Dog Day Afternoon As Students Throw The Book In The West (Deflated Lady Beckons Literary Gusto To Save Mismatch)
University of Queensland vs Western Districts; Queensland Premier Rugby, Round 13; UQ Field 7; 11/6/2016
“…the scrum is probably the only place where the disparity of this contest can actually be pointed and snickered at…the ball shuffling around in there like it’s some kind of random fate generator that basically always has bad news for the dogs.”
Report by Nicholas Turner
The University of Queensland are hosting the Western Districts Bulldogs and no one is really looking forward to it. Approaching the half-way point of the competition’s second round, these teams are a whole ladder and more than 300 for/against differential points apart. The dogs have won just a single game this season. And the only side to beat the students did so in the first game of the year and just got vengefully and very thoroughly lynched in the second round rematch. UQ are going to win and Wests are going to go home sore and disappointed. Everybody knows this at breakfast time. It doesn’t even qualify as prophesy.
The Gods, who evidently don’t give two hoots whose playing, have served up a belter of an afternoon. Cool and luminous, the sun uprooting the shadows of everything as it descends toward the stadium’s rear, with a neat little Champagne-chill breeze over a virtually neon green varsity pitch. To which you can add the tacky pitter-patter of spindly runners working up and down the straights of the field-encircling synthetic track amid the perpetual hum of a jumping castle keeping kids amused up near the steeple-chase pit. Sometime around the toss a magpie cracks the shits with a crow and chases it tauntingly – all clicks and claps – in a giant, florid, south-north arc the length of the field.
For a few minutes nobody scores. Then Uni does, repeatedly and systematically and unrepentantly, for the next hour. They annihilate the dogs. The final score is 49-19, but all of West’s points come in a late bundle after most of UQ’s key players have been put back in cotton wool. Make no mistake; it’s an old-fashioned blood bath.
This of course leaves your correspondent with the seriously creative literary task of teasing out a good siren-to-siren yarn of what went down out there, the game having, truth be told, all the emotional intensity of a blow-up doll. And so in the interest of not just exhaling a whole bunch of rhetorical wind into a limp sack of plastic and making a one-way mockery of passion, what seems more appropriate is to drag the carcass of this game into a sterile room, throw on a white lab-coat, and perform a kind of CSI-type autopsy of a ruthless and indifferent slaughter. To learn a little about the John Doe and the perp.
(Your correspondent will play the part of that smart-ass investigator that removes his glasses and strikes puns.)
It must be said, first up, that this was not one of those open slather games wherein some radical mismatch of individual size and/or skill makes for a long, unbroken blooper reel of dopey tackles and absurd, individual, Lomuesque tries. Wests, though undoubtedly the victim and the inferior unit here, are, man-for-man and cheek-to-cheek, pretty much UQ’s equal. Their defence is upfront and hard, they run unflinchingly with ball in hand, and they are determined, if nothing else, to make the students work. With a little broken play, they have players capable of stealing big meters; 8 and 13 being especially good ball carriers.
In fact, the scrum is probably the only place where the disparity of this contest can actually be pointed and snickered at, Wests taking a backwards walk all day, the ball shuffling around in there like it’s some kind of random fate generator that basically always has bad news for the dogs. And maybe for a scrum specialist this would all seem much more granular, but for the rest of us a ‘Funniest Home Videos’-type voice-over probably qualifies as hard analysis. UQ’s first try comes through a casual eight-man stroll, arm-in-arm, from fifteen meters out. The halfback’s job of scoring is as close to a formality as you get.
UQ’s real dominance is ‘meta’ and must be appreciated across clumps of game-time if not the entire game. This is a win that they construct. They’re a smarter, better organised team, indifferent and disciplined as worker ants. They string together these long skeins of phases that unwind their opponents’ guard like some slippery cult-leader’s utopian promises. Their second try is a pitch-perfect example of what practised, well-drilled sides like this do best; sitting well within their own defensive half, their opponents with plenty of field to defend, the students nonchalantly go about what looks like a fairly thoughtless attack, playing short pick-and-drives, a few one-outs, occasionally throwing flankers at centres. But over time they basically mine the structure right out of Wests’ backline defence so that it keeps compacting toward the ruck. Suddenly UQ flicks it wide to a deep, patient backline that never flinched or flattened all the while.
Which is one of the oldest tricks in the book. But so perfectly is this executed here, and so thoroughly have Wests consumed the proverbial Kool Aid, that from almost seventy metres out, and without yet technically having passed a single defensive player, the moment the fullback catches the ball he is home. There’s no question, no razzle-dazzle required. Just an afternoon cruise around the out-positioned winger who already knows he’s beat. Keep in mind that this is not a counterattack; there is no broken play here. Wests are basically ready. At least they probably think they are. And yet the last man on the field, the deepest player in his own territory, which is to say the furthest from the scoring zone, manages to receive the ball in such a way that he is already somehow undefendable. The students have effectively bent the advantage line toward themselves.
While it’s not exactly the thing of You Tube, purists will tell you that it takes a special sort of structural dominance to achieve this. But for it to go off this smoothly you’ve really got to be facing an opposition that buys the entire shebang wholesale, and in bulk. Wests, today, are evidently ripe for the plucking.
In fact, the dogs even manage to attack in a subordinate way. Late in the first half they win an offensive line out and finally have a chance to unleash some clean ball theatre on their own terms. Sadly the crescendo of this inglorious three-phase opus is a one-out pass to a vast blind-side where just two lonely props are standing in each other’s pockets and as flat footed as a pair of ducks looking over a cliff. The UQ defenders descend like ravenous hyenas on a pair of sunbathing hippos and come out with the pill that’s soon enough over the try line.
It’s the day’s low point for the visitors, who, though unquestionably valiant, are ultimately neither creative nor organised enough to handle the hosts. They’re caught in a web that enwraps them more thoroughly as they writhe. Which is of course the web’s genius.
The students are in their own sort of crow’s nest atop the Queensland Premier Rugby ladder.
Match Result: University of Queensland 49 – Western Districts 19
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