IT was the legendary Bobby Jones who said after watching Jack Nicklaus demolish the class field in the 1965 US Masters that the Golden Bear was playing “a game with which I am not familiar”.
The co-founder of the Masters made the remark after seeing Nicklaus beat Ben Hogan’s 12-year-old tournament record of 274 by three strokes having already tied the single round record of 64.
Nicklaus had brilliantly bested the other two members of the Big Three, joint second-placed Arnold Palmer and Gary Player by nine strokes and in doing so he played some of the best golf ever witnessed at Augusta. No wonder Jones was moved to make his famous remark.
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Watching the RBS Six Nations over the last few weeks I have come to come to the conclusion that modern professional rugby union is a game with which I am not really familiar. Those of us who played the game back in the amateur days must surely watch what is happening on our screens and weep with frustration that rugby has become the sport of giants.
This is now a game played by human battering rams and the set piece, the ruck and maul have become so completely dominant over all the other parts of rugby that only muscular titans need apply to be on international duty.
I have always believed and written that rugby can be the glorious game as much as football can be the beautiful game. That’s because at its best, rugby combines elements of strength, power, pace and skill that football doesn’t have. Yet the modern game is becoming reduced to the status of a competition about brawn.
So big and powerful are players these days that I feel it is only a matter of time before someone is killed by accident during an international. Watching the tale of injuries in this tournament, particularly head knocks, has been painful to watch, and too many times players were exposed to insanity such as that committed by Fraser Brown on Elliot Daly at Twickenham – spear tackling must be banned outright now.
I don’t think there is anyone who could argue that the most entertaining team in the entire tournament was Scotland. Apart from the disaster against England in which they still managed to score three tries, Scotland showed an incisiveness and a skill level that was truly exciting. In Stuart Hogg we have a player who can scythe through defences almost at will with electrifying speed and it is no surprise that Scotland’s worst moments came when was taken off the field against England.
We have also found a genuine centre of the old style in Huw Jones, and I can play no greater compliment to him to say that his shimmies remind me of a certain Jim Renwick. Both he and Hogg must go on the Lions tour.
With Scotland’s backs able to attack and make yardage right throughout the tournament, it is a very good sign of things to come.
There is no doubt that the other players in the tournament such as George North and Jonathan Joseph showed what could be done by people willing to run with the ball in hand and breakthrough defences so all credit to them.
Nevertheless I just got the impression that this Six Nations was all about hulking forwards battering each other almost non-stop at times, and that is not good for rugby.
We can see that Scotland improved a good deal on last year’s tournament and now we look to Gregor Townsend to carry on the legacy left by Vern Cotter. He will be very sadly missed as he goes off to France because Cotter has changed the way Scotland play for the better.
He also preaches strength in depth, though sadly not even he could have foreseen the carnage that Scotland suffered against the English in particular. It used to be that if Scotland lost one or two key players they were finished as a playing force for the tournament, but this year we have lost the likes of Greg Laidlaw, John Hardie and above all WP Nel and were still able to compete and win the final game.
Scotland did not in the end oppose any real threat to England, but as Ireland showed, if English are having an off day then they are there for the taking.
As well as Cotter we are saying goodbye to another consummate professional who carried out his last international commentary for the BBC at the weekend. I have often considered Bill Johnstone to be not just a rugby man through and through, but a thoroughly decent chap whose distinctive tones did for radio what Bill McLaren did for television over many years. I believe he is hanging up his mike at the end of the season and there will be many like myself who like to listen to re-runs of the matches on the iPlayer who will miss his adroit and pithy commentary.
So that’s a tournament over for yet another year and yes, congratulations must go to England for they were the best side over the piece. I am not alone in thinking however, that I would like to see more of Hogg, North, Joseph and the other runners with the ball than a sport dominated by almost static behemoths churning up the pitch inch by inch.
The National is delighted to announce that Martin Hannan has been nominated in this year’s Scottish Press Awards in the category of sports columnist of the year.