12 Sep

C’est la vie
by Tracey Nelson
12 Sep 2007

eiffel_tower_600x800France. Land of small dogs and narrow streets. One of my travelling companions got a refresher course on the narrowness and tight turns of inner city streets in Marseille following the All Blacks’ big win over Italy last weekend. In true male style he had worked on the “bigger is better” theory and upgraded the rental car to an Audi A6 – fabulous if you are blatting down the motorways but not the size car you want to negotiate the little winding streets on the hill below Basilique Notre Dame de la Gare. Accordingly, we became cast on a tight turn and the Audi is now looking slightly less than pristine with a nice gouge and scrape on the rear passenger door. But it’s ok, we have full insurance. At least, that’s what he thinks he’s signed up for…

I must also say that for a land of small dogs they sure can produce a lot of excrement – a major past time in Marseille and elsewhere in France has been avoiding standing in the stuff which is all over the footpaths. Marseille spent a couple of days heaving with New Zealand and Italian supporters, with the population in the bars and cafés around the picturesque Vieux Port quadrupling in size on the Friday and Saturday nights. However, one of the most noticeable things so far in France has been the lack of RWC fever. Take away the visiting supporters and really there is precious little to let you know the event is on. There is some subtle advertising and small displays in some shop windows but as a non rugby person you wouldn’t even know France was hosting the competition.

The only newspapers in English over here are the British ones, and they have grudgingly given praise to our win over Italy as much as they can ever give us praise – and it’s more coverage than Australia are getting. But all focus is on the mouthwatering match up of South Africa v England this Friday night and I am going to make sure I’m in a bar that is showing the full game and doesn’t suddenly switch channels part way through to show a Euro 2008 soccer qualifying game. Serves them right that they lost to Scotland last night seeing as they switched off the Itlay-Romania game part way through the second half. Apparently the technology isn’t good enough (or the wallets deep enough) for bars over here to have two sports channels playing simutaneously.

In the last few days we’ve travelled through Montpellier through to the walled city of Carcasonne, and we’re presently in Avignon about to head to Lyon where no doubt the hordes of Kiwis will be beginning to gather again. With any luck I won’t have to spend an hour trying to find an internet café in that city, although I shan’t hold my breathe with any degree of anticipation…

 

10 Sep

Working for the Clampdown
by Paul Waite
10 Sep 2007

The-Clash-ClampdownWhen Strummer wrote his classic Clampdown, it’s a good bet that rugby was about as far from his mind as tiddlywinks. The subject matter of that great song is a good deal heavier than a Fijiian tight-head prop, but the IRB’s directives on foul play at the World Cup do seem to bear all the hallmarks of a right wing control freakism.

 

I used the recent case of South Africa flanker Schalk Burger as a litmus test before writing this article. Unfortunately the paper came out in a shade known as “Rabid Red”, confirming my worst fears. Burger’s offence should probably not have even made it to the judiciary, but if so then it should have been dismissed with no penalty. The guy leapt for the ball, and clouted the Samoan lad on the noggin on the way past, end of story.

You can’t have it both ways; the game is a full-contact, physical and confrontational sport. You can’t have two teams going at it with passion and vigour and punish incidents such as the one Burger was caught up in. It’s mutually exclusive.

 

In decreasing the original, and insane, four match ban to “only” two, a RWC appeals committee has apparently ruled that Burger was “attempting to win the ball for a significant part of the time
involved” [in the incident], and further they have inferred “
the player ultimately
realized that he was not going to catch the ball and instinctively
adjusted his approach to tackle the opposing player”.

If you view this using slow motion, high-resolution footage, it seems pretty damning. The trouble is, when you are viewing such footage, your brain is thinking at normal speed, whereas poor Schalk who is demonstrating a complex piece of slo-mo aerial ballet only had the second or so of his real time at that moment of collision. The key word above is “instinctively”. Sure, he twisted, but for what reason, and with what thought process?

