Monday 21 October 2019

Scoreless 'classic' a blast from the past for game's purists

Scoreless matches within rugby are the rarest of beasts in the modern game. Stock image
Scoreless matches within rugby are the rarest of beasts in the modern game. Stock image

Daniel Schofield

Having once described the All Blacks' drawn series against the Lions as "like kissing your sister", Lord knows what dubious metaphor Steve Hansen, the New Zealand head coach, would employ to depict London Welsh's 0-0 draw against Old Streetonians last Saturday.

Scoreless matches within rugby are the rarest of beasts in the modern game. According to Opta, there has never been a 0-0 draw in the Premiership, Top 14, Pro14, Super Rugby or the two premier European competitions.

Yet sightings increase as you turn the clock back. Indeed, the third international played, between Scotland (who included the magnificently named Bulldog Irvine) and England finished pointless.

There was also a spate of 0-0s in the early 1960s. The last Five Nations Championship match to draw a blank came at Lansdowne Road in 1963 between Ireland and England.

A report in 'The Daily Telegraph' noted the match featured 107 line-outs and 51 scrums, which will cause a few former forwards to exhale wistfully.

The final top-tier international to finish 0-0 came in January 1964 as Scotland held the All Blacks at Murrayfield, although 40 years later an encounter between Togo and Nigeria also finished pointless.

A host of law changes, particularly increasing the value of a try from three to four points in 1971 and then five points in 1992, have been to the scoreless draw as the introduction of rats was to the dodo.

Yet when conditions are just right, they can still take flight as was the case on Hackney Marshes.

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To say it rained a lot would be an understatement. Many participants say that it was the worst conditions they have ever played in. As the London Welsh match report put it: "So many cats and dogs fell from the sky that is was a wonder Noah didn't set up a shipyard on Hackney Marshes."

Add in some howling wind and all the ingredients were there. Welsh, who were reborn in the ninth tier of English rugby after the professional arm of the club was liquidated in 2017, got over the try line on a couple of occasions, but each time Old Streetonians held them up.

Then, in the last play of the game, the referee awarded Welsh a penalty wide on the 10-metre line.

Up stepped Rhodri Dawes, grandson of Lions legend John. But although his kick had the legs, it drifted right of the posts. You would think the 150-odd Welsh fans who travelled to watch the match would have regretted the trip, but according to club chairman Gwyn Williams, most of them are already regarding it as a badge of honour.

"We all actually enjoyed it for some strange reason. It was a classic in its own right. It will be great to look back on this season and say, 'Do you remember the 0-0 on Hackney Marshes when there were 150 of us all soaking wet?' It is back to the old school when scores were very low.

"It was not that long ago when you would get a lot of 3-0s, 6-0s or 9-3s. This was like a blast from the past; a refreshing reminder that another side to rugby exists and it is still a game for all shapes and scorelines." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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