21 Nov

Alan 'Bin Laden' Lewis
by Paul Waite
21 Nov 2005

There was a terrible blight on what should have been a fantastic keystone test in this Grand Slam tour of 2005 – it was the refereeing.

First of all, a word to the IRB. Crowds and TV audiences turn up to watch XV vs XV find out who is best. Removing a player, or two, makes the game into an unacceptable farce. It should always be settled on the pitch by two full teams, otherwise it’s bloody meaningless if the side with more players wins. Thankfully, in this case, justice was done and New Zealand won, as they deserved to.

The sin-bin is an awfully flawed tool, in the quest to eradicate infringement and danger from the game. The reason is simple – every referee has his own widely disparate views on its use, and therefore we see the stupid pantomime we had in this test being enacted time after time – that of a puzzled player marching off the paddock. Why is he puzzled you ask? The answer is usually simple. The player is accustomed to playing a certain way, legally, in his own country, and has fallen a-foul of the “interpretations” of a referee from another.

Claims that New Zealand “cynically infringed” to keep England out are risible. England showed against Australia, and again against New Zealand, that their “attack” has about as much bite as an 18-year old Rottweiler in need of a set of false teeth.

New Zealand were completely in control of the proceedings, and in no danger whatsoever from England then, out of the blue, and with no prior warnings to All Black skipper Umaga regarding particular offences becoming repetetive and/or professional fouls (which is the accepted norm) Lewis sent Woodcock from the field for 10 minutes, for goodness knows what offence. All the while watching on benignly as English players lay on the ground in each and every ruck scrabblling for the ball. As I said, it comes down to interpretations.

So, how should it be done, I hear you ask. Once again the answer is painfully simple. The referee should return to simply being able to award penalties or penalty tries – a most adequate punishment for on-the-field offences of the usual kind (retaining the red card for the very worst crimes as before). After the game a panel should sit and review the test, looking for the same things as citing commissioners do – foul play and anything else that we want to remove from the game, including cynical foul play, or professional fouls. Together with the referee’s report a more consistent and balanced methodology for punishment can then be implemented.



So on to the test. The All Blacks came out firing on only 6 out of 8 cylinders for this one, and started badly. Dan Carter, despite being lauded as the World’s Best Flyhalf up in the Northern Hemisphere, was mis-timing his kicks from hand, and the first one set up an English attack as it fizzled and fell to ground well inside touch and well inside the All Blacks half of the field. The result was some great pressure from England, another stupid fumble from the All Blacks, and a lineout. Despite some panicky attempts to keep them out the English forwards mauled over a lovely try, and must have been feeling very good about their start.

Back over in this neck of the woods, most spectators like myself, weren’t at all worried by this reversal, since we could see why it had happened, and knew that the reasons for it would be removed. So it turned out, as from that point onwards, whilst it was XV against XV England were completely nullified as an attacking force, and it was just a question of how many tries New Zealand could put past them.

The first part of this process was the scrum. Oh how the Englsh press had beaten up the prospect of the Sheridan vs. Hayman battle. Ahem, the scrum is eight men, all acting in concert, not one man even if he is a behemoth. To cut a long story short, Hayman had much the better of Sheridan as close inspection of the scummaging revealed the latter being bent out of shape time and again. In the end Sheridan went off, bloodied and looking like a wrung out dish-rag. I’m sure he’ll have learned a lot from his experience and will come back the better for it. Meanwhile on the other side, the World’s best loose-head prop, Tony Woodcock, was turning Phil Vickery into something resembling four tins of Kennomeat emptied out onto the floor. Woodcock has to be one of the most destructive props around, and delights in destroying his opposing tighthead. He didn’t disappoint.

So the All Blacks scrum nullified and then beat the English unit, if not to the legendary pulp at least into submission. The sight of Thompson being “popped” a few times was testament to the pressure going in on it.

But the reason for my laughing at the media beat-up wasn’t because I thought the New Zealand scrum would win out, it was because the test wasn’t going to hinge on that facet of the game. And it didn’t.

The reason New Zealand won this test was that they bested England in several key areas: they had a better organised and harder-hitting defence, they had a much more inventive and hard-to-contain attack, and they had a more mobile and skilful pack. Add in the solid lineout, and scrum, and the platform was there for victory.

If the test had stayed XV vs. XV, as it should have, then we would have seen the All Blacks’ 10-point lead probably extended by at least another 7, and this fits with the 17-20 points which is my assessment of the real gulf between these two teams. If Jonathon Kaplan had been officiating, then that is what the final score would have been, which is a case in point for my thesis above regarding inconsistencies making a farce of the sin-bin.