It’s all such bollocks. The poor guy went up for the ball, missed it, twisted around and accidentally clouted a Samoan bonce which, quite incidentally, is not known to be one of the most delicate of instruments on the Planet.

If you’re going to punish this kind of thing, then approximately a quarter of all the tackles you see in an average game should be reviewed in slow motion with the same intent.

And this brings me on to another angle to the whole Clampdown Issue.

Over the past several Rugby World Cups, I have come to regard the IRB as being a bit like a Rhinoceros. If you play in its neighbourhood, you have to repect what it wants, but it can’t see beyond the end of its nose, and it’s extremely stupid.

How else do you make sense of the fact that they seem to regard Rugby World Cups as a proper place to introduce new things?

If it isn’t some bloody silly new ball that a sponsor has bent the IRB’s arms behind their backs with loads of cash to foist on all the teams who have been playing with decent ones for the past four years, it’s “new” definitions of foul play, and appropriate levels of punishment thereof.

It’s absolutely ludicrous.

If there is a perceived problem with foul play in the game, then clean it up in the four years in-between World Cups, NOT AT THE WORLD CUP ITSELF!

Because, surprise, surprise, players do take a fair bit of time to cotton on to changes like this and adjust their games accordingly. If you bring in new measures to “combat” foul play actually at the World Cup itself, then what you get isn’t a clean-up of foul play. No, what you get is a bunch of surprised players being cited for stuff they’ve been doing as part of the game for the past four years.

What you get is a farcical tournament, where key players are banned from key tests such as the quarters, semi-final, and final, all because a bunch of stupid suits sitting in front of a 100-inch plasma screen sipping gin ‘n tonics think that there is something “nasty” in the replay of a genuine collision which has been slowed down 100x.

 

You reap what you sow. To the IRB: if you carry on with this senseless surprise crusade against foul play you will ruin your showpiece tournament.

Over to you.

 

 

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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10 Sep

All Blacks v Italy, Sept 8th 2007, Marseille
by Tracey Nelson
10 Sep 2007

I apologise to those wanting to see the breakdown of the game, but because I am travelling during the RWC and won’t always have access to video equipment I won’t be able to provide game stats until the semifinals.

Wow, we were pretty confident we would beat Italy but I’m not sure how many would have predicted such a high score. The All Blacks came out like they had a message to put out to the other teams and they’ve certainly put a pretty big tag on the RWC brick wall. To score close on 80 points against a Six Nations team must surely be making a few people sit up.

It wasn’t a perfect performance, because the second half lost structure as substitutions were made and new combinations sought to click. But Italy were made to look like a third rate team and I don’t imagine that the All Blacks will score many more points than they did today against the minnow sides of Portugal and Romania in upcoming pool games.

What struck most of us at the game, and no doubt anyone else watching on TV, was that the All Blacks didn’t really have to pull out anything from the bag of tricks to decimate an Italian side that some had suggested would be our strongest opposition in pool play. In fact, at times it looked little more than an unopposed training run such were the number of tackles the Italians fell off. Their best feature was the large number of noisy supporters they had at the ground, with the prerequisite trumpet bands at either end of the field keeping the crowd well entertained throughout.

The two locks had a field day cavorting around the field with the ball in hand, Ali Williams featuring in an early break and giving a fabulous offload to his captain to send him in for New Zealand’s opening WC try. Jack chipped in later with a searing run of his own capped off by scoring a try complete with small dive under the posts. Doug Howlett cut loose to score a hat-trick of tries, proving yet again what a complete finisher he is. Jerry Collins pulled off an outrageous kick through to re-gather and score a try, and despite a few kicks from various players not always ending up where they were intended, the overall attacking kicking game by New Zealand was far superior to Italy’s who really would have been better served keeping the ball in hand.

The flat attacking backline was in evidence today, aided in the first half by a very flat Italian defensive line that failed to move up on defence quickly enough to nullify some superb tactical chip kicks in behind them frm Carter. Italy further blew their cause by not having a sweeper in behind, to the point where it almost became too easy for the All Blacks to score from this tactic.

