1 Jul

John O'Groats Speaks Out
by Paul Waite
1 Jul 2007

Having finished up a highly successful mission abroad offending large numbers of people for lots of money, John O’Groats has once again slipped his Armani-trousered derriere into the Chief Executives chair of the ARU.

Once there he immediately got up again and, as is his wont, started to do what he’s best at – making the easy things hard, and the hard things even harder. Here is a news media report of a recent address, together with some helpful editorial clarifications to aid understanding (our thanks to The Anger Management Weekly).

Angered by South Africa’s decision to send an understrength Tri-Nations squad to Australasia, O’Groats revealed the Australian Rugby Union was considering seeking compensation.

The returning ARU chief executive then also suggested the Super 14 should be extended and expanded if European nations continued to send second-string teams south in the winter.

“It’s my first day in the job and I’m very angry about this,” he said of the Springbok “betrayal”.

[There's nothing like a bit of perspective, balance and restraint, and true enough, this is nothing like it. - Ed.]

“You expect it from the northern hemisphere nations but you don’t expect it from your Sanzar partners, it’s not in the spirit of the relationship.”

[O'Groats is very well-placed to know all about what is, and is not, in the spirit of a relationship, owing to the valuable experience he acquired when managing the 2003 Rugby World Cup co-hosting rights 'betrayal' of his counterparts, the New Zealand Rugby Union. - Ed.]

O’Groats said South Africa, which claimed leading players needed to be rested for their welfare before the World Cup, had given an unsatisfactory response to the ARU’s disapproval.

[That would be "unsatisfactory" on the What Satisfies John O'Meter we suppose. That's the meter with a scale of a huge red zone from 0-9 and a tiny green zone at 10 labelled "Everything My Way" - Ed.]

It has ARU officials raising the issue of compensation, in the order of $A200,000 ($NZ223,000) for potential lost gate revenue for the July 7 Springbok clash in Sydney, to the SARU.

[Rumour has it that, following this very same reasoning, legal sources assert the New Zealand Rugby Union has grounds for suing the Australian Union for a much larger amount due to the Wallabies being such a useless bunch of losers over the years resulting in poorer gate receipts and betting income for the TAB than would have otherwise been the case. - Ed.]

“That issue has to be on the table,” O’Groats said.

“If this was a normal commercial transaction and if one party had arguably not met their end of the bargain then the other party would be looking at some claim for damages.

“But that’s not the rugby way and I accept that but the financial damage and the reputational (sic) damage has to be spelt out.”

[Unfortunately we have discovered that "reputational" can't be spelled out at all because it isn't actually in the dictionary. - Ed.]

O’Groats warned the damage filtered down to broadcasting rights, with a new contract to be renegotiated with News Ltd at the end of 2010.

“What if our broadcasters and sponsors claim on us and say you didn’t deliver what you promised to deliver. Then you have to have recourse to someone,” he said.

“I’m trying to get through to (South Africa) that this can have a knock-on effect.

[Well you should settle that with a scrum then. Oh I forgot, Australians couldn't scrum against a team of grannies. - Ed.]

“We are only two-and-a-half years away from a new broadcasting deal. Do you really think News Ltd and the broadcasters that they have sold the rights to haven’t noticed this and noticed the resting of 22 New Zealand players in the first seven rounds?”

O’Groats will spell out his concerns on the effect of the World Cup and the reluctance of European clubs to release test players for southern tours to the IRB in the coming months.

[It took O'Groats only four paragraphs of his first speech to threaten and rubbish the South African Rugby Union, ten more to stick something very long and spiky up the rear end of the New Zealand Rugby Union, and a further single paragraph to tee-up the Europeans for a bit of a tickle. O'Groats ought to be leading the UN diplomatic effort in the Middle East. He'd clear up the little problems they're having over there in no time. - Ed.]

“We’re used to doing battle on this issue due to the club v country dilemma and there are regulations that cover that but now we’re in a World Cup year and it’s Rafferty’s rules,” he said.

“(There’s a view) the holy grail is September to October and so everything that leads into that, doesn’t matter. Well sorry, commercial partners won’t accept that.

“If we have to deliver protocols in a World Cup year, well let’s do it.

“I guess the message now is that we have to turn our minds to preserve the integrity and protocol of the international contest. Otherwise we will fall into friendlies.

