12 Sep

IRB Control Freaks
by Paul Waite
12 Sep 2010

hakabuckThe IRB, bless them, are doing what they do best – coming up with stupid laws which detract from the game, and enforcing them.

This recent stuff.co.nz article is another example of the control-freakism that the IRB holds dear.

Apparently one or more of the gin-swilling denizens of the International Rugby Board have decided that ‘confrontations of the haka’ are a bad thing for the sport.

What gave them that idea? Historically there have only been a few times that teams have actively stood up to the All Blacks doing the haka, and each time it has excited the fans on both sides, and added to the mystique and legend of rugby. Ask Maori whether it’s appropriate to stand up and respond and they will tell you that it absolutely is.

At no time has anyone ever been harmed, or has there ever been a hint of violence in any of these confrontations. They are part and parcel of laying down the gauntlet, two prize-fighters staring each other out promising much for what’s to come, and that’s it.

Here are some YouTube links for some previous haka confrontations or responses:

History shows that the IRB have absolutely no grounds for this nonsense. Trying to ‘tone it down’ is just another way of taking more of the game away from the fans. At Rugby World Cups, which should be a celebration of the game, we already have to suffer the iron fist approach to anything which might remotely be seen as an attempt to ‘steal’ monies away from IRB coffers.

So an event in the country or countries unlucky enough to be chosen to host the thing is run like a prison, where everything is “don’t do that..”, “you can’t do this..”. The IRB ought to wake up to the fact that by relinquishing control a bit more, and letting people and businesses in the country key in to the event the Rugby World Cup would be a bigger thing, and much more vibrant. Sure they wouldn’t control everything, but contrary to what they currently think, they wouldn’t make any less money either, and in fact would stand to make more.

With this latest Haka nonsense, apparently the Australian girls at the recent women’s Rugby World Cup in England had the temerity to confront the Black Ferns doing their Haka, and were fined as a result. Turns out the Aussies hadn’t read the fine print in their RWC contract. God’s above, you need a fucking lawyer to play rugby in a competition these days!

So get off the grass IRB, and TRY to connect with the fans of the sport you are meant to be running. Rugby is confrontational at its very essence, and fans and players alike want to feel that they have an ownership of the game they play.

Stop control-freaking us all to death already!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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23 Nov

Who Stares Wins
by Paul Waite
23 Nov 2008

staring_contestI swear there must be something to that business of thought transference promoted by psychics. How else do you explain the fact that I was musing, as is my wont, during this past week on the best way that a team could react to The Haka, and came to the conclusion that linking arms and staring back at it with implacable stony countenance was the best answer? And then Wales went and did it right there in the middle of Millenium Stadium, and did it so bloody well!

The tension at the end with both teams refusing to be the first to break away fairly crackled through the air, as if a mad scientist had cranked his Van Der Graaf generator up to the max somewhere close by. Fantastic stuff! Even a touch of the comedic, with Jonathan Kaplan flitting from one faced-off team to the other like a worried mother hen clucking at them not to be silly, and urging them to get on with the game couldn’t dispel the fiery atmosphere.

The opening stanza of the test lived up to that promise, with Wales throwing everything into it, but doing it with a great deal of control and skill. Attacks through the backs mounted by the All Blacks were largely kept in check by an effective rush defence reminiscent of the one the South Africans have been so successful with in recent years, and for the rest a good scrambling defence in behind kept the men in Black out for the first half of the game.

Running the ball the Welsh were also creative, and quick. Stephen Jones ran his back-line beautifully, and the likes of Shane Williams despite their size, were like quick-silver on their feet. Then at fullback they had Lee Byrne who showed off his world-class talent in that spot putting in a performance which would see him considered for anyones World XV.

But it was as a team that Wales greatly impressed. The touches that Warren Gatland has brought could be seen everywhere. Firstly on defence, as mentioned, but also in the way that the team supported the ball-carrier. The first half was essentially won by Wales on their greater physical presence and organisation at the collision areas, which is quite definitely a marker of the Southern Hemisphere rugby style. When you add the belief that Gatland has managed to imbue his players with, the resulting mixture is a potent rugby force once again. That said, Wales plainly faded in the final quarter as their efforts in the first 50-60 minutes caught up with them. Clearly Gatland still has some improvement in player conditioning to do before they can really foot it at the very top for the full 80.

