THE ASHES OF ENGLISH RUGBY.
CAN WE RECOVER THEM? (By S. M. J. WOODS, in "Fry's Magazine.") Wales alone of tho four kingdomß has prov&d a match for the New Zealanders. I saw the Welshmen win,- and I knew why they won. But will England be able to recover the ashes of her Rugby football?. | When the New Zealanders began'to j walk through our club teams there was 'much talk of their physical superiority. Hitched on to this there was also much talk of the physical degeneration of the modern Englishman. Now I am bound to say that the New Zealanders do beat our own men in physique. There is not a light man in their team. Even their half-backs are big and strong ; the lightest of them, Hunter, scales lftst. They outweight us, not only forward, but throughout. I remember playing in one match, North v. South, when the half-backs averaged 12st 81b. I am sure the present-day j English Rugby teams ar© nothing like as fine physically as those of the past. When I played in 1889 for England there were only two forwards on the side lighter than I was, and I never played under 14st 61b. Two of our for- , wards, averaged lost. ■ * The main cause of the Not/ Zealanders 5 success is the combination of weight, activity and skill in their forwards. Never hae the game been open-ed-up as these fellows do it. And their versatility — they have ten ways of doing things where w© have one. Why, our forwards are like one 6et piece of
machinery, doing one thing only. Our forwards are simply a shoving and heeling machine. They do not break up and join in the attack; they do not I play the short-passing game among themselves. The New Zealand forwards, too, are better organised in tactics. They have a definite plan, for inj stance, or putting the ball into the : scrum. Instead of having three men in the front row they have two. When Gallaher puts the ball in he tojuches one of these on the shoulder, who gives the sign to the other. In goes the ball, [ perfectly straight and fair. But the two front-row men are ready to hook i the ball sideways. They do not, as our i forwards do, perform a kind of tread- ; mill step ; they sweep the ball aside and > backwards with a 6cythe-like motion of j the foot. The men in the second row ■ in the scrum make a clear tunnel for j*the ball, so it passes back immediately ■ into the third row, and can be either j held there or heeled out. Thus their j heeling out is smarter than any I Ifave ever seen. So to speak, the whole process of putting in, gaining possession and heeling out is done in one action. Our forwards are all the time struggling and digging quite vaguely for the ball. I have believed for years in the plan of having seven forwards to shove in the scrum and an eighth as a winger. Years ago I suggested this plan to the Rugby Union, and at the same time I spoke very strongly about how our forwards failed to watch the ball enough when it was put into the scrum. This watching of the ball is most important. Even with heads down, and locked in the scrum, forwards simply must see what is happening. The New Zealanders do it. Whether they heel out themselves, or whether the other side gets the ball and heels out, they break up unanimously in a flash. Their wing-forward undoubtedly protects the half-back. In my opinion the wing-forward must, from the referee's point of view, often be treated as a half-back. He should be penalised for off-side if he gets in the way of the opposing half-backs when the New Zealand forwards are heeling out. But then again, of course, the winger is often acting as a genuine forward. • One point in which, the New Zealanders are very strong is that their outsides never paes . except someone in a better position, they never pass needlessly, they avoid the fault of passing for passing's sake. lam quite sure that their formation behind the scrum of one half-back, two fiveeights, and three three-quarters, is better for attack than the old Welsh formation ; it gives two openings, one on eacii side of the scrum, always. - I have seen the New Zealandere play many times, and I certainly do not think their play is rough. They play a very robust forward game, but they are perfectly fair. As regards the matter of organisation, not only the New Zealand footballers, but the Australian cricketers,' think out their game more than we do. They give their brains to the game; they work it out beforehand like chess. The result is that the . Australian cricketers nearly always play above the form of their individual players. And the New Zealand footballers have a more versatile system of play, both in attack and defence, than an ordinary English team. It is not generally known that the success of the great Welsh team, Newport, is very largely made in. their gymnasium. The Newport forwards make a practice of meeting two or three times a week in their gymnasium, and work out plans for scrums, and so on. lam sure thi6 is the secret