Sport Comment: 2020 vision: only genetic freaks need apply

John Inverdale
IT WAS either the most invigorating or the most dispiriting rugby international for many a year.

New Zealand’s victory over South Africa on Saturday produced some of the most brutal 80 minutes of aggression and assault you’re likely to have witnessed without criminal proceedings resulting.

The Springbok pack averaged more than 18 stone a man. It was murderball and rollerball, but for much of the game it felt like American football without the helmets and stoppages. The replays of some of the hits had you turning your eyes away, almost in revulsion. You could feel the impact in your ribs from 12,000 miles.

And yet until the controversial sending off of Bismark du Plessis, which effectively put the match beyond doubt, it was also as compelling and engrossing a contest as can be, and even afterwards the resilience and pride in the Springbok defence was a sight to behold.

So why be downbeat? Well it really is just this size thing. A lot of you will have taken young children to mini and junior rugby yesterday morning, and the inevitable parental chat will have developed about how good certain individuals are, and perhaps one day he or she “might make it”.

The trouble is that unless that child is going to reach 6 foot 5 and weigh in at 17 stone plus there will be no place for them in a pack of forwards in 2020. And they’ll need to be only a couple of inches shorter than that and not much lighter to have any chance of finding a place in a back division. There aren’t too many Dan Carters around.

All of which – just three days after the funeral of the giant of Welsh outside-halves, Cliff Morgan, all five feet six of him – fuels an air of despondency.

His service was attended by so many legendary players from yesteryear, all of them “normal” size, the stature of men that the next generation could easily aspire to emulate. How can you harbour genuine aspirations to be the herculean All Black No8 Kieran Read unless from the correct gene pool?

For all that though, I just can’t wait for the rematch in Johannesburg in a couple of weeks. The ball skills and sleight of hand and foot from some of the All Blacks when running at full pace was simply breathtaking. And you know the South Africans will be desperate for revenge.

So in reality what’s dispiriting about matches like the one on Saturday, is that they simply put a nail in nostalgia. Because it’s not just that the game is substantially bigger now than it was in the “good old days”. It’s immeasurably better.