Tuesday, 31 March 2009

All change

Again. Yeah, again, the rules are about to change ... and I still have not got a clue what either set of the ELVs actually set out to do. It is clear that after another, well, not sparkling Six Nations, the brandy swilling throwbacks of the Home Nations are going to come down on the IRB like a ton of bricks.

I think it took well over a year for our teams to cope with the new rules, in fact it was the All Black’s terrible effort against the Wallabies first up last year in Sydney (we lost 34-19) that led us to do away with the hopeless kick and chase. Teams are still struggling to find their feet with new rules that are interpreted differently by each ref.

However, swinging the pendulum full back may just cause more trouble. Clearly the ELVs were rushed into top level comps and Tests too soon (to get them into the 2011 RWC), but all the Northern toss about it being a SANZAR plot to ‘depower’ the North?! Arse. Frightened of English dominance? Maybe in the twelve months following June 2003, but where are you now England? Seventh in the rankings? Its a case of “The Mouse That Roared”. If you do not have the players across the park that possess the athleticism and skills to play adaptive rugby, you can’t simply change the rules. This is the sort of crap kids pull when they are 6 years old.

Consensus has to be reached somehow otherwise North & South will dig in and tear themselves apart ... and that will be caused by the English RFU and the ARU - the two book ends of rugby in terms of on-field style and off-field political shenanigans. I wonder what Argentina is going to be offered for their votes? The Falklands? A Tri nations slot?

Thirteen Years of Super Rugby Reality Check Time:
  • scrap the Super 14 teams, put our best provincial sides (not franchises) through to an international knockout round against the best Currie Cup sides, and whatever the ARU can organise
  • let the Pacific islands in, in some form
  • don’t give Aussie another team just because they are building another stadium (in Melbourne)
  • the non-qualifying NZ teams could play off for the Ranfurly Shield
  • the Tri Nations to be played every two years, or replaced, to allow tours that would create an ‘event’ for fans to follow (and overseas fans to attend) and hopefully stop us babysitting weak French or English sides
  • stop banking on ‘expanding’ the Aussie TV audience for rugby union; it will never happen
  • stop televising EVERY Air NZ Cup game ... even football in England has worked out this destroys attendance
  • stop playing the Wallabies every 4 weeks, especially in neutral show-pony venues like Japan and Hong Kong; you are pimping out the All Blacks, and to corporate attendees only
  • ask the Indians or the BCCI for some money?
A final note, and one that is more positive: I hope Ricki Flutey gets picked for the Lions. It really is a no-brainer on form, but it would be a remarkable achievement for the best performing Kiwi in England.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Paddy Power

Hats off to Ireland. They got their first Six Nations Grand Slam in 61 years. Hell, that makes our pining for 1987 look easy.

Now its all over for the internationals before the Lions tour to South Africa later this year. Check out this article from The Times, it’s great fun. Its such a treat to get a grasp on how a ‘Rugby Great’ like Jeremy Guscott, and Lord Spincter Jones actually think, or don’t.

The overwhelming flavour of their selections is not exactly peppered with English players, but Guscott actually thinks Wilkinson should be one of the No. 10! Plus Phil Vickery gets mentioned as Captain material, and O'Driscoll would not even get picked for the Test team. Stop it, you guys. My ribs hurt from laughing!

3-0 to the World Champs?

Saturday, 21 March 2009

L Plates for the Ref?

Another frustrating night at a Hurricanes match. Honestly, if I had not gone last night or watched on TV, and then read 5 yellow cards and one red card were handed out, I would think I had missed one hell of a dirty match ... but it was not.

The pedantic Matt Goddard killed it and 'technicalities' resulted in binnings willy nilly from the start. I think the only signal he knew was “incorrect entry at the gate”. He did not police the offside sufficiently, and Fourie du Preez was almost in the Hurricanes backline late in the second half. And as for Bakkies Botha getting rucked a bit when he was blatantly offside ... Eaton gets pinged and now goes to the judiciary.

I missed the Warriors game, for this pseudo rugby display?

It leaves the Bulls at the top surely, and in control now. South African teams are doing better on the road these days, and this (along with the Webb Ellis Trophy) gives SARU power.

I have to wonder about all this talk of rejigging it to a pools based compettion of 15 teams too. So, the New Zealand teams basically play each other, home and away, in NZ and the best teams progress to an international knockout stage?

Sounds like the original Super 10 of the 80s to me. What is the logic of bascially operating a openly two tier domestic system? We might as well crap the bloody Super 14, and let the best Air NZ Cup teams make it through. It may well reinvigorate things by having players play for teams where they come from, and spread the All Blacks around some more - so that fans can actually see them play.