Looking at the sin-binnings themselves, one of the major issues I have with them is their ‘out of the blue’ nature. There were some utterly nebulous warnings to both skippers about “controlled aggression” early on, but the accepted refereeing protocol regarding yellow cards is that for infringements such as the ones in this test, you clearly warn the captain of the offending team that the particular infringment(s) must stop or the yellow will be used. No such thing happened, and the first we knew of it was that Woodcock was marching off. Unfortunately the TV coverage from Twickhenham was of such a piss-poor quality that we didn’t actually see why in that instance.

Later on Masoe did something stupid at a ruck – a definite infringement warranting a penalty, but not a yellow card, then Tialata was on the end of the same ridiculous treatment. The fact that English players were doing similar things, but in their own particular way just highlighted the problem – that referees get used to seeing certain things done a certain way, and can penalise unfairly as a result. There is no easy way of avoiding this for general play and penalites, but the yellow card totally throws the fine balance of a tight test match out of the window, and ruins it for everyone concerned, and should therefore be removed.

In the end England proved that they weren’t quite a match for 14 and sometimes 13 All Blacks, which was about right.

We note that the English media seem to view this as a ‘moral victory’ which seems a little sad. As a mate of mine said, we all thought that England held itself in higher esteem than that.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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21 Nov

Say No To Yellow
by Paul Waite
21 Nov 2005

It’s time the IRB had a good hard look at the whole idea of the sin-bin, and what it is doing to our game. The body which runs the game recently made a decision which is absolutely right for rugby, by awarding New Zealand the 2011 Rugby World Cup. It has shown it values the things that the game stands for, and did not ‘sell out’, as everyone widely expected.

So let’s look back at some other basic tenets of our game and consider the sin-bin in the light of these. In days of yore rugby was a very simple game, where two teams were assembled, and people watched the game to see which of the teams would prove to be the best.

There is a wonderful clarity about those days. There were no subsitututes, virtually nothing in the way of policing of foul play, very little in the way of rules, except for what constituted a score, and certainly nothing resembling a ‘sin-bin’.

Two teams fronted up, and the strongest prevailed, end of story.

Moving forward in time the game became more structured, with rules being invented to control modes of play, but there were still no substitutes. Two teams took the field with 15 players, and the strongest prevailed. If anyone got injured, then they obviously weren’t strong or canny enough, and bad luck – all part of the game.

Stepping into the time machine again we zip forward, and find that substitutes are allowed – for injuries validated by a doctor. We still have reasonable clarity of the teams and the outcome, since only badly injured players were replaced.

Nearer to today, professionalism brought a huge decrease in the aforementioned clarity. It muddied the waters considerably by increasing the number of subsitututes, and allowing them to be brought on at any time. Moreover, the ‘blood replacement’ laws allowed players to temporarily leave, be patched up and go back on. All very confusing for the spectator as compared with yesteryear.

But this way of playing the game has indeed settled over the past 10 years or so, and has largely been a success in the modern game with the very high workloads and therefore fitness required of the players. Usually we do see a pretty clear result with XV versus XV (with a few late replacements, or the odd injury-related replacement) in the mixture.

The sin-bin is the joker in this pack of cards, and has the capacity to totally ruin a fine, tight test match as a spectacle within minutes.

The intent of the yellow card is to allow the referee the option of punishing a set of fouls which are viewed as ‘spoiling’ the game, and which have not ceased due to other remedies, such as verbal warnings, free-kicks and/or penalties. The usual format is that a team infringes, and attracts a penalty or two. Then they infringe in the same way again, and are given a verbal warning along with the penalty against them, that the yellow card is next if they repeat the offence. If the offence is repeated, then the player committing it is sent from the field for 10 minutes.

This escalation is all very well in theory, but in practice it has an effect which, in my view, is so detrimental to the overall game that it is worse than not having it.

In other words, to exemplify to the extreme, it’s a bit like trying to cure a child of a bad habit by shooting it in the head. Sure enough they won’t ever do that bad thing again but…

The result of sending a player from the field for 10 minutes, is to totally destroy what in my view is one of the basic tenets of rugby – that the result should be decided by XV against XV to see which is the best.

The yellow card (sin-bin) should be removed from the game in my opinion, and replaced by a panel or panels set up by the IRB to review test matches for cycnical or professional fouls and the like, in a consistent manner, and mete out punishments to help remove these from the game in the way that yellow cards are failing to do.

