The price of Anglo-Saxon stoicism Posted over 4 years ago

A week after the home unions returned to the British Isles after their tours to the southern hemisphere, the Chiefs played the Highlanders as the Super 15 resumed.

The game was instructive, as was, if to a lesser extent, the encounter between Western Force and the Brumbies, while in South Africa the Stormers and the Lions later showed that any satisfaction England felt at drawing the final Test against the Springboks was misplaced.

Only Scotland had any reason to feel a sense of achievement, defeating Australia in a Newcastle swamp before winning with a late try in Samoa. A team that was whitewashed in the Six Nations found a measure of salvation.

The tours showed, yet again, that there the game in New Zealand and Australia is fundamentally different to that in Europe, all the more so that the French have abandoned laissez-faire for Anglo-Saxon stoicism.

To watch the Chiefs against the Highlanders was to take in two teams whose players were not only comfortable with the ball in hand and skilful, but willing to take what in Europe are considered risks: running from their own territory and off-loading.

The Brumbies forced the Force to play in a similar way. There is a perception in Europe that Super 15 is basketball with studs, a tournament that disregards the traditions of the game in pursuit of simplified entertainment, a disdainfully superior attitude that is self-defeating.

The hits in Dunedin had as much impact as any in the English Premiership or the French Top 14; defence was not an optional extra. The key difference was the attitude of the team in possession, less concerned with territory than confounding the defence.

It was like watching Spain in the recent Euro 2012, cavaliers compared to the lumpheads of England, able to retain possession and mount clever attacks with running off the ball a notable feature, a compelling mix of individualism and teamwork.

Wales arrived in Australia as the Six Nations champions having won the grand slam. Their deficit in the three Tests against the Wallabies was a mere 11 points, less than four a match, and they lost the last two after leading in the closing minutes.

They got what they deserved because they did not push themselves to the limit. Their gameplan was to kick long and often, attacking in opposition territory, and they were ultimately undone by a lack of creativity in midfield. James Hook was not used as a replacement for the injured Jamie Roberts, and if there was one incident that summed up Wales it came in the final Test when the centre Ashley Beck had two men outside him but went on his own and got nowhere.

European teams too often deal in three-pointers, playing territory for penalties or drops at goal. New Zealand and Australia trade in five-pointers which give teams the option of an extra two. Australia were under pressure at forward against Wales in the series, but they had ball-players in midfield and the try they created in the third Test, immediately after falling behind, marked them out from Wales.

New Zealand are Australia with an extra gear. They nearly paid for coasting in the second Test against Ireland, but in the first and third they outclassed opponents that contained the core of the Leinster side that retained the Heineken Cup.

The All Blacks were irrepressible in the final Test, all speed and bewildering movement by players who wear jerseys without numbers. It was a dazzling exhibition of total rugby, something that is foreign in Europe.

England’s series in South Africa was an arm-wrestle between two teams looking for the road to redemption. Creativity was at a premium and it was a missed opportunity for the men in white.

Allowances have to be made for the European teams who were at the end of what was an 11-month cycle. Fatigue was a factor, but it is in November when the southern sides pay reciprocal visits and tend to come out ahead.

Until the game in Europe discards the who dares sins motto and places a higher premium on passing rather than kicking, the home unions will continue to lose tight matches against Sanzar counterparts.

One more try per game would have been enough for Wales to have taken the series against the Wallabies but, as the saying goes, if you aim high and miss you can still succeed. If you aim low and miss, you have had it.

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Paul Rees was born in Cardiff and has been a full-time writer on rugby union since 1986, first for the South Wales Echo, then Wales and Sunday and, from 2001, the Guardian and the Observer, having contributed to the former on a freelance basis since 1988. He has covered every World Cup since 1991 and five Lions tours. When time allows, he also write on cricket, mainly Glamorgan. And away from work, he a season-ticket holder at Arsenal, watching them home and away, including the European Champions League final against Barcelona in Paris in 2006.

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