1 Jun

Trampling On Tradition
by Paul Waite
1 Jun 2011

OHjerseyIt’s a funny concept, tradition, when you think about it. It’s just something people like doing, or having, which lasts for a long period of time. The longer it goes, the more significance it accrues, like the proverbial stone gathering moss.

If it goes long enough then everyone associated with it draws from it. It gets woven into the fabric of peoples’ lives and can even take on a kind of life of its own. A great example is the Ranfurly Shield (itself threatened in the past), both the trophy itself and the format of the contest for it.

Of course we’re talking here about the hotly debated decision by the General Manager of the Otago Highlanders, Roger Clark, to dispense with the Highlanders’ colours of blue, maroon and gold, a decision which, judging by his comments, has been driven at least in part by some back-room brainstorming by a bunch of marketing droids.

But let’s step back a bit. Roger Clark seems to have the best interests of The Highlanders at heart. He basically wants them to play well, possibly win some trophies, and be financially secure. When he came along they were playing crap, and fallen halfway down the dunny (apologies to Dunedinites) in the money department.

On the playing front, you have to give him full marks. The Highlanders have been a revelation, so credit where credit’s due. But it’s the rest of the strategy which lets it all down.

Having been put right on the back foot by the storm of outrage over the jersey change, he has made some statements which bear review here. Try to spot the deliberate mistakes in this little lot (excerpts drawn from this Otago Daily Times article):

Mr Clark said to attract fans and continue the impetus of
change, research had shown a new jersey would be an appropriate
move.

“We needed to change everything and that includes the jersey.
We are really conscious we are going into a new stadium
next year and we want to help showcase it to the world”

“We want to signal that we are changing right across the board.

“If we wanted to grow the fan base then we had to engage with
the whole region.”

The phrase “research had shown..” is a bit of a give-away. Instead read that as “the marketing muppets we paid too much money to recommended that..”.

Obviously no research was done. If it had it would have discovered what the ODT poll did in a single fucking day!

The trouble with marketing people is they are linear, short-term thinkers. Their World is one where you make a stimulus to get a reaction and if that doesn’t work make some more. Tradition has no place in that World.

Look back at the excerpts above. The old adage “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” comes to mind. Roger, bless him, affects to want to “grow the fan base” and “engage with the whole region”. Well Roger, the jersey you are chucking out has colours drawn from the rugby teams across the whole region. And you don’t grow your fan base by disrespecting the jersey all the existing fans have been supporting since 1996.

Which brings me to the final point. This quote from Roger:

“The Highlanders’ new playing strip is not an insult to past
teams, as the side does not have a tradition”

When I read that I couldn’t believe the General Manager of the team could come out with such an outrageous statement. That’s the same as telling all of the fans which have supported The Highlanders over the 15 years of Super Rugby history that they’re nothing, they didn’t exist.

So the jersey has no tradition? The colours are blue for Otago RFU, founded 1881, maroon for Southland RFU, founded 1887, and gold for North Otago RFU, founded in 1904. This region-engaging colour scheme has been proudly worn by successive Highlanders teams for 15 years. If that isn’t tradition, and engaging the region, then I don’t know wtf is.

And what did Roger Clark imagine would happen when he announced that the team would be chucking that jersey away and running out in some hideous green creation inspired by some random marketing pratt’s wet dream? A brief thought as to what the Black Jersey the All Blacks wear means to us should have been enough to remind him that, yes, fans DO relate to a jersey, and they DO care about it and invest emotional ties in it.

And yes, 15 years of a jersey created with 120-plus years of rugby tradition in the region behind it does matter.

Now it’s down to Roger Clark. Will he accept what the fans are telling him, or will he ignore them?

I hope that this green abomination gets thrown in the dumpster. You can’t buy tradition, or manufacture it, but you can trample it into oblivion.

Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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27 Oct

Can A Great Competition Get Better
by Tracey Nelson
27 Oct 2009

There are many reasons to love our domestic rugby competition, the Air New Zealand Cup. We also saw that the magic still exists when Southland took the Ranfurly Shield off Canterbury last week. But with the shadow of demotion facing four of the fourteen sides, is there a way to make this competition even better?

