20 Sep

Commemorative Mugs
by Paul Waite
20 Sep 2015

south_africa_mugsA spokesman for the South African team at the Rugby World Cup has announced a minor change to the team’s promotional merchandising in the aftermath of the recent loss to Japan 34-32.

“In light of recent results we have withdrawn the range of commemorative mugs (shown right) and we will be replacing these with a new set of mugs.”

When pushed to elaborate on what the new set would look like, Hennie van de Merwe scowled for a little under twenty minutes before replying “the original set will be replaced by the starting XV which lost to Japan”.

“Each of them will be put up on eBay for a special price of only 10 rand each. Collect the set and you would have the ideal training opposition for your local school, as long as you don’t copy the way they tackle, or run with the ball.”

Asked whether he felt that the Bok management was over-reacting and being too harsh, Van de Merwe only replied “No.”

So there you have it, what an exciting Rugby World Cup this is looking to be!

Addendum: the above real mugs can still be had direct-from-factory in Japan.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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17 Apr

Martin Crowe Is An Alien
by Paul Waite
17 Apr 2008

Alien BlokeOn the news tonight, we heard how Crowe thinks that the popularity of cricket is surfing a veritable Tsunami wave in this country, at the expense of rugby.

Apparently this ‘popularity’ has increased by 30% (whatever the fuck that means) whilst that of
rugby has decreased by the same amount.

Speaking to us from his home planet of Zod, in the Horses Arse Nebula, he further informed us that
all this is due to the rise of the IPL.

Well knock me down with a feather. It’s a good job we’ve got him there to let us in on these little tidbits of
information, because for the life of me I couldn’t detect any change myself in the usual attitude to our
losing Black Craps this summer, with tons of boringly shite cricket on offer punctuated with the
rare piece of good.

He’s got one thing right though. The news of various Black Caps and other players being auctioned
off to the IPL was a welcome and much more exciting respite from the actual cricket.

Methinks Crowe is being paid in rupees, and lots of ‘em.

And 20-20 is a game for morons – players who can’t play real cricket, and spectators who don’t
understand it. So obviously it will be very successful and a fantastic opportunity for a lot of our
players who wouldn’t know how to build an innings if it came in a flat-pack and they had step-by-step numbered instructions
written with big letters in crayon.­

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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27 Mar

The Guiding Principles of NZ Rugby
by Paul Waite
27 Mar 2008

ER_MudRugbyThe NZRU are currently involved in what sounds a bit like a ‘think-tank’ process with the aim, they say, of establishing some guiding principles to enable them to plot the course for New Zealand rugby over the coming years.

The challenges they see are the same as we all see. The financial pressures which draw our players off-shore, the popularity and support for the sport from the public, the way the game is played, the health of the game at the grass-roots, and the viability of our national competitions.

The basic idea of the think-tank is a good one. Without the light cast by the kind of guiding principles that they talk about, the danger is that the game could end up losing its way, and perhaps trading traditions for short-term dollars.

There are a some principles that we here at Haka would like to see on the list. They aren’t exhaustive, and aren’t intended to solve all the problems in front of us, but here they are, in no particular order.

  • Rugby should continue to be a game for all body types.
  • A strong national, provincial NZ-only competition must be retained.
  • The All Black jersey should have its mana upheld (restored).
  • Tours which include mid-week games against provincial teams (hosting in NZ, and visiting abroad) should be re-established.
  • Rugby should be played on a Saturday afternoon as often as possible, at all levels.
  • All Black tests should be played here in NZ as often as they are now.
  • Fast-tracking of young players from school-level via ‘academies’ etc. should be stopped, and club rugby made the focus of rugby apprenticeship.
  • All Black tests should all be shown live on Free To Air TV.
  • School and club rugby should continue to be strongly supported.

The body types one refers to the ELVs and possible future pushes for law changes which aim at speeding the game up. Speeding it up any further will result in this principle being undermined, as teams seek out forwards who can maintain the aerobic effort levels required of them. This will result in the extinction of the traditional ‘fattie’ front-rower, which would be unacceptable, and a big blow to the game world-wide.