The only slight frowns were our lineout, that yet again had a few wobbles, and the ignomony of Carl Hayman being handed our first yellow card of the tournament – yet the All Blacks still managed to run in tries with only 14 players on the field.

So the question we’re left with is were Italy really bad on the day or are the All Blacks even better than we may have dared to dream? And is it a portent that just like in our first RWC opening game against the same opponent in 1987, an inspirational player also wearing the No 7 on his back scored our first try of that particular tournament? Only time shall tell.

9 Sep

Planes, Trains and at last… le rugby
by Tracey Nelson
9 Sep 2007

The best Laid plans of mice and rugby chicks can and do go astray, and Friday was a strark reminder of that for me. What was supposed to be a simple early morning flight out of Dubai to Nice, then a 2 hour leisurely train trip through to Marseille turned into a series of "I can’t believe this is happening" events. First the flight from Dubai was delayed by 2 hours due to a failure in the communications system – after sitting on the tarmac for nearly an hour the technicians admitted defeat and we had to unload a fully laden Boeing 777 of all the passengers and baggage and transfer to another aircraft. Not an easy task, I can assure you.

Not too bad, a couple of hours later than expected into Nice but still plenty of time to get the train and arrive in Marseille in time for dinner. Or so you’d think. But after getting to the train station, using my rusty French to buy my ticket and even getting on board the train… Sorry folks, there is a fire in one of the signal boxes further up the line and all trains in and out of Nice are suspended indefinitely. Fabulous.

Thankfully a fellow Kiwi (expat living in Perth) was also stuck in the same boat trying to get to Marseille so we teamed up and started the difficult task of finding somewhere in Nice that was showing the rugby. Not an easy feat in a place you’d have been hard pressed to know a Rugby World Cup was about to kick off in less than two hours. And what a start it was, with the host nation going down to a fired up Argentinian side who fully deserved their victory. We watched the game with the French commentary and it was noticeable in the second half that the term "stupide" was starting to crop up quite often. We did try hard not to offend the locals and roar for Argentina, but unfortunately I must confess there was a degree of jumping up and down when Argentina crossed for the sole try of the game.

The response of the French to being beaten was quite interesting – possibly because it was Nice where rugby isn’t a big deal – but it was mostly shoulder shrugs and the typical French attitude which is that these things happen so we just get on with it. Very different to what a New Zealand response to a loss would be! Once again my French struggled to translate the newspaper headlines, but I don’t imagine it was pleasant reading for the team.

Two things have really struck me since getting to Marseille:

1. There are a lot of New Zealanders here supporting the All Blacks

2. There are a lot of French people supporting the All Blacks. You have to check carefully before launching into conversation with a supposed fellow Kiwi because about a third of the time it is a French citizen decked out in All Black gear. Actually, its not just the French there are Canadians, Americans and other nationalities all roaming Marseille in All Black clothing and accessories. Adidas must be rubbing their hands with glee at the amount of merchandise they are shifting here in France.

The game itself was great fun, sitting up in the big open stand in 28 degrees of heat (I must say that a couple of days acclimatising in the 40 degrees of Dubai was a big help as I was one of the few not melting in the heat – black is not a good colour to be wearing at 2pm on a hot, Mediterranean day). Captain Fantastic got the Kiwis going with two tries to get us going, then it turned into something of a try-fest as the ABs blasted Italy off the field scoring tries almost at will at times.

Post-match the crowd shuffled off towards town and the Vieux Port of Marseille which is something out of a postcard to sit in the various bars and cafes that circumference the port itself. People made themselves comfy in the late afternoon sun and watched Australia paste Japan, then in the more interesting game we watched England struggle to put the USA away. Congrats to the Yanks who showed more spirit and willing than Italy mustered against us, and they gave England good run for their money before finally going down. It was fun watching the game with some England supporters, who pretty much conceded their team was not likely to defend their title although we nearly had to take their beer off them to get them to concede the ABs are looking quite handy.

