25 May

Another Gobby For Eddie
by Paul Waite
25 May 2007

BigMouthIt’s time SANZAR thought about founding a new Annual Award. It would be called The Gossip Or Blather – GOB award, and be presented to the coach who, in the opinion of the judges, blabbed the most to the Media.

Naturally the award would become known as “The Gobby”, as in “hey Eddie, I hear you picked up your fifth consequetive Gobby this year..”

Eddie Jones, the garrulous rent-a-quote former coach of the Wallabies has been at it again, this time as coach of The Queensland Reds in the Super-14. The trouble is SANZAR, in typical “corporate suits” fashion, have drawn up a book of rules which forbid players and coaches criticising referees and a officials, and who knows maybe their contracts even put a stop to them discussing the SANZAR Chief’s wives in derrogatory terms.

The problem with this gagging of free speech is that it doesn’t result in the right things happening. For a start, the idea is SANZAR don’t want their competition “brought into disrepute”. Jaysus, what century are these pratts living in? Like the average fan is going to consider the game is disreputable, just because Eddie says the latest reffing display was crap. Bollocks.

All it does, if obeyed to the letter, is give us a bunch of drones who mouth the same bland cliche-ridden shite, even if the referee had a brain-cell implosion and totally disgraced himself. It isn’t in sync with the times.

These days fans are knowledgable, keen, and have to hand numerous instant messaging technologies to view replays, and discuss performances at will. Ordering coaches and players to stop saying what they think is like trying to dam a river by knocking a tent peg into the middle of it. And besides that, it makes SANZAR look at best plain silly, and at worst a bunch of draconian bosses who can’t face the truth, and aren’t committed to excellence through improvement.

Let’s look at the other side of the coin. Imagine you’re a referee, and you’ve just had a shocker. It was the wrong time of the month, your dog had given you a nasty nip in the testicles as you unwisely tried to give it breakfast dressed only in a pair of Y-fronts that morning, and an irritating eyelid tick has been with you all day affecting your vision. You awarded a try that wasn’t scored, and disallowed one that was. A stray dog wandered on the pitch and gave you a nasty nip in the testicles as you tried to order it off, and you issued five red cards for trifling offenses which didn’t happen.

In a Universe far away from here, where there is a SANZAR panel with some vision, both coaches and the players rip the shit out of you on prime-time TV. The public agree, and SANZAR do too, saying that your performance will be reviewed and steps taken to either get you right, or replace you. In the weeks that follow you do some retraining, the old testicles heal, and you feel better and get back to refereeing well.

In this Universe, since Fast Eddie Mouth isnt’ involved in this particular game, everyone is muzzled like the rabid dogs SANZAR believes they are. Comments range from a risky “I thought the refereeing could have been a tad better, but no complaints really”, to a “The referee wasn’t to blame for our loss” (even though the try he disallowed of theirs, and the one he awarded to them were the difference in the score). Meanwhile, on Planet Reality, the public discuss the game as it actually was in pubs, on the ‘net in forums, on mobiles and post video clips to YouTube etc. proving it. SANZAR wears the egg on its face in that well-known, but oblivious fashion.

Nobody is saying that coaches and players should be actually abusive about referees, or officialdom in general, but genuine criticism should be allowed to stand on its merits and voiced in the public domain. It’s a damn healthy thing to have leading lights in the game saying these things, especially when everyone else is going to be saying them anyway. It’s called Openness.

Accepting that referees and everyone else always have something to learn, and can improve is basic. Pressures brought to bear by criticism is part and parcel of forcing that process. People who mouth off in bad grace after games will soon be recognised as idiots and so the system is self-correcting; nobody wants to build a reputation as a fool or bad loser.

So get your act together SANZAR, and award Eddie his Gobby with a smile, and a pat on the back for all his constructive criticism during the season!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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6 May

A law unto themselves?
by Tracey Nelson
6 May 2007

He may have played his final Super game for the Hurricanes, but departing Hurricane and ex-All Black captain Tana Umaga fired a parting shot over the bows of the 2007 Super 14 competition when he claimed that Northern Hemisphere referees are far superior to their southern counterparts. This wasn’t a simple sour-grapes gripe after his side went down to the cellar-dwellar Waratahs, but in my opinion a fairly astute summation of the majority of officiating over the last 14 weeks.

Umaga voiced frustration over the way many officials seem to be penalising players “on reputation” rather than by deed, and I would suggest that to some degree he has a point – Troy Flavell being another player who cops more than his fair share of penalties and yellow cards due to his past record of indiscretions.

Equally over the past three months we have seen inconsistent rulings during games, poor policing of the offside line, lack of control of the gap in the lineout, confusion and mayhem with the calling of scrum engagements, some odd interpretations of offside at the ruck regarding “pillar” players, and pretty much a blind eye turned to a lot of incidents off the ball.

But the standout refereeing gaff in the entire history of Super rugby surely occurred in Perth on Friday night, during the Force vs Blues match. The incident in question was a quick throw-in with the incorrect ball, which resulted in a try to the Blues. The referee (South African Jonathan Kaplan) sought confirmation from his touch judge (Australian James Leckie) that everything was above-board before he awarded the try, and the subsequent protests from the Force players were ignored.

How it escaped the notice of the touch judge that the ball the Force had kicked into touch had sailed beyond the advertising hordings and bounced away towards the grandstand is anyone’s guess, but surely both officials should have noticed that the Blues got the ball off the ball boy for the quick throw-in. That alone should have been the pointer that a quick throw-in could not take place – even if it had been the same ball the Force had kicked out, once the ball has been touched by anyone other than the player throwing it in then a quick throw-in is automatically disallowed.

