Scotland the brave? Whoever says that refuses to accept they were pretty hopeless.

This is not going to sound good, parochialism and all that.

But having dipped into the international festival of rugby, the impression remains that the All Blacks are alone among test teams in playing the mad game to an acceptably high level.

The All Blacks aren't just the number one team in the world. They are the only international side close to coming to grips with the game's complexities and possibilities. The rest might still talk like professors, but they leave their best work on the chalk board.

The All Blacks won't always have good days and can be beaten although probably by disruptive rather than inventive opponents. Their tactics are - in contrast to the rest - clever and discernable and you marvel at the players' ability and how they execute the plans.


Since Australian rugby descended into bold statements that can't be backed up, rugby intelligence and skill has plummeted outside New Zealand. South Africa appears just a step away from cracking the code, yet remains there. There is little hope for the rest.

Call me biased, yet I am no fan of many things in New Zealand rugby. It's just that at the pointy end of the deal, the All Blacks are light years ahead and the strength of their squad suggests the gap might get bigger. The New Zealand Rugby Union - not an institution normally praised here - deserves the plaudits as do all the other contributors.

The All Blacks are, however, getting a decent leg up from poor opposition.

Case in point: Paris provided an amazing venue for the weekend's match between France and the Wallabies, a magnificent stadium packed with buoyant supporters including those with musical instruments (although was that really a Mexican wave going around?) The game though, between two of the top-ranked sides, was often as messy as it was stirring.

France are feted for inventive attack but they can also defend with unbreakable spirit. This, and flashes of their special charm, brought a huge victory but a lot of what they did was naive. That often-hopeless Australia are ranked third in the world says much - they operated as individuals, including in a scrum that exploded like a water bomb, resulting in a penalty try.

Rugby is still a lot of fun, especially when viewed by such vibrant crowds. But you do wonder now and then why so many people turn up.

The game often looks like children battling with a Christmas present that looks vaguely like another toy they once had. The referees are like an over-zealous dad pretending he knows how the toy works, the kids aware he doesn't.

Commentators pore over this like an uncle who always knows better. They have to, because that is their job, but I quite enjoyed the one-man commentary from Paris that didn't bother to challenge the referee all the time nor turned a microscope on the game. A lot of what happens in rugby is beyond meaningful explanation, so just sit back and try to enjoy. Put it this way: the laid-back commentary made a nice change.

Rugby-heads who excuse poor rugby by revelling in lead-footed battles are, to be kind, probably pulling the wool so far over their own eyes that they appear to be trying to blind others. Teams that play as badly as Scotland do so because they aren't able to play any better. If they could push a button and play like the All Blacks, they would. So would England and everyone else.

Surprise, surprise, Scotland were - on an internet headline I glanced at - described as brave after Monday's one-sided romp by a fabulous rugby side over one that hasn't got the skill to do more than hang on and hope for lucky breaks.

In all honesty, it would be nice to contemplate a much better rugby world. Inept performances, especially in attack, are so widespread that the game feels obliged to prop itself up with disingenuous explanations.

Brave should be a standard quality at test level. Scotland are called brave by those who would rather not acknowledge that Scotland were pretty hopeless.