History was made in the last round with Southland lifting the Shield off Canterbury – a feat all the more remarkable because it had been 50 years since they last held the Log of Wood. If any grey-suited NZRU member had any doubts over what the Shield means to New Zealand rugby, they needed only to look at the two sides when the final whistle blew on Thursday night. One side had their arms held aloft to the heavens with many players actually leaping in the air with delight, whilst the other side stood as one with heads downcast and shoulders sagged.

Likewise, the week before we had seen an epic game where the lead see-sawed and it was only the individual contributions of All Blacks Richie McCaw and Dan Carter that saw Canterbury get up over Hawkes Bay. Hawkes Bay, at that stage with no current All Blacks in their side, had pushed a team boasting eight All Blacks to the very limit before being denied a potential draw at the final whistle. But there in lies the rub.

The All Blacks have, for all intents and purposes, been withdrawn from the ANZC and were it not for the five week gap between the end of the Tri-Nations and the start of the end of year tour to the northern hemisphere, they wouldn’t feature in the competition at all. But because they need match time and a gallop before going on tour, they are thrust back into the competition for a couple of weeks in October – around weeks 11 and 12, which is basically coming into the business end of the draw as places for the semis are starting to heat up.

It seems inherently unfair that teams like Northland, Counties, Bay of Plenty, Hawkes Bay, Manawatu and Tasman have a 23-man squad that play week in and week out, with the associated player/injury management required for the duration of a 13 week competition (and longer if you make the play-offs), yet teams like Canterbury, Wellington, Auckland and Waikato essentially have a squad of 28+ players that they can rotate and rest because of All Blacks popping in to play a couple of games just at the point of the competition where player wear and tear starts to mount up.

If we must have the ABs coming back in to play the odd game here and there, despite the fact that overall the ANZC is apparently a bit beneath them to play more than two or three games because they need a rest after playing six games over a three month period, then perhaps the following rules should apply:

1. Any province can nominate up to three of their current All Blacks (ie. have played in the Tri-Nations) to turn out for them during the comp.

2. The remaining All Blacks from that province go into a pool that provinces who have no All Blacks at all (eg. Counties, Manawatu, Northland etc) get first dibs at – and they can pick up to three All Blacks. Teams with major injuries to key players/positions get first choice of the pool to fill that position.

3. Any remaining ABs in the pool can then be picked up by any other province not already fielding 3 All Blacks.

So teams like Northland, Counties, Manawatu with no All Blacks get 3 from the pool. A team like Southland with just one All Black would be eligible to get two from the pool.

Using this structure All Blacks would still get some game time prior to an EOYT, but it wouldn’t create the huge imbalances you see – for example, when Canterbury took on Hawkes Bay with eight All Blacks, because we all know that without those All Blacks Canterbury would have lost that game. It would also mean that the smaller provinces and the players would get the benefits of having some All Blacks spending time with them.

Given the the NZRU sold out our domestic competition by agreeing to extend the Tri-Nations into September and insist on treating ABs as demi-gods when it comes to participating in provincial rugby, then I think it’s only fair that they should be dispensed in equal amounts into the competition to compensate. As it stand at the moment it makes it a farce that the big guns suddenly overtake the so-called minnows solely due to having their All Blacks back en masse for a few games.

It could also potentially sort out the salary cap problem too, because a province would then only ever be covering the salary of three All Blacks – and if a minnow province felt that they couldn’t afford All Blacks for a couple of games then they wouldn’t have to pick them out of the pool.

Food for thought?

22 Oct

Race for the Semis
by Tracey Nelson
22 Oct 2009

We’ve reached the final round of the ANZC competition, and places for the semi finals are still up in the air with only Canterbury guaranteed of being in the play-offs before this weekend’s games are decided. So what are scenarios?

Canterbury are sitting in 1st place on 46 points. Regardless of whether Canterbury win or lose (although if they lose this game they also lose the Ranfurly Shield) to Southland, they are guarenteed of finishing in 1st place due to being 7 points ahead on the leaderboard from second-placed Wellington.