The retention and support of a national New Zealand-only provincial competition should always be the top level of the sport in this country. Super-rugby is not the same, and is designed to achieve different ends. It serves the media moguls who pay for it, and is internationalised, which tends to develop a sameness in rugby styles between the teams over time. Preserving a strong national competition provides a bridge from Club rugby to Super rugby, and most importantly allows the New Zealand style of rugby to be retained as well.

The All Black jersey has been much de-valued over the previous few years, and this next principle is linked with the one following it regarding tours. The reason the Black Jersey has suffered in this way is a direct result of there not being enough rugby being played mid-week on tours as there once was. To rectify this, those tours need to be re-instated, both away from home, and when hosting other national unions.

Night rugby is a blight on the game, and should be minimised as much as possible. Everyone knows that this comes about simply because of money to be made from advertisers, when NZ rugby is screened in the Northern Hemisphere. We feel that a way has to be found to stop this, since the best rugby is always played in daylight, and in the end that’s what the public want to see.

One-off money-making tests, such as the up-coming Bledisloe Cup to be played in Hong Kong this season are all very well and good. The NZRU rightly insisted that the test have “meaning” by being a Bledisloe Cup test, rather than just being some kind of money-spinning exhibition match, however this does not go far enough. The danger is that tests which would normally have been played here in New Zealand could be exported to more profitable venues around the globe, just because the bottom line makes it so much more ‘sensible’. All Black tests which would normally have been played here, and indeed the same number in total which normally would have been played here, should still be played in New Zealand. Since there is a limit to the number of tests which the All Blacks can physically play in a season, this guiding principle should be good enough.

The fast-tracking of talented young players from school level, often by-passing club rugby entirely results in a less rounded player than we have seen in years past. Club rugby puts precocious young lads alongside grizzled and experienced old hands. They get knocked on their arses, brought down to earth, and schooled in the black arts by hardened, if less talented, players who have been around the block. Time spent in this environment knocks the edges off, engenders resilience, teaches a great deal in a short time, and is invaluable. It also works the opposite way around, in that Clubs once again become the central source of talent, and derive pride from producing great Super Rugby players, or even All Blacks. Better, harder players are produced who still have the same talent but are less apt to get too carried away by it and forget where they came from, and why they are playing the game. As well as producing better players for our top level, this has the effect of re-invigorating the grass roots of the game – a win-win.

There isn’t a lot to say about the next one. The All Blacks are playing for the nation, and should be available live on our national free-to-air television channels. It’s a travesty that they are not, and this should be remedied.

Finally, rather a scatter-gun principle, that school and club rugby should continue to be supported. These are the well-spring of our player resources, and without them, there will be no All Black team occupying the No.1 spot in the World rankings. Support comes mainly from financial means, but looking back at the issue of how to handle young up-and-coming players it also depends on roles and general valuing of these areas of the game.

That’s it. We wish the delegates at the NZRFU think tank all the best in your deliberations!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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14 Mar

The Holy Grail – A Global Season
by Rob Wallace
14 Mar 2008

­­There seems to be some suggestion rugby is in trouble. Crowd numb­ers are down, as are TV viewing figures. The media suggest people are sick of rugby after the farce of RWC 07.

SARFU have already signed away their TV rights from 2010 onward, which suggests that SANZAR may be in trouble, given that South African media companies have generally paid proportionately more into SANZAR than Australia or NZ. Add in whispers of SA joining Northern Hemisphere (NH) competitions since they are in the same time zone, and John O’Neill’s recent proposal to expand the Super 14 into Asia and the Pacific and it would seem there could be a big changes in rugby as we know it over the next 3 years.

If there are to be changes, then they must occur within the concept of a global rugby season or NZ and Australia risk being marginalised, purely due to financial constraints. The end game for one such scenario is all top our players in Europe, much as soccer does now. A global season is the single most important and powerful way of protecting our interests. Given that the NH dominate the IRB, and given the financial clout of the NH clubs it is unlikely they will compromise very far from their current setup.