The try from the illegal quick throw-in was the third for the Blues, and it enabled them them to go on to score a fourth try to claim a bonus point win and move onto 42 points. What the implications might have been had the Bulls also ended up on 42 points but missed out on a home-semi because the Blues had the same number of points but a better points differential is now a mute point, because thanks to a record thrashing of the Reds the Bulls sailed into second place and relegated the illegal try to a blooper rather than a major incident.

It should be of no surprise to anyone that the touch judge official concerned is Australian, because it has been their referees who have copped the most flak during the competition – to the point where a couple of them have been relegated from refereeing to touch judging duties. However, this now suddenly looms as a problem as we head into the semi finals where we have two South Africa v New Zealand games which will require Australian referees and touch judges.

World Cup appointee Stuart Dickinson will be one of the referees, and will no doubt get the fixture in Durban due to the Sharks finishing as top qualifer. Who will get the whistle for the Bulls v Crusaders is anyone’s guess, probably Matt Goddard if it’s deemed he’s done enough penance for his website column words against Eddie Jones’ outburst on his refereeing performances. But do we really have any faith in those who may end up running the sidelines?

This should be of huge concern to SANZAR officials, because the referees and touch judges do have a bearing on the state of play on the field. Nobody wants to watch bad rugby, and too often this year results have been influenced as much by poor decisions from referees as the players themselves. If SANZAR wants to keep the Super 14 as one of the world’s premier rugby competitions, they will need to do some smart work on upskilling their referees.

I am normally loathe to condemn referees too quickly, because I know all too well the pressures involved when running the whistle in a fast game. However, it’s one thing to miss a forward pass or knock-on at the base of a ruck, but completely another to not have a good grasp of the laws of the game and apply them correctly. I am not an advocate of referees having to front interviews after a game, but there should be some level of transparency with their refereeing assessments and there certainly needs to be some accountability for poor performances, particularly when they influence the outcome of games.

So good on Tana for speaking out. No doubt he will get fined for doing so, but perhaps he’ll chalk it up to putting his money where his mouth is…

21 Feb

Another Gobby for Eddie
by Paul Waite
21 Feb 2007

It’s time SANZAR thought about founding a new Annual Award. It would be called The Gossip Or Blather – GOB award, and be presented to the coach who, in the opinion of the judges, blabbed the most to the Media.

Naturally the award would become known as “The Gobby”, as in “hey Eddie, I hear you picked up your fifth consequetive Gobby this year..”

Eddie Jones, the garrulous rent-a-quote former coach of the Wallabies has been at it again, this time as coach of The Queensland Reds in the Super-14. The trouble is SANZAR, in typical “corporate suits” fashion, have drawn up a book of rules which forbid players and coaches criticising referees and a officials, and who knows maybe their contracts even put a stop to them discussing the SANZAR Chief’s wives in derogatory terms.

The problem with this gagging of free speech is that it doesn’t result in the right things happening. For a start, the idea is SANZAR don’t want their competition “brought into disrepute”. Jaysus, what century are these pratts living in? Like the average fan is going to consider the game is disreputable, just because Eddie says the latest reffing display was crap. Bollocks.

All it does, if obeyed to the letter, is give us a bunch of drones who mouth the same bland cliche-ridden shite, even if the referee had a brain-cell implosion and totally disgraced himself. It isn’t in sync with the times.

These days fans are knowledgable, keen, and have to hand numerous instant messaging technologies to view replays, and discuss performances at will. Ordering coaches and players to stop saying what they think is like trying to dam a river by knocking a tent peg into the middle of it. And besides that, it makes SANZAR look at best plain silly, and at worst a bunch of draconian bosses who can’t face the truth, and aren’t comitted to excellence through improvement.

Let’s look at the other side of the coin. Imagine you’re a referee, and you’ve just had a shocker. It was the wrong time of the month, your dog had given you a nasty nip in the testicles as you unwisely tried to give it breakfast dressed only in a pair of Y-fronts that morning, and an irritating eyelid tick has been with you all day affecting your vision. You awarded a try that wasn’t scored, and disallowed one that was. A stray dog wandered on the pitch and gave you a nasty nip in the testicles as you tried to order it off, and you issued five red cards for trifling offences which didn’t happen anyway.

In a Universe far away from here, where there is a SANZAR panel with some vision, both coaches and the players rip the shit out of you on prime-time TV. The public agree, and SANZAR do too, saying that your performance will be reviewed and steps taken to either get you right, or replace you. All fair dinkum, because you deserved it. In the weeks that follow you do some retraining, the old knackers heal, you get back to refereeing well, and your wife now feeds the dog in the morning. Everyone’s pleased.

In this Universe, since Fast Eddie Mouth isnt’ involved in this particular game, everyone is muzzled like the rabid dogs SANZAR believes they are. Comments range from a risky “I thought the refereeing could have been a tad better, but no complaints really”, to a “The referee wasn’t to blame for our loss” (even though the try he disallowed of theirs, and the one he awarded to them were the difference in the score). Meanwhile, on Planet Reality, the public discuss the game as it actually was in pubs, on the ‘net in forums, on mobiles and post video clips to YouTube etc. proving it. SANZAR wears the egg on its face in that well-known, but oblivious fashion.