Wellington are currently sitting second on 39 points.. If Wellington win away against Tasman this Friday, they sew up second place regardless of whether or not they win with a bonus point. However, should they lose this game they could miss out on the semis if Southland, Waikato/Auckland and Hawkes Bay all win their games. A loss with the loser’s bonus point could see them potentially finish in 4th place behind both Waikato and Hawkes Bay if they win their games – all three sides could finish on 40 points but because Wellington lost to Waikato in round robin play they would finish behind Waikato.

Southland are currently sitting third on 37 points. Should they lose to Canterbury they risk missing out on the semis if Hawkes Bay wins, becuase either one of Waikato or Auckland will overtake Southland when that game is played on Saturday night. So to make the semis Southland must either win the Ranfurly Shield, or hope that Hawkes Bay is beaten by Northland.

Waikato are currently 4th on 36 points. They can make the semis by beating Auckland, and could potentially finish in scond place if both Wellington and Southland lose this weekend. A loss, even with the bonus point, will see them miss out if Hawkes Bay wins against Northland.

Hawkes Bay are just outside the top four, sitting on 36 points but behind Waikato as the Mooloos won the round robin game between the two sides. Hawkes Bay need to win their game against Northland to have any hope of making the semis. If they win that game then they also need one of the following to occur: Canterbury to beat Southland, Tasman to beat Wellington, or Auckland to beat Waikato. If any of those events occur and Hawkes Bay win their game, they could finish as high as second should Wellington lose to Tasman.

Auckland are in 6th place on 35 points. They can make the semis by beating Waikato and hoping that Canterbury beats Southland. They could even finish as high as second if those two things happen, and also both Wellington and Hawkes Bay lose their games.

The deciding games this weekend are:

Thurs 7.30pm: Canterbury v Southland (Ranfurly Shield)
Fri 7.30pm: Northland v Hawkes Bay and Tasman v Wellington
Sat 7.30pm: Waikato v Auckland

22 Oct

Race for the Semi Finals
by Tracey Nelson
22 Oct 2009

We’ve reached the final round of the ANZC competition, and places for the semi finals are still up in the air with only Canterbury guaranteed of being in the play-offs before this weekend’s games are decided. So what are scenarios?

Canterbury are sitting in 1st place on 46 points. Regardless of whether Canterbury win or lose (although if they lose this game they also lose the Ranfurly Shield) to Southland, they are guarenteed of finishing in 1st place due to being 7 points ahead on the leaderboard from second-placed Wellington.

Wellington are currently sitting second on 39 points.. If Wellington win away against Tasman this Friday, they sew up second place regardless of whether or not they win with a bonus point. However, should they lose this game they could miss out on the semis if Southland, Waikato/Auckland and Hawkes Bay all win their games. A loss with the loser’s bonus point could see them potentially finish in 4th place behind both Waikato and Hawkes Bay if they win their games – all three sides could finish on 40 points but because Wellington lost to both sides in round robin play they would finish behind them.

Southland are currently sitting third on 37 points. Should they lose to Canterbury they risk missing out on the semis if Hawkes Bay wins, becuase either one of Waikato or Auckland will overtake Southland when that game is played on Saturday night. So to make the semis Southland must either win the Ranfurly Shield, or hope that Hawkes Bay is beaten by Northland.

Waikato are currently 4th on 36 points. They can make the semis by beating Auckland, and could potentially finish in scond place if both Wellington and Southland lose this weekend. A loss, even with the bonus point, will see them miss out if Hawkes Bay wins against Northland.

Hawkes Bay are just outside the top four, sitting on 36 points but behind Waikato as the Mooloos won the round robin game between the two sides. Hawkes Bay need to win their game against Northland to have any hope of making the semis. If they win that game then they also need one of the following to occur: Canterbury to beat Southland, Tasman to beat Wellington, or Auckland to beat Waikato. If any of those events occur and Hawkes Bay win their game, they could finish as high as second should Wellington lose to Tasman.

Auckland are in 6th place on 35 points. They can make the semis by beating Waikato and hoping that Canterbury beats Southland. They could even finish as high as second if those two things happen, and also both Wellington and Hawkes Bay lose their games.

