Thursday, 29 October 2009

Diary of a Nerdy Rugby Groupie.

5pm: Arrive Christchurch. Head straight to the Speight’s Ale House where we’re greeted by a sea of maroon. Not a red and black jersey in sight.

5-05pm: Am accosted by iconic former Stag, Jeremy Winders. Courtesy of a lovely lady by the name of Pam at Rugby Sports and Leisure in Invercargill, the Chosen One is delivering a brand new Stags’ jersey for me to wear to the game.

5-06pm: It appears that rather than carry the jersey, the Chosen One (who has put on a few kilos since his heyday) decided to pre-stretch it by wearing it under his old Stags jersey.

5-07pm: I’m not saying Jerry has body odour, but the world would be a better place if he discovered deodorant. Nevertheless, greater men than I have sweated blood in the jersey so I figure it’s a small sacrifice to make.

5-15pm: Winders is proving to be a real “strong man” of Southland rugby. As I carry the jersey over my shoulder, no one is prepared to come within two metres of me.

6-30pm: Piper puts on a less-than-flattering, figure-hugging XL Stags jersey. Vanity and self-preservation make me decide to consign my smelly new size L Stags jersey to former Southland player, Roger Kilpatrick’s back boot as we drive to Lancaster Park.

7-20pm: I do “a Piper” on Piper. I ditch him in favour of a better seat in the corporate area with the National Bank. I’m too late for a free feed, but there’s free beer. Now if only the Stags come to the party this could be a great night!

7-58pm: We’re getting hammered. How long can the gutsy Stags hold out this sustained assault on their line?

8-18pm: We head to the changing rooms at 3-3. Where there’s life there’s hope!

8-34pm: Robbie kicks another simple penalty. Wow 6-3!

9-02pm: The Boy Wonder does it again, in what he would later describe as the “best struck kick of my life”. We lead 9-3. Waterboy Jimmy Cowan is going nuts on the sideline.

9-10pm: The last 8 minutes last 8 hours but after 50 years we have the Shield. Let the celebrations begin.

9-40pm: Along with Dick King (father of Stags prop Chris), I sneak past security into the victorious Stags changing rooms. Like a nerdy rugby groupie, I get my photo taken with one of my favourite Stags Tim Boys, the Log of Wood and Scotty Cowan (who I introduce myself to).

11-55pm: I shake the hand of the proudest man on the planet at the Bog bar. Leicester Rutledge has the look, only the father of a champion can have.

1-30am: I buy Boys and Cowan a beer. My new-found friend Scotty, mistakes me for Piper. But what the heck, I forgive him because he won the Shield!

3-30am: Lights out. This has truly been the greatest day of my life!

Monday, 26 October 2009

Today marks two years to the day to the 2011 Rugby World Cup final at Eden Park.

The good news is, I can think of two reasons why we will win:

1/ Richie McCaw and Dan Carter. Alongside South African colossus Victor Matfield, they are most influential players in world rugby.

2/ Home ground advantage. There will be patriotic fervor, the likes of which we have not seen since the 1956 South African series. The All Blacks are notoriously difficult to beat at home.

The bad news is, I can think of 10 reasons why we won’t win:

1/ Richie McCaw and Dan Carter. Lose one, or both, to injury and we’re toast. Outside these two, with the possible exception of Tony Woodcock and Ali Williams, we don’t have genuine superstar players. Compare that to the All Black sides of 1987 and 1995, both of which oozed world-class.

2/ Graham Henry.

3/ Steve Hansen.

4/ Wayne Smith.

5/ The lineout. The only consistent thing about the lineout since the aforementioned three wise men took over in 2004 has been its inconsistency. It’s our Achilles heel, despite having had more-than-useful practitioners in the form of Ali Williams, Chris Jack and Keith Robinson. As much as I admire Andrew Hore for being a good old fashioned tight forward, he’s sadly wanting when it comes to, arguably, a hooker’s most important role.

6/ Robbie Deans. Don’t be fooled by the Wallabies poor recent showing in the Tri-Nations. The win over the Springboks in Brisbane was a taste of things to come. Rob’s Mob will be peaking by 2011.

7/ France. We have a history of losing to the Rainbow Warrior bombers at quarter and semi-final time. Plus we have a record of dropping one-off games to them at home. They could again, sink us without trace.

8/ The rules. The modern structured game nullifies a lot of our inherent Polynesian flair. Free running backs are being replaced by catchers, kickers and chasers. Field position and not giving away penalties in your own half are now, sadly, paramount.

9/ Timing. Historically we’ve made the final in the early season June World Cups (1987 and 1995). October World Cups (1991, 1999, 2003 and 2007) have been unmitigated disasters.

