14 Sep

The 'Mighty' Auks?
by Zand Moloney
14 Sep 2004

Now, I don’t want this to be an article where I gloat and revel in the misfortune of Auckland but must ask this, why is Pat Lam so confident of retaining his job with the ‘powerhouse of New Zealand rugby’ doing so badly. People often say ‘When Auckland rugby does well so does New Zealand rugby,’ if that’s the case we are in trouble because this Auckland side is pretty poor.

Wellington played very well, the only thing that continues to concern me is the great big hole that is going to be left when David Holwell leaves. I have had many debates about this particular player, with some people saying to me he is average and all he does is kick goals and for the line. Last Saturday he made a liar of all people who hold that opinion, his vision and Lome Fa’atau’s pace combining for the try of the season. Welllington again looked much more composed when he came on the field to replace poor Ma’a Nonu and I just can’t see that there is a ready-made replacement for him. For many season he has been the man who has held the creative players together and I worry about what will happens when he goes.

In terms of the rest of the backline, again Conrad Smith showed his class as did Nonu until he went off with a broken thumb. It is a tragedy for Nonu as has been the form second five this season and would have been a shoe-in for the All Blacks tour. One hopes his injury heals quickly. That said Wellington are very lucky to have the All Black captain to slot in at centre and move Smith in one.
Fa’atau played well, but Bobo was unconvincing, perhaps it is time to give Roy Kinikinilau a chance out wide to give a different sort of threat, the broadsword to Fa’atau’s rapier.

The forwards were outstanding, two pushover tries from a pack that has been much maligned over the years shows what a good job John Plumtree has done. Neemia Tialata had a hard time in the scrums, but did well around the field, McDonnell seemed to have the better of old mate Kees Meuwes, and Mahonri Schwalger again put his hand up for Hurricanes honours with another strong performance.
The loose trio was again brilliant and had the measure of Rush, Lauaki and Kaino.

I will refrain from commenting about the performance of the referee, I think enough has been said by others but those in charge should review the ‘injury time’ he allowed Auckland carefully, personally I thought it was extremely pedantic.
Bring on the Bay!!

7 Sep

Getting there..
by Zand Moloney
7 Sep 2004

Another good, but certainly not great performance by Wellington and one that suggests that they can win the important ones. After that dreadful start I was thinking ‘Here we go again..” but thankfully that new character came throught again.
The forwards dominated in the loose and the tight and despite two very soft tries to Bates and Kelleher a half time score of 17-13 must have looked pretty good to Wellington.
The second half was a revelation, the loose trio snaffling huge amounts of loose ball, Rodney So’oailo playing like a number 7. The pick and go worked well, and with the centre combination of Nonu and Smith again to the fore Wellington were rampant in the second half.
Problems? Well, although he didn’t play badly Riki Flutey is not the sort of player we need at first five eighth, his positional and tatical kicking is no existant but he does have a good running game. Sad to say I think he will be a perennial bench player, he is great to have coming off the bench as he covers first five and halfback well but is not specialised enough to start in either position. In my humble opinion Jimmy Gopperth is the man to take over from Holwell when he goes to Leinster with Flutey the perfect backup.
Other than that Wellington really just need to get it together in one game, that hasn’t happened yet, but they are still second on the table, it’s nice to think they still have more left in the tank for the end of the season.
I must also add, putting on my Hurricanes hat, how happy I am with the play of Taranaki. Not only is the forward pack doing the business, but they seemed to have unearthed some very talented backs. Someone should sign up Brock James and Shayne Austin needs to be brought into the ‘Canes for next year. Hopefully the Hurricanes will have two franchise members in the Semi’s!
As for this week, well it is the game I always dread, Wellington always struggle against Auckland, especially when they are playing badly. C’mon boys show a bit of character and composure and we should be alright..

7 Sep

SANZAR: Myopia As An Art-form
by Paul Waite
7 Sep 2004

We are in a small restaurant in central Sydney fetchingly named “Chez Sanzar”.

