24 Sep

Friday night fizzers
by Tracey Nelson
24 Sep 2006

The major outcome of the New Zealand rugby weekend nearly escaped under the blip of the radar, thanks to the hopeless TV schedule we have in place at the moment. No, I’m not talking about new-kids Tasman thrashing Northland by 56-15 on Saturday afternoon, but rather North Harbour finally getting something to put in their dusty trophy cabinet after lifting the Ranfurly Shield off Canterbury just after 6pm on Sunday evening.

That this game was relegated to the 4.35pm Sunday slot when all other games were completed by Saturday night was something of an insult to Harbour, Canterbury and the Ranfurly Shield, so in many ways it was rather pertinent that against the odds Harbour won the game and the coveted Log of Wood. It was against the odds that Harbour (who in 10 previous challenges had failed to win the Shield) did manage to come out on top as far as the scoreboard went, because Canterbury were dominant in just about every other facet of the game. Ranfurly Shield history has long been about teams who take their chances and nail their points, and on September 24 2006 that is exactly what Harbour did. Along with some tenacious defence and endless tackles, they eventually denied Canterbury the chance of winning the game. But I wonder how many people actually saw the game?

Congratulations to Harbour, but shame on those who decided this game should be played late on a Sunday afternoon. Why did it not get a Friday night spot? What was the reasoning behind playing Counties-Manukau vs Manawatu in the second leg of the Friday night double? While the 6.05pm game between the two Bay teams had a bit of skill on display and would have been a nice lead-in to a top six game, instead we had to watch the bungling efforts of two Repechage teams who quite frankly made the 80 minutes as tedious as an international long-haul flight in economy class – except at least you know you have duty free shopping to look forward to at the end of that. The only thing everyone was looking forward to at the end of the last Friday night’s second game was the final whistle blowing.

Meanwhile, the Waikato-Wellington game only got the 5.30pm slot on Saturday evening, with the Auckland-Otago game apparently getting top billing for the weekend. What a shame, because the best viewing spectacle of the weekend was undoubtedly the game out of Waikato Stadium. Both Waikato and Wellington were deserving of the Friday night slot with the standard of rugby that we saw. Obviously someone must really dislike Harbour though, because their second round draw has them playing one 2.30pm and two 4.35pm Sunday games – not a single top time slot for them.

What the powers-that-be need to get through their heads is that there is only so much rugby a soul can watch, and the NZ rugby public are discerning enough that they want quality not quantity. Hence they a) aren’t turning up at the games (the three Big Six games averaged out at around 12 000 spectators per game this weekend) and b) they are going to find something else to do on a Friday night than sit down and watch what is essentially Division 2 rugby. Most punters would be more interested in reading the fine print on their beer mat than keeping an eye on some of these Repechage games, and you really can’t blame them for that.

Thankfully this coming week we finally get a Top Six game on a Friday night, and with most of the All Blacks back in action hopefully we will finally see some top rugby and in the proper time slots!

8 Sep

Pie in the SKY
by Tracey Nelson
8 Sep 2006

NZRU tournaments manager Neil Sorensen has confirmed that a midweek time slot is back on the table following a meeting with Sky a fortnight ago, and it would seem not only ‘could’ it be used but almost certainly it will be used during the second round of the Air New Zealand Cup if current negotiations are anything to go by – not to mention the programme guide for SKY.

Interestingly, Sorenson said it was merely “coincidence” that this was happening so soon after the furore with News Ltd over the All Blacks not playing during the first half of the 2007 S14 competition. Those into conspiracy theories could certainly read into this apparently fait accompli deal with SKY to shift an Air New Zealand Cup Saturday afternoon game to a Thursday night, as being some way of appeasing the broadcaster after not consulting them over the non-appearance of All Blacks in the S14.

But I have no idea why the NZRU would want to do away with Saturday afternoon games when the gate takings for the grounds holding the 2.30pm games have been so high. I believe they’ve been getting around 8-10 thousand spectators for Saturday afternoon games in the likes of Palmerston North and Blenheim. What does it matter if the TV viewing numbers are down a bit if the gates are that high?? I’m confused as to why the NZRU are thinking of doing away with the 2.30pm Saturday slot just to please SKY – surely it’s about getting people to the grounds to support and watch the teams, and achieving good gate takings for the union hosting the game?

