but feel that this reflects rather sadly on the overall spectacle of the games; the first half of the Irish/Sarries affair being an error-strewn, largely scoreless affair, with two relatively clumsy tries that seemed heaved over the whitewash with bluster, a lot of hot air and rather less finesse than perhaps we were expecting, notwithstanding a nice blind pass behind the head from Chris Wyles to send Joubert over for the first try. Both teams eventually trundled off for a half-time regroup and chance to reflect on the first forty minutes as perhaps a ‘loosener’ to shake off the rust of the summer.

Irish emerged by far the more alert of the teams after the break and immediately started to cause problems for Sarries, with the impressive Delon Armitage crossing for a well-worked overlap try in the corner. Armitage looked sharper by far than in his last, somewhat lacklustre Six Nations which should be heartening for all England fans; he demonstrated a return to the security under the high ball, deftness of touch and speed of feet that makes him certainly a contender to form part of the England back three for the Autumn.

Three further tries for Irish wrapped up quite a comprehensive-looking victory on paper, although this was helped in no small part by two yellow cards for first the Sarries fly-half Goode and then the replacement Kevin Barrett for a senseless push on a diving Topsy Ojo in the act of scoring.

It is always a little premature to draw too many great conclusions from opening games, especially where both sides are effectively away from home and before the ravages of a long season and international duties start to take their inevitable toll. That said, the two striking differences between some of the domestic rugby played in the Southern Hemisphere and that on display yesterday was pace. Time and again, the ball ended up being dragged into a slow, plodding, forward oriented slug-fest from phases 2 onwards; this being made all the more depressing as it typically followed some quite precise and pacy (albeit rarely line-breaking) first phase play. Our feeling is that in order to develop this fast-flowing, media and crowd friendly game that is being called for, teams have to play with more width throughout the latter phases, resisting the temptation to use the pack to cut back inside for short passes and then set up interminable, inevitable slow ruck or maul ball. Offloaded ball in the tackle, creating running at broken defensive lines is really the only way to achieve the high speed, high-octane game the northern hemisphere seems to be craving.

The second game featured London Wasps against local boys Harlequins who seem to be at last breaking free of the shackles of “Bloodgate” and trying to focus the media scrutiny on their brand of rugby, rather than the authenticity of any on-field injuries.

The game started brightly; with an early try for Easter following smart work by Care at the base and Nick Evans, the fly half. This seemed to snap Wasps awake, and they responded with two penalties, followed by two tries, the first a smart, powerful series of surges towards the Quins line culminating in new signing Andy Powell galumphing over the whitewash; followed by a smart interchange between Riki Flutey, playing in a less familiar fly-half role, and the poacher supreme, Tom Varndell, who latched onto spilled ball from the tackle to quickly turn the scoreline on its head.

Thereafter, the match seemed to sag somewhat, culminating in a rather tepid series of half-hearted Mexican waves rolling around the Twickenham stands, which then degenerated into the (one can only assume) deathly bored crowd throwing anything they could into the air and towards the pitch during the Mexican wave, including plastic bottles, toilet rolls (?) and cardboard beer carriers.

To long term, staunch rugby fans like ourselves, this childish behaviour, never seen before by the author at any other rugby ground, let alone Twickenham, seems to be part of a worrying slide away from the spectator standards one would come to expect from a rugby crowd. Granted, the match was grinding towards a fairly dismal, yet ultimately fair 29-29 draw, and this may have just been idiotic behaviour started by a minority. One would hope this doesn’t become a regular feature at rugby matches where the atmosphere is often lauded and cherished as being far more sportsmanlike, more genial, and less threatening than in some other sports.

Overall, the first weekend of the newly-dubbed Aviva Premiership seems to be less revolutionary than some may have expected, although newcomers Exeter Chiefs’ win at local rivals Gloucester raised a few smiles in the Twickenham stands. It still remains to be seen if the quality of top flight English Rugby can be high enough to support, nourish and develop the national side into World Cup contenders in 2011 and if the problems inherent in the “English” style and ethos of play can be overcome. This said, we await the following Premiership rounds and a packed Autumn International fixture list with keen interest and a healthy sense of perspective…..

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3 responses

6 09 2010
Bradders

Sounds like the media pundits (Will Greenwood etc) who were proclaiming the death of the ‘English’ style forward orientated rugby may have got it wrong! Having watched the Tri Nations I can’t see England living with the Southern Hemisphere big boys unless we do learn to play with a little more freedom though.

Cheers for writing this piece Si.

6 09 2010
Will Buck

I am not sure if Si was at the same event as I was? A few points to raise from his extraordinarily negative article.

1 – 29-29 and 33-16 did not seem like slow and boring games to me. It was the first game of the season, so there was some invevitable rustiness, but generally the games were positive.

2 – with a crowd of that size there ar bound to be some merely interested followers rather than die-hard club fans, but this should be praised. Rugby is clearly becoming more popular in and attracting new fans to the game.

3 – Si needs to cheer up. What harm is there in a mexican wave? The atsmosphere at Twickenham was as rugby always is, a friendly, good-natured family affair with a few beers thrown in!

Having also watched Northampton v. Leicester yesterday and seen all the highlights of the primiership this weekend, I think we are in for a season of exciting, fast-paced, attacking rugby. It looks like being a very competitive league as well, so bring it on!

7 09 2010
Bradders

Haha – they’d be nothing to debate if we all agreed after all – thanks for your comments. Do you also fancy writing something?

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