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Union can steal many things but it won't get excitement.


SATURDAY'S Heineken Cup final between Munster and Toulouse didn't exactly reach the parts that other sporting events can't.

In short, I have seen more exciting sock knitting contests.

The notion that the two forms of rugby are getting closer was emphatically blown away during the 80 tedious minutes of 'action'.

The successful Munster tactics largely involved a big guy picking the ball up from the back of a pile-up of other big guys and then thrusting forward a few yards, or often mere inches, before the process was repeated, for minute after minute after minute.

By this monotonous method Munster were able to keep the ball from Toulouse, wind the clock down and frustrate the more skilful French team.

I know that all the union commentators, none of whom have ever seen a bad game, rambled on endlessly about the gritty determination of Munster forwards, their cunning and endless ability to 'recycle' the ball and the tremendous support they enjoy at home or overseas.

It's all true but it disguises one essential fact about the game - skill, speed, enterprise etc can easily be snuffed out by an inferior team who know how to play the system.

The best comment on the whole things was from the French scrum-half, Msr Ellisade, who said that the game Munster played "was not rugby".

I agree with him on that and I wonder what new convert Shontayne Hape will make of it all next season when he leaves Bradford Bulls, with almost immediate effect, to join Bath.

It is the latest example of one of the most profound changes in modern rugby - the movement of players from league to union.

For many years after the great split of 1895 the traffic was very much the other way.

However, since rugby union went open much of the movement in players has been from league to union, though in nothing remotely approaching the numbers who went the other way in the preceding century.

In some ways the games are more similar now than they have ever been.

The body shapes of modern rugby union players are getting to be as ripped and athletic as rugby league players.

Kits are becoming less traditional and look more like typical Aussie rugby league kits while the language of 'hits', 'gain line', 'bomb', 'show and go' have all been enthusiastically pinched from rugby league training manuals by union commentators.

Most importantly of all, the innovative tactics seen in modern rugby union, from the grubber kick behind the defence to the crossfield kick to the winger, have all pretty shamelessly been copied from rugby league.

It seems though, that some teams are intent on retaining some of the more traditional characteristics of the union code.

But then, if it leads to the biggest domestic trophy of them all, maybe it is the rules that need changing.

Six tackles anyone?

In short, I have seen more exciting sock knitting contests


Another lovely free-flowing move in Saturday's Heineken Cup final
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:May 29, 2008
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