David Leggat on sport

David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

David Leggat: A World Cup match can be thrilling without tries

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Ireland's brilliant win over Australia was as vibrant as any spectacular tryfest could be. Photo / Getty Images
Ireland's brilliant win over Australia was as vibrant as any spectacular tryfest could be. Photo / Getty Images

Ireland's marvellously bracing win over Australia did many things for this Rugby World Cup.

Like increasing, but not guaranteeing, the prospect of a north-south final on October 23; showing there is some meat to the Northern Hemisphere challenge; and putting massive worry lines across Australia's ambitions to win a third crown.

And hopefully it also kicked into touch once and for all the notion that no tries means an ordinary game.

Who seriously could put a dampener on such a vibrant, thrilling contest - four penalties and a dropped goal to two penalties - by moaning at a lack of five-pointers?

There was a time in Super rugby when basketball scores were reasonably common.

British critics queued up to lambast lollipop rugby. New Zealand eyes responded by slamming games up north as stuck in a 6-3 mud-encrusted timewarp.

The Crusaders' 14-try 96-19 tonking of the hopeless Waratahs in 2002, or the Bulls' 92-3 demolition of the lame Reds five years later was one thing; but there were occasions when both teams gave defence a day off.

Remember the Chiefs beating the Lions 72-65 (nine tries each!) in Johannesburg last year; or back in 1996, when the Blues beat the Waratahs 56-44; or a score of Hurricanes 60 Highlanders 34 a year later.

But while the sight of wide-ranging rugby in which attack thoroughly dominated defence going both ways offers lightweight, often forgettable fare, it rarely provides a truly satisfying fix.

So did Ireland's win over the Wallabies reawaken any senses of rugby as it used to be?

There was a time when the game was desperately turgid, ruled by the boot, scrum and lineout. Wales and Scotland played a test in 1963 which contained 111 lineouts.

Ask yourself this: which would you rather watch again - Ireland v Australia or the All Blacks 83-7 flogging of Japan B?

This is not to suggest there's anything wrong with a game loaded with tries. Far from it. It is the ultimate rugby score. Perhaps it is more a question of variety.

Only one side has gone past 49 points in this cup. After 19 of the 48 games, there have been 95 tries in the tournament, with New Zealand (19), France (10), South Africa (eight), Samoa and England (seven each) the leaders. In 2007, a total of 217 tries were scored; four years earlier there were 330, albeit bolstered by Australia and England passing 100 points in a pool game; the Aussies and All Blacks exceeding 90 in others.

Ireland-Australia at Eden Park will live on in the mind far longer than any grab-bag of tryfests.

For that matter - and granted this view might not enjoy the same level of support - these eyes enjoyed England and Argentina grinding away in Dunedin on the opening weekend.

There was only one try that night, partly down to Argentina's complete failure to recognise that running their backs in the second half would surely have brought reward if they'd had the courage to do so.

Wales beat Samoa in Hamilton on Sunday when there was one try apiece, but plenty of drama given what was at stake, with the tightness of Pool D.

Tries are what the game is about; but sometimes it can be a case of less being worth more.

- NZ Herald

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