With the spirited start from Wales it took the All Blacks a bit of re-focussing and until the second half before they started to get on top. At half-time the score was 9-6 to Wales, but the final score of 9-29 says it all. It’s one thing staying with an opponent for 60 minutes at a given level of effort, but quite another to close out the final 20 minutes and actually step it up. That is the gap that Wales face if they really want the chance to win against New Zealand in the future.

Standout areas for New Zealand were the scrum and line-out. At scrum time the Welsh were always under pressure, and moreso as the test progressed. The line-out was just a well-oiled machine for once, and never missed a beat giving the All Blacks secure possession.

With the type of game that it was, it was never going to be a great game out wide. The Welsh rush defence saw to that. But that said, the Nonu/Kahui midfield pairing worked well in its first real outing, and Nonu especially impressed with his solidity in defence and in support, earning himself a well-deserved try in the process.

Another to get a deserved try was Kaino, who scored in the final minute after the Welsh opted to play Baabaas rugby in their own 22m rather than meekly surrender to the 80 minutes on the clock. Although the Welsh were the architects of their own downfall with this try, an earlier TMO decision had seen a legitimate Kaino try ruled out, so it was good to see that injustice rectified.

Three down and one to go for the Grand Slam.

Looking over at hapless England, it would seem to be a foregone conclusion that New Zealand will complete their third Slam at Twickers next week. I don’t know, the English now probably have some powerful motivation to turn things around after the last two miserable outings, and they love to tip the All Blacks over, so it aint over ’til the Fat Lady sings. Having said that, you’d have to be pretty silly to put money on the Poms for this one.

One final comment on Australia, and in particular one Cheating Bastard named George Smith. Having watched this artful dodger in action once again against France this weekend, he has been bumped back up to the top of my shit list of Most Loathed Rugby Players. It’s a list reserved mainly for the thugs and out-and-out cheats in the game, and he’s been on top of it before most notably when he deliberately went out to KO Justin Marshall in the 2003 World Cup semi, and did just that.

So foul play and cheating is no stranger to Smith’s brain; it’s more of a live-in lodger. In fact it probably owns the bloody deeds. Watch the replay of the test against France this weekend and the way he dived head-first into the French side of a push-over scrum to knock the ball away with his hand.

In this game there is cheating and there is cheating. There are professional fouls and there are professional fouls. To watch a player looking and watching and then coming to the decision to do something so utterly, blatantly against the rules and the spirit of the game is to my mind a disgrace. If I was in Robbie Deans shoes I’d drop him for that act alone.

Wales 9: Stephen Jones 3 pen.
New Zealand 29: Ma’a Nonu, Jerome Kaino tries; Dan Carter 5 pen, 2 con.
Haftime: 9-6

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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18 Jun

The Mana Of The Black Jersey
by Paul Waite
18 Jun 2008

cemeadsOver the past few years there have been numerous articles in the press and statements, many from former All Blacks, complaining bitterly about the cheapening of the Jersey by the so-called rotation policy brought in by Graham Henry to build depth. This has had a direct effect on the mana of the jersey, and it’s time that this was put right.

For those readers unfamiliar with the term, ‘rotation policy’ refers to the playing of a wide squad of players in tests to build experience at that level. The proponents of it argue that this is now essential because of the demise of the long tour where once upon a distant time, mid-week games provided this opportunity.

The resulting modus operandum had a different All Black team, sometimes with over 10 changes, taking the field in consequtive tests, such as those in the Grand Slam series in 2005. When you add in other selection determinants such as form, fitness and injuries, the end result is an All Blacks squad with no recognisable Top XV, and arguably no recognisable top combinations in key areas such as midfield, front row, loose-trio halves etc.

The resulting effect of three seasons of this methodology was a complex one involving player psychology, on-field moves and calls, form, team rhythm, combinations, and fitness at test level. Unfortunately, in World Cup year, 2007, the picture was further muddied by the implementation of a reconditioning program which saw core All Blacks missing the first half of the Super 14.