Restaurateur: “Cook! You’ve been serving this dish you call ‘Supreme á la Douzaine’ for nine years now, and the clientele are telling me they’re sick to death of it. It’s not spicy enough, it’s always the same year after year, and to put it bluntly, it looks like a pile of grey sludge. And to make matters worse, it’s the ONLY option on the fucking menu!”

Cook: “Ooer, right. Well let me get my sous-chefs together and we’ll come up with some whizz-bang ideas boss.”

[ Much, much later..]

Cook: “Ok boss, we’ve thrashed it out. It wasn’t easy, but we think we’ve got it cracked. It’s a corker.”

Restaurateur: “I’m positively dribbling down my tie here Cook. Spill the beans..”

Cook: “Well [pauses for imaginary fanfare] – we’ve decided to give them exactly the SAME DISH but with 40% more of it heaped on the plate! How’s that!!?”

Restaurateur: [head in hands]: “I’m ruined..”

Should we be shocked at the recent SANZAR statement, completely bereft as it is, of any vestige of vision or imagination to take Southern Hemisphere Rugby forward for the next half-decade?

Probably not. The people who are now in control of our game are “money types” and lawyers. They didn’t get where they are today by having touchy-feely empthy with the grass-roots of a game that whole countries full of folks created from scratch from a passion for rugby. No. These people inhabit boardrooms, study balance-sheets, and like to think in unimaginative linear modes, where predictability of revenue is the paramount driving force.

But the proposal as trumpeted in the media in the last day or so is a sad indictment of the way the game is headed, and marks yet another chance missed to really do something worthwhile to energise a game which is flagging.

But it isn’t flagging, some say. Look at attendances for example, and look at TV viewing figures.

The trouble with these statistics is they are misleading, as are all statistics used to actually prove a point, rather than just illustrate a conclusion arrived at by a separate logical proof or evidence.

There are many things wrong with them, but in summary the attendances are totally meaningless when you have a set of rugby fans faced with no choice but the only game in town. Of course they still go and see it. What other choice is there? As to TV viewing figures, where do those stats come from? From TV companies eager to keep control and the status quo, that’s who. In any event, what do they mean, and who did they canvas, and how many people. We hear these figures bandied about by people with their own axes to grind, and we’d be fools to take them at face value, much less attribute meaning to them and make important decisions based on them.

It’s plain enough to me, for instance, that the Tri-Nations was a dead duck after a couple of seasons for the very reason that the old adage familiarity breeds contempt is true. Playing South Africa and Australia so often, and in the very same format is a killer of passion. In fact I despise the Tri-Nations for effectively removing the massive excitement I used to feel for a test series against the Bokke, and making it into a mere “league game” every year. Same with the Bledisloe Cup. It used to be contested over a genuine series, but now it’s just a tack-on; a marketing adjunct not even played for in a real test series anymore.

As for the Super 12. What’s “super” about it these days? The first and second seasons were Ok, but after that it turned rapidly into a rugbython – something more to be endured than enjoyed. Turning the handle every week as battered players turned up and turned their mistake-ridden tricks for the cameras in the cold, wet shadowy twilight zone of the endless night-games we’re forced to put up with.

In short, the Super 12 is just “product”, like turning the handle on a sausage machine and watching little Super 12 games pop out the end all neatly sealed, bland and featureless. Ka-ching, there goes the SANZAR cash register for another happy sale of a round of Super-12 sausages. “Thankyou ma’am, come back next week – yes your diet is just fine if you consume these every week for the next decade. You’ll never get sick of these beauties!”

Well recently there may have been a worry that the punters were getting sick of the taste of bland Super-12 sausages, so SANZAR have come up with the perfect solution by making them each 40% longer. Brilliant minds at work.

The statement recently that All Blacks would be quite eligible to play in the NPC, and not separated off as previously touted in the media now comes into focus. With 94 Super 14 games instead of just 69 with the Super-12, plus an extended Tri-Nations, it means that no All Blacks will be able to even conceive of playing NPC rugby, unless they happened to be the Six Miilion Dollar Man. More subterfuge from the NZRFU.

