Modern game shines via 45-year flashback
Flying from Wellington to Auckland the other day, I was surprised to find an individual screen in front of me and a variety of movies, television shows and other programmes on offer.
I opted for ‘‘Rugby’’ and chose the 1966 All Blacks v Lions test at Eden Park.
The catch was that no headphones were provided, so it was like watching a silent broadcast. Nevertheless, it was most enlightening, and certainly made me appreciate how entertaining rugby is these days. These points struck me: The broadcast was in black and white. With no sound, I felt like I was watching Dave Gallaher’s 1905 Originals.
It seemed only two cameras were used, one in the grandstand, the other on the sideline for the close-up action.
There were no replays, and also no running clock. A real clock would appear on screen every 10 minutes with the minute hand indicating how much time had elapsed.
Players could kick into touch on the full from anywhere, so – tediously – there was a lot of that.
The players’ gear was muddy within five minutes, even though it was a fine day. What a contrast to today’s welldrained fields.
There were no tees for the placekickers.
The lineouts were a shambles, with no space between opposing forwards and a lot of elbows action. Jumpers hardly got off the ground. A dockyard brawl.
When a scrum was whistled, opposing forwards packed down immediately and began shoving, often even before the halfback had the ball. None of today’s ‘‘Crouch-touch-pause-engage’’.
Goal-kickers used the toe rather than the instep and were inconsistent.
Players, even those I’d once considered giants, such as Colin Meads and Ken Gray, didn’t look big. The backs were tiny.
Most spectators at Eden Park were on the embankment.
There were only limited sponsorship signs and none on players’ jerseys. There was no haka. The only person from the sideline who ventured on the field was the first aid man. Team officials stayed well away. Wingers threw the ball into lineouts. Players’ boots looked extremely heavy. The All Blacks had two Maori players, first-five Mac Herewini and flanker Waka Nathan, and no Pacific Islanders.
Players resumed the game much quicker than now. There was only three points for a try. The referee (Pat Murphy) seemed to have very little to say.
The All Blacks won 24-11, but the Lions played more attractive rugby.
Some All Blacks, notably Meads, Kel Tremain, Gray, halfback Chris Laidlaw and Herewini looked really good, while midfield back Mike Gibson and lock Willie John McBride shone for the Lions.
Generally, however, there were far more errors, which emphasised what a difference professionalism has made.
Players today are much fitter, faster, bigger, stronger and, especially the forwards, more skilful.
We hear older rugby followers talk wistfully of the days of Meads and Tremain, Lochore and Gray – the days when men were men and dinosaurs roamed the earth.
But let’s be clear. The All Blacks who will soon attempt to break the mould by winning the Rugby World Cup would have smashed those famous 1960s teams by 70 points.