Aside from the basic violation of a cornerstone of rugby the yellow card system has another basic flaw. Every single referee has a different set of criteria for its use, and therefore this devastating punishment is never going to be used consistently, as exemplified by the hair-trigger yellow carding performance of Alan Lewis in the England vs New Zealand test last weekend.

I call on the IRB to at the very least review the yellow card and its awful effect on what should be the very best spectacle rugby can offer – the tightly fought test match between the top rugby nations of the World.

Hopefully some sense and canny analysis can prevail here as it did with their wonderful decision to award New Zealand the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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28 Aug

New Haka But Same Old Problems
by Paul Waite
28 Aug 2005

The good news: The All Blacks unveiled a new haka which raised the hairs on the back of the neck, and they won the test match.

The bad news: They showed everyone how to win a test by 7 tries to nil, whilst conceding 27 points – something hitherto considered impossible.

Once the emotion and euphoria of what was at the time a great last-gasp win has boiled away, we are left with the cold reality that the All Blacks gave away two utterly dumb and unnecessary tries last night, and should have won by a comfortable 15-20 points, instead of nearly losing.

And that’s being generous over the blunder by MacDonald which led to his clearing kick being charged down by Januarie for a try.

South Africa are a tough proposition but are essentially a bunch of very motivated and energetic tree-kickers. They smack the shit out of the trunks and hope for some fruit to drop into their hands, where it’s greedily consumed in a flash.

For this season at least, they should have changed their team name to The Hyenas, such is the scavenging nature of their gameplan. They are a young side, and all this is obviously new and providing results, however next season it will be old and they will have to turn their minds to playing creative rugby if they are to keep on tasting success.

For the All Blacks, it was a frustrating mixture for fans of the men in black. The tight five were on fire, and the scrum was a brutal weapon that had the measure of the Bokke pack from the start, and had gradually turned them to pulp by the end. The fruits of this were seen in the final winning try which came from a wonderfully controlled maul, and Mealamu peel-off to drive over.

The lineout was also very solid, and didn’t miss a beat when Ryan came on for Williams near the end, showing we have some good test-level depth available. The predicted dominance of Matfield did not eventuate, and was a key factor in that it prevented South Africa dictating procewdings with the territorial game.

With the change in All Black tactics to drive the ball up the guts more, and close to the fringes of the ruck, the Springbok umbrella defence was also taken out of the equation, and gaps opened up consistently. Only committed Bok defence kept things intact, but Rokocoko twice broke through to score nevertheless.

But the negatives in the All Black game were plain to see. They are still bordering on the poor in making the right decisions in open play and still err too much towards throwing the 40-60 pass. The worst one of the night was when Jerry Collins, who otherwise had an absolutely outstanding 80 minutes, lobbed a gimme intercept to allow the Springboks to gain the lead and a sniff of victory.

Aside from poor passing options, there was the kicking from hand which was, to be kind, very ordinary. Apart from a few kicks, most went straight to a South African, and hardly any were chased to put pressure on the receiver.

Finally there was the cretin in the middle blowing the whistle. The IRB ought to dock him half his wages, because he only seemed to witness about 40 out of the 80 minutes of play – he missed that much of what was going on. Clearly out of his depth at this level, his decision-making was impossible to fathom at times, and from the point of view of an All Black supporter, just about every single dubious call went against the men in black.

The sooner we never see this idiot again, the better.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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27 Aug

The Return of the Jedi!
by Rick Boyd
27 Aug 2005

In a triumph of justice over iniquity, of right over wrong, of light over dark, of which Luke Skywalker would have been proud, the creative, positive New Zealand All Blacks utterly dominated, outplayed and slaughtered the negative, spoiling, cheating South African Springboks 31-27 at Carisbrook today.

A score something in the region of 50-15 would have been in the offing but for one factor: the utter, utter, UTTER incompetence of the blind, bent, imbecilic French git of a referee. In a display that makes David McHugh look like the fount of all refereeing wisdom and Derek Bevan look like the world’s most accurate and intuitive referee, Froggie Jutge turned in the worst international refereeing performance I have ever seen since the glorious days of bent Broederbund ref Gert Bezhuiden-whatsit.