The finals obsession thing seems to be a knee jerk reaction to Northern Hemisphere criticism ... the way they hold the Heineken Cup up as the ultimate. I'll agree, a bit; I loved the HC finals when they came around, but all those teams that qualify come are based in a separate domestic league (Guiness Premiership, Magners League, Top 14 and whatever goes on in Italy).

Both NZ and South Africa have very established domestic competitions they respectively claim to class as sacred and ‘ring fenced’ from the test calendar and Super expansion, but the NZRU has gradually eroded away the old NPC's aura. Q: Who does not have a domestic competition, and in fact scrapped it after only 12 months? A: Australia.

Its claimed that Aussie is the place to grow the game’s audience for Sanzar, but we are really subsidising their game and propping them up. Who really wants to see the All Blacks play the Wallabies four times a year? In Australia, club sport is king, not regional or state teams - league and AFL prove that.

The franchise thing is dull. Make provinces stronger again, and restore the Ranfurly Shield’s status; how long before an All Black never plays in Shield rugby except when he is coming back from injury?

Ah well, its up to the back room boys now. I just hope someone here is strong enough to stand up to John O'Neill, otherwise we will end up following Australia and screwing rugby here.

The Canes were lucky though. Had Steyn got all his kicks, the Bulls could have won by another 15 points. One more loss, and the Hurricanes are out. And fercrissakes, Cooper ... can you please give David Smith a start!

Monday, 16 March 2009

Pimms O‘Clock!!!!

Well, it looks like the excessive experimentation by Marc Lieveremont has cost the French side and handed them a right royal thrashing at the hands of England. Four tries to nil, 34-5 ... and no sin binnings! All in front of 82,000 Hackett wearing, Pimms swilling, Chariot Singing happy Toffs.

This means England should get third this year now, providing they beat Scotland at Twickers on the final weekend - the thrashing of France gives them a points difference edge over Les Bleus. To be sure, most people will be watching Ireland play Wales in Cardiff, to try and get their Grand Slam win. Hell, I know I would ... if I could afford Sky and find it tucked away on the Rugby Channel.

In the meantime, I have to read the UK press and scour for video clips on Auntie, to watch it. Looked like a cracking winters day, and within minutes England started their (first half) romp, which led to endless punches of the sky and pile ups of unrestrained man love. God, you’d think they’d actually won the World Cup! Again.

Standout player? Looks like that Maori fellow they all said should not don the Red Rose because he is not an Englishman. Today it was Champagne Flutey ... shit, I should write for The Times.

And you’ve gotta love The Times really - I mean, they truly get acknowledge the spirit of this wonderful sport’s multicultural nature ... every time they refer to a black player as ‘dark’.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

It’s a Draw

The RWC 2011 draw is out and can be downloaded from here. Obviously Martin Snedden will be pleased with getting the Buffet Kings of the IRB to agree to 16 venues around New Zealand. This really is great given the provincial spread, and it does fulfill in the NZRU’s pitch of a “stadium of 4 million” ... but have you been to a game lately? Its more like a stadium of 10,000 if you’re lucky.

The best way to fill a rugby game these days is to tell the local Indian community their cricket heroes are playing - the atmosphere on the Indian tour has been lively, good humoured and vocal ... and I can’t wait for the Tests. Has cricket supplanted rugby here? NZC has full coffers, and now our players’ IPL pay packets put them beyond All Blacks for income.

One thing not clear yet is when the games will be played; both Kiwis and visiting fans should be prepared for some very late games. Snedden did admit a while back that to get this many venues he may have to concede on late local kick-off times so that the Pommy fans can get to the pub in their mornings for a Full English and Low Chariot sing-a-long. A shame: real rugby fans will watch whenever (NZers have always had to get up at 3am), all this ‘growing the game’ nonsense doesn’t wash. Its all about the IRB maximising the TV audience and revenue, and hence they came down hard on TVNZ, Sky & TV3 trying to mount a joint bid to broadcast it. The networks may well have been trying to pull a fast one to keep costs down, but it surely is not hard to imagine that this event is possibly beyond the resources of any individual network’s resources? Dunno.

Anyway, Whangarei, North Shore, Rotovegas, H-Town, New Plymouth, Napier, Palmerston North, Nelson and Invergiggle are all getting a slice of the pie and that is cool.

If I was Sneddo though, I’d make sure that he has a few spare balls on the touch line at those Palmy games ... the ‘tea leafing’ locals have form in League Tests.