10/ Because I’m buying a ticket, at great expense, to the final! With my luck, I have a sickening feeling I could be watching Rocky Elsom hold aloft the WilliamWebb Ellis Trophy.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

This is my last column! As a forty-something.

I started this gig a relatively youthful 40 year-old. Next week, nearly 10 years on, I’ll be writing from the wrong side of 50.

They say 50 is the new 40. I’m not so sure. At 40 there’s a chance your life’s journey has not yet reached the halfway point. At 50 you’re on the slippery slope. You take stock of your life. Where you’ve been, where you’re going, what you’ve seen and what you want to see.

Here are some sporting standouts from my first half century:

- The 1967 All Blacks to Britain and France. They say you never get over your first true love. These guys proudly adorned my bedroom wall and, to this day, I still love Sir Colin, Sir Brian and Ian Kirkpatrick.

- Getting out of bed in the middle of the night to listen (on radio) to the 1970 All Blacks take on 15 Springboks and one referee. Who could forget Bee Gee Williams in his prime.

- Having a boy-crush on Barry John in 1971 and wanting to kick round-the-corner just like him.

- Following, religiously, the last great rugby tour to South Africa, in 1976. Ken Stewart, who grew up on a farm just around the road from ours, was my hero.

- John Walker, in the best traditions of Jack Lovelock and Peter Snell, winning gold at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

- The 1981 Springboks tour. For all the wrong reasons it was the most memorable tour of my lifetime.

- Carl Lewis, emulating the great Jesse Owens, winning four gold medals at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

- The All Blacks winning the 1987 Rugby World Cup.

- 1996. As good as the All Blacks get. And I was there at Athletic Park to see the Aussies thrashed 43-6.

- Fulfilling a life-long ambition by getting to Wimbledon in 2003. Watching Serena beat Venus on centre court and Federer beat Roddick from “Henman Hill”.

- Being a part of the 2006 London Marathon. A crazy mix between pain and party.

- Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Valerie Vili and Nick Willis made me proud to be a Kiwi.

- The 2009 Masters at Augusta. Sport doesn’t get much better than seeing Tiger and Phil Mickelson, up close and in the flesh, paired together on the Sunday.

But I would almost trade it all, to witness Southland win the Ranfurly Shield. It hasn’t happened in my lifetime. I’m eternally hopeful it will. It would be the best belated 50th birthday present an old man could wish for.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Tomorrow we look forward to the David Tua v Shane Cameron fight of the century. Yesterday we looked back 34 years to, arguably, the fight of the last century.

As fascinating as Tua-Cameron will be, it pales in comparison to the Muhammad Ali v Joe Frazier “Thrilla in Manila” that made the world stop and go in search of the nearest television way back on October 1, 1975.

I remember it well, because at St Peter’s College in Gore, where I was a boarder at the time, we got part of the afternoon off to watch the fight in the school gymnasium.

The fight was staged at 10-45 in the morning (2-45pm our time) so Americans could watch it in prime time evening viewing. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos offered to hold the bout in Manila to divert attention from the social turmoil his country was experiencing, having declared martial law three years earlier.

Today heavyweight boxing is lightweight compared to the golden age when Ali, Frazier and George Foreman reigned supreme. The “Thrilla in Manila” was probably the zenith of Ali’s career following his “Rumble in the Jungle” when he regained the heavyweight crown from Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire on October 30, 1974.

Unlike Foreman, who became a friend of Ali’s after the fight, there was bad blood between Ali and Frazier, dating back to Ali’s comeback at Madison Square Garden in 1971. That fight came about because Frazier petitioned President Richard Nixon to pardon Ali after he was stripped of his title and his boxing license was revoked for refusing to be drafted to fight the war in Vietnam.

The-then heavyweight champ, Frazier, had also supported Ali financially during his exile from boxing so felt understandably betrayed when Ali labeled him an “ugly dumb gorilla” and the “white man’s champion” before their first fight.

Four years later, Ali cruelly taunted the less eloquent Frazier, famously saying “It’s gonna be a chilla, and a killa, and a thrilla, when I get the Gorilla in Manila”. In one of the most brutal bouts in history, both men fought to near incapacity, with Frazier’s trainer Eddie Futch throwing in the towel, not allowing his fighter to return to the ring for the 15th and final round, despite Frazier’s pleas of “I want him boss”.

Ali would later claim it was the closest to dying he’d ever been, declaring Frazier the “greatest fighter of all time, next to me”.

Tua-Cameron will be good. But not that good!

Before we watch the fight of the century, there’s the mouth-watering prospect of an entree of Southland’s first win at Eden Park for 70 years. And imagine following that up with a main dish of a Ranfurly Shield victory for the first time in half a century!

Thursday, October 22, 2009 in Christchurch. Bring it on. Let’s get ready to rummmmmmble!