Czekaj the martyr and Henry’s high horse

As is my wont, I spent the last Saturday watching rugby pretty much from 0800 to 0000. My goodness I got bored. Has there ever been any thrill in watching a mis-match?

Yet not one of the matches last weekend even vaguely tickled the imagination or triggered the adrenaline gland.

But at one point I got particularly angry. Chris Czekaj’s scream was blood-curdling enough, released as it was right next to a pitchside microphone, but the replays confirmed the worst fears.

Czekaj’s Rugby World Cup is over, and wingers very rarely come back from injuries like his to be the same player. He is 21, and his career may have been undone by a game neither he nor his team should really have contemplated.

The entire Welsh team shuffled around the Brisbane pitch last weekend in a 31-0 defeat, but far from being inferior, they just looked so plain knackered that injury was bound to happen. Ireland, also, just didn’t have enough get-up-and-go in Argentina; for much of the game, they worked like any worker would do when about to embark on a nice long holiday after an unbroken ten-month stint in the workplace. They were there in body, but the mind was already dipping in a tropical ocean somewhere.

Two teams lost to nil last week. To nil. How often does a team in top-flight rugby really score nothing at all? How much point is there in going into a game where you are so tired that scoring nil is a possibility? Yet that is what these internationals, so idiotically stuffed into a calendar turgid with money-spinning exploitations of professional players’ wills, have become. After a spirited display last week, France are likely to go the same way this week.

That French display last weekend has sparked the ire of Graham Henry, whose rugby high horse gets higher by the day. Time-wasting and poor engagement have been his latest bugbears, with specific reference to the French, and it ought to add a little spice to this weekend’s encounter if nothing else. To be honest, the rant was like the complaints of a bored man. Well weren’t we all?

Sympathy lies with the French though. Asked to play a Test 10 hours across the sea with barely a week to prepare after finishing a murderous domestic season, who could blame them for having a few breathers?

But both Thomas Castaignede and Sebastian Chabal, in response, echoed a sentiment that is beginning to creep into the minds of many in the rugby fraternity: namely, that New Zealand and their coaches have been so molly-coddled by their union and celebrated by the neutrals over the past couple of years, that they are beginning to regard themselves as untouchable on all plains.

It would be a grave error for that to happen right now. Firstly, it will serve as extra motivation for the teams fortunate enough to meet them en route to Paris in October. But secondly, Henry risks losing the strong base of neutral support that has built as a result of his team’s magnificence. New Zealand are not at their happiest away from home, and the more Henry incurs the wrath of opposites and neutrals with such holier-than-thou exclamations, the fewer people will be cheering them on in France.

That, too, would be folly. But then all of these countries have been placed in an impossible position by the calendar to start with, so no wonder they are clutching at straws and being all negative. Not like there was much positive anywhere last weekend. The IRB have, at last, shut the door on June internationals. That might be too late for Chris Czekaj though, hopefully he is the last to suffer as a result.

By Richard Anderson 365 Digital

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