Thursday, 27 May 2010

I love State of Origin rugby league and my love affair has stood the test of time. The relationship has now lasted 30 years since its inception in 1980.

Me and a mate from Riversdale had our first OE way back then, when we followed the All Blacks on their Australian tour. With the three-test series tied at one-all heading into the Sydney Cricket Ground decider, you’d have thought the papers would have been all over the rugby.

But no, league hogged the headlines, with the first ever Origin game, sandwiched between the second and third tests, dominating the headlines.

Hardly surprising when such household names as Arthur Beetson, Wally Lewis and Mal Meninga (Queensland) were up against the likes of Tom Raudonikis, Steve Rogers and Mick Cronin (NSW).

For the record the Cane Toads won 20-10 in front of 31,000 frothing fans at Lang Park, Brisbane, with Meninga celebrating his 20th birthday in style by kicking seven goals.

* Murray Deaker raised a very valid issue on his television show this week when he opined that Graham Henry was fawning over Sonny Bill Williams by driving his dodgy manager around half the country to peddle his client’s wares, in what appears to be a dance of the desperates.

The knowledgeable (that’s a euphemism for know-all) Deaker was right-on the money by suggesting some of our great coaches of yesteryear would sooner select Colin Farrell than resort to such reverence (my words, not his).

What happened to the good old days when it was the player’s job to impress (aka suck up to) the coach?

Surely the NZRU is taking a huge gamble if they’re hoping SBW will be a fix-all for a lack of genuine talent in the midfield. Wasn’t Luke McAlister supposed to do just that upon his return from the UK?

Graham, here’s an idea for you rather than running cap-in-hand to the over-hyped, over-paid SBW. Why not look a little closer to home and pick someone who has played a bit of footy with the obvious centre selection, Conrad Smith? Someone with experience, a solid defender, a great distributor and, most importantly, someone who is the equal of Smith in the IQ department.

Now that Richard Kahui is out of the No. 12 equation, the answer, Graham, is staring you in your grizzled-schoolteacher face. Hurricanes back-up midfielder Jason Kawau is your man!

Besides it’s about time Balfour got another All Black!

Thursday, 20 May 2010

If there is a rugby God, then surely the time has come for him to smile upon Jason Rutledge.

I barely know Cabbage to say hello to, but he’s one of the few modern-day rugby players I genuinely admire. I’ve followed his progress over the years from lightweight flanker, to lightweight hooker, to back-up Southland hooker, to sharing-the-honours-with-David Hall hooker, to being-ranked-behind-Hall-and-Holloway hooker, to finally-nailing-the-Stags’-top-job hooker, to Ranfurly Shield-winning hooker, to genuine Super 14-quality hooker, to genuine All Blacks-contender hooker.

There’s no doubting Andrew Hore and Keven Mealamu are the tope rakes in the country, even though Rutledge comprehensively outplayed Hore in last year’s NPC clash. However, with the latter out for all but the end-of-season tour, the All Blacks need a like-minded grafter not a fly-by-night, throw-the-ball-in-the-dark lineout exponent like Aled de Malmanche.

In an age where All Black jerseys are given away more lightly due to rotation, reconditioning and recuperation, it’d be nice to think they’d find one for a man who’s built his reputation on loyalty, longevity and love of the game.

* Artist Andy Warhol famously said in 1968 “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”. Although I’ve had to wait half a lifetime, I’m pleased to report my fleeting 15 minutes of fame lasted for a whopping 103 minutes.

For a brief period on Wednesday morning I was an All Black. A press release from Beef and Lamb New Zealand at 7-59am about its Steak of Origin contest stated “Kathy Child and Yvonne Hill’s steak was crowned winner after a fiercely-contested tasting by BMX World Champion Sarah Walker, ex-All Black Jamie Mackay of Radio Sport and Newstalk ZB, together with top chefs Hester Guy and Graham Hawkes”.

Unfortunately for me that press release was recalled at 9-38am and my All Black status was under a cloud until another press release was issued at 9-42am describing the inadvertently previously-excluded Richard Loe as the ex-All Black on the judging panel.

I now know how an old Otago university acquaintance David Halligan must feel as an Almost All Black. He was chosen to play against Scotland at Carisbrook in 1981, only to pull a hamstring in training, allowing Allan Hewson the chance to cement the fullback position.

Jason Rutledge is almost an All Black. I would hate to see him finish his career labelled an Almost All Black. He deserves better and has earned the right to join his old man Leicester in one of rugby’s most exclusive clubs.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Rugby apologies are very much in vogue these days so I, too, want to jump on the bandwagon by apologizing to a Southland rugby legend.

