Rugby World Cup: Bring on the knockout footy

11:35 am on 9 October 2019

Opinion - You can see why people tire of rugby.

All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock at the Rugby World Cup.

All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock at the Rugby World Cup. Photo: Photosport

Old commentator tweets something, new commentator responds. The rest of us mark out our positions on the issue.

Spark offers up Rugby World Cup coverage for a fee. Some say it's seamlessly efficient, others insist it's not.

Either way we get daily updates - sometimes even more than once a day - from Spark about how well it's going, accompanied by yeas and nays from those with skin in the game.

Honestly, can't you all get a life?

To card or not to card? What is a safe target zone for tacklers? Are we grubs or are they grubs? Is there bias, even racism at play? Is the referee the sole adjudicator of fact or is a faceless man in a box acting as rugby's big brother? Who would you play in midfield?

On and on and on it goes, as media outlets rush to generate traffic. No-one's merely reporting events or assessing outcomes, they're analysing them. Exclusively, if possible.

People have learned to accept that significant events will be covered to within an inch of their lives. Elections, say, or natural disasters. A Rugby World Cup final, provided New Zealand are in it.

But nothing of any note is happening at this world cup right now. It hasn't for weeks and won't for at least a couple more.

Sure, you can try and manufacture a bit of enthusiasm for Japan vs Scotland on Sunday, but only in the context of what it might mean for the All Blacks.

New Zealand against South Africa way back on 21 September meant something, not least because of the months we'd spent fixating on it. But it also amounted to the final come early, with the loser facing the prospect of playing another title contender in a quarterfinal.

Otherwise we've been treated to an endless array of beat-ups. Proclamations and clickbait. Lectures and diatribes, all designed to fill a void the rugby itself can't.

Or at least we tell ourselves that.

We decide that TJ Perenara's try against Namibia can't just be a try. It's not something you can appreciate - provided you can overlook the forward pass thrown to Perenara by Brad Weber - without having it officially ranked in the pantheon of great tries in rugby history.

Why? Well someone might click on it. If just to make themselves angry. If they leave a comment saying so, even better.

New Zealand's half back TJ Perenara scores a try during the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool B match between New Zealand and Namibia at the Tokyo Stadium.

TJ Perenara scores a try during the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool B match between New Zealand and Namibia at the Tokyo Stadium. Photo: AFP

Some of the rugby at this world cup has been pretty good. Much of it's come from New Zealand and Japan.

Other, so-called, tier one teams, such as South Africa, England, Ireland and Wales, have only been okay. That's fine. They'll all be judged on what they produce in the knockout phase.

This pool stuff is merely filler ahead of the main event.

Again, that's fine. If you insist on having 20 teams attend these things, then there's a fair chance not every game will be top-drawer entertainment.

But you'd almost like the tournament to be left to breathe a little. To stand on its own merits and generate its own interest. For the rugby to take centre stage and not the people who report on it.

If it's exciting and people like it, great. If not, then that's really not a big deal.

We get that it's expensive for media outlets to send people to events, and that they then want some bang for their buck, but the sensationalism of the coverage just turns people off.

Knockout football is different. Sudden death, in any sport, creates a natural excitement. It also brings in a bigger audience.

Right now people are weary. Those that love rugby and are interested in it, can't keep up with all the manufactured developments. They're being bombarded, as opinion writers churn out multiple pieces a day in the hope that one will capture an audience.

For people who don't love rugby and don't design their life around match schedules, this must be a dispiriting experience.

You can only imagine what it's like to turn to an outlet for news and find there's only arguments about ethernets, modems and the vintage of people's smart TVs.

Rugby is a fine sport, one that's woven itself into the fabric of New Zealand society. At its best, it brings communities together and instils a real sense of shared pride.

But it's also bombastic and all-consuming and, to go back to the top, you can see why some people have had a gutsful of it.

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