So it’s back to my small gang of All Black supporters down at the Shamrock bar to further indulge in discussing whether Jerry Collins’ kick-through try was the best of today’s game, and where we might have breakfast in the warm sun of Marseille in the morning. Busy place though, not a single hotel room left in town so their will no doubt be a few bods sleeping out tonight, assuming they don’t party on through to dawn.

Au revoir for now!

8 Sep

Argentina Upset France
by Paul Waite
8 Sep 2007

The Pumas toppled France 17-12 in front of an 80,000 strong crowd at the Stade de France today, setting up the tantalising proposition of a match-up in the quarter-finals against the All Blacks for the host nation. An exit for either team at that stage of the tournament would be seen as nothing less than a disaster.

Much will be said and written of how France failed to fire in this World Cup opener, and of how they buckled under the pressure of expectation, all of it true. However the foundation for this upset was in how the Pumas approached the game and played, not in how France wilted.

Coming into this World Cup with the best ever preparation at their backs, the Pumas simply tore into France all across the park, for the full 80 minutes. And it wasn’t only destructive force they applied either. They continually probed and moved the ball cleverly, using both forwards and backs to test the French defence, keeping the home side honest by reminding them they had enough attacking teeth to inflict a nasty defeat if the opportunity arose.

Leading the team by example was their irrepressible skipper Augustin Pichot. His dabs and darts from halfback kept his team going forward, and he was amply backed up by the likes of centre Felipe Contepomi whose hard running and awesome defence was a highlight, and fullback Ignacio Corleto who scored Argentina’s try.


That single try of the game summed everything up for France. It came as Les Bleus surged forward through Damien Traille who made a telling break up the middle of the field. With a massive overlap to the right they looked odds-on certain to score, but Remy Martin threw an incautious pass which was intercepted by Contempomi. Argentina broke back quickly passing to Corleto who sped towards the right corner to dot down untouched.

Earlier the two teams had traded penalties, but Argentina had enjoyed a huge territorial advantage, forcing mistake after mistake from France when defending, and threatening the France line with every surge forwards. In short the French team were harried and put of their stride from the first minute, and they never recovered any semblance of composure or control in this test match.

So the host’s gameplan fot the tournament is now in tatters, with Bernard Laporte, in typically gallic fashion being quoted as saying "When you begin a World Cup and it is imperative to win
the match and you lose, you can say only one thing that the sky has
fallen in on your head.".

This kind of implosion is reminiscent of 2003, where they were also a powerful team, well-fancied to challenge for the trophy, but simply withered under the pressure of expectation and went out in a damp semi-final to England without firing a shot.

Now they are in the dark tunnel of pool play, listening to the as yet distant whistling of an All Black juggernaut thundering down the track towards them shrilling the warning note of a potentially tremendous collision in the quarter-final. If it happens, the noise of that crash will reverberate around the tournament for a long while afterward.

Let’s hope Laporte and his men can do enough in their games coming up to switch the points

and avoid it, for the sake of both teams.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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8 Sep

Justin Marshall Spits It Out
by Paul Waite
8 Sep 2007

dummyJustin Marshall has once more made the grave mistake of opening his mouth and blabbering ill-conceived nonsense to the press. This time It seems that he thinks neither the fans nor the New Zealand Rugby establishment appreciate its former ‘stars’ enough.

Here is the quote, from The Times of Sept. 6th:


Today, he wants to exhume his frustrations with the treatment that former All
Blacks receive back home. If Henry’s side do win the Webb Ellis Cup they
should not, it seems, expect their fans to cherish the achievement for long.


“New Zealand has a problem,” says the 34-year-old, who played with Leeds Tykes
for a season before moving to Swansea last summer. “They’re very, very
negative towards former All Blacks. I was the second most capped All Black
ever and I received a plaque saying ‘thank you very much’ and that’s it. We
never recognise the achievements of the great All Blacks.

