Thursday, 29 July 2010

Long-suffering readers of this column will know I love history. Less generous souls would say I’m stuck in the past.

Therefore it will come as no surprise I’m like a pig in muck when it comes to burying my snout into Ron Palenski’s latest literary offering On This Day In New Zealand.

Palenski is best known as one this country’s pre-eminent sports writers but he’s also a leading historian, as his master’s degree in history would suggest.

His book is chock full of sporting and historical gems. For instance, on the this day (July 30) in 1976 did you know the New Zealand men’s hockey beat Australia 1-0 to win the gold medal at the Olympic Games in Montreal?

As you do, I flicked straight to my birthday to see what world-shattering event took place on such a momentous day. And I wasn’t disappointed!

It transpires that on my ninth birthday (1968), the legendary Southland pacer Cardigan Bay, the first standardbred to earn $1 million in stake money, was one of the guests on the top-rating American television programme ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’. Other guests included the Muppets, comedian Richard Pryor and the Beach Boys singing ‘Good Vibrations’!

In my state of heightened historical arousal I wandered around the office checking out what other wonderful events happened on the birthdays of my work colleagues and unearthed some beauties.

For example, my youthful producer on the Farming Show celebrates a birthday on August 18. Astonishingly, on that day in 1910, a certain Richard Arnst of Christchurch retained his world single sculls professional title at the most unlikely of venues, on the Zambesi river. Before he could defeat Ernest Barry of England, his brother Jack and others preceded the two scullers down the course, shooting crocodiles out of the way! The race had been promoted by a South African mining millionaire to encourage tourism to what was then Rhodesia.

Then, as fate would have it, my Roving South Island Farming Ambassador Dick Tayler roamed into the radio station. Like an eager puppy, I showed him my new book and asked him if he could remember what, if any, major event happened on his birthday. The man who set the 1974 Commonwealth Games alight with his 10,000 metres victory was immediately able to highlight what happened on his birthday (August 12) the following year (1975) – John Walker breaking 3 minutes 50 seconds for the mile in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Then we got yarning about Walker, Dick Quax and Rod Dixon, their varying egos and personality traits, and some of the things the four of them got up to in the 1970s whilst travelling the world with their running shoes.

But that’s another story for another day On This Day In New Zealand.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

I like the look of the Southland side for tonight’s second Ranfurly Shield defense against Wanganui.

And not in the way WHHHanganui mayor MicHHHael Laws would have us look at our beloved Stags. The gobby mayor, who’s admitted to wearing eye-liner, reckons our boys are poofs. While you’ve got to admire his ability to court controversy and pursue publicity, he’s drawing a long bow to suggest the likes of Jason Rutledge, Jamie Mackintosh and Chris King are “too poofy”.

Admittedly James Wilson could do with a haircut and without the hair straighteners, but I like the look of the problem-child of Southland rugby at second five-eighths. He reminded us of his prodigious talent in the North Otago challenge and he certainly has the size, power and pace to play in the midfield.

There will, no doubt, be a question mark over his defensive capabilities and to that end it will be interesting to see how he handles usual No. 8 Lasa Ulukuta thundering towards him tonight in the midfield.

Outside the mercurial Robbie Robinson, Wilson offers a real tactical kicking alternative as there are few better punters of the ball in the country. Throw in the express pace of Kenny Lynn at centre and this is the bones of a backline that will run Wanganui ragged.

Back to the loquacious Laws. Like him or loathe him, and the country seems to have a dollar each way on the subject, he reinforces the value of the celebrity mayor. Yes he’s outlandish, outspoken and sometimes downright embarrassing, but you’re never going to die wondering with Mayor Michael. I don’t think he’s ever had a dull grey thought in his life. He’s as black and white as they come and my distant observation would be he’s done a pretty good job of putting a small provincial city (if indeed Wanganui is one?) on the national map.

Invercargill has enjoyed the services of a celebrity mayor for the best part of the past two decades, with the exception of 1995-98 when Tim Shadbolt had three years off for bad behaviour. Like Laws, he’s a champion of self and city promotion, and his fiefdom has been the beneficiary.

On October 9, Mayor Tim is involved in a celebrity mayoral arm wrestle with former body-builder and singer Suzanne Prentice. About the time the results are announced, the Southland Stags will hopefully be kicking off their seventh defense of the Ranfurly Shield against the might of Canterbury having already got past North Otago, Wanganui, Otago, Counties Manakau, North Harbour and Auckland.

It promises to be a great night in Vegas. A win over Canterbury, a few consoling beers with Richie, Dan and Sonny Bill, a post-election party at either Tim or Suzanne’s place and a final defense of the Log of Wood against Wellington to look forward to.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Saturday’s historic four-try drubbing of the world champion Springboks rates as one of the best All Blacks performances of recent times. But how does it figure in historic perspective? I delved into my Men in Black to rate the All Blacks’ ten most memorable post-war tests:

1/ September 1, 1956. All Blacks 11, South Africa 5. No game in our proud rugby history has stopped a nation like the fourth test of this bitter series. It was a seminal moment. The great foe was finally defeated.