Nobody is saying that coaches and players should be actually abusive about referees, or officialdom in general, but genuine criticism should be allowed to stand on its merits and voiced in the public domain. It’s a damn healthy thing to have leading lights in the game saying these things, especially when everyone else is going to be saying them anyway. It’s called Openness.

Accepting that referees and everyone else always have something to learn, and can improve is basic. Pressures brought to bear by criticism is part and parcel of forcing that process. People who mouth off in bad grace after games will soon be recognised as idiots and so the system is self-correcting; nobody wants to build a reputation as a fool or bad loser.

So get your act together SANZAR, and award Eddie his Gobby with a smile, and a pat on the back for all his constructive criticism during the season!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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24 Feb

Feel The Width!
by Paul Waite
24 Feb 2006

You know the saying – “never mind the quality, feel the width!”. Before the kickoff to this season I was often applying it in conversations involving the unimaginative expansion of the Super-12 to the Super-14 by tacking on a couple of teams from the existing SANZAR countries.

But I was surprised to find that by early January I was looking forward to the start of the footy. True, it may have been in large part due to the laughable form and attitude of our useless cricket team, the Black Caps, but it wasn’t the whole story.

It’s part of a general feeling in our game in this country at the moment, which is the most optimistic it’s been since 1996-7.

At the very back of it, there is the tremendous high, which still hasn’t gone away, of winning the rights to host the 2011 Rugby World Cup. If you add to this the momentum that Henry, Smith and Hansen have given the All Blacks, then you begin to see where it’s all coming from.

So the Super-14 is, depsite itself, looking pretty good from these shores, and has started with a fizz and a bang.

Looking back to the early years of Super-12, do you all remember the ditzy, fitness-challenged starts to the competition each year? Not any more. It’s taken a while, but the players now only lack match-fitness, and a bit of team cohesion, and apart from those understandable deficiencies hit their first games at a high standard.

But some things don’t change much. Casting an eye over the New Zealand hopes the Crusaders once again stand head and shoulders above the rest. The Canes are still ‘the entertainers’ with a weak tight-five, and the Chiefs still lack enough Indians who can ride bareback and shoot from the hip. The Blues seem to have lost their way completely and turned into a weird amalgam of harum-scarum ‘Hurricanes style’ rugby, and a more structured game, whereas The Highlanders are still staunch, with a strong tight-five and a backline which has its moments, but doesn’t generally dazzle.

I guess you’d rate them in the following order: Crusaders, Hurricanes, Highlanders, Chiefs, with the Blues a puzzling piece of the jigsaw which might fit anywhere in a position below the Crusaders.

Looking at the Aussie and SA teams, the Brumbies are still wringing the last dregs out of the original McQueen legacy, but are still always a threat despite being on a slow descent. The Reds are enthusiastic, but look like they will (as usual) fizzle quickly. The Waratahs are the Australian flag-bearers, strong all-round the paddock, whilst nobody will have to reckon with the Force, who are just learning the ropes and will struggle all season.

Over in The Replublic the Bulls look like being the team to look out for, carrying on from last season’s resurgence. They also seem to have got the balance of players for their new team the Cheetahs, who have started well. The Sharks will bite a few teams before the end, and should also be respected.

All-in-all despite the extra length of an already long competition, the season is looking like an enticing prospect. I think that the fans have also learned, like the players, to pace themselves a bit.

Oh, and I might even change the Haka ‘Super 12′ labels at some point – remind me in a few years, if I forget!

Tip for 2006 Super-14 winners: The Crusaders!

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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7 Sep

SANZAR: Myopia As An Art-form
by Paul Waite
7 Sep 2004

SCENE I
We are in a small restaurant in central Sydney fetchingly named “Chez Sanzar”.

Restaurateur: “Cook! You’ve been serving this dish you call ‘Supreme á la Douzaine’ for nine years now, and the clientele are telling me they’re sick to death of it. It’s not spicy enough, it’s always the same year after year, and to put it bluntly, it looks like a pile of grey sludge. And to make matters worse, it’s the ONLY option on the fucking menu!”

Cook: “Ooer, right. Well let me get my sous-chefs together and we’ll come up with some whizz-bang ideas boss.”

[ Much, much later..]

Cook: “Ok boss, we’ve thrashed it out. It wasn’t easy, but we think we’ve got it cracked. It’s a corker.”

Restaurateur: “I’m positively dribbling down my tie here Cook. Spill the beans..”

Cook: “Well [pauses for imaginary fanfare] – we’ve decided to give them exactly the SAME DISH but with 40% more of it heaped on the plate! How’s that!!?”

Restaurateur: [head in hands]: “I’m ruined..”

Should we be shocked at the recent SANZAR statement, completely bereft as it is, of any vestige of vision or imagination to take Southern Hemisphere Rugby forward for the next half-decade?

Probably not. The people who are now in control of our game are “money types” and lawyers. They didn’t get where they are today by having touchy-feely empthy with the grass-roots of a game that whole countries full of folks created from scratch from a passion for rugby. No. These people inhabit boardrooms, study balance-sheets, and like to think in unimaginative linear modes, where predictability of revenue is the paramount driving force.

But the proposal as trumpeted in the media in the last day or so is a sad indictment of the way the game is headed, and marks yet another chance missed to really do something worthwhile to energise a game which is flagging.

But it isn’t flagging, some say. Look at attendances for example, and look at TV viewing figures.