The easiest way to accomplish a global season would be to move the Tri-Nations to coincide with the Six-Nations competition, early in the year. This international window could be preceded by Southern Hemisphere (SH) teams touring the NH in January rather than the current November, and the NH teams touring down below in April, rather than the current June. This would give a 4 month international window from January to March. These windows could be extended or moved by 2 weeks at either end, but would still give an eight week window with no scheduled rugby somewhere in May/June/July.

There are some compromises with this setup. The test window will impinge on the NH club competition in a larger block than the current staggered system does, where the tours to the SH occur after the club season finishes. But it should still be possible to have 5 months of uninterrupted NH club rugby from August to December, and if necessary part of May could be freed up for Club finals after the Internationals have finished.

The downside for NZ is that the provincial championship would become an amateur second-tier competition, but as more provincial unions begin struggle financially this may not be a bad thing. The re-jigged calendar gives a 5 month window from July to November for a ‘Super’ competition. Given this may now the be only professional rugby competition in NZ it should be expanded to include ~8 NZ teams with amalgamation of the current provinces much as S14 does now. It would also be opportune to include Pacific Island, Argentinian, and Japanese teams in this new competition, as well as considering basing teams off-shore.

The NZ club season could run much as it has done over the past. The provincial competition (including all provinces but no fully professional players) could either run underneath the ‘Super’ competition as curtain-raisers or, since it is not using professional or contracted players, it could run during the protected 8 week rest period in May/June/July.

14 Feb

Time to Brush Up – OFFSIDE LAWS under the ELVs
by Tracey Nelson
14 Feb 2008

It seems a prudent time to have a little brush up on the offside laws under the ELVs, as there has been quite a bit of comment and confusion in recent weeks. Offside is still a penalty offence under the ELVs, but there are a few new quirks to it.

AT THE TACKLE

Under the ELVs there is now an offside line at the tackle. This is a horizontal line that extends across the width of the field cutting rough the centre of the tackle. Once a line break has been made, all defending players are potentially offside should the last man on defence make the tackle. For retreating defenders to be on-side, they must retire behind that tackle offside line before attempting to make a tackle themselves. A pass does not automatically put retreating defenders back on-side as it did under the old laws. Now the player in possession must run 5 metre or kick the ball before those retiring defenders can be put back on-side and make the tackle.

This was illustrated beautifully in the Chiefs v Stormers game last weekend, when Chiefs’ winger Lelia Masaga tackled Schalk Burger just before the goal line. The Stormers had breached the Chiefs’ defence down the left wing leaving the cover defence chasing them. Because a tackle was made and the ball carrier was brought to the ground, an offside line immediately formed. This meant that for Masaga to complete a legitimate tackle on Burger he would have had to first get behind the offside line and then turn to face Burger. Instead he pulled off a magnificent cover tackle from behind Burger which brought the flanker down before he could score the try – but unfortunately under the ELVs Masaga was tackling from an offside position. Referee Matt Goddard correctly awarded a penalty try, because due to the proximity of Burger to the goal line there was no way Masaga would have been able to retire on-side and make the tackle before Burger would have scored.

However, keep in mind that for a tackle to occur the ball carrier must be held and brought to the ground. If he is not brought to the ground it is not a tackle, therefore there is no offside line. So if that player is still on their feet and pops the pass to a team mate – it is still general play and in that case a retiring defender is legally allowed to make the tackle. So had the ball carrier offloaded before the tackle was made and the pass had gone to Burger, Masaga would not have been offside in his cover tackle. Equally had Burger run 5m or kicked the ball after the tackled player popped the pass up, Masaga would have been deemed to be on-side again.

AT THE RUCK AND MAUL

No changes here. The offside line remains the hindmost foot of the hindmost player. The not-so-new concept that is being more closely adhered to is The Gate. This requires players joining the ruck to enter through a zone directly behind the hindmost player and no wider than the width of the players already bound in the ruck. Entering a ruck incorrectly, or ‘not through the gate’ is a penalty offence. Likewise, joining a maul from the side and not directly from behind is also deemed as joining from an offside position, and is penalisable.


