Well, I've been pretty silent for most of the 2006 Rugby season. I've still be watching as much as I can, and I've also been to a few games - both Super 14 and Test matches.
I attended both Tests in Sydney this year, as well as the odd Waratah game too. There are a few things troubling me this season more than ever.
Australia's sports media are outdoing themselves this season with over-the-top criticism (one could argue that given last season's poor results, it's warranted) - however it doesn't seem to matter how many wins the Wallabies score, the criticism is ever lasting.
I've had a gutfull. John Connelly and current Wallaby selectors, have obviously made some sound decisions netting INSTANT results, and turning a *very* average national team back into a contender for the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
Now, according to the "Daily Telegraph" we have a halfback controversy which apparently has been in existence for years right under our noses - in fact it *apparently* has been on since before 2003.. you know, the year we played the RWC final...
Well I guess the only good thing to say about the Daily Telegraph's stories are that if no one is writing something good, you'll normally take something bad over nothing at all.
Poor George Gregan. His Captaincy has been marred by continual criticism from all areas of the press. For some reason, certain biased members of the sporting media seem to think that it's perfectly acceptable to lump performance at halfback in with performance as a captain. I can't remember that happening much since the Farr-Jones era, but maybe that is a natural combination?
Whatever the case, specific people ought to lay off and treat the two as separate since they *are*. Gregan as Captain - not the worst and not the best, obviously. As a halfback, he makes the odd mistake (as many do), but is still one of the best. Perhaps removing Captaincy will improve his game (as it has for the Brumbies)?
Yes, the team needs to develop younger options - which could be said about a number of positions from Hooker to Outside centre. Try and stick to the positional issues, folks.
International Rugby Section
Now, enough of the local issues. This year has provided some solid campaigns (with the notable exception of the recent Australia v South Africa which was, needless to say, a farce of extreme comical proportions).
New Zealand are, as per tradition, probably peaking too soon - with the RWC 07 just around the corner. Hopefully they'll keep this in mind and not take the usual NZ stance of winning all on offer, and then being to tired to pull through. It's fun to remind Kiwis that they haven't won a RWC since 1987 - what? nearly twenty years!
South Africa are starting to regather form, although the 49-0 loss to Australia will be a psychological barrier for some time - probably like the Waratahs/Crusaders barrier where the Crusaders crossed for a record 13 tries.
It's going to be an uphill battle, and some would say that they are hampered by the provision of the equal opportunities rule. Understandable, but sort of runs contrary to picking the best players available.
France look formidable, but they are still awfully far away (geographically), so who knows where they really stand in terms of form. England have slumped and will need a LOT of work to find form again. Ireland may be tiring into the stretch a-la NZ, but are always a team to be reckoned with.
The wild cards continue to be Fiji/Samoa and Scotland. Wales (who can forget Wales v NZ in RWC 2003?) are also a very strong Six Nations team who we can continue to see big things from. The minnow nations continue to be the less backed teams who may improve continually such as Italy, Spain, the US and Canada (who just booked a RWC 2007 birth).
Everything is shaping up for an interesting 2007 world cup. Look back here for more news soon.