[The pieces of gibberish making up the previous couple of paras have all of us completely stumped. At the time of going to press, no actual meaning could be elicited from these words. - Ed.]

“If the encroachment of (European) club competitions become so extensive then you have to really start to think about some options about expanding Super rugby is a better way to go.”

O’Groats was speaking after attending the 1400-strong Weary Dunlop Lunch in Melbourne, where he announced the city would host a Wallabies-Ireland Test at the MCG or Telstra Dome next year.

A guest at the lunch was predecessor Lands End, who resigned in May.

The above speech was put through the WotESaid program, a special high-powered software package which condenses prose into its component parts, removes all of the meaningless verbage and para-phrases the remainder into concise sentences. We felt that O’Groats speech required it. Here is the condensed meaning of that speech (certain ‘technical’ jargon has been removed on the grounds they might cause too much clarity):

“South Africa can go and —- itself, or be —-ed by me, and either way I’m going to win. New Zealand can go and —- itself AND be —-ed by me because it’s a hobby of mine that I like very much indulging in and intend to keep on doing happily in the years to come. The Europeans can just —- off generally. And all you buggers here listening can —- right off too, because I don’t give a —- what I say as long as I make an unfavourable impression.”
(the above condensate has an accuracy level of 99%)

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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15 Feb

Things that go Bump in the Night
by Tracey Nelson
15 Feb 2007

It’s hard to believe that the World Cup Stadium debacle is still churning on, but late Monday night I saw the report on TV3 breaking the story that the boofheads who supposedly run the country from Wellington are now considering ‘temporary seating’ at Eden Park to meet the 60 000 seat capacity requirement for the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final. The mayor of our largest city also appears to support this cheaper upgrade, even though it is likely to raise the definite prospect of the IRB not considering Eden Park to be the world class stadium they were originally promised in the NZRU’s bid to host the event. The irony of this has not been lost on Mainlanders, as apparently Jade Stadium was not considered as an alternative Final venue due to Christchurch having ‘infrastructure issues’ and ‘the Jade Stadium revamp would require temporary seating which would not meet IRB requirements’. Need I say more?

Speaking of things in the night, Eddie Jones came out with some interesting comments on Saturday evening after his Reds’ loss to the Crusaders. Eddie wasn’t happy with South African referee Mark Lawrence’s control of the scrums, stating “I’ve got a scrum that goes forward and it gets penalised. I don’t know what’s going on. The whole thing about the scrum – it’s supposed to aid the strongest team. We had a stronger scrum and we were penalised for it.” Well Eddie, you’re right – you don’t know what’s going on. When I went back over the tape of the game there were 10 scrums in total (a relatively low number in today’s modern game), and in only one of those scrums did the Reds get any go-forward. The rest of the game, despite getting a fairly good first hit on, they were back-pedalling and their tighthead prop was being popped. Hardly the stuff of the strongest scrum.

Like Robbie Deans and his team, I am reasonably happy with the way the new scrum laws are working in the Super 14. We’ve certainly seen less collapsed scrums and resets, all of which have taken up large amounts of time in the past, leaving the viewers yawning and looking around for something else to watch. Some referees have got the hang of the ‘Crouch-Touch-Pause-Engage’ calls better than others, because a degree of rhythm and timing is required for the two packs to hit simultaneously, but overall it seems to be slowly but surely starting to work. And anyone who had concerns about the shortened distance between the two front rows de-powering the scrums should watch a bit more closely. Having seen how the Crusaders’ pack minus their All Blacks have managed so far, I have no doubts that the 2007 All Black scrum will remain the potent weapon it was in 2006.

16 Nov

Think BIG
by Paul Waite
16 Nov 2006

Ok, let’s do it right. Heads it’s Eden Park, tails the waterfront jobbie….

Right! The big doughnut on the waterfront it is. Well, it’s about as good a way as any of the mechanisms the so-called People In Charge (a.k.a. “Mother” Hubbard) up in Auckland have managed to come up with. What’s all that shit about getting people to phone up, or voting on the council website all about? What kind of balanced opinion is that going to give them?

Christ on a crutch, someone in charge needs to make a decision BASED ON FACTS, not some skewed poll of god knows what cross-section of “the public” who happen to get up and lodge one (or maybe many more) opinions.

