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Jim Kayes

Jim Kayes has been covering rugby since the late 1990s across print/online, radio and television with The Dominion Post, Stuff.co.nz, TV3 and Newshub, Radio Live and Radio Sport.  He's been to five World Cups, covered almost 200 All Blacks Tests and was on safari with the Lions when the British and Irish side last toured New Zealand, in 2005.

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England are a formidable side - Kayes

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Jim Kayes     11 Feb 2019     Getty Images

“Winning Ugly” was the title of tennis coach Brad Gilbert’s hugely successful book (published in 1993) and comes from how Gilbert, who was ranked as high as No4, would grind out wins.

His philosophy as player and coach was to utilise whatever strengths you had and not worry about the aesthetics.

He infuriated John McEnroe who called him a “pusher” in his own book and once famously screamed at Gilbert that he didn’t deserve to be on the same court.

The great Nick Bollettieri said Gilbert’s game was “so ugly I had to wear three pairs of sunglasses to watch him play otherwise I’d get bloodshot eyes”.

“But he knew how to win,” Bollettieri conceded.

England were accused by some of being boring in their first round Six Nations win against Ireland, despite scoring 32 points and scoring four tries.

There was certainly nothing boring about how they dismantled France 44-8 at Twickenham this morning with wing Jonny May scoring three of England’s six tries.

England are a formidable side, capable of playing expansively but just as able to rely on their defence to get them home.

They must, surely, be rated joint favourites with the All Blacks, Ireland and Wales for this year’s World Cup.

Ireland weren’t flash in their 22-13 win against Scotland with Joe Schmidt admitting it wasn’t pretty.

Matt Williams, the Australian who once coach Scotland, went further, likening Ireland to a Formula 1 car in third gear.

"They tried their heart out and you never question the courage of this team, that's not what anyone is talking about, or their commitment, but their attack was like watching paint dry.
“It’s very boring and very one dimensional.”

Williams needs to heed a lesson I learnt in 2003 - style is great, but it’s results that count.

When England beat New Zealand Maori in New Plymouth in monsoon conditions I stupidly lashed them for being one dimensional and suggested that sort of rugby wouldn’t win the World Cup.

It was silly and I was made to look foolish as England did exactly what I’d said they wouldn’t.

There are three things critics of “boring” play need to remember. Attack comes in a variety of forms, defence can be exciting, and few remember how you win, just that you do.

At times there is a duty to play entertaining rugby, to showcase how skillful the game can be to ensure it remains popular.

It’s a burden the All Blacks shoulder along with the perpetual expectation that they will win every time they play.

More often than not they manage to do both, but not always.

Having run riot in the 2011 World Cup they beat France by a point, 8-7, in the final. No Kiwi cared about that scoreline.

Equally, Warren Gatland won’t be bothered by the barbs after Wales’ win against Italy who have now lost 19 in a row in the Six Nations.

Gatland made 10 changes for the match in Rome and won’t worry that they were called unconvincing and Italy “plucky”. He’ll care more that they won, 26-15, their 11th victory in succession.

It means the Six Nations will probably be decided when Wales host England in a fortnight.

Gatland won’t worry if they win that match with grinding rugby or the much criticised “Warren-ball” which Kiwis simply call “second five crash” and is a simple way to get over the gain line. 

Equally, Eddie Jones won’t be bothered if they beat Wales through stifling defence.

It’s the same at the World Cup in Japan. Steve Hansen knows it would be great to replicate the 34-17 win against Australia in the 2015 final should the All Blacks make the final in Japan.

But he won’t care if it’s boring, unconvincing or defence heavy.
When it comes to the big games, winning ugly is still winning.