CHICAGO, IL – The day after the historic USA Rugby vs All Blacks match at a sold-out Solider Field in a sun-splashed Second City, yours humbly picked up his cyber newspaper and turned to the MeetTheMatts.com sports page. And, to my dismay, the usually on-the-money Cheesy Bruin, quickly quelled the enthusiasm shared by all that attended and most that watched, with his first column’s first sentence, which ended with this:
” …and admittedly I watched about the first twenty minutes for some stupid reason before realizing the match was a lot like a Jets game–the longer it went the worse things got.” – Cheesy Bruin
Aside from thoughts of, ‘Are you mad? We have a sponsor that just brought us to this match and may possibly use YOU for American sporting events in the future, and you’re bashing the biggest, most historic match on American soil ever – while folks are still glowing from the experience?‘
But my angst didn’t end there. Two of MTM’s most visible commentors, fellow staff member “Grinding Ax” Walter Hynes and longtime/respected denizen of Mattville, JG Clancy, were just as dismissive.
“Agree on the Rugby. It’s like all our good athletes are playing other sports. I tried to watch some of it , but was aggravated at the lack of speed on the USA team. They looked like they were standing on a highway and the New Zealanders (hey that would be a good name when the Islanders move to Brooklyn) were speeding by….embarrassing .” –Grinding Ax” Walter Hynes
“Holy crappola Cheeseman.–I was on my plane from FL-NY (Jetblue ,of course) and I found the rugby stuff. I thought it’s like the ’85 Bears against a HS JV squad – same as Columbia Lions really I guess! They all looked really slow compared to the NFL though.
The All Blacks were kind enough to let them score once….awfully nice of them I must say.” – JG Clancy
Further bashing ensued after a heady reply from Ardent Supporter, which you can read by clicking this.
Okay… So, after a week’s time to collect imploded brain fragments and put them back in place and stop scratching my head bloody with incredulity at the absolute disregard for the potential at hand – in all arenas – this is my reply, which includes answers to the triumvirates other slams – like football is much faster and that rugby will never be more than a cute little club sport without strategy.
Numero Uno: The New Zealand All Blacks are the best rugby team on the planet. All of their players are pro-caliber and sought after by professional clubs worldwide. Two weeks before they played Team USA, they laid 51 points on Australia, their arch-rivals – who happen to be the 3rd or 4th best rugby team in the world. South Africa is second and England and the Aussie’s flip-flop with France, Wales and Ireland in that mix for 4- 6 as well. They also tuned up by beating Argentina twice, South Africa once (they lost the 2nd – dead rubber – match after The Rugby Championship already was decided and tying Australia before decimating the Wallabies in the rematch…The NZ skill set is simply astounding. To wit, we were on the field for their Friday Captain’s Run at Soldier Field. That’s where the Captain conducts an informal practice. These guys were out there hitting drop-kicks from 45 yards on angles from the sidelines. They were doing it as Chicago’s Mother Nature reigned holy heck on the Pacific Islanders in 29 degree temps, 40 mph winds, hail the size of nickels and wet snow blowing sideways. It was as though Soldier Field was the set for an over-the-top Michael Man special effects scene. Yet these guys were playing the wind with kicks through the posts like Rory McIlroy plays it on the pro tour. Did we mention that the goalposts were flailing like Robot’s arms when he’s warning of “danger “on Lost In Space? Or that they were also running pass patterns and playing pick-up American Football, darting around at lightening speed?
On the other side of the ball, Team USA has a total of 12 players that have some form or professional overseas contract. They have a teacher handling the ball (scrumhalf) as it is hopefully squeezed out of the moving, round thing of the larger players (the scrum) and a guy that doesn’t usually handle the position of rugby’s quarterback (flyhalf) playing there. And they never play with each other. Both have day jobs. Crappy day jobs that allow them to leave for larger portions of time to play for their country… Oh, and the other guys that don’t have contracts get what they get – per diem of about $125. Yeah, that’s right. God Bless America.
Numéro Deux: Those that say there is a lack of strategy, clearly haven’t experienced the game enough. It’s like someone coming over to The States and going to a baseball game and not seeing any strategy. In rugby, a play call is a subtle as a shortstop signaling with an open or closed mouth to the 2nd baseman about who is covering the bag on a steal… Plays are set, offensively and defensively, all the time. You don’t see it, because you don’t know what you are watching. Was that kick on the ground meant to pop up at the exact moment it did into Sonny Bill Williams’ arms as the 6’4″ 225lb chiseled specimen darted and loped 40 yards for a score? Likely. They are THAT GOOD.
Meanwhile, the USA scrambles to get somebody that kick – anyone – and puts them up against the best in the world. Imagine Mark Sanchez with no offensive line, going up Peyton Manning helming the ’85 Bears.
Tau Toru: Rugby doesn’t have speed or the athleticism of the NFL… We’ve been on the sidelines for both. Trust us, the top athletes have both in rugby. Hell, Team USA #5 (lock or 2nd-rower) Hayden Smith made the Jets as a tight end last year and NEVER PLAYED FOOTBALL in his life prior to the May mini-camp. At 6’6″ and 240, he runs a 4’6 40 and has the hands of Lynn Swan.
But don’t let us sway you into thinking that rugby will take it’s little piece of a television audience. Listen to NBC and FOX, who signed deals to cover the game.
Tune in tomorrow for the Dick Dastardly of the rugby world, Cheesy Bruin.