Thursday, 18 March 2010

The long-awaited Ranfurly Shield draw, released this week, has a province collectively filling in its sporting diary for August, September and October.

Although Roger Clark and his merry men at Rugby Park HQ would probably have preferred Counties Manukau as a first-up challenger, the prospect of Otago leaves the mouth watering like only a Bluff oyster can.

Pure head-not-heart rugby logic would suggest it’ll be a minor miracle if the Stags can defend the Log of Wood for the entire season. It doesn’t get any tougher than an Auckland, Canterbury, Wellington finish.

Otago on August 7, who could be accompanied by as many as 5000 fans, will not be a walk in the (rugby) park either but this promises to be, arguably, Southland’s greatest rugby occasion.

The message to Stags fans is simple. Buy your tickets now, stop the enemy at the border, and by stealth barricade and limit the Otago contingent to 500.

* The early rounds of the Super 14 seem to have generated more interest this season than in the past few. Mind you, they’d need to.

I’m sure I speak for many fans when I say I can never get too excited about rugby until the Easter bunny has been and gone. My sporting focus over the next couple of weeks will be the two cricket tests, the first of which starts today, against the Aussies. Then there’s the small matter of Tiger Woods’ comeback at the Masters from April 9-12.

The Masters is already the greatest golf tournament on the planet. Tiger’s reappearance after his self-imposed sin-binning will send it into orbit.

Tomorrow night the Highlanders take on the Sharks at Carisbrook. I’ll be there to watch my first live Super 14 rugby (including on television) of 2010. The Highlanders team has a useful look about it and I really like the backline with boy wonder Robbie Robinson getting his starting debut at 10 inside the confrontational (if not punctual) Michael Hobbs.

The forwards, however, could do with a greater Southland representation. With no Tom Donnelly, Joe Tuineau should be partnering Josh Bekhuis. I’d like to see the hard-working Chris King make up an all-Stags front row and what does Tim Boys have to do to get a starting role?

* I’ll leave the final word today to Tony Laker who e-mailed me the following considered comment:

I heard Martin Sneddon on the radio this week talking about how security at the Rugby World Cup games will be tight and people will need to get there well before kick-off. He said because of that, his committee will have to ensure they provide some really good pre-game entertainment. I’ve got two words for Martin – CURTAIN RAISER! Give me SBHS vs Waitaki Boys any day compared to cheerleaders, races, ‘do stupid things for cash’, a band (unless it’s AC/DC) or any other non-rugby related thing!

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Some random sport thoughts:

* The new permanent roof on the Dunedin Stadium will be 37 metres above the playing surface at its peak in the middle. I wonder if that’s high enough to stop a Dan Carter bomb from hitting it? I think of the likes of former Southland fullback Jeff Gardiner, who had a towering punt, and wonder whether 37 metres would be enough to keep him at bay?

Some bright boffin has concluded the maximum height of an up-and-under to be “around 29 metres”. On the touchlines of the new stadium the clearance is reportedly only 30 metres. So will we see teams using the deflected bomb off the roof as an attacking ploy down the flanks? Regardless, I’m sure the new stadium will provide countless hours of fun at practice as the best kickers in Otago, the Highlanders and the All Blacks take on the challenge to hit the roof! My money’s on the ultra-competitive Jimmy Cowan to be first to try!

* A debate has broken out on Radio Sport as to whether competitive show shearing is a sport? That doyen of New Zealand sports broadcasting Keith Quinn, who was a guest of honour at last weekend’s Golden Shears in Masterton, concluded that indeed it is. Brendan Telfer, sitting in his studio overlooking the Waitamata harbour, argued otherwise, saying it’s no more a sport than milking cows.

So some meaningless rich-boys’ Louis Vuitton yacht race is a sport, while hard-working shearers whose athletic endeavour is the equivalent of running two consecutive marathons, don’t cut the mustard? Show shearing requires pace, skill, great fitness and coordination and is a pure man versus man competition. It’s a no-brainer Brendan!

* Sport and sportsmen have changed. And not for the better! Compare Aussie cricketer Michael Clarke’s dubious dash home to his beautiful but brazen fiancée Lara Bingle with the actions of kiwi cricketer Bob Blair more than half a century ago in South Africa. Blair’s fiancée, Nerissa Love, was killed in the 1953 Tangiwai rail disaster on Christmas Eve. On Boxing Day, because his country needed him, Blair bravely went out to bat. For his part, Clarke ran out, without facing a ball.

* Continuing the bravery theme, news of the courage of Kiwi soldier James McKie in Afghanistan got me thinking about what I’d do, put in his position. Was it an act of heroics or was it an obvious act of self-preservation? I’m no hero, to the contrary, I rather cruelly garnered a reputation for a lack of bravery under the high ball when I played rugby. But I think if some mad Afghani threw a hand grenade at me, and it didn’t immediately blow-up, my instinctive reaction would be to throw it back before it exploded. What have you got to lose? You certainly wouldn’t want to die wondering.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

‘Twas a great weekend for sport!

The Highlanders won on the Highveld, showing true grit in the process. I got to see Sir Bob Charles play golf, proving once again what a national sporting treasure he is by shooting 69, substantially less than his age. Best of all, the Blacks Caps provided one of the best sporting spectacles of the past decade with their last-gasp, hold-your-breath heroics in Sunday’s Twenty20 clash with the Aussies.

This weekend the Highlanders will have their work cut out at sea level in Cape Town against the Stormers but must take heart from the fact they’ve played well enough in all three games, albeit it’s not reflected on the points table. And what about this Michael Hobbs kid? We all thought it’d be Robbie Robinson electrifying the Highlanders!

The Black Caps, too, will take confidence into their second ODI against the Aussies at Eden Park. After the miserable entree dished up by way of the ‘Bangers and Mash’ boys from the sub-continent, it’s great now to be finally feasting on the main course of kangaroo.

For me though, the sporting highlight this weekend will be the 50th anniversary Golden Shears at Masterton, culminating in the Open final tomorrow night.

Since its inception in 1961 many great champions have graced the shearing board including the legendary Brian “Snow” Quinn (six titles), Colin King and Roger Cox (three apiece), Bing McDonald, Norm Blackwell and more recently Johnny Kirkpatrick and Paul Avery (all of whom have won twice).

Southlander Edsel Forde won the Open in 1989 and in more recent times his younger brother Darin and fellow Southlanders Joe Clarke, Alton Devery and Nathan Stratford have tread the board as finalists.

However, one man stands a long blow ahead of the field. Superlatives cannot do justice to David Fagan’s incomparable record. He has won 16 of the 49 Open titles up for grabs and if he gets his much-sought 17th tomorrow night he will have won more than one-third of the titles on offer since 1961 (coincidentally the year he was born). Surely that’s a record unprecedented in sport!

Kirkpatrick starts a clear favourite. Avery will be there or thereabouts. Look out also for Dion King, Dean Ball, Digger Balme, the young gun Cam Ferguson and Stratford’s in with a shout.
Only one result, though, will lift the roof off the Memorial Hall in Masterton. And you can’t beat, or bet against, a fairytale Fagan finish.