Sunday, October 09, 2011

Simply grand

Manchester has an unjust (well, partially anyway) reputation for rain. Yesterday it lived up to its stereotype as a solid, persistent drizzle seeped down from dismal skies. The worst weather for running rugby and on the day of Rugby League's Grand Final at Old Trafford as well. Still, I was there with 69,000 others in a noisy crowd of families and drunks (and occasionally drunk families) for the annual occasion that decides the Super League champions.

It looked like it would be a close game, the top two teams had been knocked out at the semi-final stage, so third played fifth. And it was fifth placed Leeds who won it by playing exciting rugby in wet conditions, blitzing the more conservative St Helens in the last ten minutes of a high quality encounter.

I had mixed feelings about the result, a win for Leeds is never popular in these parts. Also, this was St Helens' fifth consecutive Grand Final defeat, a painful record for some fine players and for the fans an ordeal of dashed hopes. However, there were big pluses. The match was won by scintillating attack as well as awesome defence, something that used to be a Saints trademark. Most of all, it was won by a British coach. Australian coaches have raised the standard of the game over the years, but now there is a tendency not even to look at good British coaches and instead to farm out jobs to untried Australian assistant coaches on the grounds of their nationality alone. Occasionally the decision comes up trumps with the likes of Tony Smith or Ian Millward, but often it produces an identikit unimaginative approach of power and defence at the expense of the flair that was typical of the British game. So for the game to be decided by two moments of sublime skill and speed by a 5' 5" British scrum half, Rob Burrow, made the day for me. All the tries are here - enjoy.

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