The 1905 Original All Blacks.

Image via Wikipedia

It was a joy to watch the highlights of the famous Barbarians v New Zealand match last night on the Beeb, how they condensed it into half an hour amazed me. But a number of things struck me during and after the programme about how the world of rugby has changed. Here are some thoughts:

1. Scrums. I was watching the programme with my sons who were in hysterics at the scrums. They were all over in the time it would take modern day referees to say Crouch – Touch – P A U S E — let alone Engage! All so simple, and a straght tussle in the front row without the need for “the hit”.

2. Lineouts. 14 men standing as close together as possible, leaning, pushing and no lifting. Great little tussles again, and the wingers were throwing the ball in. Who changed that one then?

3. The Haka. Any comparison with current renditions will provide no returns. On a scale of where the Maori war dance now is, the efforts of the 1973 All Blacks showed that they had only attended the first lesson on war dancing. It was so, so different and it was played to the crowd, not to the opposing team.

4. The Rugby. Now you could say that this was just Baa-Baas rugby where throwing the ball around was the order of the day, but that misses the point. The Baa Baas really could play. Individuall and collectively they were all great to watch and I still dream of seeing a centre/wing like David Duckham. Pure poetry in motion, an uncoached free spirit who left others grasping at shadows. A joy to watch, and enabled by the silky passing and vision of the likes of Gibson and Dawes. Quiet and brilliant.

5. The Names. When you read the All Blacks team sheet it’s very different to the names you might see playing for NZ now:

Joe Karam (Wellington), Brian Williams (Auckland), Bruce Robertson (Counties),  Alistair Hurst .(Canterbury), Grant Batty (Wellington), Bob Burgess (Manawatu), Sid Going (North Auckland), Graham Whiting (King Country), R A Urlich (Auckland), KK Lamber (Manawatu), H Mac Donald (Canterbury). Peter Whiting (Auckland), Alisatir Scown (Taranaki),  Alex Wyllie (Canterbury), Ian Kirkpatrick (Canterbury).

Strikingly obvious is that there are no South Sea islanders in the team, so I have to wonder why oh why did the All Blacks migrate to being a team of overseas imports when their homegrown talent was then almost the best in the world? Have they really sold their souls in the pursuit of global rugby dominance?

6. Rucking. There weren’t too many people willing to slow the ball down in those days, and that demonstrates the real value a rucking.

7. The Rugby. Let the rugby speak for itself: “playing with a smile on your face”, “heads up rugby”, “let the ball do the work” are all phrases that are bandied about now, but were definitely put into action then as opposed to just being talked about now.

It was a joyous match with some wondrous moments of purely blissful rugby. And at risk of sounding like an old fart I just wonder why it can’t be like that now?

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