Thursday, 17 December 2009

For as long as I can remember Southland’s been the poor rugby relation of Big Brother Otago. But no more!

We now are proud owners of the Ranfurly Shield. We now beat Otago more than they beat us. We now have a better talent identification system than them. And we now officially have better rugby coaches than them because ours are good enough to be home grown.

Due to some indescribably bad luck and some incredible stupidity from the selectors of the day, I never got to play provincial rugby. What I did glean though, from a long and less-than-luminous club career was that good coaches were good because they were great man managers and motivators rather than necessarily being brilliant technicians.

And the irony is I reckon, at club level, players need technical coaching more than those at provincial level. Let’s face it, these days if you’re good enough to play for Otago or Southland, chances are you’ve been hot-housed through an age-group talent identification or academy system and have already been exposed to some very technical coaching.

David Henderson and Simon Culhane are proof. Sure, they know their bridge from their gate from their truck and trailer (or whatever other trendy term’s in vogue in rugby these days) but most importantly they know their players, they treasure the heritage of the province and they know what it means to wear the S on the left breast.

They have developed a culture which is unashamedly Southland. And hey - it’s cool to be a Southland supporter these days - if you don’t believe me try buying a Stags’ jersey on the eve of a Ranfurly Shield challenge.

By contrast Otago’s decision to appoint Australian reject Phil Mooney ahead of the iconic southern man David Latta beggars belief! It’s not as though Mooney is the next Rod McQueen, he was red-carded by the Reds after six months!

Mooney may well be an excellent technical coach but I question whether he can instill the one ingredient Otago rugby lacks, on and off the field, at the moment - passion!

A decade ago, on the back of a Super 12 final at Carisbrook and an NPC title, Otago rugby was at an all-time high while Southland struggled with second-rate imports. My how the tide has turned in the intervening 10 years!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

With Christmas just around the corner it is fitting to reflect on the most definitive chronological peg in the sand in history. The birth of Christ more than 2000 years ago is so important we’ve marked time from that point onwards.

Thus we have BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini – meaning in the year of Christ).
The late Earl Woods once famously declared his son Eldrick (we know him better as Tiger) “will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity”. When asked if that included Buddha, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, he replied "Yes, because he has a larger forum than any of them” (a friend of mine has subsequently, and somewhat wickedly, suggested forum be replaced by harem!).

While Woods senior’s comments were patently overstated, especially in light of recent revelations, it is possible to draw a terminology parallel between his son and the son of God.
As a result, the hitherto god-like Tiger now has his very own BC (Before Crash) and AD (After Disgrace).

I’ve no doubt, after a suitable period of contrition, Tiger will recover as a golfer and surpass Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 Major titles. But will things ever be the way they were BC?

Since he turned professional in 1996, after an unparalleled amateur career, golf has been spell-bound by Tiger. He has been larger than the game. Hell, he has been the game!

The question is, will the game be hell for him, upon his return? I cannot describe how utterly frustrating it is to follow Tiger (as I was lucky enough to do for 10 holes on the final day of this year’s Masters as he went head-to-head with Phil Mickelson) and hear the inane utterance “get in the hole” as he played every shot, including his drives on unreachable 500 metre par fives!

When he returns to golf, he will need all his super-natural powers of concentration to not be put-off by some of the off-colour derivations of the “get in the hole” comment he could face.
2009 will not be remembered as the year Tiger didn’t win a Major. It is the year Tiger will be remembered for digging a hole. “Getting in the hole” is one thing. How he claws his way out of it in 2010 will be fascinating to watch!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

My favourite question to ask of folk over a quiet beer (other than name the 1976 All Blacks backline that played against Argentina) is the following:

If you could pick three people, dead or alive, with whom to have dinner and meaningful conversation, who would they be?

My three would be John F Kennedy, Bill Clinton and Tiger Woods (truth be known I’d love to pick JFK, Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby to find out who really did it but aside from solving the world’s greatest assassination conspiracy, Oswald and Ruby would probably have limited conversational skills).

Back to my imaginary dinner. I always thought Tiger’s squeaky-clean ways would balance the philandering meanderings of JFK and Bedroom Bill. Maybe that’s no longer the case and maybe Tiger’s halo is tarnished but nonetheless the world’s greatest sportsman would be enthralling company.

Like Kennedy and Clinton, Woods has presence. An aura. Mana. Call it what you will. Few men possess it. Barrack Obama and Roger Federer would be two, of few, who also spring to mind.

So what if I was to translate my hypothetical dinner to the current All Blacks side? Who would I pick?

Captain Fantastic Richie McCaw would be undoubted first pick. Not only is he indestructible (why are we risking him against the Barbarians?) and one of the two best players in the world, he’s also smart, articulate, eloquent and polished. Very much in the mould of former great All Black captains, Sir Wilson Whineray and Sir Brian Lochore, whom he will no doubt join as a Knight of the Realm should we win the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

The other natural choice would be the other superstar, and equal-best player in the world, Dan Carter. However, I suspect Carter’s talents are best suited to the rugby paddock and the catwalk so my next choice would be Conrad Smith, a man whose star is very much in ascent. Like McCaw, he’s smart. A qualified lawyer no less.

I’m sure Tony Woodcock and Andrew Hore would be good earthy blokes to talk a bit of farming with, but I reckon I’d go for Jimmy Cowan for my third dinner companion. Like all good halfbacks (and he’s fast becoming a great one), he has an extroverted personality and plenty of natural cheek.

Not unlike his illustrious predecessor, Justin Marshall, he was bit of a rough diamond when he started out on the rugby road to fame. Those rough edges are now smoothed, making Cowan a much more rounded person and player.

He will be at his peak for the World Cup but if he’s looking to life after rugby, he could do worse than take up the microphone. Marshall’s excellent recent television commentary work has proved halfbacks from Mataura can make a great fist of life, long after they’ve put their fists away!