And in Northern Hemisphere happenings, I’m with Ferdy on this: no Six Nations coverage here in NZ is embarrassing. It remains one of the few free-to-air sporting events on telly in the UK, with the BBC showing all games, so for even TVNZ not to get some sort of highlights basically demonstrates our ‘heads up our arses’ approach to everything that side of the equator. Its England v France this weekend, at Twickers! You won’t see more pomp than that - and I’d love to see big Seb Chabal playing off the back instead of at lock wher Bernie La Porte kept him.

Ah, Britain ... at least when they play, they kick-off in the afternoon. “Pint of Best, thanks luv”.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Getting older ...

If fans are voting with their feet about Super 14, and rugby in general, because of its blandness and lack of variety ... what’s up with NZ music?

I gotta admit, that since I have been back here, the incessant jazz-skank-dub vein that seems to permeate almost all NZ musical output (and the summer’s festivals) at the moment has struck me as boring and unimaginative. I know reggae has always sold phenomenally well here, and like a lot of Kiwi music lovers, dub & roots does constitute a chunk of my music collection - but is it all we can come up with at the moment?

I read Simon Sweetman’s blog today, and I had to nod a little in agreement. I felt a little vindicated, having been dragged across to West London more than once in the last 3 years for some Black Seeds, Fat Freddy’s, or Pitch Black gig only to be left bored and hating the sheep-like Kiwis who will turn up, pay at least £20 ... and then talk loudly all through the gig.

The pinnacle was seeing the Phoenix Foundation at Islington’s Carling Academy 2 or 3 years ago. Not only were the band pissed, shambolic and disinterested (which is not necessarily ‘un-rock and roll’), but I could not even hear the songs due to blonde sheilas loudly discussing their preferred public transport routes they took to work each day. A shame, as I used to rate those guys - maybe I still do, not sure.

I am having to look for the good Kiwi stuff at the moment, and unfortuantely the continued existence of The Feelers, Elemeno P and Op Shop leaves me cold. It does not help that I live in Wellington, where you are expected to drink short blacks, wear a ‘jazz hat’ and harbour openly a love for epic 5/4 skat workouts. And this month its Wellington Jazz Fest; it’s like being trapped in a room with Howard Moon for a fortnight.

There is clearly loads more Kiwi music around now - on radio, in ads, on telly and up the charts. It is just that this makes my patented Quality Pyramid bigger ... there will be a small, higher class, ultimate peak of artists doing their own thing, but that will be held up by a solid foundation of complete shit. It sounds a bit Darwinian, but in our case the finches are developing tertiary degrees in songwriting.

Where’s the beautiful noise? Where’s the variety? Where’s the originality? (Please don’t answer “Ladyhawke” otherwise I will scream). Where’s all the good music that a recession is supposed to produce? Didn’t Martin Phillips acknowledge that one of the main reasons behind the Dunedin thing was ... the dole? I blame the internet.

Rant over. Got to go and put another CD on - that Salmonella Dub album has finished ...

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

The Brain Gain

All this talk of McAlister coming home ... what about me and my un-sports hero ilk? I did not come back to NZ because my lucrative egg ball contract came to an end; I came back to New Zealand because it is my bloody home, because I wanted to be back in the same country as my family, and because when I want to eat fish n chips I want it to be freshly cooked in front of me, by a smiling cook ... not stewed by some hunchbacked illiterate Limey, in oil brought back from Dunkirk, and left for three hours under a sun lamp. Sheesh.

Even The Listener was getting in on the act with its cover story this week - High Flyers. What a load of old arse. If they were such high bloody flyers they would be able to ride things out over there, instead of coming back here like prodigal sons & daughters, attempting to multiply economic activity merely by wafting their Air Points cards across the great unwashed.

Sample of the ‘typical’ Kiwis the Listener says are coming home: a journalist, an IT specialist, a research scientist, a global marketing project manager, and a cardiologist. What about all the call centre workers, accountants, landscape gardeners, lawyers, plumbers, admin staff, marketers, drivers, teachers & nurses? I get that the article is aiming at the so-called best and brightest, but it actually ignores the lesser twinklers, people like... well me.

I have got 15 years experience in the graphics/advertising industry - I’m looking for a job, and finding it bloody hard. I am stoked to be back here, but its going to take me a while to find work. I left a very enjoyable (and safe) job in London to come home, and I knew it would be a lot harder to find work once I got back here - no illusions. I just think that the Listener article should have focussed on common reasons why average Kiwis were coming home, and what their hopes were. Instead it looks like it was done via Facebook asking disparate friends a few Twitterish questions, and the journalist the story opens with never even bloody left the UK! What a twist!

Jesus, you can see why I have The Guardian’s website bookmarked if this is the sort of tosh you have to pay for here.

