Super Rugby 2017

Week Fifteen

A Thought For The Week:

The Welsh have their own way of viewing the world. This is the land of castles, dragons, Noson Gyflaith (look it up!),Dylan Thomas, Tom Jones, Max Boyce, lovespoons, cawl, male voice choirs, colliery bands, Eisteddfods, and the world’s oldest record shop. They enjoy periodic rugby glory, but their football and cricket suck, mostly. (Euro 2016 is perhaps the footballing exception.) They are an emotional people, given to shedding tears of joy or grief with equal abandon.

They even have words to convey emotion in Welsh that just don’t have an equivalent in stoic England. “Hiraeth” means to long so deeply and viscerally for a place or absent person that you feel you could die, “serch” is the sweetest, most uncomplicated romantic love, while “cwtch”, the nation’s favourite word, is a soft security blanket of a cuddle.

In those islands, counties, parishes, and geographic regions that are lumped together as Great Britain, the Welsh are distinctly different to their fellow British from England and Scotland. One visible difference is the preference for rugby over soccer. The Welsh have a passion for the game perhaps only matched by the New Zealanders and some South Africans.

Even then, their rugby differs from English and Scottish rugby in one important way. In England and Scotland rugby tends to be the sport of the upper classes, private schools, universities, the educated… the Toffs if you like. In Wales the Taffs are different to the Toffs, and it is reflected in their rugby, rugby is played in every state school, invariably taking priority over football, and normal working men play rugby in the way the English play Sunday League football.

When Wales lose in a major tournament like the World Cup or the Six Nations, all Welsh people will instinctively and vociferously divert their support to Scotland or Ireland, but never England. And if Scotland and Ireland leave a tournament, the Welsh will support anyone who plays against England.

I give you this brief lesson on the people of Wales in order to introduce the exercise conducted by the Wales Online website.

They decided to choose the 30 best players in the world, so far in 2017. They gave the task to their rugby writers, and told them to take into account all tests played around the world, including the recent Lions tour of New Zealand in their deliberations.

It did not take them long to come up with a list.

It is interesting that the All Blacks still dominate, despite the disappointment of the drawn series against the Lions. Ten of the 30 players on the list are All Blacks..

Beauden Barrett, 2016’s World Rugby Player of Year, has held on to the top spot. Kieran Read takes the second spot while English lock Maro Itoje is at third.

Ben Smith and Brodie Retallick round out the All Black flavoured top five, while Dane Coles earns a spot in the top 10 despite concussion preventing him from playing against the Lions.

The full list features nine players who played for the Lions, four Australians, two Argentinians, two Frenchmen, one Italian, one Fijian and just a solitary South African.

Here is the list produced by Wales Online:

1. Beauden Barrett (New Zealand)
2. Kieran Read (New Zealand)
3. Maro Itoje (England)
4. Ben Smith (New Zealand)
5. Brodie Retallick (New Zealand)
6. Dane Coles (New Zealand)
7. Owen Farrell (England)
8. Jonathan Davies (Wales)
9. Israel Folau (Australia)
10. Conor Murray (Ireland)
11. Billy Vunipola (England)
12. Sonny Bill Williams (New Zealand)
13. Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)
14. Aaron Smith (New Zealand)
15. Sergio Parisse (Italy)
16. Leone Nakarawa (Fiji)
17. Eben Etzebeth (South Africa)
18. Facundo Isa (Argentina)
19. Bernard Foley (Australia)
20. Sam Cane (New Zealand)
21. Sam Whitelock (New Zealand)
22. Taulupe Faletau (Wales)
23. Michael Hooper (Australia)
24. Kurtley Beale (Australia)
25. Louis Picamoles (France)
26. Agustin Creevy (Argentina)
27. Wesley Fofana (France)
28. Israel Dagg (New Zealand)
29. Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)
30. Stuart Hogg (Scotland)

One might argue a name here or there, but the list does represent an awful lot of the cream of the rugby world.

Super Rugby Final Time

Trust SANZAAR to shoot itself in the foot at every opportunity. If there is a decision to be made that will enhance SANZAAR’s reputation, you can guarantee that they will take the wrong decision. If the obviously, logically, correct decision is shouting at them from the rooftops, they will only hear the voices in their heads that say “Don’t listen to them…”

So it is with the appointment of Jaco Peyper to referee the Super Rugby Final in Johannesburg.

Without a shadow of a doubt, Jaco Peyper is one of the best referees in the world. Perhaps he is the best in the southern hemisphere? He is rated above Glen Jackson and Angus Gardiner, the best of the referees in New Zealand and Australia, and has built a reputation for being scrupulously fair, if perhaps a bit pedantic about the precise application of the Laws.

Suggesting that he might be biased in favour of the home team is stretching the credibility of the accuser somewhat. You are just looking for an excuse….

In the modern era referees are placed under a media microscope before, during, and after matches, and anyone who displays even a hint of bias will find himself sidelined when the big appointments come around. Referees are measured by World Rugby according to set standards, and those that do not measure up to those standards are relegated to running the line in the junior leagues.

Jaco Peyper did not appoint himself to referee the Final. He was appointed by the SANZAAR Selection Committee, made up of Lyndon Bray (New Zealand), Errol Brain (New Zealand), Wayne Erickson (Australia), Warren Kenaugh (Australia) and Chean Roux (South Africa) – That is a committee containing two New Zealanders, two Australians, and just one South African.

A second little mentioned fact is that the coaches of the two teams were consulted in the appointment of the referee. Both the Crusaders and the Lions chose Peyper!

The real issue is that SANZAAR missed the opportunity to show the world that their competition is transparent and free of any perceived or real bias. A potential public relations triumph has become a disaster.

And the entire controversy could easily have been avoided. Simply put Angus Gardiner on the plane to South Africa with Glen Jackson, and hand the whistle to Gardiner, with Jackson and Peyper running the touchlines and someone credible in the TMO box. (Please never George Ayoub, he is the worst…)