And what made it hilarious, totally and completely farcical, was that it was all one way. South Africa were offside, they cheated, they obstructed, they broke every rule in the book and few that aren’t but should be, and this witless Froggie chimpanzee was absolutely uninterested. Instead, he pinged the All Blacks for irrelevant trivialities, along with the same things he was blind to when perpetrated in green jerseys.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing but admiration for the fierce competitiveness and uncompromising physicality of the Springbok team, along with their incisive eye for half an opportunity. They played the ref and they got away with it, time and time again.

But what else did they do? The All Blacks blew their heroic forward pack to pieces, out-thought and out-played their back line which again showed themselves to be utterly bankrupt in creativity and positive attack. The Japies lived off the scraps of the opposition’s mistakes, mistakes largely generated by refereeing incompetence, except for the end of the game, when it looked like the All Blacks would continue their recent habit of capitulating when the tide was against them.

Instead, the men in black stormed back, split the Spingboks wide open and drilled them like a week-old blancmange. Maybe this team has come of age. Maybe.

The All Blacks were in total control for most of the first half but robbed of continuity by blinding refereeing incompetence. The second half was messy, and mistakes crept in, but they came good at the end.

I have nothing but contempt for Jake White and his recidivist attempts to turn back the clock to negative, spoiling, destructive rugby, and for the incontinent NH morons on the IRB and refereeing panels who are simply refusing to apply the laws so that talentless teams can compete.

This is not what will bring rugby to the world, although granted, it is about the only way South Africa will win.

Right, we won, so I can’t be accused of a throwing a tantrum, although if it’s being a poor winner and lacking graciousness I’m accused of, then I’ll gladly settle for that rather than some sort of pathetic sportsmanship to a side whose game I despise.

The game could so easily have gone either way and what an injustice that would have been. The All Blacks were lucky to win in the end, but they did so with convincing style and proved their point emphatically.

YES!!!

26 Aug

Dunedin Decider
by Tracey Nelson
26 Aug 2005

As I ponder the outcome of the All Blacks v Springboks Tri-Nations test to be played in Dunedin this Saturday, a few things come to mind -partly because of what I have heard and read from the various media in the buildup this week, but also because of what seems to be escaping a few people.

There have been the usual stories about the Springbok’s rushing defence – yes, it’s true they are pushing the offside line and getting away with it by being clever enough to bring their midfield backs up in a straight line. You would hope that the touch judges would give the referees a little help with this, but sadly they seem more interested in looking for petty off-the-ball incidents than anything that would actually help promote better policing of the offside line. In my opinion the reason they are getting away with it is because the referees are allowing offside play at the breakdown, particularly at the ruck. The laws state that the offside line is the hindmost foot of the hindmost player, but how often do you see Burger and co in the pillar positions fringing at the halfway mark of the ruck itself? If the referees are happy to allow this then of course the defensive backs are going to stand up over the offside line as well. And good on them. In rugby you push the boundaries as far as you can, and if you can get away with it then you keep it up.

There have been some ill-informed comments about Richie McCaw being a penalty magnet this year. I can tell you that while he may have been penalised a few times during the test in South Africa, in subsequent games his penalty count has been low (only two conceded against Australia a fortnight ago) – which is even more remarkable given the number of instances he is involved at the breakdown during a game. Thankfully I note there have been some rumblings about McCaw needing more support at the breakdown, and it will be imperative that So’oialo and Collins provide that this weekend against three of the biggest loose forwards in world rugby.

Which brings me nicely to the forwards. Henry and his coaching team have been quick to point out that the All Blacks made numerous line breaks against the Springboks in their first encounter in Capetown this month. The problem was that we didn’t convert them into points, and that was because of some inaccurate passing and some clever defence from the Springboks who managed to put themselves between the ball carrier and the support players (quite legal as long as you don’t play the man off the ball). The All Blacks made this easier for the Springboks though, because we had numerous tight forwards scattered throughout the backline as the game wore on, which only compounded the problems for our backline.

If the All Blacks repeat this fractured game plan, which is quite on the cards given the high-risk running style they are currently employing, the Springboks will win the game. Anyone who thinks the Springboks can be outrun in the forwards this season is living on another planet. This Springbok team is as fit and strong as any team ever to come out of the Republic, and to attempt to beat them by chucking the ball around like headless chickens is a recipe for disaster. While they may not be the best at creating scoring opportunities from set play, this Springbok team is magnificent at counter-attacking from turnover ball.

