Thursday, 23 July 2009

How dumb are the three wisemen?

Southland-bias aside, what has Jimmy Cowan done to be dropped for the first Springbok test? His 50 minutes at Eden Park were amongst his best in an All Black jersey. Henry can talk all he wants about speed but this All Black side is going to do a lot of defending in the opening stanza of this test.

Who better to weather the storm from the physical foe than the world’s best defensive halfback? And if they’re hell-bent on replacing Cowan why not give the outstanding Piri Weepu a start? They’re stuck in the mindset of Weepu being an impact player. What’s wrong with making an impact in the first minute?

How dumb is the NZRU? Quite rightly, next year it will revert to a 10-team Air New Zealand Cup, increasing the window for the club rugby, the life blood of our national game.

Rugby Southland, to its credit, got it right with all the top players available for the Galbraith Shield final a couple of weeks ago. Dopey old Otago has its metropolitan club final this weekend between Southern and Dunedin. The top players have been out of action for past two weeks meaning the play-offs have been farcical with University A, Dunedin’s premier team, dipping out prior to last weekend’s semi-finals.

A 14 team Air New Zealand Cup was always a cop out and only came about because of weak-kneed, indecisiveness from the NZRU. All Blacks get dropped for poor decision-making. It’s about time some of their bosses suffered the same fate.

Where were you and what were you doing on July 21 (NZ time), 1969, when man first walked on the moon? For reasons best known only to my 9 year old brain, I decided to forgo listening to Neil Armstrong making a giant leap for mankind in favour of some small steps and a pet cocker spaniel-foxy dog called Wally.

While the rest of family gathered round the wireless for the historic moment at 2-56pm, I decided to mark the occasion by sitting on the front steps of our house, patting Wally. If it has achieved nothing else, it has preserved his memory for an eternity in mine.

At the time it seemed like a good idea but perhaps, in hindsight, there were two Wallys all those 40 years ago.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

While many Southlanders felt the earth move on Wednesday evening, the real rumble happened in Brisbane about two and a half hours later.

With nothing to play for but pride in the dead State of Origin 3, Queensland and New South Wales ripped into each other with the sort of mongrel and intensity old warhorses, Wally Lewis and Mark Geyer, would’ve been proud to call their own

Some critics had been suggesting State of Origin’s lost its bite since the halcyon days of the 1980s. Anyone who watched on Wednesday would beg to differ. State of Origin is the ultimate in the 13-man code where one-sided international fixtures are rightly regarded as second-class citizens.

I was in Australia following the All Blacks when the inaugural State of Origin was played at Lang Park on July 8, 1980.

The Queensland Cane Toads, captained by the legendary Arthur Beetson, squashed the New South Wales Cockroaches 20-10, with a young Mal Meninga slotting seven goals for a personal haul of 14 points. Another brilliant youngster, Lewis, also starred in his first of many magical moments for the Maroons, finally calling it a day in 1991 (Meninga went three better lasting until 1994!).

Initially I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. The ‘80s convinced me otherwise. Even now, on the eve of the most exciting Tri-Nations series in years, few rugby union confrontations, bar a full-blooded battle with the ‘Boks, hold a candle to State of Origin physicality.

Shame there’s not a place for Island of Origin on our already-overcrowded rugby union calendar.

A final thought. Am I being a little picky or have the three wise men made yet another unwise decision by deciding not to include another specialist openside flanker on the bench to cover Richie McCaw?

We are continually being told the modern game of rugby is won and lost at the breakdown. Aussie Bob Deans has seen fit to include both Phil Waugh and David Pocock to back up George Smith, while we’re praying McCaw is fit enough to last 80 minutes! His back up Rodney So’oialo is also coming off a long layoff.

McCaw is lion heart but will he, first game back, get the lion’s share of the loose ball? Conceivably he could end up competing against three men, in which case the score could be Aussie Bob 1, Kiwi Ted nil

Thursday, 9 July 2009

As a teenager with limited social skills you would always find me in the kitchen at parties.