The deciding games this weekend are:

Thurs 7.30pm: Canterbury v Southland (Ranfurly Shield)
Fri 7.30pm: Northland v Hawkes Bay and Tasman v Wellington
Sat 7.30pm: Waikato v Auckland

19 Feb

ANZC 2009 draw unveiled
by Tracey Nelson
19 Feb 2009

The draw for the 2009 Air New Zealand Cup was released today, with highlights being a Round One defence of the Ranfurly Shield by Wellington, plenty of afternoon local derbys and games on August 22, September 12 and 19 brought forward so as not to clash with All Black test matches.

The competition itself kicks off on Thursday evening of July 30 and will procede over the next 15 weeks. It is a full round robin format with all teams playing each other.This year there are no quarter-finals, so the semis will occur immediately after the finish of the round robin format and play out at Labour Weekend (Oct 31/Nov 1) with the finals taking place on November 7th.

Wellington, who are the current holders of the Ranfurly Shield, will face a first up challenge from Otago. If they successfully defend the shield against them, they go on to face challenges from Canterbury (Round 4) and Auckland (Round 5). Should they survive those, there will be a repeat of last year’s thriller when Southland get a challenge in Round 9.

However, fans hoping to see the All Blacks in action during this year’s ANZC will be sorely disappointed. While last year’s competition, spanning 13 weeks, saw the top All Blacks enter into the action around the final three weeks of play, this year we are unlikely to see any of them pull on their provincial jumpers. The ANZC will now take 16 weeks to complete – three longer than last year – and with overlaps with TriNations tests in August and September, and the end of year tour commencing in early November, the window for the top players to rest will coincide fairly and squarely with the ANZC.

And it gets worse. Given that the All Black selectors will undoubtedly be looking at a touring squad numbering around 30 or more, there is every likelihood that key players for the top finishing provincial teams will be pulled from the ANZC when named in the All Black squad that will gather for training before they head for the UK. Quite how that will impact on teams’ fortunes heading into the semi-finals and final remains an unknown yet grim reality.

There will also be frustrations amongst the top provinces who boast the bulk of the All Blacks. These players place a heavy financial load on the unions’ books, and it’s a fair argument that if you are paying for a player you should at least be getting his services on the field. This is yet another problem for the NZRU to juggle, as will be any futher loss of fans coming to watch the games. Partially filled stadiums and fans voting with their feet because they perceive they are watching an inferior product will impact the NZRU severely in the current financial times we are facing.

10 Oct

ANZC Quarter Finals Preview
by Tracey Nelson
10 Oct 2008

As we head into the quarter final games of the Air New Zealand Cup, just who has the form and talent to kick on to the semi finals?

CANTERBURY v TASMAN (2nd v 7th)
Friday Oct 10, Christchurch, 7.35pm

In what is looming as a Crusaders trial game, Tasman coach Todd Blackadder will no doubt be wearing two hats as he watches this game unfold tonight. The two sides met in week 5 of the competition, with the Red ‘n Blacks coming out with a 44-15 victory that belied the pressure Tasman had put them under for large parts of the game.

This game will see Brad Thorn’s first outing in the Mako jersey, and he will be having his first ANZC game of the season as will All Black captain Richie McCaw who will come off the bench for the Cantabs. Some key match ups in this game are those between Crusaders halfbacks Andy Ellis and Kahn Fotuali’i, Casey Laulala who is returning from injury and will be up against the in-form Kade Poki who has successfully shifted from the wing into his preferred centre position, Tasman’s 1st 5 Miah Nikora against Colin Slade (initially the third choice 1st 5 for Canterbury at the start of the season), the up and coming Mako’s loosehead Ben May against the veteran All Black tighthead Greg Somerville, and Brad Thorn taking on the young Canterbury locks Isaac Ross and Michael Paterson.

Canterbury are the best defensive side in the competition, only conceding an average of 10 points per game, and more often than not it’s good defence in the big games that will see a side through. To bolster that defence though is their attacking game which is second only to Wellington this year. Despite some terrific performances this season. Tasman will need to be on top of their game to topple the second ranked team in the ANZC. Likely score: 34-15 to Canterbury.