And if anyone out there knows what a ‘
global marketing project manager’ actually does, feel free to let me know. It sounds like the sort of role you would put on your application for The Apprentice ... but then again, I’m looking for a new job.

PS In regards to the bankers & The Crunch though, check Boon out. Ditto.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

New IRB Rankings

It feels like this is turning into an England bashing forum, but I am not making any of this up - rather it illustrates their slide. The new IRB rankings are out, and they have slipped to 8th ... their lowest ever.

Look at the graph below and this charts the four semi-finalists from RWC 2003 (which England won) from straight after the tournament until the end of 2007 (beyond which the IRB website AnalyCon won’t go past).

Besides the Red Rose plummet, it also shows that the pesky Wallabies and Les Bleus are always sniffing around the podium, and that New Zealand is consistently No. 1 in the world... bar for one week every fourth November, eh. Go Adidas!!!!!

For editorial balance I have stuck in South Africa as well - separately, as the chart only dies 4 years at a time. In a way it shows they have come the farthest - could be an interesting Tri Nations.

Monday, 2 March 2009

King Frank

I’m with Frank Bunce on this one, and he is royalty after all. I think Luke McAlister should play in a New Zealand comp first before being picked for the All Blacks. Despite his obvious class and ability to play 10 and 12, the guy has been playing for Sale Sharks in the England’s Guinness Premiership and I think its fair to say that on day to day basis that league is below the standard of our Super 14 and Air NZ Cup ... certainly it lacks the intensity & pace needed to just let you swan into the Tri Nations. Sorry, but its true; the league may have a more professional structure, based as it is on the private ownership model of Premiership Football, but its dour play and inconsistency are all to visible in England’s style (or lack thereof).

And anyway, the NZRU making special dispensations for its marquee players is an idea that’s already down 0-1 ... look at Carter’s injury. Both he and Lukey went over to ultimately experience Heineken Cup finals rugby; neither of them got there, unlike Byron Kelleher at Toulouse.

It may well be that as Britain’s cash strapped millionaires tighten their belts and lose interest in forking out for minority sports like rugby, so the financial carrot dangling for our players might shrink.

Martin Johnson is also saying he will pick players based in England over those plying their trade in France’s Top 14 (which matches Warren Gatland’s leanings towards Magners League players for Welsh selection), so the days of us losing prime ABs to the Northern Hemisphere may be coming to a close.

Might get a Lotto ticket this week - after all, weekend just gone was a clean sweep: Hurricanes, Black Caps and West Ham won ... that NEVER happens.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

What a load of rubbish

Not my headline at all, but that of the Guardian’s Eddie Butler in review of England’s latest Six Nations effort. It seems they are still flopping around off their feet like the fatties they are, incapable of giving a pass to unleash their “wing three-quarters”, and getting binned quicker than the copy of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ my mum got me for a birthday present five or so years back. They have leaked 30 points so far in the 6N while players were in the bin, and are apparently cheating in blatant fashion. He said it.

Its clear England’s intent has moved beyond 10 man rugby, but 14 seems to be their favourite number this season. The Red Roses’ failure has put the Irish on track to for a Grand Slam title this year (providing they beat Scotland and then Wales), but unlike Wales’ clear dominance of last year’s competition, I am not sure Ireland are head and shoulders above what is an average field. If Wales are indeed in a slump, then it may indeed be a hard task for McGeecan to get the Lions up to threaten with the Springboks later this year - though I can’t wait for that tour.

Meanwhile here ... the Canes ‘A Team’ pulled off the Big One down against the Soldiers of Christendom, I mean the Crusaders. Nonu back on form apparently. I’ll admit I was at the T20 game between India and NZ in Wellington, so I only saw the rugby on bar visits, but the nods of the blokes inside the lounge seemd to indicate a much improved performance, and many “toldyasos” about Weepu at 10.

Though now aren’t we chasing Lukey’s signature again? Been there before though; his Dad said no, and we ended up with Spongbob Squarepants at first five for two seasons.

At least it has put their season back on track, barring any train wrecks on the road in South Africa.

Still, I‘m a bit more into the Indian cricket tour at the moment, the Rockstars as they call them. Loved the way our bowlers restricted an incredible batting line up to such a moderate score, and despite the hiccups, our boys swung the willow at the right time.

It is great that our pitches are more conducive to good cricket now, and we are not relying on those green monstrosities that were producing 15 wickets a day on the last tour by India. We have to compete with the ‘Rockstars’, even if our new load of Young Guns are still a bit pub rock.

Be back the Caketin for the ODI this week. Mmmm, overpriced, warm, plastic-tasting beer.