And when it came to party tricks I had an equally limited repertoire. I was most proud, however, of my ability to imitate the sound of a boiling Zip. Unfortunately Zips are no longer a feature of Kiwi kitchens so my party trick has been rendered rather redundant.

The only other social skill I possessed was an ability to recite, chapter and verse, the All Blacks touring teams of 1967 (to Britain and France), 1970 (South Africa), 1972-73 (Britain, Ireland and France) and 1976 (South Africa). Which didn’t always impress the girls, which is why I was forever trailing in the wake of my good friend John Norman Philip Young, these days a prominent Invercargill solicitor (actually he was a bit of a solicitor back in those days as well, but that’s another story for another day).

Over the intervening years, my failed teenage party trick has metamorphosed into a failed adult dinner party conversation piece, although it has stood me in good stead at sports quizzes and bar-room debates with rugby heads of similar ilk.

Like any good rugby bore I’ve added to my repertoire over the years. And no more magnificent addition, I might add, than the Ranfurly Shield-winning Southland side of 1959. It’s now tattooed into my memory:

D L Ashby, R Todd, J G Allison, K F Laidlaw, W J Archer, W R Archer (captain), A J Tait, A J Soper, E A Gorton, I M Miller, D W Jack, L K Fyall, H W O’Neill, J S Borland and G G Spencer.

I’m 49 years of age. We haven’t seen the Shield in Southland in my lifetime. That’s why, 50 years on, 2009 is our year. Like Martin Luther King, I have a dream.

Otago will defeat a Wellington outfit minus Tialata, So’oialo, Weepu, Nonu, Smith and Jane in the opening round of the Air New Zealand Cup. For Otago, only Adam Thomson will be absent on All Black duties and league convert Michael Witt’s boot will see the Shield domiciled at Carisbrook for the first time since 1957.

Then Southland challenges for the Log of Wood the following Friday, August the 7th.
A glorious Robbie Robinson-inspired victory is followed by repelled challenges from Manawatu, Hawkes Bay, Northland, Bay of Plenty, Tasman and Taranaki.

And a great reign begins!

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Tomorrow the three unwise men name their All Blacks squad for the Tri-Nations. Here’s the team I’d line up against the Aussies at Eden Park in a fortnight:

Muliaina, Rokocoko, Smith, Nonu, Sivivatu, Weepu, Cowan, So'oialo, McCaw, Read, Ross, Thorn, Woodcock, Mealamu and Afoa.

Rokocoko and Afoa get in by default, I’d be tempted to give McAlister a run at second five-eighth to try to match the kicking game of Barnes, Weepu can’t do any worse than his two predecessors in the number 10 jersey and I think Read is a better long term bet than Kaino.

WG Grace is probably somersaulting in his grave and some of the old boys at Lords are no doubt aghast over their gin and tonics, but the suggestion that test cricket move to four day format is a good one for all but the purists.

I enjoy the thrust, counter-thrust and sub-plots of test cricket but have often pondered if the game expands to meet the time allocated to it? There’s a nice rounded logic in having four innings over four days. Or maybe over four day/nights?

Netball, like test cricket, is a sport I follow with a keen passing interest rather than a burning passion and, like test cricket, the seven-women code can be somewhat boring on occasions when the game is one-sided.

That was certainly not the case on Monday night when the Southern Steel dealt to the Adelaide Thunderbirds at an electric Edgar Centre. You could almost be forgiven for thinking you were back at Stadium Southland in the halcyon days of the Sting - with Donna Wilkins and Megan Hutton dishing out a bit of biff at either end of the court and Wendy Telfer and Adine Wilson roaming freely around the bits in between.

Much as she used to, when the Sting really stung, wily Robin Broughton kept the starting seven on for the entire game. Aussie Megan Dehn is now to the Steel what Robbie Deans is to the Wallabies, Katrina Grant could easily change her name by deed poll to Katrina Gazelle and pocket rocket Liana Barrett-Chase could teach Isaiah Toeava a thing or two about catching a ball on the run.

With no All Blacks to anguish over tomorrow, the netball will be a welcome respite!