I could quote from the NZRU’s Competitions Review – New Competitions Information Summary that was released in June 2005, where they speak about ‘maintaining rugby as game accessible and attractive to all New Zealanders’. Yep, it’s sure going to be attractive for people to take their children to a game on a Thursday night and send them off to school the next day yawning and half asleep from their late night. Would the men in the suits like to take a reality check for a moment? Do they seriously think crowd numbers are going to go up by playing games on a Thursday night? Instead of a whole family going to a game as they do in the weekends, you’ll get just Mum or Dad going – because they’re not going to fork out for their tickets and a babysitter for the night when they could just watch it on TV at home.

Waikato union chief executive Gary Dawson has already made the statement that a large proportion of their crowds are families and feedback they’ve had says that parents won’t bring their children to a 7.30pm game when there’s school the next day. Both Waikato and Canterbury, and no doubt many of the other unions, have worked hard to get families to games by promoting ‘Take a Kid to Footy’ ticket deals and the like, so not surprisingly they are less than thrilled about the potential loss of gate revenue a Thursday evening game would bring.

Here’s another quote from the Competitions Summary, actually number 14 out of 15 decisions made by the NZRU when designing the new comp: ‘increase fan, sponsor and broadcaster loyalty’. I’m not sure why they put it in that order, because it’s becoming blatantly obvious that the broadcaster comes first and the fans last. I’m also not quite sure where the players are supposed to fit into this either. What’s happened to player welfare? Or does that only count when you’re an All Black, and the rest of the professional and semi-professional players just have to lump it and try and cope with potentially only a 5 day turnaround period between games?

What the hell is wrong with the NZRU? I see they’ve also stated that they’ve had no complaints about the standard of the ANC. You’ve got to be joking – where have they been?? Are they so far removed from the public of NZ that they haven’t heard the complaints? Are they not watching the games? Even I, who would be one of the most fervent rugby watchers in the land, cannot cope with watching that many games a week – particularly when the standard of rugby is so poor. And don’t kid yourself that it’s not, anyone who has had to sit through any of Wellington or Auckland games in the last fortnight should be able to recognise that their skill level has dropped considerably.

What it all comes down to in the end though is this. The NZRU and SKY do not want to squeeze four games in from about 12.30pm on a Saturday to cope with the extra game that is now going to occur in Round 2 of the revamped national competition, because according to SKY’s ratings the Saturday afternoon game is the lowest rating slot of the weekend. But perhaps they want to take a look at the games that are screened on a Saturday afternoon and then they might realise why the ratings are low. So far the 2.30pm Saturday games have been:

Manawatu v Auckland
Tasman v Manawatu
Otago v Waikato
BOP v Manawatu
Tasman v BOP

Now with all due respect, who in their right minds would be making sure they sat down to watch Manawatu or Tasman play each week, other than their supporters? I’d put money on it that the Otago v Waikato game had the second highest viewership that weekend of Aug 19th (only behind the test match at Eden Park), because it was between two top teams and the quality of rugby was likely to be high (and it was a really good match in the end). I’d be very interested to see what the viewing numbers are like this Friday night, which is supposedly one of the highest rating time slots – because it’s Harbour v Manawatu, and quite frankly I doubt I’ll watch it because the chances of seeing any decent rugby are remote to say the least. Rugby over-load, anyone?

4 Sep

Line Dancing
by Tracey Nelson
4 Sep 2006

It’s getting a bit like Groundhog Day having to dissect out the All Black lineouts, but for some reason it’s the one area of our game we have made no progress on all season. Rumour has it that the All Blacks practise their lineouts uncontested. Quite frankly this makes about as much sense as practising your goal kicking without goal posts, but given their lineout performances this season you’d have to suspect that the rumour is true. In this most recent test match against South Africa we only won 64% of our own ball to lineouts – which was 14 out of 22 throw-ins (and one of those was a quick throw in). South Africa contested 17 of our throws and succeeded in winning the ball eights times as a result. By contrast, South Africa won 92% of their throws (11/12) even while we contested 8 of them.

In summary, this week we threw to the front 10 times (won 8/10), the middle 6 times (won 2/6) and the back 5 times (won 3/5). Going back to the first test against SA in Christchurch back in early July, we threw to the front 10 times (won 8/10), the middle 3 times (won 3/3) and the back 5 times (won 4/5), winning 83% of our own throws. See what I mean about it going downhill?

Here is the breakdown on the All Blacks’ lineouts. For those of you who may be interested, I will be posting the numbers on First Three to the Breakdown and some tackle and penalty stats later this week.

