Thursday, 29 April 2010

Tonight will be a real test of where the sporting passion of Southlanders lies. It’s the Highlanders versus the call of duck shooting.

On one hand you’ve got a brutal blood sport, where the prey is lined up and everyone takes a pot shot before the defenseless target is summarily executed. On the other hand you’ve got duck shooting.

Corny analogies aside, the Highlanders must collectively feel like the proverbial sitting duck in front of the maimai. Outwardly wanting to still appear calm and in control, inwardly paddling furiously under the water and knowing you’re about to be shot by an unforgiving public.

The irony of the hapless Highlanders’ season, and this won’t be lost on the hapless Glenn Moore, is the Highlanders have not played too badly this year if you excuse the inexcusable final ten minutes in Queenstown against the Force.

Despite the brave efforts of Josh Bekhuis and Hayden Triggs, no team can afford to lose a player of Tom Donnelly’s international standing. Likewise, the lack of Jamie Mackintosh’s calm head and on-field leadership has surely been another factor.

With away games to come against the Brumbies and the high-flying Reds, home advantage against the Waratahs tonight presents the best chance to salvage some pride from a season that promised much but delivered somewhat less.

With five Stags in the starting line-up and another five riding the pine, hopefully the prospect of welcoming some Ranfurly Shield heroes home to Rugby Park will be enough of a lure to delay the migration to the maimai.

* On a lighter note , one of the highlights for me every opening morning is to see what my duck shooting colleague, high-profile Invercargill lawyer John Norman Phillip Young, wears to the Riversdale maimai.

As I reiterate on an annual basis, he is a garish hybrid of Liberace and Rambo, with a hint of George Michael thrown in for good measure. I know he really gets off on wearing a wig in his day job as a Crown Prosecutor and duck shooting provides him with the perfect opportunity to indulge his fetish for getting dressed up.

This year our duck shooting crew includes a doctor, two farmers, a stock agent, yours truly and a new recruit from Perth with the unenviable nickname of Hideous! Plus, of course, our resident QC. And he is.
And I can’t wait!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

I don’t know about you but I’m growing weary of apologies.

It would appear to me we’re forever, in this country, apologizing for sins of past generations. Whether it’s for some past injustice to some wronged-race of indigenous people who now demand greater rights than others, or for removing an endangered snail or mollusk from its natural habitat to improve the lot of human beings, or whether it’s for selecting racially-based sports teams at the behest of our apartheid hosts.

Sure we were wrong to be bullied by South Africa prior to 1970 and if the New Zealand Maori side was ordered to “throw” a game against the 1956 Springboks then that, too, is shameful.

My point is that the apologies should not be made by the current administration, for they have done no wrong. The apologies and sins belong to a past generation.

Goodness knows the present New Zealand Rugby Union has enough apologies it can make for sins of its own making.

For starters how about apologizing for the latest round of shuffling the coach’s deck chairs on the Titanic? Am I the only one who finds this bizarre? Not content with merely rotating players, Henry, Hansen and Smith have decided to rotate themselves. What next? Will they recondition themselves? I’ll resist the urge to suggest some members of the panel might even benefit from said activity.

People in high echelons of rugby speak highly of Steve Hansen as a coach and a person. I don’t know the bloke from a bar of soap, and it’s always dangerous to pass uninformed judgment but my observation is surely he’s had his opportunity with the All Blacks forwards and was found wanting?

Graham Henry took over the dysfunctional All Blacks lineout for the end-of-season tour, admittedly against lesser opposition than Victor Matfield’s all-conquering Springbok machine, and simplified an overtly-complex cock-up. All of a sudden Andrew Hore became a good lineout thrower.

Hansen, himself a more-than-useful centre in his day, appeared to make progress by uncluttering the All Blacks backline attacking ploys. And Smithy appeared happiness-filled by plotting the defensive patterns, like a game of Battleship, on his lap top.

Surely the latest reverse rotation has resulted in a poor apology for a coaching panel?

Footnote: On Sunday we remember the sinful futility of a past era. While Anzac Day for some means a public holiday with no holiday, for most of us it’s an opportunity to reflect on those brave souls who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country under conditions we could never contemplate. If you can’t make Dawn Parade at a cenotaph near you, join me on Hokonui Gold 94.8FM for the Diggers’ Breakfast, Sunday from 7am.

Lest we forget.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

I’ve got a sore bum!

I’ve got a 50 year old sore knee as well but it’s not as painful as my backside was on the weekend. Admittedly I spent close to 20 hours sitting on it last Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday whilst indulging my ultimate sporting lust, the Masters, but it wasn’t the golf that perpetrated the pain!

It was the 40 minutes I spent sitting watching the second half of the Highlanders’ clash against Journeyman John Mitchell’s Western Force at Queenstown. Like a child with worms, I spent the best part of the second stanza squirming uncomfortably in my chair, wondering how I could scratch the itch that was irritating me!

At halftime, although not in an entirely convincing manner, the Highlanders were in the game. Against the run of play they lead 22-20 at the 11th hour with 11 minutes to go. But it was the three-try capitulation that disillusioned me and probably cost the Highlanders another 3000 thousand fans, fans they can’t afford to lose, for the Hurricanes’ game in Dunedin on April 24.

I can’t help but wonder how poor old Glen Moore felt sitting in his seat? Lonely for starters and I bet he was squirming more than me.

Why is it that talented and heroic performers in the maroon of the Stags’ jersey, such as Tim Boys and Robbie Robinson, appear mediocre when they pull on the blue of the Highlanders’ kit? And Jimmy Cowan, on his day the second-best halfback in the world behind Fourie du Preez, did not look a world-beater at Queenstown.