SANZAR have quite obviously missed the bus. There was a chance to really look at rugby in the region and revitalize the landscape. It would also have provided an exciting package for News Corp. or whoever to look at, and provided a lifeline for Island Rugby.

Instead of paying lip-service to All Blacks playing NPC, when they quite obviously won’t be in practice, SANZAR should have gone for a complete separation of NPC from international programs, and run the test matches in parallel. This would have freed up time for a more expanded S12, to Super-NN including a Pacific Island team, an Argentinian franchise, and a Japanese Franchise. With an extra two teams one from Australia and one from South Africa this would make it a Super-17. And plans should already be on the drawing-board for including The Big One – the USA, in the next format after the 5 years of Super-17.

The tournament format could then have been looked at, taking into account travelling logistics and arranged around Pools and short tours. Extra interest could also have been provided by enhancing the playoffs, and making these into small tournaments rotated around each of the countries by turn, and involving all of the teams no matter where they finished in the pools, via provision of Cup, Bowl and Plate finals as in Sevens.

Hell, there are probably dozens of possibilities to revitalise and accomodate logistics, but SANZAR hasn’t even looked at basic ideas like changing the playoff format apparently.

No, good old linear accountant-think has raised its wizened, wrinked brow and in a cracked voice pronounced what it thinks is best for managing the dusty old ledgers of the SANZAR book-keepers and scribes.

These people have demonstrated that they have absolutely no feel for rugby at all, and the kind of unimaginative rubbish that they’ve recently come out with is just going to drive another nail into the coffin of the game, especially out in the Islands.

Of course there will still be those statistics produced by people with a vested interest in reporting success – TV and Unions, to inform us that what we’re seeing is actually fantastic, and a great privilege.

Anyone for tennis?

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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7 Sep

It's a Cracker!
by Paul Waite
7 Sep 2004

So, the Wallabies are now employing a full-time code-cracker to decode the opposition lineout calls during the first half of a test match so they can be briefed at half-time on them.

This bright idea is certainly supported by Eddie Jones, whether or not it’s his brainchild, since he’s just been defending it in the media today, with a “what’s the big deal?” tenor to the comments.

Now, we all appreciate there’s a lot of pressure to win at the top level of professional sport these days, but I have to draw the line at this.

I have this rather old-fashioned idea you see. I sort of cling to the notion that the best team playing the game on the paddock should win the game, allowing for the odd bounce of the ball.

So, if you’ll forgive the French, personally I find the very idea that the Wallabies should employ a third-party code-cracker sweating away in a dimly-lit bunker to decode the opposition lineout calls in the first half, and bring them a cheat-sheet at halftime an absolute fucking anathema!

What the hell does Eddie Jones imagine we, as fans want to see? I’ll tell you what I DON’T want to see. I don’t want to see test matches decided on who has the best friggin’ code-cracker. I want to see the teams fighting it out fair and square on the pitch.

All this self-justifying crap coming from Jones today is the kind of utter nonsense you hear from someone who has lost all perspective on what the hell we are all playing and watching this game for. It’s the kind of “end justifies the means” rubbish that will kill the sport in the long run.

The IRB should act immediately to outlaw this kind of nefarious activity. It undermines the whole game, and cheats the fans out of what they are watching it for in the first place.

If they don’t then we can look forward to watching in total puzzlement, as first one team then the other mysteriously wins lots of lineout ball as their respective egg-heads strive mightily with gigaflops of computing power to gain the mastery.

Teams will have to invent agile codes which can mutate every few minutes, live, on the pitch, with the complexity of the WWII Enigma code, just to keep the battle an even one.

You know what I think?

I think if it looks like shit, stinks like shit, and there’s a large lot of bull nearby, then it probably is what you think it is.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

Haka editor-in-chief. Please do not feed.

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