Thursday, 26 November 2009

They say a relationship breakup is right up there with a death in the family or moving house when it comes to the stress Richter scale.

That being the case, I should be totally distraught following the end of a 42 year-old relationship. You see, since 1967 I’ve been religiously following the All Blacks and can say, hand on heart, I’ve not missed an All Blacks test on radio or television, until now.

Initially, my love affair began by listening to Bob Irvine’s radio commentaries. And since the advent of the first live telecast (the third test against Australia in 1972), I’ve never missed a test match (either live or catching up with replay the following morning).

The first test I can recall listening to was the 75th Jubilee match against Australia at Athletic Park in 1967. That was test match number 131. By my reckoning the All Blacks have now played 457.

That 326 match sequence was finally broken last weekend. Admittedly I was on the road and had little or no chance to watch the England test, but I’ve had plenty of opportunities this week and have not availed myself of any.

I hope I’m not losing my love for our national game. I keep telling myself it’s because the viewing time of 3-30am is not very user-friendly but if I’m being completely honest it’s because the All Blacks end-of-season tours are becoming somewhat ho-hum. Don’t get me wrong, they barely register on the Super 14 super-boredom scale, but some mid-week games would certainly spice up proceedings.

Just think back to the roaring success (even though they were deathly silent when we kicked for goal) of the Munster mid-week match on last year’s end-of-season tour. Imagine throwing in Llanelli (or whatever they’re known as these days), Wasps and Harlequins in with the likes of Munster for some mid-week magic?

The All Blacks already have a 33-strong touring party (34 if you count the man with the most unlikely of All Blacks names, Aled de Malmanche) so why not chuck another three on the bus, have a test match squad of 22 and mid-week team of another 15?

I’m sure you’d get the support of Ben Smith, Tamati Ellison, Mike Delany, Brendan Leonard, Tanerau Latimer, Liam Messam, Jason Eaton, Anthony Boric, Wyatt Crockett and four million couch potatoes.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Today is Black Friday, unlucky for some.

Wednesday marked the 91st anniversary of some truly unlucky souls. Namely the thousands of men who lost their lives on Armistice Day, the day World War One supposedly ended! I thought I’d share their tragic and senseless story with you.

An armistice (truce) was declared to end the Great War at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. The German negotiators had wanted an immediate end to hostilities when negotiations started on November 9. The Allies refused. Although it had been known unofficially for two days that the fighting would end on November 11, and known with absolute certainty as of 5am that morning that it would end at 11am, it didn’t stop the needless slaughter.

The Americans on the Western Front in France suffered more than 3,400 casualties. They weren’t alone in launching assaults on the last day. The British high command, still stinging from its retreat at Mons during the first days of the war in August 1914, judged that nothing could be more appropriate than to retake the city on the war’s final day. British losses on November 11 totalled some 2,400. Total French losses on the final day amounted to an estimated 1,170.

The Germans, in the always-perilous state of retreat, suffered some 4,120 casualties. Losses on all sides that day approached eleven thousand dead, wounded, and missing.

Indeed, Armistice Day exceeded the ten thousand casualties suffered by all sides on D-Day, with this difference - the men storming the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944, were risking their lives to win a war. The men who fell on November 11, 1918, lost their lives in a war that the Allies had already won.

In a chilling aside to history, one of the more vengeful American soldiers of the First World War was the man who would ultimately end the Second World War. Harry Truman, the American President who made the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan in August 1945, wrote to his future wife Bess in 1918:

"I'm for peace, but that gang [Germans] should be given a bayonet peace and be made to pay for what they'd done to France. It is a shame we can't go in and devastate Germany and cut off a few German kid's hands and feet and scalp a few of their old men."

You’re probably wondering what this tragic story has to do with sport? Not much really, except that history teaches us important lessons.

It teaches us that sport, however important in our lives, is not such a big deal. Lives are not lost and lives are not saved. Doctor’s save lives. Dan Carter saves test matches. It also teaches us there are two sides to every story. The Welsh saw a Dan Carter high tackle. We saw a hard tackle. We blamed the Germans for the atrocities of war, yet we were not blameless.
School’s out for summer. Here’s my end-of-year report card for the Stags:

Glen Horton (8): Another wonderful example of the great work Otago is doing in developing talent for Southland.

James Wilson (6.5): In some ways the troubled child of Southland rugby. Superbly talented, but we only get glimpses of it, such as in the semi-final against Wellington.

Tony Koonwaiyou (7.5): Like Horton he was slow out of the blocks due to injury but fully deserved his starting spot later in the season.

Matt Saunders (8): What he lacks in pace he more than makes up for in brains. He is a real leader and an integral part of the Stags.

Pehi Te Whare (6): Injury blighted his season.

Kendrick Lynn (8): As Earle Kirton is fond of saying - you can’t beat gas! Lynn has plenty but I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him yet.

Jason Kawau (9): Another superb season. He is possibly the best passing midfield back in the country (take note Ma’a). If the Highlanders don’t pick him up, they deserve to finish last!

Robbie Robinson (9): The Boy Wonder wasn’t without error this season. But he possesses the temperament of a Brian McKechnie or a Jeff Wilson, when it comes to stepping up to the plate in the big moments in the big games. I will take his sideline penalty goal in the Ranfurly Shield challenge to my grave.

Scott Cowan (8): Mini-Me again stepped out to the shadow of his illustrious older brother. Started with a roar, faded somewhat, then finished like the champion he has become!

David Hall (8): It’s a measure of the man that the coaches felt they could not leave him out of the team, even if that meant picking him out of position.

Hua Tamariki (7.5) Ended up playing second-fiddle to Hall but performed heroically in the Shield challenge when it really counted.

Tim Boys (9.5): Without doubt the best No. 7 in the Air New Zealand Cup. I’ll refuse to watch the Highlanders if he’s not picked!

John Hardie (9): The prodigy came through big-time. A superb foil for Boys.

Josh Bekhuis (9): After a disappointing 2008, following his stellar 2007, it’s a matter of when, not if, he’s an All Black.

Joe Tuineau (8.5): The big improver of 2009. Wow, what an athlete!

Dave Gannon (7): The big Irishman never let the side down but unfortunately he had to battle two superior incumbents.

Chris King (9): Brilliant season. Good old fashioned head-down, bum-up prop.

Jamie Mackintosh (8.5): Wonderful captain. Wonderful ambassador for Southland. Scrummaging experts express some concern over his technique, but you’ll do me Whopper!

Jason Rutledge (10): In 2008 he was just tipped by Boys for my player of the year. This season there could be no denying him. He won’t follow Dad into the All Blacks, but he will follow him into the Southland Rugby Hall of Fame.