AT THE SCRUM

The new offside line from a scrum is now 5 metres back for both the attacking and defending backlines. Halfbacks also have a new offside law to abide to, which is they must remain within 1 metre of the scrum until the scrum is over (which is when the ball is out). This means that halfbacks cannot peel away and start running before the No 8 has his hands on the ballas they will be deemed as being offside. Flankers must remain bound (with the full arm) to the scrum until the ball is out or they will be ruled as being offside, which is no change from the pre-ELV laws.


AT THE LINEOUT

Both the receiver and defending hooker must be 2m from the lineout. No changes to the offside linefor players not involved in the lineout, they must still be 10m back from the Line of Touch (the imaginary line that runs down the centre of the lineout). They cannot move up from this offside line until the lineout is over – which is when the ball moves forward over that Line of Touch and a ruck or maul forms (so the offside line moves up to behind the hindmost foot), or the ball is thrown long beyond the 15m line, or the halfback passes it back.

See, it’s not really that hard to understand is it. So go forth and watch the games closely this weekend and see if you understand the offside line a little better now.

19 Dec

Commentary on the Commentary and Buy Me a Drink
by Tony Elson
19 Dec 2007

speights_goldIs it not time we got some balanced journalism from our rugby boys (and girls) in the NZ media? From radio to print, it is all fairly dismal, negative and one sided – despite what a good chunk of the population think. I guess the so-called experts know better.

 

I won’t comment (much) on the Sunday News – except to say that it is tabloid at its best – using every old stick-in-the-mud negative ex-coach and pseudo expert to drag everyone down to John Matheson’s mentality. Which one might add – is typically New Zealand. You know – Michael Cullen at his proverbial best calling John Key a rich prick just because he made a dollar or two. Jesus wept.

 

I am referring to the so-called intelligent media and I use the word intelligent cautiously. The Rugby Heaven website – which is basically a portal for all rugby written content from around NZ and Sydney, manages to display its bias with ease. The two original content providers (and again I’ll use original cautiously) are Duncan Johnstone – a regular for not using his spell and grammar checker, and Marc Hinton – who sometimes writes for the slightly more balanced Sunday Star Times although he has about as much balance as Donald Rumsfeld.

 

It is these two hacks that deserve a serve. I say hacks, because they provide little analysis apart from wanking on about sweet bugger all. Their analyses are often just fluff, with little substance. These guys are in a prime position to ask some hard questions but rarely do – and it would seem they repeat this at press conferences. Yes I watch the rugby channel and yes I have a source or two (she isn’t bad either). All we get is an attention grabbing headline and…..nothing.

 

No doubt, I should provide an example. So….I will. Article posted on Monday 17th December by Mr Hinton, titled Great Dilemma for Wallaby Robbie. Old Marc is pretty good at printing sound-bite stuff that if written subtly, can be pretty misleading. I am sure there is a term for that in journalism, but as I am not one, (not even hack – but I did not go to journalism school and waste my time just to become a hack), I do not know what it is.

 

Anyway, an example from the above article…not only have the NZRU seemingly abandoned the concept of accountability, transparency and fair process in the reappointment of Graham Henry and his cohorts; but they’ve handed our best coach straight to the Wallabies to rebuild their fragile international presence.

 

Firstly, the use of the word seemingly, is downright sneaky. Old Marc baby is presenting this as the NZRU not being kosher while trying to cover his butt by the use of the word seemingly. Has he said why or how they are not going through due process? In any article? No. All he is presenting here is his own verdict of events – despite what various representatives from the NZRU have said. Apart from inviting the Fourth Estate to the process, they have to take the NZRU’s word for it. And believe me, I am no fan of the NZRU. But, from what some media have reported, the process has been correct. From what NZRU board members and other NZRU members have said, the process has been correct. I would like Rugby Heaven to provide proof to contrary – or just shut up about it. Maybe the boys at RH are desperate for something newsworthy, and I bet they are missing Press Box about now, so they can really get blue in the face about it.

