The end of the oval-ball year cannot come quick enough; neither can the Ashes.

Defying convention, let's start with the negative preposition. This combined rugby and league year has been overblown and ultimately disappointing.

Blame the Lions tour. Blame the Warriors. Blame the "It's not a negative for us" Kiwis*.

League has made a habit of disappointing of late, with the Warriors basically sucking since the departures of Ivan Cleary and John Hart and the Kiwis flatlining.


The All Blacks perennial excellence has stood as a counterpoint, but even a deep affection for the 15-man code has been tested in 2017. Like a flatmate who thinks an occasional once-over with the Hoover is going to make up for months of living like a dysenteric pig, the odd burst of All Black brilliance can't mask a season of meh.

You could say the biggest problem was that the season effectively started on June 3 and ended on July 8, but even the Lions proved only that tours aren't what they used to be.

The hype was persuasive but while pitting franchises against the tourists makes perfect sense from a playing and commercial perspective, that lack of connection with the provinces, with rugby heartlands, meant the tour was mildly diverting rather than a quasi-religious experience.

It was a fully professional tour for the social-media era - overhyped, overpriced and shallow. The mind-numbing Gatland v Hansen tropes - which continue to this day and might not end until they are forced into a game of one-on-one Laser Strike - often reduced the rugby to a sidebar.

The Tri Nations and Bledisloe Cup was over as a contest about 40 minutes after it started, although a couple of decent matches in Dunedin and Cape Town almost disguised the fact the All Blacks' 28 competition points were one less than Australia, South Africa and a disappointingly woeful Argentina combined.

So now we find ourselves at the fag end of a soporific northern tour, getting jazzed again by a trip to the House of Gatland.

Never has Twickenham seemed so appealing yet out of reach.

I'll set the alarm again for Wales, no doubt. It's part out of habit, part to assure myself that this rugby year is truly behind us.


Meanwhile, welcome to the 'Gabba tomorrow for the first day of the Ashes!

In many respect, the degradation of Ashes tours mirrors that of the Lions: the non-test games are increasingly artificial, the tours are much shorter and most of the controversy is carefully constructed (though, I suspect, the enmity between these teams is genuine). If you lived in Australia now the hype would be overbearing.

But we don't.

New Zealand is the perfect place to watch one of the oldest, greatest sporting contests without suffering all the extraneous blather.

The Channel Nine commentary team will drive you nuts after a session or two, but there's a lot to like about watching cricket on mute - I've spent entire summers using a single button to silence certain commentators and it has not affected my love of the game.

There might be 80 more minutes of footy to "endure", but there's up to 25 days of cricket to look forward to.

(Oh, and yes, the Windies are coming. We'll get to that soon enough.)

* Here's a good rule of thumb David Kidwell, Adam Blair, Shaun Johnson et al: if you're going to have a spray at the media, fans or anything really, do it from a position of strength. Being incompetent on the field is a reflection of skills and coaching; being tone-deaf to the public's perception of the team is a reflection of ignorance.


A nice read on how Ashes coverage has shifted over the years, from The Cricket Monthly.

Peru player goes on a bender, fails to show for club... fair enough too.

If you remember the appalling Rae Carruth story, you won't be any more enamoured of the scumbag after reading this, but you might have a greater appreciation for the humanity of others.

Shout out to Cameron McMillan for finding this nice wee tale in the Guardian via Offside magazine.