Unfortunately there seems to be a penchant in the Tri-Nations for our coaching team to encourage the wide game right from the opening whistle, instead of committing the opposition pack and creating space for the backs. The All Blacks have an exceedingly potent three quarter lineup, but they are never going to realise their potential if they have to skirt their own forwards out wide. For the All Blacks to win this weekend they must commit the Springboks up front, provide front-foot ball for the backline to ensure the opposition defence is retreating not advancing, minimise the 50/50 passes, and not turn the game into a parade of Fatties in the Backline. With any luck we then won’t be seeing Habana sprinting off down the touchline with only Woodcock and Mealamu to beat on the outside.

Lineouts will need to be fast and simple to prevent Matfield and co from contesting. The tight five will need to be at their best in the scrums and play as a unit throughout the game – not scatter to all four corners of the field as they have been prone to doing in the last two test outings. The loosies will need to support one another at the breakdown, and protect Weepu around the fringes as he will undoubtedly be targeted by the Springboks.

I will finish with the somewhat staggering fact that on the even of the test there are still 2000 tickets left unsold (which equates to almost 7% of the ground given that Carisbrook can only hold 30 000 spectators). Ticket sales have been unusually slow, especially given that the final Tri-Nations test in Auckland against the injury-ravaged Wallabies sold out in hours of the tickets going on sale. So what gives with the people of Dunedin? The ticket prices are not astronomical, so there is no excuse on that count. This test match is the only one in Dunedin this season, so it’s not like there’s been a glut of All Black rugby in the far south. But there is a problem with it being a night game. There is limited accommodation in Dunedin, so even if you wanted to travel there to see the test you would have nowhere to stay, and nobody in their right mind is going to drive hundreds of kilometres there and back on the same day. Dunedin is in severe danger of losing the right to host a test match if they cannot sell out the ground – and it defies belief that the locals aren’t attending the pivotal game of the Tri-Nations that will not only decide the winner of the series but will also determine which of the two sides will be ranked No 1 in the world. So come on Otagoites, get out there and support your team.

13 Aug

NPC Kickoff!
by WAJ
13 Aug 2005

Real Rugby is at last back on the screen for the season. You just can’t beat watching two New Zealand provincial footy teams going at it.

Suddenly the National Rugby Burden is lifted from the shoulders and you find yourself watching a game with your National Pride safely tucked away where it can’t get hurt.

Passions are still fired when your own province is involved, especially with a close rival province but it’s a safe warm and cozy home-fires type of passion, and one which feels as comfy as a well-loved pair of slippers.

Last night we had Waikato vs Taranaki. There was a lot of kicking, and a lot of mistakes from both teams in their first outing of the NPC season together, but it didn’t matter. It was just great stuff to watch on a Friday night.

The only discordant note was the referee’s uniforms.

Who, in their wisdom, decided that it would be a great idea if our referees were made to look like a bunch of faggots on their way to a pyjama party?

Luckily the ref was Lyndon Bray, who is a fairly imposing sort of bloke. Smaller, yappier refs might just get laughed at by the players in future fixtures. The costume just looks bloody stupid, and the NZRFU needs to dump ‘em and get down to the local Canterbury Clothing shop smartly to pick up some shorts, socks and jerseys which look like they’re actually designed to be on a footy field, instead of inside a harem.

Ah well. Even with a pansy in silk drawers wielding the whistle, it was great to be back watching NPC.

Bring it on!

7 Aug

Recipe For Rugby a la Debacle
by Paul Waite
7 Aug 2005

Ingredients: 1 tasty All Black team, 3 coaches who should know better, 1 rare Lions Tour, 1 Tri-Nations (common variety), a compliment of fans, and 1 team reputation (slightly tarnished).

Method: Mix coaches and All Blacks in with your Lions Tour, vigorously stirring and bringing to the boil.

Pour out into three separate steaming tests, adding a garnish of fans to each one. Thoroughly win them all, beating well.

Remove your All Black team and coaches, and leave to stand and go completely cold for a month. Refrigerate, and remove brains.

Take your Tri-Nations half a World away.

Fold a silly gameplan into your cold All Blacks mixture.

Finally add it to a Tri-Nations test, and let it flounder and bumble about for 80 minutes, until reputation is completely gone.

Serve.



“Send in the Clowns”. That was what Graham Henry must have said as the time came for the All Blacks to leave their dressing room at Newlands.

Goodness knows what half of those men in black were doing out on that paddock, but it was annoying and not at all funny to watch, clowns or no. I guess if we wanted to know whether or not it’s a good idea to give an All Black team a month break mid-season after a good warm-up series, then it was well worthwhile. It was a complete debacle.

The astonishing thing was, despite the catalog of stupidity and rustiness the All Blacks were still in with a chance of winning at the end, and got a bonus point!