 

Here is another quote from our intrepid reporter from the same article…And if I’m a board member of the NZRU or, worse, if I’m Steve Tew suddenly I’m sleeping a little uneasily. What is it they say? What goes around comes around. Or, things have a way of coming back to bite you in the bum.

Well that could work for you too old man. I’ll be waiting to see if Deans comes up short, and what you will write in response – which should be something tasting like humble pie. Despite what he writes, Mr. Intrepid is just itching for Henry to lose. It is very obvious in this, and any other number of articles written by our eager beaver that he just hates Henry being the coach. Johnstone is hardly any better. There is hardly an article written by Stone Cold Duncan that is not missing a word, something is spelt badly, or he has got Intrepid to give him some advice on analytical skills.

 

Being in Britain and France for the WC07 was not easy after we lost. We were all asking what the hell happened. We all had opinions on rotation, reconditioning and rest. We all want to know Henry’s full blown version and answers to some bloody hard questions. We all deserve them but I don’t think any media has really got to the guts of this. Web writers don’t have newspaper deadlines and have it easier in my opinion. Get off your arses RH and do some journalism instead of just blogging when you get out of bed at 11.30am every day – let alone relying on feeds from the other sources.

 

I am not a huge Deans fan, but I would not have been unhappy if he had been selected. I feel the same way about Henry. There are good reasons for both coaches. All RH (and you lot should know better) is doing are feeding the tall poppy cutters and the Matheson’s, Stu Wilson’s, Doug Golightly’s of this world. I am not asking for much really guys. Henry is still a good coach. He still deserves some respect and we deserve better representation of what is rugby news.

 

So get over it. Concentrate on providing some stuff on the coming year. The ELV’s would be a good start, and what that might do to our game (or not). I know RH has given this some space, but again it has not provided a lot of substance. Maybe you lot need another resource to actually study the game and provide some commentary on it. Tracey Nelson might be a go (except she is in a bad mood right now). Hey, give me a call. I’ll charge you a flat rate. But give us some rugby for god’s sake. Some of us are desperate. Please – anything is better than the continual harping and whining about Deans being lost to Australia, and hoping Henry and the All Blacks lose. It is just downright unpatriotic and distasteful – and that is not being blinkered either.

 

To top it off, our mate Marc is an Otago supporter right? Well so am I – one of the few left by all accounts. What self-respecting Otago supporter gives a toss about anyone or anything from Canterbury? Canterbury should be towed east of the Chathams and left to drift towards Chile.

 

I am now sure I can hear regular Haka ranter and rabid Cantabrian Tracey telling me to …get lost – probably in less polite words. But at least Tracey is up front about being blind and from Canterbury.

 

I mean, there is a bloody poll on who should be Robbie’s assistant coach? Who the hell cares? How about a poll on who should be Graham Henry’s assistant coach (or coaches). I had a discussion about this the other day with my swamp supporting brother-in-law. He reckons Pat Lam would be brilliant (and I agree) and maybe Vern Cotter or the bloke from Hawkes Bay. Henry could well do with some fresh ideas. Might be an article lead for RH eh boys (I’ll send you the invoice).

 

Anyway, it is Christmas. Buy me a drink.

 

2 Oct

Anyone for Tiddlywinks?
by Paul Waite
2 Oct 2007

Tana Umaga, who gave voice to that legendary remark "we’re
not playing tiddlywinks" after being pinged for a dangerous tackle by Australian ref Peter Marshall in
2003, is probably of a mind with us on this one.

The current clampdown at the Rugby World Cup is taking the game into dangerous waters.

Already we have players who are currently rugby icons voicing concerns over it. There is a great article by Grant Fox over on RugbyHeaven which cites Jerry Collins as saying he hopes that the game doesn’t become sanitised to the point he no longer wants to play it. That would be a sad indictment.

In the same article Fox reports that Samoan coach and All Black great Michael Jones is saying the current trend is legislating the physical tackling style of his Samoan players out of the game, a style lauded and loved by every rugby fan world-wide since the 1991 World Cup. Jones further adds "if this keeps up, I’ll tell my son to play rugby league". As Fox says, anyone who knows Michael would take his comments seriously; he isn’t one to give voice to such a strong opinion lightly.