I’ve no fucking idea which to choose (in any definitive way at least) myself. I simply don’t have enough facts. In the main, it’s the facts concerning the Waterfront Option which are conspicuous by their absence. If I knew more about what it would look like, how long it will take to build (including consents), how the transport is going to work, how the whole waterfront area would be developed, how Ports were going to manage to keep working whilst the ground is snatched from underneath them, how the costing is broken down, and what the uncertainty is for all these, then I might be able to volunteer an opinion on it.

Instead, like everyone else, I’m left with the less than useless nebulous opinion “the waterfront stadium looks kick-ass, so if it can be done in time, and it will end up nice, and won’t fuck anything up, and won’t increase my rates or tax, then way-to-go mate!”.

Now look across at Eden Park. That’s a safe bet. Extending and improving one of our premiere rugby grounds, with tradition and history behind it is pretty well predictable. As a result I can easily believe it can be done well, and on time, and more or less at the proposed budget. All things that I can’t know about the waterfront option.

So, the way forward is NOT to base the decision on fucking talkback, but for the Government and Auckland Coucil bodies to get together with engineers and architects, and make the correct decision based on hard facts. Something “the public” will not have remotely enough time to do.

As I see it, public opinion on this is split into two camps. The waterfront supporters are the bungy-jumpers of this World. They don’t mind taking a punt, trusting some half-sober yobbo with B.O. and no proper job to tie their ankles up securely with a few disturbingly frayed bits of rubber of a length hopefully much less than the drop, and then jump. They can’t know that it’s all going to work out, but it looks so fricken’ cool they just have to do it.

The Eden Park faction are the better-safe-than-sorry, look-before-you-leap folks of this World. They like to see all their ducks in a row, counted and stood up nicely for knocking over one by one. Uncertainty of any kind upsets them, and has them fearing the worst.

Ok there’s also the Traditionalists who want Eden Park because their Great great great great great great Grandmothers’ dog used to go there and watch the All Blacks, and occasionally hump the leg of one when a lineout happened to be within shagging distance, and have a bloody good dump at the same time (mainly when the crowd made a loud noise and scared it shitless), and they want their grand childrens’ dogs to bask in the glow of that same wonderful old tradition.

But is that a good enough reason for an Eden Park vote. Or is it all just a nice warm pile of doggy-dos?

I’m a traditionalist myself, and *hated* seeing Athletic Park dismantled and replaced by that wanky little circular effort they built. Why? Mainly because it’s just too small, and secondly because it’s round, like a bloody circus ring fit only for sawdust and clowns, not rugby. Rugby grounds should be rectangular, end of story. There’s a purity about that shape which brings the crowd into direct communication with the nature of the game istelf – which is end-to-end via cross-field moves. There’s nothing “circular” about rugby, except the wind whistling around The Caketin.

The Caketin was a good idea, done wrong. Turns out I’m not as much of a traditionalist as I supposed. I didn’t mind Athletic Park being razed; just the fact it was replaced by the wrong thing.

Here in New Zealand we’ve been thinking too small with our stadia. I’ve believed this ever since The Caketin was built, and all of a sudden I could never get tickets for the big All Black tests here in Wellington anymore. All it needed was another 10-15,000 seats and everyone would have been as happy as we used to be at Athletic Park.

So when I look at this Great Stadium Debate, I say to all New Zealanders (downs tumbler of scotch, and puffs on cigar) Think Big!

Stop thinking small increments, and for once, let’s decide to build something that will be a showpiece for New Zealand, large enough to house great events – A National Stadium.

You’ve guessed it. I’m in favour of the Waterfront Option. I don’t know jack-shit about how (or whether) it can be done in time, or any of the other things I mentioned above, but for me it’s the only option worth persuing.

Do it right. Do it BIG. And do it on the water!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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14 Nov

National Stadium
by Tracey Nelson
14 Nov 2006

A collective groan went up around New Zealand when Sports Minister Trevor Mallard declared on Friday November 10th that the Government was in favour of a $500 million waterfront stadium rather than a $320-$385 million upgrade of Eden Park. Not because we don’t want to see a new national stadium (I personally think that would be great), but because we are only too aware of the implications of the Government’s request for Aucklanders to decide on which venue they want. Remember the V8 Racing saga? He underlined his request with the statement ‘The big test for the success of the Rugby World Cup is going to be how Aucklanders get in behind one stadium or the other. If you can’t get unanimity in Auckland, it will go to Jade’.