Ignoring the reconditioning issue, which it turned out had adverse effects on match fitness for the World Cup, the end-result of the rotational policy can, in my opinion, be summed up in fairly simple terms. It did indeed have the intended beneficial effect of widening the group of players who were ‘test-ready’ from the usual 22 or so. However it had several negative effects as well. Firstly, the constant switching of players in and out prevented the formation of key partnerships and combinations on the field, partnerships which take seasons of playing together to produce and maintain. Secondly, it was evident from statements which slipped out from the camp, that the players were unhappy with the situation.

And of course the third casualty of rotation was the tarnishing of mana, the undermining of 100 years of tradition and passion for the All Black Jersey itself. More on this, and what it means later.

So to sum it up, rotation produced an enlarged squad of test-ready players but one which, as a team (or combination of many teams in fact) was mediocre by All Black standards. I use that word advisedly. Sure a given All Black team could hit some heights on a given night, and it was good enough to win most of its tests, but the lack of honed combinations in key areas meant that it could never produce rugby at the absolute peak of its potential – how could it?

In 2006 the All Blacks went on a tour of France and Wales at the end of the year. It was meant to be a dress-rehearsal for the World Cup, and represented a great opportunity to drop rotation, and start refining the test XV. Between then and the World Cup the extended squad built up previously would not wither and die. Henry, however, decided against this and continued rotating players through. This then went on into 2007 and the 3N, so by the time the World Cup came along there was still no set top XV which had solid game time together to build on.

Alright, that’s enough about the perils and pox of the rotation policy. Let’s consider a new direction, which is actually a very old one.

Stepping to the side of this issue for a moment, I think that the NZRU ought to enshrine a Charter For The All Black Jersey, which every All Black coach must sign up to, and which states that the coach must do everything to keep and cherish the mana of that Jersey, and never do anything which lessens it. This goes to the core of what ‘All Black’ means, and it should never, ever, be consigned to the scrapheap of progress no matter what the demands of the modern game are.

The new (old) direction I believe we should take is to go back to the notion of an All Black team which consists of XV players, the best in their positions, plus a set of substitutes for the bench, equally the best for their seats there.

Members of the wider All Black squad would not expect to play in a test match at all, unless a genuine chance presented itself, such as an incumbent becoming injured, or banned, or drastically losing form. This would have several huge benefits over rotation.

First of all, the mana of that Black Jersey would return. A player wearing it would have to earn it, not just have it gifted as part of some kind of ‘work experience’ junket. This single factor would engage players (once more) in an extremely powerful way. Players ‘owning’ the jersey, as the incumbent, would ride that incomparable wave of pride which is driven by the knowledge that they are the best in that position. Fans would know them as such – ‘there goes Conrad Smith The All Black Centre’. Simple as it sounds, this goes right to the very heart of All Blackdom, and All Black Fandom. Extending it to the team, there is also a recognisable All Black XV. And finally, much as I despise the very ground they walk on, this would be a huge advantage to marketers of the game too.

The second benefit is that the team can develop and hone combinations. The all-important areas such as midfield, halves, loosies, front row, locks, locks and lifters, locks and throwers, the back three and how they all get familiar with each other and inter-play simply cannot ever, ever be honed to perfection in a rotation policy environment. If you want a large number of test-ready players who are mediocre as a team, then do rotation. If you want a team to fulfil its potential, then don’t.

There is one disadvantage of course. If an All Black gets injured, then the replacement will not have played tests recently, and will not have much combination with the players around him.

However I believe that this disadvantage is simply not as serious as the supporters of rotation would have us believe.

In the first place there is some combination, because the squad player will have been training with the All Blacks and will also know all the moves and calls. Secondly, although we no longer have mid-week tour games to allow players to progress between provincial level rugby to tests, we do have the Super 14. Top players chosen from this competition can make that transisition, whereas in the old days the jump from the provinces was too large. Finally, and most tellingly, the player coming in will know that his is a genuine chance to make the jersey his. It won’t be a ‘rotation cap’, to be snatched back come the next test, but a real opportunity to show he is now the best. That makes all the difference in the World.