of that startling success of Newport a. few years ago. The-Ameri-cans have brought their game of football to an extraordinary pitch of scientific perfection. But they, of coutse, the idea too far. Apart from ihe radical faults of their game — President Roosevelt is quite right, it i 6 no game at all, but a fight — it is ridiculous for the coach to act as a kind of "off the. field"' captain. Why, I have seen the coach deluged with handshakes after a piece of play, the plan of which he had shouted out by numbers, 11, 15, 7, 9, 20, had been successfully carried out by the players. In. that game the brains of the team are off the field. As regards our > winning back the "ashes" of Rugby football from New Zealand, the first thing is to make our players train properly for club football, so that they can last two full forty minutes. Ido not believe that in the last two years more than one or two teams playing under the Rugby Union have made a habit of playing full time. There is a great difference between thirty-five and forty minutes. Then again, club football is often spoilt by the matches being begun late. Soine of the cluba muet be very badly organised. Down in • Bridgwater we never wait for anyone. It is the only way— if men are not there, •tart without them. - Supposing the Rugby Union should set about the task of sending out a team to New Zealand, it will be met at onoe with the difficulty of selection. I know from experience! how impossible it is to cover tho whole area of . Rugby football, and to see everyone. The travelling is prodigious. In fact, the number of players at the command of the Rugby Union ie not an advantage. It is a great disadvantage. Far better to bo able to pick from three or four good teams, as Wales does. In any case, when the Rugby Union hae actually got its team, the task of organising it remains. If this task is left undone, the result will be disaster. These New Zealanders were actually beaten by another team two days before they left on their voyage here. I really believe that much of their proficiency was acquired during the forty days they spent on board ship. The captain of 1 their ship told me that they ran about practising passing, and picking up, and forming 'scrums, and other combinations for one solid hour every afternoon on the voyage. They learned a lot besides seamanship durjng their voyage, I'll be bound. Then again, the Rugby Union must find forwards equal in physique, activity and wits to those of New Zealand, if we are to win. In Rugby, strength in the scrum, or, rather, among the forwards', is th^e keystone of success. No outsides', however, magnificent, 'can win a game if the.ir forwards are beaten. In the Cambridge team of ' 90 we had five or six .internationals among our outsidee, but Oxford beat' us forward, and won. by a goal and two tries, although their outsides were poor. No matter what the strength behind the scrum, the forwards must be able to get the ball. No sooner did the Welshmen discover that their splendid four three-quartern were useless when their forwards wore over-run by our big forwards of a few yeaie ago. than they immediately began to look for big men from the Rhcndda Valley. Wales is awake. , But •even then the team that ie going to beat the New Zealanders must Team, the art of dribbling. Our English forwards simply have not found out what a man can do with an egg-shaped ball at hie toe. A few. years ago, when I was training for international matches down at Bridgwater, I used to get half ft dozen boys tooome and play Association football with me with a Rugby ball. What happened? These boys never forgot it ; they were a nucleus of the Bridgwater Albion Club, whose performances for a small town club have been simply wonderful. Why, even now they have four or five forwards .in the county team. •; English Rugby football might be immensely developed if only forwards would learn to dribble. Men can "learn to be almbst as accurate with a Rugby as with : an Association ball, except on very hard ground. ■ " ■- '[■.'.. As for the outsides, they must learn bo be resourceful. We have men ybo can ijaiss like machines, but passing,
though essential, is not even half the battle. Raphael is 'the only really resourceful player among our present-day three-quarters. We must study the New Zealand ere. They themselves have made their own game by founding it on a general observation of all the good points in the Welsh, Scottish and English styles. To beat them, we, must follow this example. We must find out what is best, and we must organise our. teams in accordance.
Permanent link to this item
THE ASHES OF ENGLISH RUGBY., Star, Issue 8573, 15 March 1906
THE ASHES OF ENGLISH RUGBY. Star, Issue 8573, 15 March 1906
Using This Item
See our copyright guide for information on how you may use this title.
This newspaper was digitised in partnership with Christchurch City Libraries (1910-1920).