The trouble with these statistics is they are misleading, as are all statistics used to actually prove a point, rather than just illustrate a conclusion arrived at by a separate logical proof or evidence.

There are many things wrong with them, but in summary the attendances are totally meaningless when you have a set of rugby fans faced with no choice but the only game in town. Of course they still go and see it. What other choice is there? As to TV viewing figures, where do those stats come from? From TV companies eager to keep control and the status quo, that’s who. In any event, what do they mean, and who did they canvas, and how many people. We hear these figures bandied about by people with their own axes to grind, and we’d be fools to take them at face value, much less attribute meaning to them and make important decisions based on them.

It’s plain enough to me, for instance, that the Tri-Nations was a dead duck after a couple of seasons for the very reason that the old adage familiarity breeds contempt is true. Playing South Africa and Australia so often, and in the very same format is a killer of passion. In fact I despise the Tri-Nations for effectively removing the massive excitement I used to feel for a test series against the Bokke, and making it into a mere “league game” every year. Same with the Bledisloe Cup. It used to be contested over a genuine series, but now it’s just a tack-on; a marketing adjunct not even played for in a real test series anymore.

As for the Super 12. What’s “super” about it these days? The first and second seasons were Ok, but after that it turned rapidly into a rugbython – something more to be endured than enjoyed. Turning the handle every week as battered players turned up and turned their mistake-ridden tricks for the cameras in the cold, wet shadowy twilight zone of the endless night-games we’re forced to put up with.

In short, the Super 12 is just “product”, like turning the handle on a sausage machine and watching little Super 12 games pop out the end all neatly sealed, bland and featureless. Ka-ching, there goes the SANZAR cash register for another happy sale of a round of Super-12 sausages. “Thankyou ma’am, come back next week – yes your diet is just fine if you consume these every week for the next decade. You’ll never get sick of these beauties!”

Well recently there may have been a worry that the punters were getting sick of the taste of bland Super-12 sausages, so SANZAR have come up with the perfect solution by making them each 40% longer. Brilliant minds at work.

The statement recently that All Blacks would be quite eligible to play in the NPC, and not separated off as previously touted in the media now comes into focus. With 94 Super 14 games instead of just 69 with the Super-12, plus an extended Tri-Nations, it means that no All Blacks will be able to even conceive of playing NPC rugby, unless they happened to be the Six Miilion Dollar Man. More subterfuge from the NZRFU.

SANZAR have quite obviously missed the bus. There was a chance to really look at rugby in the region and revitalize the landscape. It would also have provided an exciting package for News Corp. or whoever to look at, and provided a lifeline for Island Rugby.

Instead of paying lip-service to All Blacks playing NPC, when they quite obviously won’t be in practice, SANZAR should have gone for a complete separation of NPC from international programs, and run the test matches in parallel. This would have freed up time for a more expanded S12, to Super-NN including a Pacific Island team, an Argentinian franchise, and a Japanese Franchise. With an extra two teams one from Australia and one from South Africa this would make it a Super-17. And plans should already be on the drawing-board for including The Big One – the USA, in the next format after the 5 years of Super-17.

The tournament format could then have been looked at, taking into account travelling logistics and arranged around Pools and short tours. Extra interest could also have been provided by enhancing the playoffs, and making these into small tournaments rotated around each of the countries by turn, and involving all of the teams no matter where they finished in the pools, via provision of Cup, Bowl and Plate finals as in Sevens.

Hell, there are probably dozens of possibilities to revitalise and accomodate logistics, but SANZAR hasn’t even looked at basic ideas like changing the playoff format apparently.

No, good old linear accountant-think has raised its wizened, wrinked brow and in a cracked voice pronounced what it thinks is best for managing the dusty old ledgers of the SANZAR book-keepers and scribes.

These people have demonstrated that they have absolutely no feel for rugby at all, and the kind of unimaginative rubbish that they’ve recently come out with is just going to drive another nail into the coffin of the game, especially out in the Islands.

Of course there will still be those statistics produced by people with a vested interest in reporting success – TV and Unions, to inform us that what we’re seeing is actually fantastic, and a great privilege.

Anyone for tennis?

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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8 Feb

Bigger Not Always Better
by Paul Waite
8 Feb 2004

As we ramp up once again for the February-to-May Super-12 marathon, it might be a good time to consider what comes next.

The News Ltd. TV contract with SANZAR runs out in 2005, and all the countries involved will be already working hard to follow the Super-12/Tri-Nations act that came on-stage way back in 1995 amid the turmoil of a Rugby World Cup and a hostile bid to annex World Rugby by the would-be WRC.

Ten years on, and we look back with mixed feelings on the first era of professional rugby, but love it or hate it, it is here to stay in some form or another and we are now at an important time once again in the evolution of the sport.

One would hope that the first decade would offer the powers that be some important lessons that they might heed, instead of relegating them to the status of “secondary issues” as they scramble for the best deal in money terms.

One would also hope they realise that if they fail to put rugby first and go for short-term gain then they are at the very least putting any future profitability in jeopardy, since this necessarily depends on the health of the game.

First and foremost is the lesson that the future marketing and success of the sport can’t continue to leverage revered rugby traditions, and at the same time stomp them into the mud in the name of short-term profits. Even the youngest, brashest marketing executive should be able to perceive that rugby’s points of difference (to use the lingo) with other sports should be preserved. The jerseys, the rules, the genuine camaraderie, the after-match dinners, the long tours, The Lions, the Welsh singing Cwm Rhondda, test-matches on brisk but sunny Saturday afternoons, the list goes on. All of these things are under various degrees of threat from short-sighted non-thinkers in the game today, and rugby must be protected from them or suffer the fate of becoming just another commodity spooned out to the masses via a satellite TV slot.