BAY OF PLENTY v SOUTHLAND (4th v 5th)
Saturday, Oct 11, Mt Maunganiu, 5.05pm

Both teams go into this qaurter-final on the back of a loss in their last round robin game, BOP having lost to Hawkes Bay 12-46 and Southland going down to Canterbury 6-25. These two are probably the closest matched teams, with BOP just edging Southland 24-22 in week 9. Southland are one of the better defensive sides in the competition, but the worst attacking side of the eight quarter finalists. BOP tend to leak tries like a seive on defence but make up for it by generally scoring a couple more than their opposition.

BOP have no All Blacks to call on, so their side remains settled going into the play-offs despite some injury concerns around key backs Mike Delaney and Nigel Hunt. They have an impressive loose trio in Colin Bourke, Tanerau Latimer and Solomon King, and the speed and skill of Zar Lawrence at fullback. Southland have All Black half back Jimmy Cowan, but he perhaps hasn’t been the impact they were hoping for and was comprehensively beaten around the fringes by his smaller but zippier opposite Ruki Tipuna last time the two sides met. Southland have a mighty front row boasting props Jamie Mackintosh and Chris King, and keep an eye on young fullback Robbie Robinson who has been injecting himself into the backline well this season.

Delaney is the second highest points scorer in the compeition with 88, and it may well come down to which side can land all their kicking chances in what promises to be a very close clash. Likely score: 22-21 to BOP.

WELLINGTON v TARANAKI (1st v 8th)
Saturday, Oct 11, Wellington, 7.35pm

On paper Wellington have to be the out and out favourites for this game, having scored a massive 353 points in round robin play and boasting top try scorer (11) Hosea Gear on the wing. However, since lifting the Ranfurly Shield off Auckland in week 8 Wellington have been making hard work of it, struggling to overcome a valiant Tasman in the first Shield defence and then being well beaten by out-of-contention Otago in the final round.

Despite Taranki losing their last game to Waikato in what was a marvellous display of try scoring but hardly a copybook approach to defence by either side, they scraped into the final eight thanks to Northland knocking Auckland out. The two sides haven’t played yet in 2008, last year Taranaki were well beaten 12-53 when they ventured down to the capital and they haven’t beaten Wellington since 2003.

Key players for Taranaki will be All Black hooker Andrew Hore, and first five Willie Ripia whose goal kicking has been outstanding this season and currently sits on 76 points for the season. Wellington have All Blacks Piri Weepu, Ma’a Nonu, and on the bench Rodney So’oialo. However, they have lost Neemia Tialata to injury and may struggle a bit at scrum time. Players to watch are up and coming Wellington lock Jeremy Thrush, and the outstanding opensider for Taranaki, Scott Waldrom.

It’s hard to see Taranaki having the mindset and the defence required to keep this Welllington side under wraps on their home turf, but both Tasman and Otago have shown that if you can take the game to them they can be vulnerable. However, expect Wellington to kick on to win this game and win it well. Likely score: 41-15.

HAWKES BAY v WAIKATO (3rd v 6th)
Sunday, Oct 12, Napier, 2.35pm

There are some games that just have that wee bit more to them than others, and this is one of them. The Magpies can boast that they have won the last three matches against Waikato, and on Sunday they will be looking to take that to four. The two teams met in week 8 in Napier, with the home side emerging victors 24-15. Add to this their pre-season victory and the 38-35 win they had over Waikato in the 2007 quarter final, the boasting rights are currently sitting with The Bay.

Waikato had a wretched start to the season, didn’t win a game until week 5 and only have four wins and a draw to their name, compared with Hawkes Bay’s 7 wins 3 losses record. Waikato also have the dubious honour of being the worst defensive side in the play-offs, but sit just one place behind Hawkes Bay in attacking prowess.