Outstanding work, Trevor. So he’s charging the Auckland City Council (Hubbard’s mob, who are supposedly in favour of the waterfront option), the Auckland Regional Council (who still want Eden Park) and the residents of greater Auckland to all agree by November 24th on which stadium they want to go ahead. This, from a collective group of councils and citizens who probably couldn’t manage to organise an explosion in a munitions factory.

Mr Mallard has also not endeared himself to Cantabs by trying to use Canterbury-Auckland rivalry as a way of getting Aucklanders to make a snap decision on their choice of stadium. Jade Stadium is to undergo an upgrade to increase the permanent seating capacity to 43 000, with additional temporary seating to allow a 55 000 capacity for major event such as the RWC – however, the Government is not going to provide any funds for the upgrade even should Jade Stadium become the Final venue by default from Auckland. That also assumes the IRB would allow the Final to be shifted from Auckland to Christchurch. The IRB would have the right to allocate the 2011 Rugby World Cup to a different country if we could not fulfil our contracted promise to build a world class 60 000 seat stadium – although I see there are now question marks over whether it was 60 000 or 50 000 that was signed off in the agreement.

Four hours after the press conference we were informed that there was nothing official in place, but the advice from the City Council and the ARC was ‘for people to phone, email or get in touch with local council’. Yet another brilliant display of the total lack of cohesive governance in our largest city that, even with the forewarning they would be asked to choose between the two venues, nobody had thought to organise some official avenue for the citizens of Auckland to register their choice. Apparently the citizens have to wait until Wednesday before making their views official.

It got even better. By Sunday we learnt that there was a breakaway faction from within the city council who wanted to persuade the Government that Carlaw Park should be considered as an upgraded venue. What planet are these people on? The Government stated very clearly that Auckland city has a choice of two venues. Neither of which is Carlaw Park. Why throw this red herring into the mix at this stage of the game? Would it not be more useful to focus on the task at hand rather than create a storm in a teacup that is merely a pointless diversion from the decision required?

So here we sit, the fate of the 2011 Rugby World Cup – an event we haven’t hosted for 20 years, no thanks to the total stuff up the NZRU made with the co-hosting rights with Australia in 2003 – sitting in the hands of the people of Auckland. We can only hope that the City Council and Regional Council can actually manage to collate the citizens’ votes and provide the Government with a firm answer on November 24th, because otherwise we run the very real risk of the IRB throwing up their hands in horror and handing the tournament to another country. Mr Mallard has declared ‘If we fail to deliver on the World Cup, I’ll be fired’. I can assure him that would be the just the tip of the iceberg for both him and Auckland should we lose the hosting rights for yet a second time…

3 Nov

The Hit Must Stay!
by Paul Waite
3 Nov 2006

The “busies” have been, well, busy again down in the depths of the IRB Rugby Laws think-tank.

A change to rugby’s Rule 20 has been approved by the International Rugby Board rugby committee and a full board meeting in Dublin next month is expected to ratify it, effective from January 1st 2007.

Sometimes I wonder whether this think-tank committee actually occupies a room done out in white rubber walls, and the inmates forced to wear those funny jackets with sleeves that lace up at the back.

It seems to have an obsession with “speeding the game up”. Has anyone asked players or spectators whether they think it’s necessary? It’s plenty fast enough now thankyou very much. Thankfully there is still the odd pause to draw breath, consider tactics, and savour proceedings due to lineouts, try-scoring etc. and that wonderful set-piece, The Scrum.

Up on the Think Tankers’ list, entitled “How To Speed the Game Up Until It All Goes By In A Blur”, is a proposal to remove The Hit from scrummaging. The problem with the scrum (apparently) is that a lot of time is “wasted” (their word not mine), whilst the two gnarly front-rows exchange the kind of pleasantries that have entertained craggy forwards and ardent fans of the game for decades. They have also used the smokescreen of “safety issues”, but more of that later.

The solution to this so-called problem, is to change the Laws so that The Hit is outlawed, and both teams have to politely bow down and then gently engage like a bunch of fucking nancyboys engaging in a furtive snogging session, presumably before the referee tells them they can actually start pushing. God preserve us.

There are two possibilities: either the idiots proposing this change have no conception of how this emasculation will change the face of the game, or they know perfectly well. I’m not sure which is worse. Either way, it can’t be allowed to be carried through, it’s as simple as that.