“I’ve really noticed the difference since being in the UK. They’re very
receptive of their players, particularly in Wales. They’re always having
functions, they have a Hall of Fame and players are inducted every year.
They’re very good with past international stars.”

Ah, I see. Justin only got a plaque, and instead, being a “great” All Black, the silly unappreciative NZRU
ought to have presented it to him at a special function where he
(together with all the other ‘stars’ booked on the same gravy-train to the UK)
was inducted into the NZ Rugby Hall of Fame.

How utterly remiss of
them.

Well, now that the NZRU have been informed of the minimum requirements
for exiting All Blacks, no doubt they will add the appropriate clauses to their HR manual.

Yes, I can see that Justin’s tiny self-centred mind has it all worked out very well
indeed. We should have lots and lots of functions where we hand out
meaningless awards made of perspex, and get Colin Meads to give a speech
about how much harder todays’ rugby players have it compared with his
day where they got 2/6d a week if they were lucky, had to play with broken arms, and nobody
from the NZRFU even remembered to say goodbye when you retired.

And of course every former All Black ‘star’ departing these shores to get rich should
automatically be inducted into the Hall of Fame and a wax dummy of them
made, which in Justin’s case might even stand a chance of being selected
for the All Blacks again because it would have a faster pass.

Justin Marshall is seemingly a person with an enormous ego which, if it isn’t stroked often enough in ways deemed appropriate by its owner, tends to make him get all pouty and irritable, and come out with drivel like this.

 

Maybe he ought to talk to Zinzan Brooke, and find out what he has to say about how the fans appreciated and cared about him recently when he had his accident. The difference is, Zinzan doesn’t stamp and preen, and demand recognition and appreciation, and that’s the facet which makes him a true All Black Great, and not just a bloody good former All Black with a piss-poor attitude.

 

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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5 Sep

Our Best Fifteen
by Tracey Nelson
5 Sep 2007

As we count down the final hours to the kick-off in the Rugby World Cup, talk inevitably turns to who the selectors will name as their run-on side for the All Blacks’ opening pool game against Italy in Marseille.  Will it be our best fifteen?  Should rotation continue during pool play, or should we be playing our best fifteen in all those games? Well hang on, just who is our best fifteen?  Is there even such a thing?

I would like to propose that we don’t have a best fifteen as far as this tournament or any other goes, but that for any given game we do.  So by that I mean the best players picked to play against South Africa, for example, would not necessarily be the same best players that would be selected to play against a team like France, or Australia, or England, etc.

There is a proviso with this, however, because while we do not have a tournament best fifteen, in my opinion there is a Best Eight.  Those players are the lynch pins of the All Blacks side, the players you would always pick no matter who you were playing.  They are Tony Woodcock, Carl Hayman, Jerry Collins, Richie McCaw, Rodney So’oialo, Dan Carter, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Mils Muliaina.

Around them you pick players to best counter the opposition you’re up against – call it horses for courses or whatever else you like.  The reality of the modern game is that there are very few things as regards individual players your opposition doesn’t know about.  The only element of surprise left is to vary your combinations.  The All Blacks are in the lucky position that they can do exactly this, because the past three years have concentrated on finding our best two players for each position and then mixing and matching them according to the game plan required to defeat each different opponent

Combinations are key to this, because taking two top players and playing them together doesn’t always extrapolate out to being a match made in heaven.  For example, I would suggest to you that to get the best out of players like Ali Williams and Chris Jack, you don’t pair them together but you pair one or the other with Keith Robinson to start the game.  Equally, I would see combinations of Mauger-Toeava or McAlister-Smith working better than a Mauger-Smith or McAlister-Toeava pairing against top tier opposition.

You pick your hooker dependent on whether you are likely to be entering a slug-fest involving lots of scrummaging and mauls (Oliver), or more of a running game where mobile forwards (Mealamu) may suit better.  Equally your halfback is also selected in a similar way, and with the trio of Kelleher, Leonard and Ellis we have at our disposal three very different styles of halfback play.