No doubt South Africa is patting itself on the back. Allow me to bring it back down to Planet Earth. The Springboks were ordinary, if energetic. The cyncical and deliberate swinging arm that the thug Matfield took Byron Kelleher out with resulted in it’s only try – an intercept from a pass thrown by the cross-eyed Kelleher, who had to go off just afterwards.

South Africa could not string together more than a couple of attacks worthy of the name, and had to resort to kicking for most of the test, and the odd wobbly drop-kick attempt from long range from the disappointingly limited Pretorius.

The rest of the proceedings focussed on how many stupid mistakes the All Blacks could make to thwart their attempts to score tries – the answer was plenty.

I’m in favour of a Silliness Threshold in these tests I’ve decided. An impartial counter should keep a tally of Really Silly Mistakes from each side. When it reaches The Point of the Ridiculous, then a loud farting raspberry should sound over the P.A. (ie. like the final hooter does) followed by the team name “rrrrrrrrassssssssssspp – All Blacks!” – that kind of thing. Once a team gets the raspberry, the IRB rules should state that it cannot win – whatever the ending scoreline, because it’s just been Too Silly For Words, and a win by them would bring the game into disrepute.

The All Blacks reached their Silliness Threshold about mid-way through the second half.

The simple fact is, they didn’t deserve to win it. Even taking away the cheating and animalistic antics of Matfield (hopefully to be cited and banned), and the resulting fluke of an intercept, and the fact that this was worth seven points and the final score difference was six points, they didn’t.

Finally, aside from the obvious effects of the long interval between Lions Tour and Tri-Nations, the coaches need to have a closer look at what they have been telling the team to do out there.

In this test we saw precious little tight work, apart from some good scrummaging but we did see a lot of ‘miracle ball’ offload attempts. We also saw hookers and props trying to step out on the wing, and when you see Ali Williams getting the ball at first receiver and looking like a rabbit staring at the on-coming headlights, you know that you are also looking at a losing All Black team. The old tenet – do the hard yards first, and beat the opposition up-front.

Let’s see if the Three Chefs can come up with something a bit more palatable in Sydney shall we? That last recipe made me puke.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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11 Jul

Over and out for the Lions
by Rick Boyd
11 Jul 2005

A bit of a damp squib to end the series as was always likely with the rubber already decided.

A few good signs for the Lions with an improved lineout performance and better competition in the loose but with only three tries scored in the entire series, they really have nothing to take home but bitter defeat.

But it wasn’t the Lions that did the most damage to the All Blacks in the third test, but two first class idiots, one with a whistle and one with a flag. Japie “ref” Kraplan did his best to threaten Dickheadson’s superglue hold on the World Heavyweight Joke Referee title, but Dickheadson’s superb supporting performance from the sidelines kept him safely in front.

An utter joke of a yellow card by Kraplan on Umaga in the opening stages of the game before any warnings could be issed, and the exact same offence by Moody later in the game allowed the pom to stay on the field. Kraplan, you are as shite as McHugh. Some of Kraplan’s other calls were just plain mystifying. Held in the tackle? How many nano-seconds could it have been? He penalised Collins when the All Blacks wheeled the scrum. Why? Silly, pedantic little Krap decisions all night that had nothing to do with the game. And the late charge call on Collins that disallowed Sivivatu’s excellent try — what a complete joke. Very, very marginal and absolutely nothing to do with the play. What about the Lions lock penalised for jersey pulling? He held the player without the ball later in the game and was penalsied but was there any card? Yet Umaga got one without any prior offence. What a farce.

Back to the All Blacks — great run by Conrad Smith for an excellent solo try. We’ll be seeing lots more of this boy in the future.

Hey poms, remember how you crowed about that wonderful England team that didn’t concede points despite losing two players from the field? (With generous help from Dickheadson). Guess which team scored 14 points while a player down? Hint: it wasn’t the Lions.

But all round, not a very encouraging game for the All Blacks. Silly errors creeping in, knock ons, turnovers, a few lineouts botched. Probably not the same level of motivation as in the two previous games but we don’t want to go the way of 2004 and crush the early season opposition only to paddle gaily up Shit Creek in the Tri-Nations.

Despite the dominance New Zealand displayed over the Lions, only the lightweights will 100% confident with the Tri-Nations coming up.

No one who understands rugby and has seen the All Blacks play for the last ten years could currently possess one grain of confidence in their winning the Tri Nations games.