Another lesson which should have been learned is that there is simply Too Much Rugby in a given season. Not only does it leave the average fan feeling “rugbied out” by the end of October or even earlier, it results in players who either get injured or end up playing like automatons. Whole teams full of players on this huge treadmill end up playing journeyman football of no great worth, and nobody is served except perhaps the idiots ringing the cash-register. A secondary effect is the marginalising of the summer sports here in New Zealand, where cricket (and other sports) are now pressured at both ends of the summer by rugby.

Two additional lessons which should also be taken from the last decade can be summarised as follows: we want long tours back, and we want more variety in our rugby.

Both are linked in fact. Taking the second point first, the Super-12 and Tri-Nations were much too monolithic and repetetive. The 3N had the absolutely hateful effect, for me, of reducing the All Blacks v Springboks test match into just another ho-hum game. There used to be a raising of the hairs on the back of the neck, and butterflies in the stomach for the whole leadup week when the Boks were in town, or when the Blacks toured the republic, but now it’s just another Tri-Nations round. The people who did this to the game ought to be strung up by the balls.

People want variety, TV networks and the accountants want predictability. Ok, so let’s learn from the past decade and accept that what we’ve had is too boring. A compromise could be tried, where a Tri-Nations type of round-robin is done every other year, and major tours in the ones between. The TV networks and Co. will still have predictability, since tours are arranged years in advance, and the fans will have a decent variety, as they had in the amateur era – why should they have to settle for less?

If this were done, the resurgence of the major tour would inject a huge amount of life into rugby at the grass-roots of every country involved. Casting the mind back, some of the tour games I have seen were monumental, and well worthy of a Worldwide TV audience. The shear intrigue of seeing how the Lions go against the might of Auckland, or Canterbury is surely worth both cities weight in gold to the marketeers. Better by far than yet another boring round-robin between teams you’ve seen so many times you start commenting on the players hair-dos to keep from going to sleep in the middle of a game.

But we have been focussing more on the Tri-Nations; what is going to replace the Super-12 come 2005?

As the title of this article suggests, a bigger competition would be the ruin of rugby. It would be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I enter a plea right here, for those who can really listen, to create something better, but not bigger. The two do NOT go hand in hand I’m afraid.

It seems inevitable that Australia will get a fourth Super-XX team in 2005. Ever the pet project of the erstwhile John O’Neill, and ever the pet hate of the NZRFU things have changed somewhat and I would guess that this will go ahead. There is a slight chance that New Zealand might drop a team, but this is unlikely due to financial concerns.

Possibly we might just end up with the Super-13, but don’t under-estimate the power of the Unlucky Number 13; the competition would be re-badged by a team of eager-beaver marketing graduates working from a room with rubber walls, as “The Superthing” or “Sanzar MegaRugby” or “The Great Big Fuckoff Rugby Comp”, or “Gladiators With Oval Balls” or whatever they think might appeal to a TXT-enabled teen with acne from too much face-paint, and more pocket money than brain-cells.

Another option is that as well as a fourth Australian team we get an additional team such as a combined Pacific Island franchise to make a “Super-14″. The testbed for this has already been seen recently as the IRB help to get some fixtures post-Rugby World Cup and bring some much needed money in to the Islands rugby coffers.

With either 13 or 14 teams, the powers that be won’t be forced to radically change the format of the competition to a Pool-play configuration, and they will undoubtedly opt to simply create a bloated version of the Super-12, a great wallowing Mammoth of a competition which numbs the minds of spectators, pummels the bodies of players, and squeezes summer sports more than ever before.

Hopefully sense will prevail and we will see something else. The best option would be to invite another one or two teams in, making 16 and reconfigure the competition for Pool play, and perhaps a two-level playoff (Cup and Plate) at the end. The Australians might raise a fifth team, or maybe the Japanese would be keen. If pool play was used, then Argentina might also be considered, since the travelling logistics can be lessened by the appropriate use of pools.

Whatever the outcome I hope that some sanity is brought to the table as well as balance sheets, and that the fans and players are considered. Above all the age-old saying that “bigger is not necessarily better” should be uppermost in their minds. There’s another saying which is appropriate here as well – “quality not quantity”.

Like all old sayings, they got old because they have value.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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25 Jul

Cup Fever
by Don Christie
25 Jul 2002

“The NZRFU considered breach of the clean venues condition exposed it to a liability of up to $A10m. A risk of that magnitude should not have been left dependent on an unconfirmed oral understanding” Sir Thomas Eichelbaum – Independent Rugby World Cup Inquiry, Report of the Reviewer July 2002.

This is a key conclusion of the well researched, well written and incisive report by Sir Thomas “Judge Jeffries” Eichelbaum. Ultimately this is the reason that messrs. Rutherford and McCaw are spending more time with their families than they might have anticipated a few months ago.
The report covers the period from 1997, when the ARU and NZRFU submitted a joint bid for hosting the Rugby World Cup and April 2002 where the RWC was finally yanked out of New Zealand’s grasp by the IRB. It categorises a series of failings, mis-understandings and bad governance from the IRB, the RWCL, the ARU and the NZRFU.