E>

E>

Receiver Position Won Contested Comments
McCaw Back Yes Yes
McCaw Back Yes No
Williams Middle No Yes Good throw by Hore but soft hands by Williams leads to knock on
Williams Front Yes Yes
Williams Front Yes Yes
Jack Middle No Yes Throw not straight, scrum to SA
Williams Front Yes Yes
Jack Middle Yes No
McCaw Back No Yes Throw too short, picked off by SA
Williams Front Yes No
So’oialo Back No Yes Attacking lineout on Bok 5m line, Matfield contests and winsl
Williams Middle No Yes Matfield contests, Muller gets up at front of lineout to take ball
So’oialo Front No Yes Muller contests and wins ball
Williams Front Yes Yes
So’oialo Middle No Yes Matfield contests and wins, poor jump/lift by NZ
Jack Front No Yes On AB 22m line, Matfield contests and wins
McCaw Back Yes Yes Untidy ball, So’oialo ends up tidying up
So’oialo Middle Yes Yes
Eaton Front Yes Yes
Muliaina - Yes No Quick throw in by Howlett
Williams Front Yes No
Williams Front Yes Yes Only semi-contested, no SA lifters involved

Summary:

Williams 7/9 Two throws uncontested
McCaw 3/4 One throw uncontested
So’oialo 1/4 All four throws contested
Jack 1/3 One throw uncontested, one throw deemed not straight
Eaton 1/1 Contested
1 Sep

The Merchant of News
by Paul Waite
1 Sep 2006

“If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tackle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not lose world cup finals? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” – The Merchant of News, Act III. 1.

This past week we have witnessed a re-enactment of this gruesome tale which has as its central figure, Shylock News Limited. (that’s “Limited” as in “limited imagination”). The story has Shylock making a deal with the hero of the piece, but then cruelly demanding his pound of flesh as recompense for perceived breaches of contract, despite the hero only acting in good faith throughout in trying to save the love of his life.



The NZRFU recently announced that 22 All Blacks will miss the first 8 Super-14 games next season, so as to prevent them ending up utterly stuffed by the time the Rugby World Cup comes around.

Sound sensible to you? Well it does to me, and the average footy fan, but it evidently doesn’t to Mr. Limited, who has come out frothing like a rabid dog in the media wanting to bite off his pound of flesh.

New Zealand has five Super 14 teams. That’s an average of four-and-a-bit players absent from each, and only for just over half the competition at that. In fact, the level of absence is not that far away from what often occurs with a combination of initial layoffs for All Blacks, injury-related breaks, and general recuperation and recovery during the competition anyway.

Mr. Limited needs to stick to his knitting. The stance being adopted is wholly unacceptable in that it is based on ignorance and is an ugly attempt to meddle in operational matters he knows nothing about.

It stems from that linear-thinking, bean-counter view of the World which tells them that if 10 widgets make 10 dollars, then 15 of them will make 15 dollars.

The NZRFU, the RPA, the players and the fans know rugby. Mr. Limited doesn’t have a clue about it, and nor does he care.

But he should care, because what the NZRFU is proposing will enhance the sport, the spectacle, and enhance the profits of Mr. Limited, not the other way around!

The Super-14 is largely a drudge as it stands. It’s a sausage-machine of rugby matches, cranking them out each week over a very long season. It isn’t going to suffer because a few All Blacks are missing from each team. The same numbers are going to turn up to see ambitious new players pushing hard for those spots in place of All Blacks looking to pace themselves and just get through it. And after 8 weeks there’s a breath of fresh air as the All Blacks slot back in when the really important part of the competition starts.

Fresh All Blacks then hone their game in the Tri-Series, and will arrive at the Rugby World Cup having peaked for it, instead of nursing sore bodies and a burned-out frame of mind. Rugby needs a good World Cup. Soccer realised this after the debacle of 2002 where the top players all arrived buggered to betsy, and the top teams failed to fire.

A good Rugby World Cup with fresh teams gives the whole game a massive impetus which propels it through the next 4-year cycle, and this rubs off at all levels, including the Super-14 and Tri-Series.

If we let the likes of Mr. Limited dictate team selection (which is effectively what he is trying to do) then we will all end up the poorer, Mr. Limited included.



I leave the final word to The Bard himself.

“I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following; but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you.” The Merchant of Venice, Act I. 3

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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