At this World Cup we have seen things being taken to ridiculous extremes, given that rugby is a full contact sport which has, at its roots, a "warrior mentality". Players at a ruck are no longer even permitted to so much as rest a foot on a supine opposition player’s body, without being penalised for "using the feet in an inappropriate manner".

First of all they emasculate the game by legislating against genuine rucking (to the great detriment of the ruck itself) now they want to sanitize it still further. Surely it’s all a cruel joke. We’re already seeing the fruits of this. In the Argentina vs. Ireland test Geordan Murphy milked an easy penalty for a supposed obstruction by falling as if pole-axed. We will see more of this as the clampdown bites. Instead of being honestly physical the game will become like soccer – a play-acting competition for the referee’s whistle.

It isn’t clear either, who or what is really behind this misguided drive toward a supposed nirvana of a rugby purged clean of anything remotely resembling aggressive contact or interaction between players.

Who decided it needed to be done, and why? How come the main stake-holders in all of this – the fans themselves weren’t canvassed? Is it the moguls who control the purse-strings of the game who are behind it? Or is it just the IRB with a bee buzzing around up it’s stupid collective jacksie?

I have no idea of the answer to any of these questions. The tenet "if it aint broke, don’t fix it" comes to mind. That one, and the more famous (if a little less focussed) "fuck off".

Do I seem a bit over-wrought and frustrated?

Well blame it on seeing a bunch of morons who should know better, seemingly bent on destroying the ethos and qualities of a game I love and, like many, many fans around the World, have a huge emotional stake in.

I get the feeling that this might be related to ownership. In the days of yore (pre-1995) the game was, by and large, "owned" by you and me, Joe and Joanna Public, and the players. We created it from humble beginnings, forned teams and Unions, forged the likes of the All Blacks, the Silver Fern, The Lions, built the grounds up from simple paddocks to large stadia, and we loved it. Players played it, we watched them, it was uncomplicated.

Then, in 1995, without any of us realising it the "ownership" was somehow transferred out of our hands, and slipped discreetly into the hands of the moguls. Not a bad deal eh – ordinary folks do all the hard yakka for 100 years, and create a massive tradition, then they get it all handed to them on a plate. Anyway, what we’ve seen since then is a succession of changes to the game, most of which strangely enough, have been to suit the needs of TV and other revenue streams. Like the removal of all NZ tests to the bitterly cold damp nights, forcing us to become the vampires of the rugby World, never to play a test in daylight ever again, so that Poms can watch our team (and the ads) over their cornflakes. Like the stupid designer jerseys which change every year so that the apparel sponsor can turn more of them over, never mind if they subvert the traditions of a national jersey.

Then there are the laws of the game.

There has been a constant pressure to simplify and speed the game up, and produce more compelling rugby for the neutral and inexpert punter, that being the goal of TV so it can attract more viewers to ‘the product’ world-wide.

Possibly the latest sanitization moves have come as a result of this kind of pressure from the heavyweight moguls now controlling the game through money. I can easily see how they would want less "ugliness" to be seen on screen, so that a family of Peruvians watching it on Sunday afternoon TV won’t get too grossed out by the sight of blood.

Or maybe I’ve got it wrong, and it’s the IRB who think that they can encourage more mums to get their kids into the sport if it’s less rough. Hey, great idea, let’s get more people playing the sport by changing it into another different sport.

We already have Touch Rugby for that kind of sporting aspiration. Hell, even Sevens Rugby, played socially is pretty gentle on the bod compared with XV’s.

The bottom line is rugby union is now under serious threat, apparently from within. The IRB need to take a good hard look at what they are trying to do and why, and the effects that it will have on the game both in terms of the spectators and fans watching it, and the players playing it.

The very best thing the IRB could do for this game is to back right off from the ridiculous clampdown, and re-introduce rucking as a recognised and permitted facet of the game.