RWCL is the company set up by the IRB to manage the RWC. It’s chairman is also the IRB’s chairman, Vernon Pugh. Its vice-chair is also the IRB’s vice chairman, Rod Fisher. Fisher was appointed the new chairman of the NZRFU when McCaw resigned.

The original bid for hosting the RWC and the manner of its acceptance by the RWCL set the seeds the whole debacle. Whilst the IRB accepted the bid it did not actually sign-up for anything. In other words, it allocated the possibility of hosting the tournament to the antipodes whilst reserving the right to change conditions and costs right up to the point of signing hosting contracts. It changed conditions and costs with such gay abandon that the main contract with the principle host, Australia, was three years late in coming and not signed until late 2001. In addition the costs rose from a predicted $A20 million in 1997 to $A106 million in late 2001. NZ’s scope for offsetting these costs was limited and become further limited in 2001 as the RWCL started making demands for 100% rights to all corporate boxes (this was certainly not a requirement in 1997).

Over this extended period ARU / NZRFU relationship was souring. The ARU tried to make a grab for both semi-final’s in 2000 and was pressing hard on other fronts, such as Super 12 expansion, that the NZRFU was not so keen on. That John O’Neil is a pain in the arse to deal with is probably an understatement. In the meantime the RWCL was lacking in leadership and delegated authority. From the report it seems that Vernon Pugh was the only man allowed to make a decision. The poor, unfortunate Mr. Pugh, however, is overworked. He was not available for meetings, not available on the phone calls and generally harder than a bar of soap in a forwards’ bathtub to pin down.

That was the context. You might think that given the above circumstances the good Judge would set forth and exonerate the NZRFU board and its CEO from any major blame in the ultimate outcome.

But this is where the report comes into its own and why it should be used in the future as 101 reference manual for how to run a piss-up in a brewery.

Instead of exoneration the report revels in highlighting the systematic failure of the board to read the writing on the wall. Failure to realise just how irritating and whinging they appeared after years of persistent bleating, failure to develop a coherent strategy, including an “out” plan and failure to recognise that “he who angers you defeats you”. From the very early on the NZRFU’s position seen from the outside resembled that of Romeo’s sweetheart, Julliette “maybe, maybe not, maybe, maybe not”.

The NPC overlap debacle, potential losses, constant bickering with the ARU, a lack of staff committed to the project and a final hysterical outburst to the media, all contributed to the final breakdown. Of great concern was that the breakdown was not just with Vernon Pugh but most of the IRB as well.

The board has been true to its word and published the report in its full, unedited form. This open attitude and willingness to “take it on the chin” bodes well. Despite this it is hard not to feel every sympathy for David Rutherford, the CEO who represented the wishes of the board and the provincial unions to the best of his ability. His decision to resign (McCaw’s was surely inevitable) has opened the way for the NZRFU to “move on”. The direction of move will be interesting. It has to recognise the following:

1. New Zealand cannot go it alone. It needs to build up a broad base of international support that is sympathetic to our aspirations and views. We need to do this be recognising other international unions’ sensibilities and needs and supporting them where-ever possible.

2. There is a strong need to “sell” New Zealand rugby. How many IRB delegates from outside SANZAR did we wine and dine at last weeks tri-nations game? There should have been 22 invitations go out, wives and families invited along with a free skiing weekend in Queenstown. Oh, and don’t forget the free Air New Zealand tickets to promote a major sponsor and tax payer owned airline.

3. Reform of the structures that govern and manage international rugby is required. The NZRFU criticisms of the IRB and RWCL are very valid and it is no-ones interest (apart from a handful of gin swilling cronies) that these structures remain unreformed. Surely, at the very least, Pugh should be forced to relinquish at least a dozen of his many hats. I believe Wales need him desperately.

4. The governance of the NZRFU itself needs revue. This is a difficult area. Because rugby is a grass roots game in NZ and because its governing body is elected by the local unions (club to provincial to national) it is politically efficient to be seen to represent the interest of ones “grass roots”. Clearly there is room for conflict when the needs of local unions conflict drastically with the national needs. In trying to protect the NPC on behalf of the unions the NZRFU made themselves look complete loonies on the international stage.
It should also be recognised that old relationships are changing.

The ARU has a very different structure from the NZRFU and can be much faster at reacting to events. They are at the top of the world at them moment. The Olympics and their love of cricket has blessed them with huge stadia which can be filled if the right teams are playing. Their own team has benefited immensely from the advent of professionalism and the Super 12. They have won two of the four RWCs that have taken place. This is a union that does not feel the need (as it might have done in 1997) to partner with anyone. Whilst Australia will always be an important on the pitch rival it should never again be seen as a “mate” with which one would go naively into major deals.

In the meantime the South Africans are tiring of the long haul across the Southern Hemisphere when a more lucrative European market is just as accessible. Removing Italy and adding SA to the Six Nations would certainly add spice to that most revered of tournaments.

These are hard challenges and the NZRFU had better be up to facing them.

Finally, we New Zealanders need to think quite clearly about just what sort of player we want to be on the world stage. Frankly I find comments, from the likes of David Kirk, that NZ does not have the capability to host major international events to be quite stomach churning. Of course we have it, just look at the Americas Cup.

The major challenge facing us is whether we are going to moan and groan if the “markets” do not pick up the tab for these sort events or whether we are going to allow our governments and local authorities to spend money build infrastructure and environment that facilitates such events.
Without this sort of backing the NZRFU and every other sporting federation is always going to appear diffident and weak on a global stage. I know what I want – do you?

