PRESENT AND PAST. THE DECLINE IN BACK PLAY. [An old representative player who is widely known in Rugby football in New Zealand, and who has had a very long personal experience of the game in Canterbury, has written for THE SUN some impressions of the game to-day in comparison with that of bygone years. The following is the first instalment.] To contrast and compare Rugby as played now with that of, say, twenty years ago, would hardly be a fair comparison to make, particularly from the view-point of those at present taking part in the sport. No real assessment of values or merits could be made, for conditions at present are so unusual, and the past three strenuous years have not been in harmony with any branch of held sport. , . Since the outbreak of hoshhtics, hundreds of local Rugby players have heard the bugle call across the plains of France, and have left to get on side” in a sterner game, with the result that city clubs formerly with a membership of nearly a hundred players now find some difficulty in raising a fifteen; old-timers with loyalty have turned out to fill up gaps in the ranks, and young junior players have, of necessity, been placed prematurely in senior teams. Under these circumstances, a high standard of merit in the games just now can hardly be expected, and one refrains from criticising those who arc striving to keep things going till happier times prevail. The writer, therefore, intends giving just a few impressions formed during a lengthy connection with the sport, and incidentally showing how Rugby of two or three decades ago differs from that of more recent years. Dull and Dreary Seasons. In the season or two just prior to the war, senior matches were vigorous and keenly contested, but, with a few noted exceptions, the games played liv the older members were dull and dreary. There was nothing outstanding in the play. It was a monotonous repetition, Saturday after Saturday, of Rugby commonplaces, and the enthusiast, with all his zeal, began to talk of the need of Rugby regeneration. Then towards the end of an uneventful season, there came at Lancaster Park the secondary schools’ match Waitaki versus Christchurch Boys’ High School. It was like an oasis in the desert—fresh, invigorating, inspiring. Fast, open, brilliant play on both sides, with never a dull moment, and wdth enough electricity and thrills to satisfy the most carping, it was, indeed, Rugby at its best, and a tonic to the jaded supporter of the game. The display given by the school lads strongly emphasised the truth, that to show bright, interesting Rugby there must be systematic training by the teams and an intense study of the possibilities of the game. And it is just in these essentials that many of the more recent players differ so much from those of an older generation. Players of later times, too, often go on to the field ill-train-ed, with no plans for concerted action, with nothing mapped out for attack, and the games in consequence seldom reach a high level, and fail to grip the interest of spectators. The past few years, even prior to the war, have seen, in the writer’s opinion, a growing change in the altitude of the Younger generation towards all field sports. There is not the same keenness in the great majority; players take part, but the sport for many seems only a means for killing time. A quarter of a century ago, Rugby w T as the all-absorb-ing pastime in winter. Now pictures and various forms of amusements bulk largely in the lives of young fellows, and the amount of time spent years ago on one form of sport is now dissipated among various interests and pleasures, and a deterioration has naturally followed. Where Are the Blackboards?
The writer has known old-time teams on training nights gather in front of a blackboard and arrange a plan of attack or defence in different parts of the held. Each man knew what was expected of him in his own twenty-five, and what he must do when in striking distance of his opponents' goal-line. There was seldom the wild passing near one's own goal-line so often seen now, for defence, not attack, was always impressed on the players near their own goal. Mr George Harnett, manager of the last Anglo-Welsh team that visited Ncav Zealand some years ago, was exceedingly impressed with the energy and enthusiasm shown by players and clubs generally to excel in the game, and his oft-repeated remark that Rugby was a "religion" in New Zealand and not a sport, seemed then quite justified, but in recent years the pendulum has gradually been swinging the other way, and players are not devoting that time ami attention necessary to produce first-class displays.
The backs of more recent years have been of good physique and of a good turn of speed, but there has been too much sameness in their work; and, with one or two noted exceptions, perhaps, there has been little originality in attack, and no individuality, and opponents and speclalors alike know almost exactly what the back movement is going to ' be. A Sensational Try. In this connection, the writer re- ! members the Canterbury-Southland match, played in Invereargill in 1895. Southland was admittedly strong in defence, and a keen game was expected. Almost from the kick-off the ball went to F. I. Cowlishaw, one of Canterbury's best three-quarters years ago. Cowlishaw, who, on his own initiative, had worked his way from wing three-quarter lo an extra live-eighths, instead of following the usual procedure of making towards the touchline and then kicking, started oif at top speed from his own twentylive, right down the middle of the j ground, left the Southland forwards islanding, outpaced the opposing j backs, who had made towards the i touch-line, and scored a sensational try within a minute or two of the start of the game. Cowlishaw's play was unconventional, and that was one factor in the success—the movement was unexpected. Keogh, the old Olago representative of a quarter of a century ago, j and a member of Wnrbrick's Native i team that visited England in the eighties, was probably the greatest half-back the Rugby world has ever
produced. His success was due entirely to his versatility in methods. A either opponents nor spectators Knew what he was going to do next. He was the first player to bounce the ball on tbe head of an opponent on a hue-out, catch it, and streak down the field. He was an adept in kneeingthe ball over the head of an opposing player; he feinted, he hurdled, he kicked; his play was never the same two minutes together. Canterbury’s champion back of recent years, G. D. Gray, of the Albion Club, owes his great success as a plavcr to his departure from the old stereotyped plans of attack and striking out for himself with something new. Gray’s unexpected cross-kicking has gained numerous tries for his side. One of the cleverest pieces of work done by Gray, to the writer’s mind, was against the North Island country representatives some few years ago, when, quite contrary to what his opponents expected, he gave a little cross-kick, and a try was scored, because attack was not anticipated from that quarter. Mixed With Brains. _ We have seen nothing in recent times to compare with the back play given us in the early nineties by the Mcrivale combination, Cook, White, and Lang; by the Linwood champions, Hobbs, Gordon, and Price; and later, by Albion’s clever trio, Burns, Weston, and G. D. Gray. None of these backs depended on his physique or strength to beat opponents, for, with the exception of Gordon, all were on the small side, but, like the painter of old, they produced striking and brilliant effects by mixing everything they did with “brains.” They practised attacking movements in the gymnasium, with the result that the play of these backs was always high grade. The writer has known of one of these back combinations spending an hour or two during the week discussing methods and constructing plans, and then meeting in the North Park in the early mornings, before going to work, to try the plans previously talked over, on the football field. The game then was a serious pastime; it occupied the player’s sole attention outside of daily occupation. Now, it too often just fills in an afternoon, and is left at that. The keynote to success in any sport is enthusiasm, and, with interest and keenness in the game, the present cut-and-dried methods and mediocre displays would soon disappear. The recent match between Marists and Linwood shows what enthusiasm and training will enable teams to do on the field. Both teams gave good displays of keen, hard, exciting Rugby. It was the finest club contest we have had for years. The whole atmosphere of the contest took the writer back 30 years, when the old East Christchurch Club was in the heyday of its life, and when grim struggles took place with it and the old champions of Sydenham and Merivale. REFORM.
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RUGBY FOOTBALL., Sun, Volume IV, Issue 1128, 22 September 1917, Supplement
RUGBY FOOTBALL. Sun, Volume IV, Issue 1128, 22 September 1917, Supplement
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