Scoring trumps scrums in World XV victory
It was all good fun - and nothing more - as the World XV won the Chartis Cup, defeating the Asia Pacific Barbarians 50-36 at Hong Kong Football Club yesterday.
It was a spectacle of running rugby as 14 tries were scored from all corners of the park. But the real thrust and parry of the game was diluted when both teams decided not to contest the scrum, which was no-push from the outset.
'Why have it? This is all about having a game where people can come along and enjoy the rugby with a lot of tries scored,' said former Wallaby legend David Campese, coach of the Asian Pacific Barbarians. 'Who wants to see a serious game with 25 penalties?'
His counterpart from the World XV, Chester Williams, one of the first black players to come out of South Africa, agreed. 'We all wanted to make it a spectacle ... It was nice to see the players play the game as it should be played.' It is perhaps no coincidence that both the coaches were backs, outstanding ones, too. But with the onus on both teams to put on a show, the rules had been decided well before the game began.
'In this sort of humidity, it was felt that it would be best to have no-contest scrimmaging,' said chief organiser Jon Phelps. 'But apart from that, everything else was full-on. The hits and contact in the tackle area proved that.'
Flashes of brilliance shown by players from recent vintage, ranging from Samoan Henry Tuilagi and Vilimoni Delasau of Fiji for the Barbarians, and English duo Ben Gollings and Dan Scarborough for the World XV, kept the crowd of around 2,000 entertained.
Ex-England international Josh Lewsey summed it up for the players when he said: 'It was fun.' But he didn't know the score at the end of the game when someone asked him. All he could remember, tongue-in-cheek, was coach Williams' 'stirring half-time speech which brought tears to my eyes'.
Yes, the players had a fun outing. And it made it all the more worthwhile as it was for a good cause. But organisers couldn't say if pre-game targets to raise HK$1 million for the Japanese earthquake relief fund would be met.
'We will only know when a full account has been taken. But I know there were plenty of buckets going around the ground and that people were contributing,' said Phelps.
Talk of moving to Hong Kong Stadium next year was also 'premature', according to Phelps. Organisers and sponsors plan to make this an annual event. If first impressions mean anything, it is doubtful they can get a sizeable crowd at the 40,000-seater stadium, unless they amp up the proceedings. That would mean asking the teams to turn it on in the scrum, too.