Shorter, but is it sweeter?

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SHORTENED versions are sweeping many sports. PETER MEARES took a look at Rugby Tens and wonders whether the slick new games are the way of the future:

ON ONE of the hottest weekends of the summer Rugby kicked off with the Brisbane Global Tens.  Slickly presented, with 20 men’s and women’s teams taking part, it was purported to combine “the speed of Sevens with the skills and physicality of Fifteens”.  Matches were played into the evening on Friday and Saturday, in an effort to avoid the stifling heat of the Queensland summer.  But, when they kicked off at 1.15pm on Saturday, it was 33 degrees.  One felt for visiting internationals, from Section Paloise (Pau) in France and the Panasonic Wild Knights from Japan, who’d been training in the snow.

This was the second staging of this event, coming 20-odd years after the Ballymore Tens, which died a natural death when Rugby turned professional.   Seen as an ideal warm-up for the Super Rugby season, Tens provides a hybrid form of the game which adds lineouts and mauls to the skills of Sevens.  Whether it’s better is debatable.  The problem for most teams on Day One was how to play?

The home team, Queensland Reds, was expected to excite, with a young, fit side bristling with talent, coached by legendary dual international, Brad Thorn. Their opponents in their opening match were the Auckland Blues, who hadn’t won a tournament of any kind since “King” Carlos Spencer, the flashy All Black flyhalf, led them to a Super Rugby title in 2003.   And, at 42, there he was, still playing last weekend.  Sadly, for the Suncorp Stadium faithful, it was the same old story, the Reds thrashed 29-7.

Angus Blyth of the Reds in action. Pic: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images
Angus Blyth of the Reds in action. Pic: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

As it turned out, the Blues went on to win the tournament, so that loss was no disgrace. In recent years, trans-Tasman rivalry has lost its sting, with the scoreboard in Super Rugby 26-nil to Kiwi teams last season. So, the Reds’ efforts in beating the defending champions, the Chiefs, 19-7 to make the qualifying final were commendable. In the final, the Blues trailed the Hurricanes 7-5 until a last-minute try by George Moala gave them victory.

From an Australian perspective, there were encouraging signs for the coming season. The Waratahs and Brumbies displayed fitness and skill, with outstanding youngsters in flyhalf Mack Mason (Tahs) and backrower Rob Valetini (Brumbies.) The Reds have unearthed future Wallabies in 19-year-olds, Tate McDermott and Hamish Stewart, and try-scoring machine 20-year-old Izzy Perese. The Rebels never quite found their rhythm but can expect a stronger showing this season thanks to the acquisition of talent from the Western Force.

Of the Kiwi teams there were eye-catching displays from the Hurricanes’ speedy prop Alex Fidow and red-headed halfback, Finlay Christie, the Crusaders George Bridge and Brett Cameron, the Chiefs flying backs, Shaun Stevenson and Jon Taumateine, and, best of all, 19-yearold Blues winger Caleb Clarke. The son of All Black, Eroni Clarke, the 107kg flyer scored 5 tries in 3 games in the Pool stages and looks a future international.

Only 11,000 fans turned up on the Friday but over 19,000 watched finals day.   With the cameras focussing on the Hawaiian shirts and “budgie-smugglers” in the crowd you could be forgiven for thinking there wasn’t sufficient interest in the Rugby.  But Duco Events Rachael Carroll maintains that they’re aiming at creating a vibrant atmosphere for fans, far from the tweed jacket days of traditional rugby at Ballymore. Players and fans seemed to love it and Fox Sports covered it all, live to the UK, France, Japan and New Zealand.  The Queensland Government is set to continue its sponsorship until 2020, so the future looks assured.

But does it strike you as odd that, in an age when we have more and more leisure time, we’re creating shorter formats for almost all of our favourite sports?   We have Tens and Sevens Rugby, Rugby League Nines, T20 Cricket, Tiebreak Tens Tennis, Fast Five Netball, Super Six Golf and the latest, AFLX or 10-a-side Australian Rules.  Is it because, in this age of press-button gratification, our concentration span is decreasing?

Hilaire Beloc once wrote an essay on “The Pleasures of travelling slowly”.   His point was that the faster you go the less you can see and enjoy. He preferred to walk past his nearby cricket ground because, instead of just seeing a blur from a speeding car, he could stop and watch a ball, an over or the whole afternoon’s play.

The recent Ashes series proved that Australians still like to savour the ebb and flow of a five-day Test match, as much as the bash and dash of a T20 match.   Different strokes for different folks, you say.

Sevens Rugby continues to thrive, despite the absence of top international players. The skills are different from Fifteens, where size has become a huge factor. Think Seabelo Senatla, the dread-locked, skinny superstar of the South African Sevens who makes little impact when he appears in Super Rugby.  Or even Henry Hutchinson, the speedy blond dynamo of the Australian Sevens team who tried hard but looked out of his depth for the Rebels yesterday in Tens.

Will it be a once-a-year event, or will Tens sweep the Rugby world?  I get the feeling it will go the same way as the Auckland Rugby League Nines – cancelled because of dwindling crowds. Perhaps they should swap venues, with League in Queensland and Rugby in Auckland, the heartlands of the codes.

 

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Author: Peter Meares

PETER MEARES has covered sport on radio, TV and in print for 50 years. He’s the author of six published books on sport. His favourite sports are cricket, rugby union, rugby league, athletics, golf and tennis. His career has included Olympics, Commonwealth Games and a host of minor sports.

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