Wednesday 26 June 2019

George Hook: Mike Ross wouldn't get within an ass's roar of a New Zealand jersey

Mike Ross
Mike Ross

George Hook

Consider the story of Giotto di Bondone, an Italian painter from Florence, generally considered one of the first great artists to contribute to the Renaissance.

As a young apprentice, Giotto was asked to showcase his talent to the Pope, so he painted a large red circle on a piece of paper and delivered it to the Vatican.

The circle was considered so perfect, that many assumed it had been done using a compass. Giotto's incredible talent was showcased in that one simple shape.

I am often asked about the secret behind New Zealand's rugby success. Watching the All Blacks annihilate France on Saturday night, I thought of Giotto's story and the simplicity of brilliance unfolding before my eyes.

There is nothing complicated about New Zealand's approach to the game. Rugby Union has always had its roots in a core group of basic skills, but it is how New Zealand refine these skills and the pace at which they execute their game that sets them apart.

Simply put, New Zealand are masters in the art of simplicity.

The fundamentals of the game are second nature to the All Blacks. Every player is expected to be able to pass, run and tackle to a high standard. No position is excused.

To put it into context, Mike Ross wouldn't get within an ass's roar of a New Zealand jersey. That may sound harsh, but the All Black tradition demands that every player is able to perform the basic functions of the game to a certain standard.

Ross is well able to prop up a scrum, but the rest of his game is non-existent when compared to his New Zealand counterparts.

Throughout this tournament Owen Franks has demonstrated that he is as comfortable passing the ball off the base of a ruck as he is lifting in a lineout. In New Zealand, numbers on shirts are irrelevant: each player is seasoned in the fundamentals of the game.

New Zealand's trust in their skills and belief in their ability, despite any external pressures, allows them to do what other teams seem incapable of.

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In sport, like in life, the best solution is often the simplest.

We can see similar elements in Argentina and Australia's approach. South Africa are perhaps the sole dissenting voices in the Southern Hemisphere style of rugby today.

If New Zealand are masters at honing the basic skills, the Springboks are dead set on dominating the physical side of the game and they tend to tailor their approach around their genetic, God-given strengths.

When Japan shocked the world with their opening round victory against Boks, coach Heyneke Meyer vowed to return his team to the old South African traditions. Since then, South Africa have been pretty dull to watch, but extremely effective in bashing up the opposition.

Tomorrow's semi-final represents the ultimate clash in styles. New Zealand, with their instinctive, expansive approach, and South Africa with forward power and physical strength to the fore.

For me, there can only be one winner. What New Zealand did to France last weekend was one of the most complete Test performances I have seen. Certainly, France were weak, but to watch New Zealand in full-flight was to witness an exhibition in how the game should be played.

Critics of Richie McCaw and his creative relationship with the laws of the game should save their breath and just appreciate the man for what he is: the best open-side flanker to ever play the game.

If I was in Meyer's position this week, I would be on my knees and praying for rain. The elements are just about the only thing that can save South Africa's tournament.


Australia survived a massive scare against Scotland last Sunday, but they will not be as poor against Argentina. It was the first time since the tournament began that Australia looked off the pace, but with David Pocock and Israel Folau to come back in to the side, I expect the Wallabies to come through this difficult examination.

Argentina demonstrated just how far they have come in recent years with their win over Ireland and while I think they will push Australia all the way, I'm not sure they can muster another big performance in the space of seven days.

From a neutral perspective, we are blessed to have the four best teams left in the competition. The rugby promises to be exciting and entertaining.

And as the games unfold and the players in the Northern Hemisphere look on, perhaps they might reassess what it is that they want from their own careers. Because Six Nations trophies are nice when they come along, but they cannot be the end goal for international sides.

The northern hemisphere is playing a brand of rugby that is out-dated and boring to watch. If this World Cup has taught us anything, it's that rugby is still a game for the quick and the cunning. Bulk and beef will never triumph over speed and agility in the long term.

Ireland and the rest of Europe are way off the pace.

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