With the return of their ace goal kicking 1st 5 Matt Berquist from injury, Hawkes Bay are going into the play-offs with a very settled looking side. Hooker Hikawera Elliot may well be pushing for an All Black jersey for the end of year tour, while in the backline there is speed and guile in the likes of Zac Guildford and Jason Shoemark. Waikato have their All Blacks back in the form of Mils Muliaina (his first ANZC appearance since 2006), Richard Kahui playing at centre, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Sione Lauaki. First five Callum Bruce has racked up 75 points for the season, and Waikato will be relying on his accuracy with the boot.

This is another hard game to call, but on the strength of playing form going into this game, the home advantage and the 2.30pm kick off, my call is leaning towards Hawkes Bay. Likely score: 25-22.

13 Jul

The North Island Benefit Comp
by WAJ
13 Jul 2007

With apologies to Canterbury.

But some woeful performances from SI teams doesn’t augur well for the
rest of the ANZC, or for the Highlanders in the 2008 S14.

No wonder
Cooper moved! The highlight of last weekend has to be the performance of
Hawkes Bay, to win in Invercargill was a great effort. And Southland,
with 10 or so S14 players fronting, a disgrace!

And why aren’t more AB’s playing in the ANZC? I would be resting Woody,
Haymaker, the 3 loosies, Carter & Toeava. It is not as if the rest have
had an overtaxing season, with all apart from the aforementioned 7
having injury interruped seasons or part of the 22 or both. Don’t
Muliaina, Mauger and Big Kev need more game time? They are rugby players
for God sakes – so let them play rugby.

So to the games.

Tasman v Manawatu – intriguing match up this. Both didn’t disgrace
themselves last week, Tasman look to have strengthened up considerably
in the forwards with the addition of Jack, a good foil for Triggs the
main Manawatu lineout threat. Two pretty even teams really with home
advantage perhaps the deciding factor.
Tasman 1 – 12

BoP v Auckland – the loss of a number of players has seen the Bay drop
back to the pack after a few years of good results. They will be cannon
fodder for the mighty Auks, who have made a raft of changes as Lam tries
to find his best 15. These 2 teams best illustrate the gulf between the
haves(or S14 centres) and have nots (the rest). Wouldn’t Bay love to
have the luxury of rotating the likes of Braid and Macdonald.
Auckland 13+


Otago v Northland
– based on results Northland should win this, but I
think the kick in the pants they would have received as a result of the
loss to Wgtn will mean the Otago side will come out all guns blazing.
They are not a good enough team to run away with this, but at home will
win comfortably enough.
Otago 1 – 12

Hawkes Bay v Wellington – up yours says Weepu, and what a revelation he
was. Where was that sort of form in the 3N? A good performance last
week, admitedly against 15 revolving doors. Wgtn could give the ANZC a
bit of a shake up, plenty of depth all over the park, with a lot of NZ
Juniors make them 2nd favorites in my book. Expect a relatively easy win
against a good HB side that lacks the overall class of Wgtn and who now
won’t be taken as easy as previous form would suggest.
Wellington 13+

Waikato v Southland – well this is an easy game to sum up – Southland
need to pull the finger out of their collective arses or they will get
belted by an even larger margin than last week. Waikato obviously don’t
think much of them, resting Gibbes and Holah. Thus Southland will come
out breathing all sorts of smoke and ash, be very direct with their big
forward pack, but will still lose to an improving Waikato team.
Waikato 13+

North Harbour v Taranaki – NH would be the most erratic team around.
Capable of some quiet brilliant running rugby, but still battle a bit
with the basics and thus struggle. They look a bit stronger up front
this week and will need to be on their game for the full 80 minutes
against a typically yeoman like Taranaki. The Ranfurly Shield will
ensure NH are focused, and those classy backs will be the winning of
this game.
North Harbour 13+


Counties Manukau v Canterbury
– clearly the overall standard in the ANZC
has lifted this year. CM were very solid last week, and but for a bit
more class in some positions would have run Auckland a lot closer. Again
you feel this week will go along similair lines. How much better would
CM be with say Brett, Tuiali’I and Johnstone in their respective key
positions. They haven’t of course so that is all moot, but CM are a
good, gutsy team, well coached and capable of an upset or 2. That won’t
happen here with enough wise heads to see Canterbury home reasnobly
easily
Canterbury 13+

12 Jun

You've gotta love it…
by Tracey Nelson
12 Jun 2007

Despite some vacuous wailings coming from certain media circles in the past few weeks, the Air New Zealand Cup provincial rugby competition is not in decline and a boring spectacle, but is alive and kicking. Kicking some serious butt, in actual fact.

