MARK KEOHANE, in Business Day Newspaper, writes less should be more when it comes to Test rugby.
If you want intensity, occasion and a definition of Test rugby go and watch the final of the 2011 World Cup and the 2013 Wallabies versus British and Irish Lions Series opener.
If you want to know what is wrong with Test rugby go and watch New Zealand’s third Test win against France in New Plymouth and South Africa’s disinterest when playing Scotland in Nelspruit a week ago.
Less is more.
Test rugby is about an occasion.
The World Cup final is an occasion. The opening Test involving the British and Irish Lions is always an occasion because each comes around only once every four years.
No matter the price of an entrance ticket you’ll fill the stadium for the likes of a World Cup final and that opening Lions Test.
But take those same teams and play them in meaningless Tests and against inferior opposition and you will never see the same intensity, same player application and spectator passion.
More is professional rugby’s new age definition of quality. But less will always beat more when it comes to playing the best against the best.
It is why Test cricket holds such a special place among cricketers and ODI’s hit and miss result is forgotten before the players get to the change room.
Lose today and win tomorrow … that’s what happens when seven ODIs are played in a two week period between the same two sides.
Similarly when the great teams of world rugby like New Zealand and South Africa play each other home and away every year. Lose today, win tomorrow.
It’s all wrong and it is unlikely to ever be righted.
Which is why there has to be an appreciation and celebration of an occasion like Brisbane. Israel Folau and George North’s tries were the stuff of legend. Will Genia’s tap, go, 60 metre run and grubber to Folau is the genius that will get spoken about forever and Kurtley Beale’s slip and miss with the kick to win the match for the Wallabies will be retold by every generation of supporter.
It was the same with Joel Stransky’s drop goal, Stephen Donald’s penalty, Jonny Wilkinson’s drop goal and Morne Steyn’s 55 metre penalty against the Lions in 2009.
Great sporting codes need great moments, but great moments only come if the occasion is great.
With the utmost respect to those two teams who played in New Plymouth and to the Springboks and Samoans in Pretoria, neither match-ups constituted an occasion.
Neither Test will be remembered a fortnight into the Rugby Championship and even the Rugby Championship will be forgotten a week into the November internationals.
You know something is wrong when a Bulls dominated Springbok team plays at Loftus and the ground is only two thirds full.
This was a manufactured occasion. So too New Plymouth. The one in Brisbane was the real deal.
It was a Test match that had everything. It was played with pace, precision and with brutality. There was great defence, immense scrumming from both packs at various stages of the match and inspiring counter attack.
This match meant something, as will this weekend’s because if Australia don’t win it will be another 12 years before a generation of Australian player gets the chance to beat the combined best of Britain and Ireland. That’s the magnitude of the occasion.
If the Lions played every year the senses would be numbed and the player appetite would be absent.
Imagine if the Boks played the All Blacks in a three Test series once every three years in South Africa and then only three years later in New Zealand.
Wow, that series would have meaning to the players and the public.
Super Rugby would be the platform that showcases the weekly brilliance of the players all year round in New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, but the thrill would be in knowing that only for one month in three years do South Africans get to see the All Blacks in South Africa. Likewise, when it comes to the Springboks in New Zealand.
Club/regional rugby should be the bread and butter of the world order, with players based in whichever country’s competition. The grand occasion then becomes Test rugby and the definition then again becomes true to the meaning of Test rugby, which is when the best plays the best for the right to be the best.
International status has been devalued. The right to wear one’s Test jersey should be earned and not cheapened with two minute appearances once a game has been won.
I’ll always remember what I saw in Brisbane because it was Test rugby as it was always meant to be. It meant something that will go into rugby folklore.
Not so that what was on offer in New Plymouth and in Pretoria.