If you take all of the facts into consideration, the benefits of stopping rotation and returning to the fielding of a Real All Black Team far outweigh the single disadvantage, in my humble opinion.

But even if you can’t accept all the arguments regarding combinations and test-readiness, the issue of The Mana Of The Black Jersey is not negotiable. It should be restored, and protected, and it should be done now.

The Haka Team
Worshippers Of The Black Jersey and the Silver Fern

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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4 Aug

How NOT to tackle the Haka
by Paul Waite
4 Aug 2006

Once again the Aussies have showed everyone how not to deal with the All Black Haka.

First of all they insult it in the media a few days prior to the test, then some genius within their ranks decides that, after the Haka, the team should get the tackle bags out, together with a few training cones, and run through some irrelevant drills making All Blacks stand, fuming, ready for kickoff.

Duh. If I had to come up with a guaranteed way of lighting a fire under the All Blacks just before they ripped into my team, that would be it.

In the past we’ve had all sorts of other failed tactics – removing the team to go and stand far away under the goalposts, linking arms and pacing as a unit into the face of the haka, going up to the haka leader and yelling insults into his face from a distance of 3 millimetres, turning away and huddling, standing and openly laughing at it. One of the funniest and least effective has to be this idea of having the Wallabies standing around looking like muppets in full training suits, then dawdling off to remove them after the haka. If they had a big neon sign saying “WE’RE DELAYING KICKOFF BECAUSE WE’RE INTIMIDATED BY THE HAKA!!” it wouldn’t be any more obvious what’s happening.

When will coaches and teams learn? The very best thing you can do for yourselves is to face the haka silently and respectfully, then get on with the damn game. Anything else is like emptying a can of petrol on a fire to try and put it out.



Now to the game itself. Here’s a public notice to Steve Hansen:

STEVE – TIME TO PANIC, THE LINEOUT IS BROKEN.

After each and every test this season, where the lineout has been a dysfunctional, unreliable mess, we’ve been treated to a “there’s nothing much wrong, we’re not panicking” dismissal from the burly All Blacks forward coach. This has been echoed from within, in the form of Ali Williams & Co.

In this test, the All Blacks can count themselves lucky that they didn’t lose, and the reason was the mis-match in territorial stats chiefly brought about by their lineout woes. In the final 10-15 minutes they lost several key throws, and allowed the Wallabies to mount wave after wave of attack. Man of the match Richie McCaw single-handledly saved his side from defeat with a miraculous tackle and regain in the All Blacks left-wing corner with minutes on the clock, a chance resulting from another of these lineout losses.

So please, no more denials. We have big problems in that phase of the game, and it needs a huge amount of work to get us back to where it should be, that’s clear.

Moving from the lineout, the scrum was once again a weapon, but somewhat negated by the usual display of refereeing incompetence from Alain Rolland, who took it on himself to ‘protect’ the poor little Wallabies from the All Black front row’s hit. Despicable. What next – stopping them pushing too hard perhaps?

However, for a team so dominant at scrum time, the All Blacks still haven’t sorted out their mauling. It remains very deficient in technique, with the likes of Rodney So’oialo persisting in using a body position as upright as your average lampost, and others simply not reading the opposition as they should, or offending by pulling it down or joining from the side. That together with mis-judgements in numbers required resulted in another hard day at the office defending it. The only consolation was, it was marginally better than last time. Going forward isn’t much better, with only one decent maul completed by the All Blacks.

Finally, the All Blacks kicking game was sub-par in this test, and completely out-classed by Australia. Kicks from the men in black lacked depth and accuracy, and usually served to simply kickstart another Wallaby attack. When the ball was booted in the other direction it always went where it should, and gained large amounts of territory.

However looking at individual All Black performances, there wasn’t anyone who was poor. The faults were of a combinational, teamwork nature, not down to individuals.

The single big positive in this test was the All Black defence. To keep an Australian team which had so much possession and territorial advantage try-less is a startling accomplishment, and one to be proud of notwithstanding the aforementioned faults.



The main celebration from this result is that the Bledisloe Cup is once again safe for another season. Despite the obvious deficiencies in the team, the All Blacks won away at a venue which is traditionally a Wallaby fortress, and that was no easy task.

