Monday, 30 July 2007

Phoney war

With not much more than a month to go before the start of Rugby World Cup 2007 the phoney war is now upon us. With hosts France and the big three south of the equator having named their squads (after a largely pointless and surprisingly mediocre Tri Nations it must be said) there's not much for them to do now but sit and wait and argue the toss over whether Richie McCaw is the greatest player living or the biggest cheat in the game.

Yes, while England scratch their heads and attempt to cobble together a squad of old timers, fresh faced kids and the walking wounded, while Wales debate whether Gavin Henson has the appropriate haircut to merit selection for the Welsh squad and while Scottish rugby continues to implode, the Southern Hemisphere have decided that bickering is the best way to warm up for France.

Whether it's Jake White's decision to take a shadow squad to Australia and New Zealand, Lote Tuqiri's suspension, Graham Henry's axeing of Piri Weepu and Troy Flavell, Bob Skinstad's inclusion in the Springbok squad or Eddie Jones' "defection" to the South African ranks, there's been plenty of controversy in the last few weeks and plenty for the three countries to argue about, either with each other or amongst themselves.

The loudest protests, however, appear to be about how much the All Black skipper gets away with at the breakdown. Eddie Jones (spokesperson, it now appears, for both Australian and South African interests) claimed that respect for McCaw's captaincy was being eroded by his actions, both Jake White and John Connolly have chipped in to voice their disquiet and Springbok stand-in skipper Johann Muller added his considerable intellect to the debate by proclaiming loudly "IT'S NOT FAIR!"

My take on this is simple. Richie McCaw is currently the world's best openside and possibly the world's best player. He is also the best at cheating. By cheating I of course mean that at the breakdown he knows exactly what he can do and what he can get away with, how marginally offside he can be without it being obvious, when to use his hands etc etc. If he wasn't very good at it he wouldn't be the best flanker alive - he'd be second best to George Smith or to Schalk Burger or to whoever had learned to get way with more. It's what flankers do.

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