19 Mar

Don't look back in anger / Move on up
by Rob Wallace
19 Mar 2002

There’s something fishy about the whole NZRFU saga over the last 3 months, but the bit that concerns me is the S12 expansion, which seems to be at the core of this very messy fallout.

I still don’t understand the logic of vetoing the procedure at the last minute, especially after agreeing to go ahead with a thorough independent report about expanding the S12. If the NZRFU were so opposed to expanding the S12 the report should never have happened. To commission the report, and then ignore strikes me as foolish.

It’s this sort of arrogance of the NZRFU that gets us into the deep water we’re in now.

The reason the S12 was a success was the fact that it was an expanded, televised, hyped version of an existing concept – the S10 or previously SPC. News Corp liked the idea and funded it to the tune of $500 million over 10 years. Now what do Sanzar have to offer at the next negotiation – more of the same [something we're getting bored with] or something new?

The S12, while not moribund, is looking unhealthy, and in need of a revamp. This is due for 2005 when the contracts are renegotiated but we may well be served better by embarking on this earlier. I understand, and agree with, the fact that the rugby season is too long and that lengthening the S12 would worsen this further but that’s no reason not to look at alternatives.

There are so many options. Let’s give the Aussies another team. Hell, let’s give them 2 or 3. Expand the S12 to 16 or 18, but play it in pools, with an expanded playoff system like they use in the NRL [NRL playoffs have huge viewing figures]. Now let’s see, what does that do to our season? 7-8 weeks round robin, maybe 4-5 of playoffs – oh, look it’s shorter that the S12! More teams for Aus gives them the opportunity to start up a NPC type competition as well while the Currie Cup and NPC run. Other options include dropping a NZ team or running more overlap with the TN and the NPC, which does take the AB’s out of the NPC.

NZ could even have another S12 team. They could then expand the NPC 1st Division to 12 teams, without promo-relegation [yeah, I know we all prefer it but financially it's more stable to remove it] and put two 1st Division teams into each S12 franchise. Much better balance, avoiding some of the problems we have now.

All of these are options and I believe the NZRFU erred in not trading an expanded S14/16 for some other compromises that suited NZ rugby.

Back to the RWC. I am sure that Australia can host the WC on their own, and that they will do a bloody good job with it. It’ll be a great spectacle. But I really don’t think that shafting NZ rugby in this way is in Australia’s best interests either. If this is payback for S14, so be it. But I would think that NZ rugby officials won’t forget this either, and the loss of goodwill between Australia and NZ is something neither country needs. Aussie needs us as much as we need them – both counties are so much stronger together. Vernon Pugh and the NH IRB reps must be rubbing their hands in glee as they see the traditional SH forces splinter, which seems to give the NH nations the power to do as they like at IRB level while NZ and Aus play tit for tat.

I think it’s a real pity that O’Neill and the ARU are so arrogant, and don’t have the vision to see that the short term gain of excluding NZ from the RWC may be very detrimental for Australian [and NZ] rugby long term.

18 Feb

The Super TWELVE Is With Us Again
by Paul Waite
18 Feb 2002

Sources close to the creche known as The Australian SANZAR Offices described John O’Neil as “tired and emotional, but in a stable condition” tonight after yet another frantic tantrum had resulted in a few tiny blood vessels bursting in his even tinier brain.

“NMR scanning is of no use to us in this case”, Doctor Edward Hebblethwaite told a hushed press conference after the event. “We can only detect cells in groupings of 5 to 6, and his cerebrum is much smaller than that”.

O’Neil is, however, in no danger whatsoever. “As far as we can ascertain, he’s been in this condition all his life” Hebblethwaite added, mopping his brow with a large paisley-patterned hankerchief. “For him, this is perfectly normal”.

Earlier in the day O’Neil had seemed to the World at large, and in particular the NZRFU, to have “thrown his rattle out of the pram” as a SANZAR spokesperson succinctly put it. At a meeting last year the idea of the Super 14 had been agreed on in principle by all three participants, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Although South Africa and New Zealand left that meeting on the clear understanding the idea had yet to be drawn up in detail, and that it was in principle only, O’Neil seems to have been under the staggeringly stupid impression that it was all a done deal, even though nobody had even thought of asking the Super 12′s “owners” (as it were) News Limited, what they thought of the idea. Added to this gross oversight, New Zealand had agreed to the expansion only if certain terms surrounding player burnout and revenue sharing were nutted out. They have not been.

Now, in his childish dementia, O’Neil is blaming the NZRFU for dragging the chain. Of course, he can probably be forgiven for forgetting the conditions and requirements the idea hinged on. Having such a small number of neurons, there’s a limit to what his mind can contain, at a guess.

As it stands there is no chance of the Super 14 coming our way until at least 2005. This is good news. Haka has always thought that it was an idea which spelled doom to our NPC competition, and as long as the NZRFU put a lot of energy into addressing this, we now have the time to come up with an alternative.

I’m sure the marketing guys will also have a lot to say about it. For goodness’ sake, by 2005 will the public want to see just another Super 12-like format, or would they be hanging out for something a bit different? I know what the answer is, but do the NZRFU? The idea of expanding to encompass Pacific Island nations and even the likes of Argentina and Japan in a pool-play/playoffs variant beckon.

Over to you NZRFU.

