We thought there would be a more startled reaction over the last few days to what happened in Parc y Scarlets on Saturday.
True, there wasn’t much blood split, it didn’t involve a referee being harangued and neither was the outcome defined by a contentious input from the TMO.
Moreover, it was a lunchtime kick off involving Ulster, whose attraction south of the border is limited mostly to when they are playing other Irish provinces. Still, if you missed it then put the kettle on and dial up the URC site for a replay, for this contest was freakishly watchable and with clear implications for how rugby can be played.
It was virtually a one-off. The polar opposite for example of Wales meeting South Africa in a World Cup where the stakes would be so high as to inspire an agreement to settle it solely on penalty kicks. And those kicks would have been won exclusively by brute force.
Instead this was a basketball scoreline but with enough physical danger to place it firmly in the real rugby class. The difference was the scrum – as in, the shortage of them. The game was in the last minute of the first half by the time referee AJ Jacobs stuck his arm out to indicate that this couldn’t go on any longer, it just had to be done.
By way of compensation, Ulster used the put-in not to facilitate their journey to the changing room but to open up Scarlets with another try. The irony was beautiful. By the time Mr Jacobs headed for the hills at the end of the day, he had repeated the hand gesture just once.
Imagine, a game with one of its fundamentals all but removed. And what was the effect? With a ball in play time of close to 40 minutes, the players covered more distance and at a higher speed than they can remember.
Ulster, naturally enough, were delighted with the way they played – bar tries conceded - scoring 55 points, with seven tries, away from home and achieving a level of speed and accuracy in the opening blitz never previously recorded by any other Ulster team in the pro era. It was awesome.
By way of contrast, 24 hours later, we had Munster’s laboured rugby down the road in Newport, again in perfect conditions on a fast track. That game threw up seven times as many scrums, hardly unconnected to a ball in play time six minutes shorter than Scarlets versus Ulster.
Box kicks are a recurring feature in the frequent ugliness of modern rugby matches, but top of the podium for sucking the life out of any contest is the sight of scrums that take an age to set, and then often have to be reset on collapse.
A scrum clock is one possible reaction, but sorting out who’s to blame for it going into the red opens another door to more cheating. We’ll get a glimpse into how that looks after a 30-second clock is applied in a short development series in Australia next month.
An alternative would be to take the time off when the scrum is awarded and restart the clock when the front rows engage. You’d have people suffering frostbite as game times would comfortably top the 100-minute mark, with woeful stats for ball in play, but in highlighting the madness surely you’d improve the chances of finding a solution.
Given the next URC rugby junction is Ravenhill on Friday night for Ulster’s second inter-pro of the season – against Leinster – we’ll wait before declaring the dawn of a new era. There are a lot of moving parts in this, two of them beyond the lawmakers: mindset and weather/pitch conditions.
The Ulster performance had an extra bonus in the former. Is it common for players to share on social media some of their mental cues for a particular game? In fairness to him, John Cooney is making a useful contribution on this front.
After Saturday’s win he posted on Twitter that his guiding lights on performance were 1) do the basics of passing and kicking well, and 2) be brave.
When asked by a punter if it was easier to be brave given the nature of the contest - very high scoring with very few battles being fought over inches - he replied:
“The ‘be brave’ was not to go into my shell if I made a mistake and not just ease back into my first game back. So I don’t think the type of game it turned into would really matter.”
We got evidence of this in the second half when in one passage of play, with Ulster’s win unsure, he made high-profile mistakes back to back, whereupon he took a moment to tie his bootlaces – which looked fairly secure anyway – and recalibrate.
When play restarted, he climbed over the parapet again and played a leading role in seeing Ulster home. It was a fitting message about adventure on a day that is worth savouring.