They have diplayed zero consistency in recent years and are quite capable of playing hard, mistake-free dominant rugby one month (v England 2004 for instance) and collapsing in a spectacular shower of shit directionless headless chicken orgy of errors a month later (v Australia in Australia and South Africa in South Africa 2004).

Having seen the All Blacks defeat the Lions this year, I am absolutely confident they have the ability to beat any other team on the planet. But I have not the tiniest shred of confidence that they will actually produce that ability on the paddock and turn it into points, reliably, in every game, or even most games, in the remainder of the year.

But I digress.

The fact is the Lions weren’t as bad as some might think. There will be a danger from gloating, overconfident New Zealand lightweights and vindictive, bitter British Isles lightweights alike; to bag the 2005 Lions as being complete failures.

Certainly they had their shortcomings but to base an analysis of the series solely on the test scores is very short sighted.

International tours have changed and Woodward is right in at least one regard — a much fairer judgement would be held in a neutral setting with neutral season timing. Not at the world cup, as Sir Clive suggests though. That tournament doesn’t produce much but a winner based on a knockout lottery. But sending a team exhausted from a marathon NH season south into foreign conditions against a fresh local team puts the tourists at a huge disadvantage before they kick off the first game. I doubt anyone in the British Isles has sufficient vison to realise that the lesson to be learned from this tour is that the national unions need to buy up the players contracts, cut the clubs out of the picture and send a Lions team that is actually “the best prepared Lions in history” by having carefully developed and rested players peaking for the ultimate rugby challenge, rather than just a cast of thousands and an army of hangers-on completly fagged by playing an all-sorts selection of club competitions and the Six Nations B Division.

And then there was the injury count. Not surprising after a long NH season, and it didn’t help the cause at all.

It should also be remembered that the modern game favours attack and small margins of dominance can result in magnified scores that don’t necessarily reflect the play.

The first test was played in the wet and the Lions were a horribly disjointed combination. In that game the score probably flattered the Lions. It should have been played by a settled Lions test combination of form six nations players playing in about their fourth match together as a team.

The second and third tests were closer in play but not in scores. The All Blacks played very well in the first two tests and it is doubtful if the Lions could have beaten them even in good form.

I’m not about to write the Lions off. The tour was not a fair reflection on their ability and while I certainly rejoice in the good, solid, consistent efforts of the All Blacks and their 3-0 series win; I gain little satisfaction from seeing them heavily defeat a Lions team put at such a disadvantage.

10 Jul

Just A Minute
by Paul Waite
10 Jul 2005

Q. When is a minute not a minute.
A. When there’s a “minutes silence” at a rugby game.

Of course, the TV companies would all clamour to point out my silly-billy error – they now call it “a moments silence” to stop them being sued in court or whatever. Wankers.

Sadly, there is no such thing as “a moments silence” in this context.

When respect for a tragedy is to be observed, it is “a minutes silence”, not some spin-doctor, marketing shithead’s concept for a quicker, more efficient way of paying respect “in keeping with the pace at which you live today”.

I’ve noticed this trend materialize out of thin air over the past few years. Initially the time was brought down to something like 45 seconds, then it was around 30. On saturday we had what seemed like about 20 seconds – enough time to just clear your thoughts and begin remembering the tragedy and thinking of the dead and their poor families, before Radio Dickhead on the PA bursts back into life with a kind of “well that’s about enough of that, thanks..” and on with the show. I know, maybe it was the shortest I can remember on Saturday because “only” 50-odd folks got killed. Hey, it wasn’t a sunami, was it? No, your sunamis, now they get the full 9 yards mate – for those we’re talking a massive 35 seconds. Nah, for 50 deaths we can only go 18-20 secs max I’m afraid. That’s it – it’s all pro-rata.

What I want desperately to know is WHO decided that we should start observing less than a whole 60 seconds for our minutes silences, and what the fuck they thought they were doing, and why they imagined that they had the mandate to take such a decision.

After that I want to know WHY they thought it was best to truncate them. What – do they think the stupid ol’ public couldn’t hack being quiet for that long? Did they worry that we’d get bored and soil our rep by calling out rude jokes, or starting a mexican wave? Or is it that the TV and Advertising Lobby just couldn’t bear so much dead time?

I’ve no idea who decided this was The Thing To Do, or why. All I want is for a minutes silence to last fucking 60 seconds.

