Back in the mid-1980s – a glorious time of proper lineouts, ridiculous haircuts and crap music – I was a young snapper just starting to play senior rugby in country NSW. I had a coach who was a cliched sheep farmer with an amazing knowledge of the game and a broad drawl that I could tell hundreds of anecdotes about.
Well, we had a game come up against the zone champions – they were massive, fast, skilled, undefeated, blah blah blah… we had no form to think we could win, but sure as shite we weren’t going to be beaten by these posers and this old coach told us to do three things. (Ya listening now Dingo? Ah that’s right, you don’t like advice much. Forgot that.)
1. Go at them hard & make it a scrap. Don’t wait. Don’t sit back. Do short kick-offs, nudge drop-outs, pressure the middle of the lineout and make them throw front, hold up every ball-runner and force the maul… Make it a dogfight and see who is standing at the end.
2. Ruck everything on the ground. No stupid stabbing or dancing, that only gets penalised. Get past the ball and churn the feet. Make sure everyone understands that if you slow it up you will shed blood (mind you in those days we still wore proper boots – not these girlie blades things).
3. Very first opportunity you get, punch your opponent fair in the mouth. Bloody belt him. No biting or eye-gouging or Jarpie cheap crap like that – but punch him square and hard enough so he tastes/feels/sees his own blood. I don’t care if he punches your head down your neck after it – especially as no one ever sees the first punch but they see the retaliation and losing a tooth to see one of them cop a red card is a win in my book. Just make sure you belt him first, and hard. It will spoil their composure.
And that Thursday night at the pub (remember the good old days when you actually went to the sponsors pub after training? and had a feed? and the young fellas wanted to hear the stories, be involved and not dabble on a bloody iPhone?) we played a video of the Wales and All Blacks Tests of ‘Step Forward’ fame.
We drew. Six points and two dozen stitches all (all done on the sidelines). It worked. I’ve never forgotten it. As I got older I talked with men who played on both sides that day. And none of them have ever forgotten it. I get goosebumps remembering it and feeling the scar over my eyebrow….
I know it’s a cliche. I know professional sport sees itself as above such common brutality. And I know I’ll cop stick from the La La Police. But seriously, this is a contact sport and if ever we were to pull out and remember the ‘Step Forward’ approach – it’s now.
Time to remember the likes of Wild Bill Cerutti, Poido, Tony Shaw, Jim Roxburgh, Stan Pileki, Sam Scott Young, even Peter Fitz when his blood was up….
The moral of the story
Sometimes in life, a game is not a game. Sometimes what seems like just another event is actually much more. My pride, my honour, my country are not the vehicle for anyone else’s self-aggrandisement and hubris, be it the All Blacks or Quade Cooper.
Seventeen Tests in a row eh? Bugger ‘em. Belt ‘em.