Wednesday, 4 March 2009

It’s a cliché I know, but tomorrow night’s Crusaders clash really is a do-or-die derby for the Highlanders.

The Cantabrians, with a close win over the Chiefs, followed by equally narrow defeats at the hands of the Brumbies and Hurricanes can ill-afford another loss if coach Todd Blackadder harbours any ambition to emulate his predecessor Robbie Deans.

The Highlanders for their part can erase the pain, at the condemned House of Pain, of gut-wrenching last-minute losses to the Brumbies and the Hurricanes, followed by a loss to the table-topping, if somewhat fortuitous, Waratahs.

A win against a depleted Crusaders outfit could be just the fillip before two very winnable home games against the Chiefs in Invercargill and the Cheetahs in Dunedin, followed by the more onerous task of the high-flying Bulls in the farcical ‘home’ venue of Palmerston North.

Highlander’s chief executive Richard Reid might have got a good pass mark for sorting out the franchise’s failing finances but he’s forsaken Queenstown and Invercargill and failed miserably in Common Sense 101.

Or maybe the former New Zealand cricketer, a relative newcomer to the university town, also failed Geography 101, got his Palmerstons confused and actually meant to play it 40 minutes up the road?

In these recessionary times it’s rather ironic the only reason the controversial new Dunedin stadium is likely to go ahead is because of the recession and generous John Key’s desire to throw the infrastructure cash around with gay abandon in an effort to spend his way out of the mire.

In another irony, the new stadium is going to have a roof but the sport most likely to benefit from weather-proofing, cricket, can not be played there. While rugby watchers will obviously benefit from a covered-in venue, it’s a winter code and can continue in inclement conditions whereas cricket can’t – as witnessed by last Sunday’s Twenty/20 final – or the lack of one.

I would’ve thought is you’re going to spend close to $200 million on a stadium, you might consider making it multi-purpose, along the lines of the Cake Tin in Wellington? I assume the reasoning for not doing so, is it’s too expensive and technically difficult to cover a round ground rather than a rectangular one? But it seems a hell of a lot to fork out for teams (namely the Highlanders and Otago) fans don’t appear to want to watch!

For someone who appears outwardly confident, I certainly battle the demons of insecurity.

Nowhere is this more evident than on the golf course, where negative thoughts and a lack of confidence are my constant companions.

This lack of confidence contrasts starkly to some of my golfing mates. When I resided in Gore, I played a fair bit of golf with former Southland No. 1 Peter Brinsdon. Now there’s a man who doesn’t lack confidence. And nor should he on a plus 1.5 handicap. I even had the good fortune to mark his card when he set the current course record of 63 (eight under par).

But of all the blokes I’ve played golf with, none comes within a bull’s roar of Big Don Agnew when it comes to self-belief on a golf course. If Tiger Woods believes he can make any shot, Big Don goes one better. He knows he can make any shot.

I’m always reminded of Big Don at this time of year because for many years we played as partners at Gore’s Festival Classic.

Big Don’s tales of his sporting prowess are legend. If it’s not about the time he hit Richard Hadlee for four or the occasion he stood up Brian McKechnie while scoring a brilliant intercept try, then it’s about the day he put one around David Fagan in a shearing shed somewhere up north!

Big Don might or might not read this. We’re not playing together this weekend because he is imparting some of his bounteous knowledge about post-drivers to farmers at the Dargaville Field days in Northland.

If you think I’ve been a bit tough on him, then you’re right. I’m still sore at losing $100 to him, in a head-to-head battle, on our Australian golf tour last year. In all the years we played, I’d never known him to use anything but driver, always aggressively and always waywardly, off the tee.

When our game in Australia came down to the crunch 18th hole, my only chance of hauling in his two-shot lead was his errant driver. So what does Big Don do?

For the first time in his life he pulls out a 5-iron and meekly pats the ball 150 metres up the middle of the fairway. Game, set and match and yet another humiliation on a golf course for yours truly!

I wonder if another awaits this weekend?

Last weekend’s highlight should have been the Highlanders game at Carisbrook. But it wasn’t.

It could have been Gary Muir’s quivering-voiced, late-night impersonation of Bee Gee Barry Gibb (albeit a rather portly one) in the corporate box karaoke that followed the game. But it wasn’t.

Last weekend’s highlight was going to Fleurs (she refuses to use a possessive apostrophe) Place in Moeraki. I digress, but if you’re looking for a great out-of-province eating experience then Moeraki is a magic place. And the mythical spherical boulders are well worth a look too! It’s yet another reminder to not leave town until you’ve seen the country.

Tonight I hope the gutsy, yet hapless, Highlanders (minus Jimmy and Jamie) get home against the Canes (minus the All Black midfield) because fair-weather fans love winners and quickly desert losers.

Dunedin is abuzz this week, not with the Highlanders, but with the Otago Volts Twenty/20 cricketers. The only Highlander getting a mention is Fetu’u Vainikola and that’s for all the wrong reasons. The names being bandied about over the office water coolers are not Cowan, McIntosh and Thomson. Rather it’s Redmond, Broom, Butler, Cumming, McCullum and Mascarenhas.

And therein lies the problem for the Highlanders franchise. I hope it’s as simple as the end of Dunedin’s very limited summer seeing the torch passed to the winter code, but I’m not holding my breath.

This weekend should also hold its breathless moments, especially for the 600 hardy souls tackling the MLT Moonshine Trail. Some of us are running, most are mountain-biking a course of their choosing between 15 and 40 kms.

For me, as much as I’m dreading it, a 30km run up and down the Hokonui Hills is an ideal build-up to the (equally dreaded - I haven’t done enough training) Boston Marathon which is now only two months away.

I am, however, taking some solace from my running bible, Marathon Training – The Proven 100 Day Program for Success by Joe Henderson, especially the following tips:

- Aim to run at least two-thirds of the marathon distance (28kms) before race day. Three-quarters (32kms) is an even better goal, since each extra kilometre beyond the minimum adds assurance of finishing.

- Where do the extra miles come from if your longest training run stops short of the full marathon length? Trust the magic of race day excitement to carry you the extra distance.

I pray he’s right!