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The generation gap

The generation gap is an interesting concept. Usually it applies to a family and the lack of mutual understanding or of shared interests between those of different ages as, say, parent and child. There is a failure of common ground of one kind or another, of not seeing eye to eye. Something which suggests that they, one group of people, are out of touch with another.

It applies to sport, too, this so-called generation gap. In rugby more than any other, it seems, there is what is called the modern game. You get the firm impression from some people that those who played the game in one era cannot possible contribute to the ‘modern game’. Rugby has moved on, they say — whatever that is supposed to mean.

There is manifestly a marked line in rugby union when there was a shift in emphasis, when rugby did change a very basic tenet of its existence. In 1995 rugby union which had for over 100 years been amateur, was ruled in August of that year to become an ‘open’ sport. Therefore rugby players could now be deemed professional and cold earn a living from the rugby game. Rugby Union was a form of employment not recreation.

Thus, and this is the point I wish to make, there is a line of thinking which suggests that any one playing or otherwise engaged in the game prior to this date could not have any contribution of import to make of the game thereafter.

Sure, the game has changed. There are fewer scrums for example. It is far more of an impact game — contains more tackles than there were at one time; more phases; changed alignments between forwards and backs, and so on.

I raise the point because I had occasion recently to be part of a discussion group. At my prompting I suggested that in the last decade, throughout most of the rugby playing world, the tactical and technical emphasis had been on defence. Should we not, in order to overcome the sophisticated defences, have a clear look at attack?

As a couple of points I mentioned the need for better passing and handling, which seemed to me to be critical for successful attack, and which seemed to me to have declined; and whether the three quarters and others who find themselves occupying positions in the back division should take a steeper alignment?

Should we look at other possibilities? Should we look afresh at the guiding principles of attack? There were other points.

Apparently there was reluctance by a person who had played most recently to accept the proposition. The game had moved on.

But certain of the game’s verities are still true and will remain so unless there are very dramatic changes to the laws. There may be fewer scrums nowadays for instance but this phase remains crucial. In a changing game there should always be opportunities to re-visit the game’s basic principles and to re-assess them. To close the mind to them is to be blind to different and varied possibilities.

It matters not what generation a player played, it is that person’s vision that is important and must be open to analysis.

Many books have been written and will continue to be written on rugby football. Many theories will be expounded. But what should not be ignored are the words spoken by the players who has lived and done the business, the person who can speak from his own experience. The experience handed down by word of mouth is essential and forms part of an oral and invaluable tradition. The Library is full of the written word but this cannot replace the handed-down advice.

The young novice lock forward will doubtless learn a lot from what he reads or what the coach tells him, but sitting down with Martin Johnson of England or John Eales of Australia would be infinitely more valuable. And they know how to apply the qualities of leadership in rugby better than could be gleaned from any book.

They may no longer play and they will no doubt soon form part of different generation. But that should not preclude them from giving their expert opinion. Their opinion should stand the test of time. There should be no generation gap, each generation builds on the other. It is foolish to be otherwise.