As for John O’Neil, we’d highly recommend strapping the dummy in with a bit of No.8 fencing wire. That should shut the enfant terrible up for a while.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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15 Jul

Super-14: What's Super About It?
by Paul Waite
15 Jul 2001

Immerse yourself in the murky yesteryear World of John Le Carre. It’s 1969. The Cold War is at it’s height. Spies are everywhere, and there’s a Mole in The Circus.

Now bring yourself to the present. Imagine there’s a Mole in the NZRFU.

His mission is simple: infiltrate New Zealand Rugby, undermine it’s strength – the National Provincial Championship, disadvantage it’s position in the Super-12 with respect to Australia and South Africa, and do everything possible to increase player burn-out.

A nonsense scenario of course, but give the decision to cave in the Australia’s demands for the Super-14, it might as well be true since the facts seem to fit.

Let’s examine what the Super-14 will actually mean to New Zealand Rugby. Here are the essentials as they appear at the moment:

  • A longer ‘Super’ season: 94 games vs 69 for the S12.
  • A more compacted, intense international window. No rest weeks for the All Blacks now.
  • NPC shunted aside by pro-rugby. Very little All Blacks participation.
  • Extra team for Australia and SA in the S14.
  • No end-of-year tour for All Blacks to develop as a unit together

Now let’s look at the effects, as I see them, of each element above.

The first point: A longer Super season. God help me, but as a spectator I want less rugby than we have now, not more. This is killing us with kindness. I’d like to be able to savour a rugby season once more; to be hanging out for it to start each year, instead of thinking “oh no, not again” as it begins amidst the crack of leather on willow in the cricket season.

The effect of the large increase in the number of games will be to move rugby dangerously close to being simply an “entertainment commodity”. Under the assault, spectators will be forced to pick and choose and in so doing will simply browse Super-14 rugby like a soap opera – picking it up as and when they feel the need, discarding it just as abruptly. It will bring more of a new breed of spectator: the vicarious “shopper” for entertainment.

In short, too much rugby disenfranchises the true rugby supporter of old, and encourages the dumb thrill-seeker.

The second point: a more compacted international season. The massive Super-14 juggernaut has forced SANZAR to compress the international and Tri-Series season to fit. The result is that the players are being asked to play all their test rugby one week after the next, with no breaks. Given that the NZRFU stance was to address the problems of player burnout, this is a complete cop-out. The effects are simple here: more injuries, less quality play, and more players leaving for overseas contracts.

The third point: The Demise of The NPC. This is the worst blow of the lot. Notice that the NPC isn’t publicly being castrated of it’s All Blacks, but the effect will be the same. The NZRFU know that New Zealanders don’t want this, so they have managed to allow a small window of a few rounds of the NPC to remain. This will only last a season or two however, and after that the NPC will be a second-rate competition which sponsors and TV will gradually grow cold on. It will become a feeder for pro-rugby. The emphasis is always being directed towards the professional arena, and the NPC is lined up in the sights of the moguls. It has no place in their plans. It is an irritation to them.

The result is once again simple. New Zealand rugby will be weakened by this move massively. Our strength has always been the depth and the way we bring talent through the grades from a wide base wherein the elite All Blacks mix fully and share knowledge and encouragement by training and playing as far down the pyramid as possible.

The new model is the American model, where elite talent is scouted early and separated from mere mortals to be groomed in special academys and so forth. The drive is to separate the elite professional circus from the unwashed, and to keep it that way. In short The New Zealand Difference, our egalitarian pyramid of sport where everyone has an equal shot and mutual respect whatever their level of attainment is being surgically removed.

And another thing; has the NZRFU asked the players what they want? I’ll bet not. If they did they’d probably find most All Blacks really love getting stuck into NPC rugby as a balm against all the frenetic international stuff.

The fourth point: Extra teams for Australia and SA. This one is simple. The change benefits Australia hugely and to a lesser extent South Africa, whilst having no advantage for New Zealand. At the same time that we are shooting our own developmental strength, the NPC, in the head, we are increasing the development base of Australia.

The fifth point: No end-of-year tours for the All Blacks. Faced with the increase in rugby with the Super 14, and keen to try and pull the wool over everyone’s eyes that the NZRFU were addressing player burnout as promised, they have simply axed the end-of-season tour. What a brilliant strategy. At a time when our All Blacks are in dire need of the in-depth rugby immersion that the overseas tour offers, we remove the possibility.

The main effects are obvious. The All Blacks will become a bit like the Kiwi RL team, assembling for short periods just before jetting off and playing a test. Good for the balance sheet but bad for team morale and building the kind of understanding we have seen in previous New Zealand teams.

Additionally, the NZRFU were keen to stress that one of our our many “wins” with the Super-14 deal was that SANZAR would kindly support us in our quest for a share of overseas gate money. Aside from the fact that this promise equates to nothing tangible, the canning of overseas tours does seem to render this largely redundant.

In summary the Super-14 package is an absolute disaster for New Zealand rugby. The NZRFU and in particular Rutherford look to have had themselves well and truly rodgered by a professional set of negotiators and have come away having been convinced they’ve “won”. Classic.

What we’ve done is strengthened the opposition immeasurably whilst at the same time increasing the load on players, emasculating our NPC, treating our All Blacks like commodities, and threatening to bore the pants off the rugby public by saturating them with too much rugby.

The only hope is that apparently this deal still needs to be ratified by the NZRFU before it’s set in stone.

Ratified? What an appropriate phrase; the smell of rodent is pretty pervasive that’s for sure. Let’s hope the NZRFU have another look and trashify it instead.

It don’t look good from where I’m sitting. How about you?

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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

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