Looking ahead, we can expect more ‘rotational’ changes by Henry, and no doubt more crappola from the dysfunctional lineout (why change anything while you’re winning?). The trip to South Africa will probably see some other key personnel rested, such as McCaw and Hayman so we can expect the ‘B’ team to be different from the last ‘B’ team.

Whatever the case, well done to the All Blacks for winning the Bledisloe, and good luck for the next phase of the campaign.

Jerry Collins: Amateur Hairdresser
Collins demonstrates how to undo the plats in a dreadlock hairdo using George Smith as his model. Backing by Eminem (Just Lose It).

Ok, here is a breakdown posted to me by Tracey Nelson. It shows what happened at each lineout from the All Blacks’ perspective.

Receiver Position Lifters Won Contested Comments
Jack Middle So’oialo & Williams Yes Yes
McCaw Front Woodcock & Williams Yes Yes
Williams Front Woodcock & Hayman Yes Yes
Jack Middle So’oialo & Woodcock Yes Yes
McCaw Middle Hayman & Jack Yes Yes
Jack Middle Woodcock & Collins No Yes Vickerman gets up in front, throw possibly a bit short
Williams Back ? Yes Yes
Jack Middle Hayman & So’oialo No Yes Had all day to sort call out but lots of confusion before throw, Australia steal
McCaw Back Williams & Hayman Yes Yes Ball won, but throw ruled as not straight
Jack Middle Collins & ? Yes Yes
McCaw Middle Williams & Jack No Yes McCaw knocks-on, not good lifting as unstable in air
Williams Back Hayman only Yes No
Masoe Front Woodcock only No Yes Masoe misses ball completely, Jack manages to tip it back but Hayman knocks on
Jack Middle Masoe and So’oialo No Yes Australian jumper gets up in front of Jack
Williams Front Woodcock & Hayman Yes Yes
Williams Back No lift No Yes Wrong call? Williams readied for jump but ball thrown to nobody at the back
Eaton Front Woodcock & McCaw No Yes Not lifted high enough, Australian jumpers get in front
Jack ?? No lift Yes Yes Ball totally overthrown, McCaw manages to retrieve but then dumped to ground and supposedly knocks the ball on (but he didn’t)
McCaw Long No lift Yes No Hore’s only lineout throw is long and straight to McCaw, uncontested at back

Summary:

McCaw 3/5 Plus won another NZ ball not meant for him
Jack 3/7 Outjumped 3 times, the other miss being an overthrown ball)
Williams 4/5 The one miss being a ball that was totally overthrown)
Masoe 0/1 Overthrown
Eaton 0/1
Overthrows: 3 Not straight: 1

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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7 Jul

Precious Haka
by Paul Waite
7 Jul 2006

Sound the civil defence sirens – we’ve had another insult aimed at the haka!!

For those who didn’t see it, some Aussie ad-men used the infamous ‘handbag incident’ (where Tana Umaga belted a tired and emotional Chris Masoe with a handbag in a bar to discipline him) to take the piss out of the All Blacks.

The ad begins with a sinister-sounding voice: “Australia is about to play the toughest team on the planet. The fearsome All Blacks”. The scene then cuts to the guys doing Ka Mate, with the CGI addition of colourful ladies handbags swinging from their arms.

I have to admit it – I was laughing pretty hard. It was bloody funny.

It should have ended there. After all, it’s all good fodder to help focus All Black minds if anything. But no, we had to have the “insult to Maori” card played.

Interviewed at a press conference, Wayne Smith sounded like a whining PC tosspot as he said “I know it’s a piss-take… but it’s disrespectful and insensitive to Maori culture”.

Give us all a break Wayne. Maori and All Black culture is not so brittle that it has to be wrapped in this kind of PC cotton wool. That “precious” stance invites real disrespect, as opposed to the perceived disrespect the ad represents.

The haka stands on its own, and can never be affected by this kind of thing. Let people do and say what they like about it, or to the performers of it. That’s the essence of haka – to lay down an in-your-face challenge, and to stand there with it no matter what gets thrown back.

Querulous demands for respect simply provide a nice solid platform for derision and disrespect.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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28 Aug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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