/ Monday Maul

Monday Maul
Boo boys and dark days for French
Tom Hamilton and Martin Williamson
June 9, 2014
Conrad Smith's late try woke up the Eden Park crowd © Getty Images

The deathly quiet Eden Park

It was a place dubbed as the All Blacks' fortress, opposition teams are meant to wilt under the pressure and ship a host of points. But Eden Park was remarkably quiet on Saturday, deathly so. Chris Robshaw's first-minute break stunned the locals, they went there expecting to see an All Blackwash. Instead they were greeted with a team who had more fire in their collective bellies than previously thought. In the end, the decibels were saved for two occasions - England's kicks at the posts, which were greeted with boos, and of course Conrad Smith's winning try.

Those who were doubted deserve praise

In the run-up to Saturday's Test both Freddie Burns and Kyle Eastmond had to field questions about a variety of topics. For Burns it was talk of whether he had the mental strength to cope with the cauldron of Eden Park after a difficult season. He put in a defiant performance, slotted his kicks and proved doubters wrong as he emphasised post-match.

"I felt massively that I had a point to prove in this match. Even talking to the media this week I felt there were a few question marks raised. I've never doubted myself, especially in this environment. Hopefully I've proved I can manage a game and kick my goals in the toughest rugby arena in the world."

For Eastmond, although he seems to be below Ollie Devoto in the Bath pecking order, his questions focused around that and his opposite number Ma'a Nonu. The sight of Nonu hoofing a ball into touch in the first-half when he seemed void of ideas and him later being substituted for Malakai Fekitoa suggests Eastmond won that battle. There were doubts over the duo, but they both rose to the challenge.

Establishing strength in depth

Though they lost, Saturday's performance from England illustrated their strength in depth. Pre-game, when you looked through their team they had perhaps six or seven first-choice players. Those who did not fulfil that category stepped up and rose to the challenge. Stuart Lancaster now has a nice headache this week as he attempts to pick a team who can win the second Test. He must find a balance between keeping form players in the team and those who have credit in the bank from the Six Nations and through no fault of their own, missed the first Test.

Mercurial? No, just awful

France's poor Six Nations campaign was never likely to provide a clue to what the series in Australia had in store. The French, as we all know and are regularly told, can switch from world-beaters to hopeless duds in the space of a match - often within the match itself. But their performance in Brisbane was wretched even by their own recent dismal standards. Only two late tries long after Australia had taken their foot off the gas prevented the scoreline being an embarrassment, and their day out was summed up by the tragic-comic fumbling behind his try line from Felix le Bourhis, who did an admirable impression of an uncoordinated man trying to pick up a bar of wet soap, gifting Matt Toomua an important first-half score. France, like England, have their cup finalists available for the second Test but even that may not be enough to enable them to compete, let alone win.

Unappealing visitors

The financial woes of the Australian board has provided a constant backdrop to the season, and much was made of the huge boost the ARU got from the lucrative Lions tour. So the less-appealing French and the sidelining of some local player draws meant ticket sales in Brisbane were sluggish at best leaving ARU beancounters gnashing their teeth. The 33,718 who turned up was the lowest since the ground was redeveloped. Given how the French performed, sales for the remaining Tests are only likely to appeal to those who enjoy seeing their side beat up a shambolic and disorganised opponent.

When forwards is backwards

One of the key elements of any sport is that the general rules have to be easily understood. If the rules are complicated then the casual fan is often turned off. In theory, one of the core and most straightforward laws of rugby is Law 12, namely that the ball cannot be played forward. It states: "A throw forward occurs when a player throws or passes the ball forward. 'Forward' means towards the opposition's dead ball line." Somehow something has become lost in translation, because it is now accepted that if the passing players' hands are pointing backwards it is OK if, through physics which we won't even start to try to explain, the ball goes forwards. The end result is confusion and disagreement among spectators and even TV pundits, and officials, who are only doing as they are told, being vilified by most. Forward once meant just that. Well done to the IRB for making one of the simplest rules a mess because of changes to its interpretation, just as they have done with allowing crooked feeds at scrums.

A glorified flag carrier?

In days of old all a touch judge, usually provided outside internationals by the teams playing, had to do was wave his flag when the ball went out. We are close to being back to those times again. Agreed, they can on occasion bring foul play to the attention of the referee, but it seems many of them have decided the TMO gives them a get out from making any kind of decision regarding forward passes - or perhaps they are just as confused as most fans. Toomua's pass which led to Michael Hooper scoring Australia's second try was made with the touch judge right in line no more than ten metres away, and yet he appeared not to have - or want - any say in whether the pass went forward. And so again we went to the TMO …

A well-kept secret

Few things in sport are kept secret these days, so Gloucester deserve a pat on the back for springing a genuine surprise with the Saturday-afternoon announcement that David Humphreys had been lured to join them from Ulster as their new coach. Only hours earlier some of the great and the good had been discussing who might be in line for the job and Humphreys was one name that had not come up. Even Ulster had little warning, chief executive Shane Logan admitting: "I certainly know that David has been approached by others in the past, so we knew this time would come. It's maybe come a little bit more quickly than we thought."

It was a wretched day for Stephen Moore whose debut as Australia's captain was all over after five minutes © Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.

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