For pure strike power you would play Rokocoko on the opposite wing to Sivivatu, or for a classic finisher and someone capable of fielding aerial ball from an opposition with a kicking game plan you would pick Howlett.

I personally don’t care whether Muliaina plays at fullback or centre (although I do think fullback is currently his best position), because he is such an astute and intuitive player you would always want him in the mix.  He has the skill set to be able to perform outside of either Mauger or McAlister, which then gives you the option of playing someone like MacDonald at fullback. 

It’s only when you sit down and think about how our various Wold Cup opponents might attempt to play against us that you start to realise the arsenal of talent the All Black selectors have at their disposal.  Not only do they have a Top Eight one could argue are the best in their positions in the world, they also have a munitions store of ready-to-assemble combinations most countries would give their eye teeth to have just one of.

So the next time you hear Graham Henry being questioned about whether this is his best fifteen, take careful note of how he answers.  I think you’ll now find that he always confirms that he’s named his best fifteen.  He just omits the additional words for this game.

1 Sep

The Forgotten Team
by Tracey Nelson
1 Sep 2007

There is one team many of us have overlooked as a force at this year’s World Cup, and that is the team of whistle blowers. Yep, the guys in the middle who are called upon to make those all-important split second decisions that in some cases can swing a match.

We all recognise that as humans we are prone to making mistakes under pressure, and certainly the pressure of refereeing at a World Cup is right up there. But Paddy O’Brien, as IRB Head of Referees, will definitely have his work cut out for him when his team of officials go into their 2-day pre-World Cup camp at a Swiss ski resort, closely followed by a two day meeting on The Game We Want back in Paris this week. While I have no doubt their team building activities will have the desired effect as far as the camaraderie between the referees goes, will two days be enough time to ensure they’re all reading from the same page as far as application of the Laws of the Game go?

Personally, I have a few misgivings over the consistency of calls judging from what I have seen from the various international referees this year. For example, we have already seen variations on the new scrum engagement calls, notably a Northern Hemisphere v Southern Hemisphere interpretation. Despite O’Brien sending out a memo halfway through the Super 14 on how the call was to be made, we still saw no end of different calls with the result being scrum engagements are still a lottery in the Southern Hemisphere.

Add to that the confusion at the breakdown, with the wildly varying calls on when a tackle becomes a ruck and suddenly it’s hands off for all, the inability of some officials to rule on offside play at rucks (in particular when it comes to pillars who are NOT bound and therefore not part of the ruck so should therefore be standing behind the hindmost foot!) and the sometime shaky policing of the gate, consistency of interpretation will be integral in determining how well games will flow and how evenly contested the breakdown will be.

Then there is the area of advantage, which thankfully in the last 12 months appears to have finally reached a logical and correct application of the Law, which is to come back to the mark for a penalisable offence if no advantage is gained from an act of foul or illegal play, and to allow the unimpeded securing of possession from a knock-on to be the advantage – so that what you do with it after that becomes your choice, with no option of coming back for a scrum if you pick a poor option thereafter.

Some referees seem to have a natural feel for the game and play seems to flow continuously when they’re on the field, whereas others can make it a stop-start affair that frustrates both the players and the spectators. There is a fine line between being technically correct and not allowing fair contest and advantage to accrue. This is the task lying ahead of the whistle blowers, and excuse me for being a sceptic but I can’t help but feel two days is not long enough to achieve consistency across a group of referees from all over the world.

Of course, I may be wrong to feel the glass is half empty instead of half full, and the match officials may surprise and delight us all with their consistency and attitude. However, if there’s one thing that has become apparent in the last 24 months it’s that while the players have got Stonger-Faster-Fitter the refereeing hasn’t always kept up. I am hoping to be proved terribly wrong, and if I am I shall be delighted along with the other fans attending the sixth Rugby World Cup. For not only do we want to see our beloved game played in the open manner it was intended, but we also don’t want to see results determined by anyone other than the thirty players on the field.