Last year saw the launch of the Air New Zealand Cup competition, with the previous NPC revamped from three divisions into just two – ostensibly to distinguish between the professional and amateur levels of the game in our provinces. Fourteen teams now make up the Premier Division, with Hawkes Bay, Counties-Manukau, Manawatu, and Tasman (the amalgamation of Marlborough and Nelson Bays) coming up from Division Two to join the established Division One sides.

In 2006, Manawatu and Tasman certainly struggled with the step up to the Premier Division and despite some brave performances finished at the bottom of the ladder, Manawatu only managing a draw as their best result. Hawkes Bay and Counties-Manakau also battled to be competitive against the bigger guns in their first year back at the top level for some time. The doomsayers shook their heads and predicted that these teams would continue to struggle, and really what was the point in them trying to compete with the Super unions because the gap was too big. It was never going to work.

However, in the space of just one year the worm has well and truly turned and the big guys are being taught a lesson or two in how the game is played out in the provinces. This has been a timely reminder for some top professional players that rugby is not a game for Nancy Boys, and you do have to get your jersey dirty from time to time. Yes, we may not be seeing the sweeping try movements we’re used to on the firm, late summer ground we have in the Super 14, but the ANZC games are no less of a spectacle in my opinion. Given the wet, wintery conditions in many of the games to date, there have been some exceptional performances and honest endeavour to play fifteen man rugby. Good old fashioned rugby at that, you might say.

Hawkes Bay have proven to be giant slayers, first winning a slug-fest against last year’s semi-finalist Wellington in the rain and mud at Blue Chip Stadium (and teaching them a thing or two about scrummaging on the way), then two weeks later producing another home win against Ranfurly Shield holders North Harbour. Tasman managed to topple Hawkes Bay in Blenheim between times, showing the visitors that you can’t assume you’ll win a game on the back of your last performance.

Manawatu topped things off in Round 4 by recording a famous victory at FMG Stadium in Palmerston North – beating Bay of Plenty in their first Premier Divison win for 19 years. And not just by a point or two, but beating them comprehensively with some tremendous backline moves to score four tries and come away with maximum points from the game. This was just reward for a side that has toiled tirelessly without result, yet has a loyal fan base that turn out every game despite the lack of wins.

Barely into the second year of the new provincial competition, suddenly we’re not seeing teams going into games against the minnows confident of coming away with a win. They are having to work hard to score points and in some cases are lucky to come out with the win. Despite Auckland and Canterbury heading the points table, I’m not sure that anyone thought Hawkes Bay would be sitting in third place behind them. Nor that the likes of Northland and Tasman would be in the top half of the table while Wellington, North Harbour and Otago are sitting forlornly below.

There is a new excitement pumping in the veins of the forgotten provinces, the unions who have had to fight hard to keep their heads above the financial waterline as the game went professional with the added crisis of urban drift decimating their rugby playing populations. But they’re back, and although it’s a gradual strengthening it’s a strengthening nonetheless. It’s great to see the familiar face of provincial rugby again, and how refreshing it is to see some traditional props, guys who look like they ate the entire menu at KFC but who can scrummage till the cows come home. Likewise it’s nice to know there are still some skinny chaps that can run like whippets playing out on the wings. As one mate quipped recently – even better than watching is listening to the local radio commentators giving their version of what’s going on. Plenty of Kiwi accents and parochialism, mixed with decidedly non-PC comment.

So by all means try and tell the folk in Napier, Blenheim, Palmerston North and any of our other provincial centres that the ANZC is boring, and nobody is interested in it. I dare say that like their rugby teams, they would be more than capable of taking you on in that argument and coming out on top.

