Thursday 19 October 2017

Silence of Bryce speaks volumes

The competition within the competition is among the referees, as in who gets to do the final. So you could understand if Kiwi Bryce Lawrence hopes the Awlblex don't make it to Auckland on October 23, for if Richie McCaw is leading them out then Lawrence will be somewhere else. And his handling of perhaps the toughest game of the tournament so far, Ireland versus Australia last weekend, put him in the frame for the big one.

We had access last week to a dvd of that match which came without commentary. So the soundtrack consisted solely of the crowd in the background, and in the foreground the referee and the players. It was a compelling case for removing commentators altogether for there were no voices talking over the ones that matter most.

So we got a feeling for how Lawrence handled it all, and he did it with respect for those at the coalface. If former South African Andre Watson would be at one end of the scale for arrogance, and talking down to the players, Lawrence was at the other, and he spoke to the players to facilitate, not to dictate or indeed to get more airtime for himself.

We also got to hear plenty of yap from the players. For us the best line came in that hectic endgame when Wallaby frustration was at its peak, and replacement Scott Higginbotham, having been smothered by Donncha O'Callaghan who took an age to get off him, jumped up full of fire and brimstone.

He confronted Paul O'Connell who immediately stuck his chest out and bellowed: 'You want me? YOU WANT ME?' Eh, not just at the minute thanks.

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You might think the press corps are just idle watchers but sometimes it gets more involved.

Take the other day for example. In the morning squad meeting, Declan Kidney told the players that, after the whinge by former Wallaby Tim Horan that Ireland were feigning injury to slow the game -- perish the thought, referees might be excessively hard on Ireland in this area. A message had already come back from head office saying refs would be getting hot on this. So, according to one player, Kidney said he was going to sort it at a press conference a couple of hours later.

Now here's the incredible thing. Press conferences are not a forum for coaches to make points off their own bat. First, they have to be asked a question that might open the right door. And, would you believe it, early in the piece came a question which opened the door wide for Kidney. Whereupon he walked through it with an answer that was more coherent and quotable than we would be used to from a man who isn't always easy to transcribe.

It was as if he knew it was coming.

* * * * *

Naturally enough, the highlight of the last seven days was the thrilling conclusion to the All-Ireland final, even if we couldn't get to see it live.

Now imagine if the Artane Band had been turfed out after they had done their few tunes? That's what's happening here, with the choirs who perform the national anthems being shown the door as soon as the last note is sung. At least in those games where ticket demand is heaviest.

And of course these volunteers are not best pleased having thought they could hang around for the main event. Could they not just do what we did as programme sellers in Croker back in the day: sit on the sideline or plonk yourself on the stairwells?

* * * * *

Locals in beautiful Taupo, where the tourism people put up a good show in promoting what the region has to offer, were taken aback last week at the sight of what they reckoned were Ireland coaching staff taking the long lake walk. In full regulation issue tracksuits.

"You'd think they get enough exercise on the training paddock, wouldn't you?" one Taupoan enquired. Well, of course they do. Except this wasn't any of the coaching staff, rather it was three IRFU committee men. Why would you want to go around in a squad tracksuit if you are not a member of the squad?

-- Brendan Fanning

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