2/ July 18, 1959. All Blacks 18, British Lions 17. Memorable for Don Clarke’s six penalty goals out-pointing the four tries of the fleet-footed Lions. Almost unbelievably, the All Blacks were booed at Carisbrook.

3/ July 10, 1971. All Blacks 22, British Lions 12. The All Blacks totally dominated world rugby in the 1960s but that domination came to a grinding halt in the 1970 series loss to the Springboks in South Africa. The following year the Lions came to our shores and changed the way we played rugby. The second test at Lancaster Park was the All Blacks only victory in the series and stands out for the greatest individual try ever scored by an All Black – Ian Kirkpatrick’s herculean solo stunner from halfway.

4/ June 14, 1975. All Blacks 24, Scotland 0. Memorable because of the abominable weather. The so-called water polo test saw the great Bryan Williams score two great tries while Joe Karam proved to be the ‘bane’ of the Scots by converting all four tries.

5/ November 11, 1978. All Blacks 13, Wales 12. Mr. Controversial, Andy Haden, took a lineout dive at Cardiff Arms Park. Brian McKechnie did the rest in an unforgettable test.

6/ September 12, 1981. All Blacks 25, South Africa 22. The flour bomb test at Eden Park was the most dramatic in our history. Unlike the 1956 series win where the nation was united, to a man, against the mighty foe, 1981 divided a nation and the scars were not healed until 1987.

7/ June 20, 1987. All Blacks 29, France 9. Our one and only World Cup title. Say no more.

8/ July 6, 1996. All Blacks 43, Australia 6. In my five decades of fervently following rugby, this pearler at Athletic Park, stands alone as the most complete All Blacks performance from the most complete All Blacks fifteen ever assembled on a rugby paddock at one time.

9/ July 2, 2005. All Blacks 48, British Lions 18. Despite the pre-tour hype, Clive Woodward’s Lions of 2005 weren’t much chop but this game stands out for Dan Carter’s as-near-to-perfect-as-you-can-get 33 point performance.

10/ July 10, 2010. All Blacks 32, South Africa 12. History will judge whether this test is the one which changed the fortunes of Graham Henry’s reign heading into the Rugby World Cup. On October 23, 2011 at Eden Park, I guess we’ll know for sure.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Last week we celebrated the 35th anniversary of the classic 1970s horror flick Jaws.

By today’s standards it’s pretty tame, even though I defy any first-time viewer not to sit bolt upright in their seat when the giant shark smashes on to the boat.

Jaws was a low-budget box office smash in the US summer of 1975. Hollywood loves nothing more than squeezing the life out of a successful formula so it was no surprise to Jaws reprised in the form of Jaws 2 in 1978.

The promotional blurb encouraging you to watch Jaws 2 was “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water”. And just like that other great 70s advertising catch-cry “Claytons – the drink you have when you’re not having a drink”, it soon became the vernacular of the day. In fact, I still use the Jaws reference today when it comes to happenings that ascend suddenly from the murky depths to bite you in the bum.

And “just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water”, aptly describes my feeling for the All Blacks coaching panel, their Tri-Nations squad and the red-hot rumour Steve Hansen will coach the Highlanders in 2011.

Just when you thought it was safe to start liking the three wise men again after the very promising Dunedin test, they bring back the dreaded rotation and inconsistency of selection policy.

There’s no rhyme or reason for Zac Guildford and Adam Thomson to be dropped for Rene Ranger and Liam Messam, respectively, and you’d have to question what Hosea Gear has to do to displace slow Joe Rokocoko? Ditto for Luke McAlister. Surely he’s done enough to earn a recall to be the goal-kicking back up to Dan Carter and the second five-eighth back-up to Ma’a Nonu?

As promising as young Aaron Cruden is, his arrival on the park means you’ve got to immediately also sub your top halfback, Jimmy Cowan, to get Piri Weepu on to kick the goals. Don’t get me started on Kieran Read being the back-up No. 7 to Richie McCaw or Cruden the third halfback option or John Afoa the third hooker!

My initial reaction to the Hansen rumour was if he’s the answer to the Highlanders woes then what the hell’s the question? Remembering that his overture to coach the Crusaders was snubbed by the NZRU, it seems bizarre there would be a change of heart in World Cup year, the one season you’d think he’d have plenty on his plate.

Then I thought about the upside for the Highlanders. An incumbent All Black selector with international coaching experience will do no harm for player recruitment and retention in World Cup year. If you’re an aspiring All Black why wouldn’t you have a crack with the Highlanders?

Suddenly I had a horror-movie thought. The lineout! Tom Donnelly and Josh Bekhuis are doing quite nicely thanks, without any meddling from the man who muddled the All Blacks lineout last year.

Then the penny dropped! Ah! Steve could coach the team but be the Claytons lineout coach – the one you have when you’re not really having one!