[In the picture above the representatives of the four new teams are: Tasman's Nathan George, Counties Manukau's Ben Meyer, Manawatu's Josh Bradnock and Hawke's Bay's Mutu Ngarimu.]

24 Sep

Friday night fizzers
by Tracey Nelson
24 Sep 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Jun

Lions Tour Beer & Lingo Guide
by Paul Waite
5 Jun 2005

It’s 1993, and I’m at Athletic Park, Wellington. Gavin Hastings’ Lions are pumped to the max as they line up for an All Black restart late in the second half. They lead the All Blacks by 20 points to 7, and Brian ‘Pitbull’ Moore takes his station on the touchline. An embittered kiwi biffs an unopened can of DB Export Gold onto the pitch and Moore, in typical fashion, snatches it up, rips the top off and tips half of it down his throat before casting it away with a snarl.

No surprises there. There was better beer to be had in the Capital on the 1993 Lions Tour, and 2005 is no different. Serious officianados will want to get down to The Malthouse, on Willis Street where they boast the largest range of beers on tap in NZ. The Tuatara Porter, Monteith’s Original, and Good Bastards Lager (bottled) will see you right. A meander downtown to Courtney Place will require a serious stop-over in Molly Malones, where a Guinness is called for, and for all of you who want a big screen to catch the action, the Wellington Sports Café a bit further on has it all. Touristy types might fancy an excursion up the coast on State Highway 1 to the excellent Rugby Museum in Palmerston North.

Now, as far as the local lingo goes, when the folks in Wellington talk about “The Caketin” they mean Westpac Trust Stadium. When you see it, you’ll know why. Down South in Christchurch we have “Jade Palace” a.k.a. Jade Stadium, and in Auckland there is Eden Park known throughout the land as, er, “Eden Park”. A few of the cunning linguists amongst you will also have picked up on our rugby terminology. “Footy” means rugby. A “first five-eighth” is a fly-half, and “second five-eighth” is an inside center. The phrase “hard yakka” isn’t a bloke who yells a lot – it’s the grinding, sweaty business of forwards trying to push each other a yard or two in a scrum or maul which is something close to the hearts of “The ‘Naki”, whom the Lions take on in New Plymouth on 8th June. Oh, and, finally, “A Lion” is usually a glass of Lion Red – no offence meant.

No trip to NZ is complete without encountering The Maori. The Lions have a very close encounter of the rugby kind at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton on June 11th. Watch out for a scintillating haka before this one, and some very bruised bodies afterwards. The pubs nearest to Waikato Stadium are Cardiff Arms, Biddy Mulligans and The Fox & Hounds, all very handy and all in Victoria Street.

As you travel down into the Frozen South to take on doughty Southland, remember to pack the long-johns. Neither the weather, nor the footy teams take any prisoners down there. And don’t forget to sample some Bluff Oysters along with a few SODs (Speights Old Dark). Up in the comparatively balmy Christchurch you’ll find the rugby atmosphere electric. If you can, get tickets to Canterbury’s Ranfurly Shield defence on June 22nd. The RS is NZ’s oldest and most prized competition, and some challenges of the past make a Lions v All Blacks test seem a bit tame by comparison. After all the excitement, wind down at the Holy Grail Sports Bar located in Cathedral Square. This is NZ’s biggest sports bar, is decked out as a shrine to Canterbury and Crusaders rugby, and has TVs in the toilets so the bladder-challenged fan won’t miss anything apart from the bowl. If you get there too late and its jam-packed, then try the big screens just outside.

The Lions take on Auckland and the All Blacks at Eden Park at the end of the tour. Whilst in the City of Sails, make sure you visit Galbraith’s Alehouse on Mt. Eden Road. The Bellringers Bitter and Grafton Porter slip down very nicely indeed. The Dogs Bollix on Newton Road, might also provide an excellent photo opportunity for the kind of travel-pic which sums up the tour!

The whole of New Zealand is hanging out for this tour. The provincial players are filing their studs to points, and eating raw steaks for breakfast in preparation. All that’s expected of the Lions Fans is that they enjoy the footy, and have a blast!

Now that can’t be too hard, can it?

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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