Saturday, 30 December 2017

A critique of "Sumo" Stevenson's pretentious but stupid analysis of RWC quarter-final, 2015

Actually, this is not very impressive at all. Yes, it’s certainly a lot cleverer than the crap which constitutes “the usual hack rugby journalism”, but it’s no more informed or accurate.
It won’t surprise anyone who’s heard his radio and television commentaries that Stevenson takes a delight in crafting grandiose and clever-sounding phrases: “a re-imagining of rugby’s geometric boundaries”, …. “They are the game’s great professors of size and shape”, …”a seminal geometry lecture in the possibilities of a rugby field’s dimensions”, …”impelled by the false logic of proximity to take the shortest possible route”, et cetera, et cetera.
I enjoyed his unwitting imitation of William McGonagall as he rhapsodised clumsily about the All Blacks’ “fervour for the five metre line”. My favourite comes right at the end, when he tries to ascend into full Bart Giamatti mode: the All Blacks were, he avers, “the very definition of geometry: a study in the relative position of figures, and the properties of space.”
The trouble is, Stevenson has ignored the most important element of this farcical mis-match. It’s something even more important than the undeniable brilliance and absolute commitment of the All Blacks. That element is: the Tricolors did not try. They were completely terrible, a disgrace, a shame and a scandal. They didn’t just give up, they had given up before the game had started. They hardly won a lineout, they lost every single kickoff, they did not bother with such plebeian concerns as cover-defence. They were a leaderless, dispirited rabble, and their non-performance was an insult to the spirit of rugby, indeed to the spirit of all sport.
Stevenson, however, ignores that point. He could see as well as anybody else how abject the French failure was. It was so abject that a Rugby World Cup quarter-final was reduced to not much more than a moderately opposed training run. Yet he chose not to mention it. And that refusal to put the All Blacks’ performance into perspective renders worthless all of his vaporing about “re-imagining rugby’s geometric boundaries” and “professors of size and shape.”
He then compounds all of this by making the remarkable claim that this was “the greatest shellacking ever handed out in the Rugby World Cup finals”. Of course, that’s not true, because the French did not turn up to play. The game therefore lacked any tension, and other than the most blindly partisan All Black supporter, spectators felt depressed and cheated by the French failure to compete.
So what WAS “the greatest shellacking ever handed out in the Rugby World Cup finals”? That’s easy to answer of course, but someone like Scott Stevenson would never have the courage or the integrity to admit it: the 1999 semifinal, when the Tricolors dominated the All Blacks from the opening kickoff and went on to win 43-31. And, unlike France on Sunday morning, the All Blacks gave it their all….
Stevenson is not the first and won’t be the last sports writer to over-reach his own ability to express himself. If he wants to write about football like some giddy oenophile burbling about the qualities he perceives in a Cabernet Sauvignon, good on him. But when he writes demonstrably untrue things, he must be corrected.
I note, by the way, that nobody has bothered to comment on his masterpiece.

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