Not only would it protect the essential warrior ethos of the game – that traditional rugby ethic of good, honest physicality – it would help to clean up the breakdown/ruck area, which has become such a mess since rucking was banned.

Get it right IRB, and stop fucking things up.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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16 Sep

Minnows vs. The Mighty
by Paul Waite
16 Sep 2007

max_minnowThe 2007 Rugby World Cup media coverage is going through its usual bout of hand-wringing over the “minnow” teams. There are basically only two camps – those who think these lesser teams shouldn’t be at a World Cup at all, and those who think they should.

The “kick ‘em out” crowd argue that tests involving minnow teams against the big boys, where the likes of the Springboks pile on 100+ points are (ahem) “pointless”, and lessen the credibility of the World Cup. They say the games have nothing of the true test-match about them for the rugby purist, and benefit neither the team being hammered, nor the team doing the hammering.

The “bring ‘em in” brigade insist that including these teams at the World Cup fosters the game as a world-wide sport, and adds colour and variety to the event. They argue that most spectators enjoy and enter into the spirit of these test matches, and are not rugby purists. They add that the matches do benefit the minnow teams, giving them a taste of the top-flight version of the sport, and enabling them to promote it back in their home countries.

Watching events unfold in France over the past few weeks, there is a strong argument that inclusion is definitely better than exclusion. Across the board the minnows have been challenging the more established teams, if not for the full 80 minutes, for a good part of it before amateur legs grow tired in the face of the physical onslaught of a professionally trained foe. From that first upset where Argentina set the tone by earning themselves a French scalp, we have seen Tonga frightening mighty South Africa to lose only 25-30, Georgia pushing the Irish to lose by 10-14, and Romania going down 24-18 against Italy.

Those were the close score-lines, but they don’t tell the full stories of how some minnow teams managed to find a way to put together a single great move against a top nation, or how they managed to snuff out one ferocious attack. These moments are absolutely epic for the minnow players involved in the heat of the action, but they tend to be mostly ignored by high-flying rugby pundits and journalists, plying their trade from some lofty media eyrie.

Excluding these teams will simply act to reinforce the status-quo, and maintain the traditional power bases of rugby. The gain-sayers argue that a World Cup is no place to “educate” minnow nations in the arts of the sport, and that it should be simply the pinnacle tournament – a joust to the bitter end by the best of the best, with every test match a true test in the traditional mold.

I’m sorry, but this is simply head-in-the-sand thinking. The reality is, rugby world-wide is very much a minority sport, and if that approach were taken to its logical extreme the IRB would only invite six countries along. Let’s take a close look at world-wide rugby. The rugby officialdom often talk in terms of “tiers” of rugby nations. You have your tier 1 group, which are nominally these ten: New Zealand, Australia, England, South Africa, France, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Argentina, and Italy. The tier 2 nations are nominally these: Canada, Fiji, Japan, Romania, Samoa, Tonga, United States. The rest (approx 80 countries) are lumped into tier 3.

Cutting to the chase, the argument is generally one of “should there be 16 or should there be 20 teams” for the Rugby World Cup. The current 20-team format has 4 pools of 5, instead of 4 pools of 4.

Clearly, with a 16-team rugby world cup the chances are that no team from tier 3 would ever get to the tournament, since there are 17 teams in tiers 1 & 2. This would be bad from a world rugby perspective, since all the tier 3 nations would see that there were, realistically, no slots at the World Cup for them, and would therefore have less motivation available for their amateur players to put in the hard yards of training and practice for qualification.

It’s one of those chicken or the egg problems. If the Rugby World Cup itself makes a significantly positive difference in bringing tier 3 nations along, then inclusion will only increase the standard, and it will foster the game world-wide. If, on the other hand, it has no effect either technically, or in promoting the game in those countries, then it is indeed a waste of time.

I do believe that this tournament has answered the above questions for anyone who can interpret all of the close results, and passionate play from the minnow teams thus far. And for those who can read the faces of the Portugese players in their recent 108-13 “hammering” by the All Blacks in Lyon.

