reporter's notebook Soon it will be time for a preliminary assessment of the North American 4. The standard for evaluating international trends remains John Reason and Carwyn James’s World of Rugby.
Though published in 1979 and never revised, World of Rugby has few peers because of its succinct ability to marry technical analysis to historical context.
The All Blacks lost only one match on tour [in Britain] in 1963-64, and that was against Newport. ... Newport decided that on a wet day, they would block the All Blacks’ superiority in the ruck by collapsing on the ball in such numbers in the loose that the referee would have no choice but to re-start the game with a scrum. As the New Zealanders indignantly and repeatedly pointed out, this was a technique which was strictly illegal, and was always penalised as such in New Zealand, but in Britain it was a grey area of the law where, for the moment, playing technique had crept ahead of refereeing consciousness. The technique soon became known as ‘killing’ the ball, but then, the expression was unknown.
Beginning with a skeptical view of rugby’s founding myth, World of Rugby treats landmarks such as South Africa’s rise to the status of unofficial world champions, France’s temporary banishment from the Five Nations tournament for professionalism, the “influence of the 1967 All Blacks,” and the Lions’ glory years from 1968-74. Along the way, the authors touch on changes such as the introduction of the spin pass and the introduction of plastic and aluminum to rugby cleats, formerly made exclusively of leather and canvas.
One notable passage:
The re-admission of France to international rugby was one of the three most profound influences on the game when it moved into the second half of the twentieth century. The other two both involved extraordinary improvements in communication, first the technical miracle of television and its unparalleled spread across the world, and second, the advances in air travel made possible by the colossal sums of money spent on aircraft development in the second world war.
Some twenty-five years ago, among those issues most concerning the authors were coaching advances, the introduction of nationwide league competitions in Britain (where Scotland had been a pioneer and Reason’s England lagged), and the anomalies of “shamateurism." Sadly, James has passed, for it would be interesting to learn the authors' views of the World Cup, the role of commercial management, and "cross border" competitions such as the NA4.