What they are suggesting will rip the heart out of the forward game, make redundant the immense amount of training and the natural physical talent embodied in the likes of Carl Hayman, Os du Randt, Andy Sheridan et al, and remove one of sport’s most thrilling spectacles.

The scrum will edge ever more towards the laughable version presented in rugby league. It won’t happen overnight of course, because the currently existing props won’t suddenly vanish, and are still strong. Misguided proponents of this change will seem to be correct. But over time, because of the emasculation of front-row combat, prospective front-rowers will look to other areas, and to other sports for the same outlet. The scrum will eventually be more and more de-powered, less of a test of strength and more of a restart opportunity. Lighter, faster players will be preferred, where they had to be massive and strong before, and we will then see the erosion of one of the cornerstones of rugby – that it is a game for all body-types. There will be no place for the burly prop anymore.

I can’t for the life of me understand why the IRB would sanction such a far-reaching destruction of such essential, and well-loved attributes of the game. It’s absolutely unforgiveable.

Finally let’s debunk the smokescreen argument regarding safety. Rugby is NOT safe. Neither is crossing the road, frying eggs, or touring a foreign country. I’m sick and tired of hearing of official bodies wetting themselves trying to “make things safe”. It’s like bloody Councils and playgrounds. In my day, you had a great big fuckoff slide about the same height as Everest and twice as fucking slippy, and it was fun. Once I went down one of these head first at about the speed of sound as usual, just to see what that was like. One badly cut lip later I knew, and didn’t do it quite that way again – I wasn’t stupid. These days, everything has to be safe, so the slides are placed on 6-inches of cushioned rubber, are about 3-foot high with railings, and have a special anti-slip surface which means most kids weighing under 150kg just sit there with the friction preventing any of that unsafe downward motion.

At test level there is no problem with safety. Sure you may get a once in a blue moon accident, but that’s life. All other professional levels are the same, and where it is an issue due to inexperience etc, then hey, let the referee bring in special measures like Golden Oldies for sure, but don’t flush the whole game down the gurgler just for them. Players know the score, and love the skill and strength of timing a good hit, the fans love watching it so let them do it for crying out loud.

That’s all I have to say on the safety issue. It’s a smokescreen and nothing more, and isn’t even worth debating in my opinion.

The main issue is what the hell are the IRB thinking of by threatening to radically change the face of the game, in in such a unilateral manner?

Think about it, and get vocal about it before the game is ruined for good!

Addendum: The IRB referees top honcho, New Zealand ex-international ref Paddy O’Brien no less, has come out in the media in an attempt to placate. His stance is that removing the hit won’t take anything away from rugged front row play. Bollocks Paddy. It’s like telling a pair of stags they can’t smash heads in rutting season to decide who gets the sheila, and instead have to politely mesh and “shove”.

What it is is a crappy thin end of a nasty wedge called “emasculation of the game” and nothing more or less than that. We may have to consider the possibility that there are agendas at work here, staying nicely hidden. I believe that there may be commercial forces wielding their power behind the scenes to sanitise the game of what they consider to be stuff unpalatable to the vicarious TV-watcher. First the ruck was banished, now the scrum hit. What’s next on the list?

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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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?

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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4 Aug

There Are Three Kinds of People: Those Who Can Count, and Those Who Can't
by Paul Waite
4 Aug 2006

Ever wondered how, and perhaps more importantly why, our resident rugby oficionada Tracey Nelson assembles those amazing match statistics revealing the internals of the All Black machine?

For those of you left wondering what I’m on about, take a look at the post that started it all, entitled Domestic Blindness but known throughout Hakadom as The Case of the Invisible Blindsider, a.k.a. The Rueben Thorne Affaire. At that time Thorne was under attack from public and media alike due to being Mr. Invisible during test matches.

Of course, the fact that later on the All Blacks got dumped out of the 2003 World Cup in the semis with Rubes as skipper didn’t help his profile any.

Being a true red and black Cantab fan, Tracey supported Thorne vocally all through this time, telling everyone who would listen (which was nobody, actually) that he was working the hardest of them all, if only people actually watched what was going on in the game instead of sucking back the tinnies whilst making all the usual comments the famously fair and knowledgeable kiwi footy fan makes, such as: "get stuck inta those ozzie puftas ya bloody losers!" and "where the fuck was that useless shit Thorne when Mortlock busted through our midfield eh Kev?".