I apologize unreservedly to Kevin (KF) Laidlaw for inadvertently neglecting to mention him when we were paying tribute to the great 1959 Ranfurly Shield-winning side at last Friday’s ILT Southland Sports Awards. And I unreservedly apologize to anyone else I missed.

It’s a poor excuse, but I got a bum steer when I was told there were only two members of the magnificent men, Spud Tait and Ack Soper, present. As KF, in his inimitable Nightcaps manner, put it later, I should have “done my bloody homework”. And he’s right!

I had actually prepared a tribute to the 1959 team to go alongside Tom Conroy’s excellent Ranfurly Shield tribute, but time constraints meant I had to dump it. It’s a shame really because there’s not much about September 5, 1959, I don’t know.

Having been raised on stories of the historic 23-6 win over Taranaki, I’d long ago committed the fantastic fifteen to memory. For the Sports Awards I decided to go one better and memorize the two initials of each respective player, because 50 years ago players were referred to in print by their two initials rather than their Christian name. Thus we had KF Laidlaw, AJ Tait and AJ Soper.

The only tricky bit in memorizing the initials of the 1959 side came when players’ first initials were not their chosen names. For example we had DL Ashby who was of course Lloyd, WR Archer (Robin), EA Gorton (Alan), IM Miller (Murray) and LK Fyall (Keith).

All fifteen players who started the game in New Plymouth had two initials, with the notable exception of the late Ray Todd. He was just R Todd. I searched high and low through all my reference books and even ‘Googled’ him in the hope of finding his elusive second initial. All to no avail.

Then, at the Sports Awards, in one of those sports trivia gems, AJ (Spud) Tait put the record straight. Ray (one initial) Todd used to be listed in the rugby programmes as RW Todd. RW standing for right wing, the position he played!

These days we’d no more know an All Black’s second initial than his thoughts on nuclear disarmament, with the notable exception, perhaps, of seven-time serial offender Ma’a FFFFFFF Nonu.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Ma’a Nonu’s indiscriminate, injudicious and incredibly stupid use of the F word on no fewer than seven occasions following the Hurricanes win over the Chiefs, got me thinking about the appropriateness of the second-most most offensive word in the Queens language.

It’s amazing to think it was little more than 50 years ago that Peter Jones shocked the nation with his “absolutely buggered” comment on national radio following the epic fourth test against the 1956 Springboks.

Now I don’t wish to be either pious or preacher, because I can drop the F bomb with the best of them, as some of my former farm dogs and current duck-shooting mates could attest. But there’s a time and a place. And the public will generally forgive a one-off slip up along the lines of the Ricki Herbert gaff, sometimes even finding it amusing.

It reminds me of when my radio career was in its infancy and the Farming Show was running a promotion to give away a farm bike.

The rules were simple. Buy a farm bike and if we phoned you live at lunchtime and you immediately answered “Ewan Allan Honda – No 1 for sales and service” you went into the draw to win a farm bike.

Naturally it created a situation where a lot of farmers were answering their phones at lunchtime with “Ewan Allan Honda – No 1 for sales and service”. But some didn’t, including one rugged southern man who answered with a rhetorical “Are ya there?”

So I immediately swung into action with my best radio jock’s voice “Hi I’m Jamie Mackay from the Farming Show, do you know why we we’re calling you”?

The penny dropped. The farmer realized he’d lost his opportunity to win a $5000 farm bike and in the spur of the moment, in his anguish, he let rip with the F Bomb. We got the giggles, not unlike Wellington rugby commentator Graeme Moody last weekend, and then proceeded to try to dig the embarrassed farmer out of a very big hole.

I tell you this story because we never received a single complaint about the farmer’s foul up. The punters understood it was a one-off, delivered in the heat of the moment and that the perpetrator was duly contrite.

We’ve long known Ma’a Nonu is not likely to split the atom at any given moment. His job is to split opposition defenses. But Saturday’s seven-pronged profanity confirmed that while he’s world class on the paddock, he has somewhat less class of it.

*In doing some MC research for tonight’s ILT Southland Sports Awards, which surely promises to be a benefit evening for the Stags, I found two pieces of interesting Southland rugby trivia.

Amazingly Bert Winders was pulled from the crowd to play against the 1956 Springboks and, perhaps more remarkably, the lineout count against the 1966 Lions was 54-41 in Southland’s favour. And some of us call the modern game boring!