Friday, 18 September 2015

Rugby World Cup: England 35, Fiji 11

What a great opener to the Rugby World Cup between England and Fiji. The final score 35-11 belies the feel of the game, which was closely fought right to the end. For much of the game, Fiji, while down in the score, was on the attack and had England on their heels.

Of interest to hockey fans, once England went up 28-11 at the 70th minute, and Fiji deflated somewhat, the pace of the game didn’t flag. There was no ‘running out the clock’ as we see in football, or a team collapsing back into its own zone to protect a lead. Instead, the points system at the Rugby World Cup has a bonus for teams scoring four tries in a game, so England kept pressing to get their fourth. They had to open up, and this created gaps and opportunities that Fiji, always dangerous, could attack and try to narrow the margin.

Gary Bettman take heed. Instead of worrying about how to foist Transfat Royalty logos on sweaters without the fans rebelling, maybe install a similar system in the NHL, so coaches don’t feel it’s to their advantage to smother the life out of the game. Reward creative play and offensive ingenuity, not stifling defence. You nitwit.

Another interesting aspect to hockey-fan rugby neophytes is how the game is officiated. The referee is miked, and is in constant contact with the touch judges and the video referee. And you can hear him conversing with his assistants, and talking to the players, directing the flow of the game, disciplining players. NHL officiating operates in secrecy, and leaves many fans to question what the heck happened? How did the Bruins get away with that?

One instance from tonight’s game is when an England player, on the fringes of a maul, grabbed a Fiji player around the neck and threw him to the ground. The ref missed it, which is normal, there is so much going on that you can’t catch but a fraction of the action. Except that the video referee buzzed down, spoke to the ref live, so we could hear their discussion. The video ref told him what he saw, played the relevant video on the giant screen at the stadium, so everyone could see what was being deliberated on.

Sure enough, the ref agreed about the infraction, reversed a penalty on Fiji and applied it to England, and gave the English captain and the offender a verbal warning.

There. Handled. Play carried on, no one got away with anything because they “didn’t see it”. Gary Bettman, look up from your bank statements and pay attention.

We got another six weeks of action, tonight was the appetizer, and a tasty one at that. Tomorrow morning, Canada plays Ireland. Let’s all wake up early and hoist a few Greyhounds or Caesars while we cheer them on.

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