1 Sep

How To Milk Your Cash Cow
by Paul Waite
1 Sep 2007

cashcowAustralian rugby union CEO John O’Neill, fresh back from running the Mockaroos (The Australian soccer team to the uninitiated) has been hosing the media down with a stream of wetter than wet statements ever since.

In fact, the way things are going, Eddie Jones is going to be shit out of luck in his push to win his second ‘Gobby’ next year. By comparison, Eddie seems like a rather shy retiring type of bloke you have to coax words out of.

Just lately O’Neil has been gushing on “broadening rugby’s global dimension”.

By the way, in English, that becomes “making more dough out of rugby” when translated from it’s native O’Nielese.

“Australia and New Zealand are exploring opportunities and a match in Hong Kong is one of them,” he confirmed.

Apparently the idea is to take our national rugby teams on tour, much like The Rolling Stones (except not as decrepit or drug-ravaged obviously), and get various quasi-interested foreign punters to front up with the dolleros to see them play in their back-yards.

It’s reminiscent of that genre of B movies that transplant a popular character from his normal environment into another in order to titillate (so they imagine), as in Sherlock Holmes Goes To Hollywood, or Godzilla Meets Andy Pandy In Rio, that kind of thing.

Of course O’Neil is an acknowledged expert in the Missionary Position viz: “If you want to spread the gospel into new territories, particularly Asia, then the All Blacks playing the Wallabies in Hong Kong is a great thing for world rugby,” he said.

Right. So having Australia vs. The All Blacks playing once every blue moon in Hong Kong is going to somehow make the XV-a-side game in that country take off is it? I wonder if O’Neil has ever been to Hong Kong. On a cool day you sweat so much that it’s like you’ve got an industrial irrigation system spraying the inside of your clothing. Even Sevens, with it’s 7-minute halves and no tight-forward play is a stretch. But that’s a side-issue really.

The bottom line is that there’s no way sporadic little events like this are going to have any impact on grass-roots development of a sport in a country. What’s needed to do that is serious investment at the grass-roots themselves (which is what the IRB is meant to be doing with the millions they make from World Cups), and then possibly events like those proposed can provide a little icing on the cake. By themselves they change nothing.

But O’Neil knows this.

Here’s another thing he apparently knows: “I am not prepared to talk about the financial aspects, other than to say that it would be rewarding” he said.

I think with this statement we are finally burrowing down to where the real nub of the motivation lies, like a dormant worm, waiting to squirm up through the layers of obfuscation and begin a breeding cycle.

We all know it’s about the money, so why trot out all the crappola? Call it what it is and let’s get on with it.

But get on with what though? This is where the likes of O’Neil and our own rugby leaders have to be very careful indeed in my view.

The odd one-off test, such as the one organised between England and the All Blacks last season are just fine. We get a good quality test match and both sides pocket a bit of much-needed extra dosh. No problem.

But like a see-saw you can, if you move too quickly, reach a tipping point and come crashing down on the other side.

The problem with doing stuff driven solely by money is that it has a tendency to make people lose sight of fundamentals, and become a self-serving driving force in its own right. As the amounts rise, so the danger increases of there being a crucial shift of focus towards ‘the enterprise’, away from ‘the rugby’.

There are some who think this is all well and good, and the way that the game should evolve.

Personally I don’t share that vision.

O’Neil is on record as stating that he wants the ‘meaning’ of test matches between our nations to be retained.

That’s a laudable statement, and one I agree with, however it’s difficult to see how one-off tests played in various corners of the planet only for the money are ‘meaningful’ in themselves, or how the playing of them will increase or retain the meaning in other test matches being played.

Finally, let me leave you all with something Confuscius himself once said (or would have if he’d known how to mix metaphors properly):

– “Man who milk cash cow too often, kill goose who lay golden egg.”

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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