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Running Touch: On Quick Ball, Rule-Breaking, 7s and More

Wednesday Jun 24, 2009 in Columns Running Touch

image for this article

(Ian Muir photo.)

A Running Touch Opinion Column

Quick Ball
Don’t we all love quick ball? Don’t we all know that it’s virtually impossible to get in the international game? Running through a series of rucks, winning the ball quickly, and scoring quick tries is just not happening.

But if you watched the British & Irish Lions vs. South Africa on RugbyZone this weekend, you will have seen just that. It’s hard to see what, exactly, transpired to allow the quick ruck ball we saw in that game.

It does seem as if ballcarriers are concentrating very hard on making the ball available, and if it’s al done speedily, there’s no chance for a poach.

Just interesting to notice it’s possible.
English Niggliness
I am not a fan of Phil Vickery, especially since he tripped Paul Emerick in the World Cup and got a slap on the wrist for it. Vickery is not, athletically, the player he was, so he’s trying to make up for it with something euphemistically called “savvy.”

That is, he tries to break the rules. He was called on it in the scrums and he was really enormously negative in his play there. But I think it’s a bigger problem in English rugby, highlighted also by Sunday’s Churchill Cup final.

English teams can get bogged down in all the little rule-bending stuff – throwing balls away to avoid quick taps or quick lineouts; holding players down on the ground; dropping scrums; getting in the way. It all happens and it’s all taught. I remember in 2004 the USA U19 girls played in England, and found out that if an English player was offside, they are taught to run back onside taking a line that runs between the scrumhalf and the ruck. It’s negative, obnoxious, and the attitude needs to be penalized. We saw it penalized this weekend.

And More on Quick Ball
The Lions last won a series in 1997. But in 2001 they were well on their way. They won the first test against Australia 29-13 and led 11-6 at halftime of the second. They ended up losing that second test 35-14 and lost the third in a close one. The difference? In my opinion it was the loss of scrumhalf Rob Howley.

So skinny you’d expect him to pass out halfway through the game, Howley was one of the great #9s. His biggest asset was his quick service. He passed directly off the floor, very well, and that extra half-second gave his backs time to score tries. When he left injured at halftime of the second match, the Lions attack fell apart.

So on to 2009. Lions scrumhalf Mike Phillips is woefully slow in getting the ball to his backs, or even his forwards. He digs it out, looks around, and then takes a hope and a skip before sending a really slow, short pass out. Trust me, it makes a difference.
USA Prospects
Right now, you’d think the USA will not beat Canada in the World Cup Qualifiers July 4 and 11.

It is possible the Eagles could win at home, but if they do it will be close. Few think they can win both. So … what happens after that? The Eagles will play for the #2 seed from the Americans with, most likely, Uruguay.

Word is this round of qualifiers will happen in November during the fall test window. It makes sense for everyone. The Eagles and Uruguay want games,

Ian Muir photo
and they also need to have all their best players available. And while a World Cup Qualifier trumps club requirements, you know how things are – clubs get mad and can cause problems with players later.

So if the Eagles lose the series to Canada, look for a three-game November for the Eagles: Uruguay twice, probably November 14 and November 21, and Fiji November 28.
Local 7s
It’s been a bit of a broken record in these pages, as I have lamented the lack of a truly cohesive 7s club season in the United States.

This territory has a six-tournament season leading to a final territorial tournament, this other territory uses just a points system, another uses one tournament. It’s all over the place.

Rob Wagner, www.dropkickphotos.com photo
And you know what? I’m fine with it. After years of calling for everyone to be the same, I have flipped a 180, eaten my words. The idea of having a 7s season that involves a set number of tournaments that accumulates points and leads to a territorial championship, or, more fun for us, a national league that ranks everyone, is nice. But it’s not practical.

Territories like what they like, and they know what works for them. The season of tournaments in the South seemed like a good idea, but so few teams fulfilled the requirements and now they’re down to just one tournament.

Well if that’s what they want, that’s fine. It’s up to the 7s teams to compete in such a way to ensure they are ready. Why make them play in a series that bankrupts them or wears them out?

As it is, we are going to struggle to fill out the field of 16 teams at nationals once again. There are maybe 16 really serious 7s teams in the country.

And Finally
Overheard during the Churchill Cup when it was really stormy.

"Couldn't [USA Rugby Chairman of the Board] Kevin Roberts just raise his hand and stop the storm?"

"He'd have to be here to do that."

One of the the biggest and most important international rugby events the USA has ever hosted, and the Chairman of the Board is nowhere to be seen.

- Alex Goff


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