It seems the very least thing we can do, given the tragedy back in London, and for any future such sad occasion.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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10 Jul

Three-Nil, But It Was A Blast!
by Paul Waite
10 Jul 2005

Yep, we cleaned the Lions up in a 3-0 white-wash (or Blackwash as some are calling it) but this Lions Tour was every bit as good as we’d hoped it would be.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the magic of The Lions isn’t simply in the bald test stats at the end, it’s about the coming together of four nations and a coaching staff, and seeing how they can be welded together to give something very special. It doesn’t happen often (some previous tours have been far worse than this), but when it does, it’s just amazing to behold. It’s also about the touring of the provinces, the hospital and school visits, the sea of red flowing across the land in campervans, and the many meetings in pubs and clubs pre- and post-match between New Zealanders and these most wonderful of rugby fans.

The idea that The Lions should be thrown on the scrapheap simply because of the 3-0 this time is a one-dimensional ‘bean-counter’ view of the world, and should be scorned by anyone with the slightest appreciation of, or regard for, rugby’s traditions.

However it is true that this particular tour has been a piss-poor example of how it should be done, and in fact it should probably be written up into a How To Fuck A Lions Tour Up manual for future reference. Clive Woodward was effectively handed the legendary Blank Cheque on the basis of his exploits in guiding England to winning the 2003 Rugby World Cup. Success is a very bankable commodity we’re told. So it ended up with too many players, too many ‘consultants’, separate rooms for everyone, and every little detail all nailed down apart from the one thing that can’t be bought with money – the heart of a test team with a belief in itself.

But the magic of it is, the next time the Lions assemble it will be with a different set of players and it will be under a different leadership. I’m confident that sense will prevail, and a smaller squad of players plus ‘ancilliary staff’ will tour. A couple of pre-tour trials and a warm-up game should then suffice to get them started with the basic ‘test side’ / ‘midweek side’ split, and from there they should be able to build their combinations.

Looking back on it all as it has unfolded, there were other issues that this Lions team had to contend with. Successful teams always have one or two key players that are the foundation, one of whom is inevitably the captain. In New Zealand rugby one thinks of Wilson Whinneray, Colin Meads, Ian Kirkpatrick, Buck Shelford, Sean Fitzpatrick. In 2003 England had Martin Johnson and Lawrence Dallaglio. Looking at this present Lions team, the loss of Dallaglio at the outset was the cruelest of blows, since he really stood alone as their one charismatic leader. Nobody else could come near to filling the role, not even the talented Brian O’Driscoll, and this was painfully apparent in all of the test matches. Hopefully future Lions teams will be able to call on players of this ilk.

Sir Clive is correct in one statement, or at least partially correct. He was at pains to lecture us, at the end of the third test, to be circumspect in drawing conclusions about the gulf between Southern and Northern Hemisphere rugby on this series. In so doing, he was obviously busy, as usual, in feeding his own hobby-horse, but there is quite obviously the ring of truth in it.

The Lions are a special entity, in that they differ from a single nation touring team, made up from players who, for the most part, are familiar with one another. What with other Woordward-induced problems with selection policy, and their own injury issues, the Lions were not representative of a full strength England for example.

New Zealanders are well aware of how to judge this series thankyou very much Clive. The All Blacks have just played their first three tests of the year, and this has been a very useful warm-up. We aren’t anywhere near to full throttle yet, and have a Tri-Nations to navigate, before we will be nice and honed for our Grand Slam tour up North.

So, we’ll see what happens when we journey to same Four Nations who made up the Lions, and take them on in their own back yards.

Now _that_ will be a good pointer for the gap, if any, between Northern and Southern hemisphere rugby.

And another thing, whilst we’re on Clive’s Expressions of Wisdom. He was keen to remind us that we haven’t won a Rugby World Cup since 1987 (thanks Clive, it’s so long ago we’d forgotten about that), and that the World Cup was the true measure of how good a team is.

Wrong.

In a Rugby World Cup ANY side is vulnerable to a one-off miracle performance (eg. France vs. New Zealand, 1999 semi-final) against a team they only meet that one time, whereas in a test series the winner would not necessarily turn out to be the stronger in the long run.

The only true measure of dominance between two rugby teams is over a test series of at least three tests.

World Cups are won by an ad-hoc combination of rugby strength, and good fortune. They necessarily sacrifice rugby credibility (in terms of the result) for entertainment value.

But enough of that. Instead let’s reflect on what was a tremendously successful Lions Tour, and look forward to having them back down this way again in 10-12 years!

To all you Lions Fans out there – you were absolutely fantastic. Have a safe journey home, and we’ll see you at the end of the year for the Grand Slam!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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