True the 108-13 result, at face value, is a valueless exercise, and not worthy of the title “test match”. But if you believe what the Portugese were saying, that single game will sustain the whole of Portugese rugby for the next four years, and act as a spur to greater things for them.

The try Os Lobos scored against the team they idolise was worth much more than the 7-points it put onto the scoreboard. They now know they can dare to run out onto the field against the very best in the World and dare to score tries against them. Back down at their current level of development, that knowledge is pure gold, and they could only have acquired it at a World Cup.

So I’m definitely in favour of including the so-called minnow nations at the World Cup, and would love to see them involved in the latter stages of the event as well, rather than being shipped off home after the pool-play phase.

Various options for changing the World Cup format have been mooted, but my preferred option would be to keep the current pool format, which still allows minnows to play the big guns, and add in a Plate competition in the playoff stages to run alongside the main Rugby World Cup itself.

This would follow the format of the Sevens Series, where the non-qualified teams go on to contest a separate knockout competition for the Rugby World Plate. As well as giving them more rugby, it would fill out an otherwise fairly empty and flat part of the tournament, which suffers from a drastic thinning out of teams as the quarter-finals, semi and final are played. So instead of empty weeks, waiting for teams to recover for the next stage, we could interleave the mid-week Plate playoffs. This scheme would also have the effect of generating more incentive in the pools, since the 3rd and 4th placings become significant.

 

Whether this kind of option is even a possibility for the 2011 Rugby World Cup being held here in New Zealand is an interesting point, as such a change in format would require quite a lot of extra planning for venues and logistics.

But whether or not that step is taken , I hope that the IRB doesn’t listen to the calls for the tournament to be reduced back to 16 teams.

The only way to spread the gospel of rugby to the World, is to encourage as many players as possible out there to play it.

Providing them with an achievable goal of playing the likes of the All Blacks at the Rugby World Cup is a powerful way of doing just that.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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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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12 Jul

The Mighty All Blacks v Jakes Jokers
by WAJ
12 Jul 2007

I first need to get one thing off my chest – WHY isn’t Jerry Collins playing tomorrow? When you are playing the Boks the first name written down should be J Collins – you don’t think the Boks are unhappy he isn’t playing. Instead we have……….nah I can’t go on – my feelings on that subject are well known. But why field your top props all 3N, yet muck around with your loosies, surely combinations are critical at this stage of the year.

The more and more I think about it the worse the Melbourne loss gets.
Last weekends Mandella Cup game puts it into perspective. How the hell did the Bok “B and 1/2″ team get within 8 points, and if the Tonguester(I can’t watch Hougaard kick for goal, his wondering tongue gives me the creeps) had kicked with any accuracy they would have won, and surely that is why he was in the team because he did fuck all else.
Oz were so ordinary I cannot understand how they got away with no, or very little, criticism. If you drew a line between the two Oz results over the past two weeks then this weekend would be a very close win to the All Blacks. Reality will be vastly different of course.

So to the game itself. With the most potent T5 fielded since Ali broke his jaw, great to see Robinson and his no frills tight game back, a captain keen to prove himself after a mountain of criticism, some warranted mind you, ditto for Dangerous Dan, and a midfield with plenty to play for with competition in this area very tight – the AB’s have plenty to prove. And lets face it they have to play and win well, otherwise team/squad selections must be at risk and even worse much needed momentum for the WC lost.
The Boks are very average. 2 rookies in the front row, an ageing lock who is only good in a lineout, a No.8 who has struggled with form all year, a 1 5/8 who when put in green turns blue and freezes, a midfield who lack any combination and a revolving door at fullback. Combine all that with the typical unimaginative Bok game plan and foreign conditions. The thought of Pieterson waiting under a bomb from Dangerous in the cold of Chch should put a chill into every SA heart, which would turn to frostbit if Jerry was playing mind.
Expect to see plenty of AB forwards carrying the ball, Weepu sniping, Dangerous keeping the ball in front of his forwards and the backs cutting loose in the last 10 minutes of the 1st half and 20 of the 2nd.

All Blacks by 35 – 40