To me, he looked like a man with the blues. And that’s who he could end up playing for next year if his obvious frustration continues. Adam Thomson’s look of total despair following yet another defensive leak in the dyke has me convinced he’s off to play with Richie McCaw and Kieran Reid at the Crusaders in World Cup year. Who could blame him?

I know it’s easy to sofa-sit, criticize and be a fair-weather fan. Like many southerners I never expected a top-four finish. Top six would have been a bonus. Truth be known, I could probably have lived with top ten if we’d competed with valour.

Speculation in the Southland Times yesterday suggested David Henderson and Simon Culhane are being lined up as Moore’s successors, possibly as early as next season. They could do well to learn a lesson from another high profile Southlander, Bill English, who partook of the poisoned chalice when taking over the National party leadership from Jenny Shipley.

Timing is everything in sport and time is something the Highlanders and their fans are running out of quickly.

I’ve supported a sometimes-struggling Southland side for four decades and finally hit pay dirt last year. I hope the Highlanders don’t keep me waiting until I’m 90. I don’t think I’ve got that much time.
I am a rugby history tragic.

Why else have I become the dumping ground for anyone in Southland wanting to get rid of old rugby books? Not that I’m complaining. My latest gem comes from the Corkery family in Invercargill and it’s titled “It’s Me, Tiger” – The Peter Jones Story.

In an age where one rugby test morphs into another and we seem to have an obsession with the Rugby World Cup every four years, to relive the greatest test series of all was a joy.

For the uninitiated, “Tiger” Jones was the powerhouse No.8 who scored the series-winning try at Eden Park against the 1956 Springboks. It was a rugby series like no other, before or since. A nation held its collective breath for two months while battle was waged against the great foe. Until then we’d never beaten South Africa in a test series, having suffered losses in 1921, 1928, 1937 and 1949.

Exhausted after this Herculean fourth test effort, Jones shocked a conservative and somewhat austere post-war 1950s nation when he addressed the 60,000-strong crowd and declared on national radio, “Well ladies and gentlemen, I hope never have to play as tough a game as today’s. I’m absolutely buggered”.

I think what I found interesting about Jones’ book was his life outside of rugby. He was a rugged Northland fisherman and unlike some of today’s troubled stars, he had a life outside rugby!

I can’t help but draw the fishing analogy with modern-day All Black No.8 Sione Lauaki who gets baited in a pub, bites like a big fish and gets taken in, hook, line and sinker.

* Unlike some, I haven’t given up on the Highlanders. Not just yet. Perhaps I will if they don’t get up over the Super 14 chumps, the Lions, tonight but I saw enough at Carisbrook on Saturday night against the Sharks to give me a glimmer of hope.

The Highlanders’ forward pack has always been competitive and in Adam Thomson they have an athlete of rare ability. Throw the work-horse Tom Donnelly back in there and you’ve got an eight capable of footing it with most in the Super 14.

Since the retirement of Jeff Wilson, the backs have been the Achilles heel. Maybe that’s about to change? Jimmy Cowan, Ben Smith and Israel Dagg are international class. Kenny Lynn has really stepped up to the mark at centre and the well-bred Michael Hobbs (a Hobbs across a Deans) could well follow his father Jock into the All Blacks. Robbie Robinson, too, is an All Black in waiting.

The question is whether the luckless coach Glen Moore can survive the waiting game?

Thursday, 8 April 2010

We’re at the halfway mark in the Super 14 so it’s time to pick an All Blacks form fifteen.

The front row is a mystery to most of us but a blind man or even an All Black selector can see Andrew Hore is the form hooker, despite the sterling efforts of the ageless Jason Rutledge. Tony Woodcock gets the loosehead spot on past deeds while the combative Owen Franks deserves the tighthead spot seeing Judas Hayman has chosen coin over country.

Josh Bekhuis is a form lock and I’d throw in young Sam Whitelock from the Crusaders to partner him. Richie McCaw owns the number seven jersey, Kieran Reid ditto in eight so that leaves the blind-side flank position for Jerome Kaino and Adam Thomson to fight over. And the answer is simple – the brute force of Kaino against the Springboks and the French backed up by the athleticism of Thomson against the Aussies.

Jimmy Cowan and Dan Carter are no-brainers when it comes to selection. Some might accuse Ma’a Nonu of being a no-brainer but sandwiched in between Carter and the erudite Conrad Smith, he’s still a match-winner.

The gas and youthful exuberance of Zac Guilford makes him the first man picked on the wing and while I’d be tempted to partner him with the fastest man in New Zealand rugby, his Crusaders team mate Sean Maitland, the other spot goes to renegade Rene Ranger from the Blues. He might have some rough edges in need of polish but, like Nonu, he’ll win you more games than he loses.

The injured Mils Muliaina is out of the picture at fullback but on merit he wouldn’t have made the team. Cory Jane continues to impress but if you’re looking for the form fullback, it’s impossible to go past the Highlanders’ Israel Dagg.

So there you have it. The All Blacks form fifteen. Six Crusaders, three Hurricanes, three Blues, three Highlanders, plenty of Indians and no Chiefs apart from Richie the captain!

* There’s only 22 sleeps to go and duck shooting aside, I can’t think of anything I’m more excited about than the US Masters which got underway this morning. I will not stray far from a television over the next four days.

I know I sound like a broken record, and my wife accuses me of being the ultimate golf killjoy and bore, but having been privileged to grace Augusta last year gives your Masters viewing a new dimension.

All 18 holes are stunningly beautiful and a lot more undulating than television portrays. However, my favourite part of the course is Amen Corner comprising the second shot into the most difficult hole on the course - the par four 11th, the par three 12th and the tee -off on the par five 13th.

It’s an oxymoron but if there is a golfing heaven, bearing in mind most of us golfers only get to experience hell, then it’s surely the 12th at Augusta.