Well, the deaf ears were turned, and the eyes remained blinkered so Tracey swapped the legendary Cantabrian Eyepatch for a remote control and a video of the test. Rumour has it that the remote in question was sent in for repair on the Monday but finally ended up in a glass cabinet in the research lab at JVC, where the engineers have so far failed to replicate the forces needed to make the buttons protrude out the back quite like that.

The numbers were pretty compelling. Rubes was actually getting stuck in there, and doing a shitload of work that nobody ever suspected! Pro rugby, TV and media hype and the whole rugby as an entertainment thing had primed everyone to look for the ‘big hit’, and the prominent carry of the ball by a block-busting loosie. Tries grounded safely and professionally followed by a brief grimace in celebration were giving way to flash-harry swan-dives executed by players sporting hairdos with go-faster highlights and, even worse, eye-makeup. And they were followed up by (shudder) expressions of uncontained joy.

The traditional appreciation of NZ rugby fans for the ‘hard yakka’, the dour tight-loose work ethic was on the wane. People simply weren’t seeing what Thorney was doing, at all.

With Rubes now flavour of the month with the All Black selectors, it’s easy to say that Tracey’s stats vindicated him. That would be a tad too simplistic, because he’s added some spice and bite to his game since the old days. But the main point about his value was proven – by the numbers.

So what does it take for Tracey to compile the statistics nowadays? Speaking as one who has actually witnessed an All Black test on the operating table being clinically dissected, the emphasis is most definitely on the details revealed in slow motion – who is doing what to who and exactly when and how they do it.

Every time a tackle is made, or the ball goes to ground the video is paused stepped and replayed one to five times to see what happened.

If the All Blacks are attacking, then the famous First Three To The Breakdown (a.k.a. The Rueben Three) are noted, and if defending then the player making the tackle, the player assisting and who gets to the ruck or maul next in support. At the same time every penalty is recorded, with All Black players conceding them and details of what actually happened. Turnovers are also written down with all the details of who and how, and of course the way all the lineouts and scrums panned out.

Tackles are interesting. Everyone has their own viewpoint, but the key is to be consistent with stats. Tracey counts a tackle by the Rugby Lawbook – the Tackler has to go to ground with the Tacklee, M’lud. An ‘assist’ is when a team-mate comes in to help out, but doesn’t go to ground. Of course it’s a grey area, since assists sometimes go to ground, and occasionally two players execute a tackle at the same time, but mostly the freeze-frame reveals all.

All-in-all it takes Tracey about three whole hours to go through a single test match, depending on the kind of game it was. If it’s all open, clean moves and friendly, then its a relative breeze. If the teams are in a gnarly mood and with each confrontation they’re all over each other like a rash, in a melee of thrashing limbs, then it can become a form of torture.

After that, you can add half an hour or so to write everything up and publish it on Haka, and Tracey doesn’t get much change from four hours of hard yakka. As she says "it’s a bugger of a way to spend your Sunday!".

For all you fans of Tracey’s stats, there will surely be more to come, but no promises for this season’s Tri-Nations which is such a protracted event now that it’s been extended. Instead you can expect spot analysis as and when the test warrants it, or when we’re talking the Big Time as in the Rugby World Cup etc.

For now just join me in thanking Tracey for all the time she’s spent giving us this info up ’til now, and let’s look forward to many more in the future

A statistical analysis, properly conducted, is a delicate dissection of uncertainties, a surgery of suppositions. ~M.J. Moroney

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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24 Feb

Virtual Super-Troy
by Paul Waite
24 Feb 2006

Ok, I’m thinking of starting up a new web-based competition.

The idea is to pick the exact minute (or minutes) that Troy Flavell gets sin-binned, or red-carded and turns himself into a Virtual Super-14 Player.

Punters will be allowed to nominate up to 5 separate incidents per game, with the associated minute of play. [is this going to be enough?? - ed.]

Five points will be awarded for each correct sin-bin guess, and ten for a red. Bonus points will be awarded for getting within 1 week of the subsequent ban.

At the end of the season, the winner will receive an autographed copy of Troy’s new book “These Boots Were Made For Stomping” (working title) which he’s expecting to have free time to write during the middle part of the season.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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21 Nov

Say No To Yellow
by Paul Waite
21 Nov 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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