Presented below are a selection of posts from the original Road to Redemption blog that will give you a taste of life on The Road.
001. The Road Manifesto
I was in Cardiff on 6 October 2007, and all I want to know is ….
where the BLOODY HELL were the All Blacks?
The IRB’s youngest, least-experienced, slowest and blindest referee was there. Well, not quite there if by that you mean being in a position to see a blatant forward pass. But he was in the stadium. He was in Cardiff.
I was there, with Brother Phil and 20,000 other kiwis who had mortgaged their first-born children for a chance to taste the sweet glory of righteous victory.
A whole lot of Irish turned up, having bought tickets for the match back when you could imagine O’Driscoll would make a difference. He didn’t.
There were scatterings of French, gallically shrugging before Le Match, kissing all Les Girls afterwards.
Everybody was there, except the All Blacks.
Richie and the boys just never turned up. They had apparently been kidnapped by replicant aliens who looked like All Blacks but couldn’t play for shit. Instead they fuddled around like third formers at their first school dance – too much hair product, not enough gumption. Too scared of the Headmaster.
It’s a bloody long and lonely trek away from the Millennium Stadium when you’ve lost a Quarter-Final.
A bloody long and lonely trek when you’re surrounded by tens of thousands of braying Euro Orcs savouring another Mordor Moment.
In the days and weeks that followed – as I dragged myself morosely from here to there and back again, beyond caring, bereft and broken – a realisation began to unfurl, a koru kernel of consciousness.
In 1987, when we first and last held the Webb Ellis Trophy aloft, I was young and healthy and full of dreams. My hair was lush and reached all the way to my forehead. I could take my shirt off without clearing the beach, and I knew exactly how I was going to be rich, famous and happy.
By 2007 I was forty-mumble, fat and fatigued. My hair had slipped backwards, my eyesight had decayed, and in any case I couldn’t see over my belly. I had the wife and the kids and the mortgage – and I wasn’t doing much good for any of them. I was working like billy-o, coming home late, going out early, eating crap and puffing going up the stairs.
My life was a metaphor for twenty years of All Blacks rugby. All the effort, all the trappings of success, but ultimately missing out on the things that really matter. Like feeling good and doing good and being good and winning the World Cup.
But here’s the thing – what if it was the other way around?
What if I am the metaphor for the All Blacks? What if their successes and failures were mirroring mine?
It was me.
It was my fault.
I am to blame.
Let the distance from Eden Park in 1987 to Cardiff in 2007 mark the furthest extent of our Fall from Grace. From Champion to Choker; from Grand Final winner to Quarter Final loser; from the omnipotentiality of youth to the grey drear of middle-age.
The return journey, from Cardiff to Eden Park, is the Road to Redemption. It’s a long and winding tale of tragedy and terror and (hopefully) triumph that will rival all the great tales of voyages of self-discovery: the Iliad, The Lord of the Rings, Horton Hears A Who.
It’s about finding out what’s important in life, and doing it. Doing it in spite of – because of – the obstacles and the dangers and the derision. It’s about food and fitness and footy and friends and family.
It’s about me.
Bugger: sounds like a chick flick.
002. Gnarly Old Bastards
The NZRU’s plan for the 2007 Rugby World Cup was based on the assumption that “the best prepared and talented team would win the RWC”. (para 3.18, p.9, Independent Review of the 2007 Rugby World Cup Campaign)
It’s nonsense, of course. There is no evidence that it is true or ever has been true or ever will be true.
On page 7, at para 3.2, the report makes the critical observation, and then skates right on by: “The RWC finals are knock-out matches (with all the uncertainties that entails). Professional sport is not “fair” and results cannot be guaranteed.”
“RWC finals are knock-out matches.”
Who wins knock-out matches? The youngest: the fittest: the strongest: the fastest: the prettiest? No.
They’re won by two muscles – the head and the heart – that cannot be strengthened by a conditioning programme.
Knock-out matches are won by gnarly old bastards who have one last shot at glory. Who have tasted the bitter herbs of defeat during a long career, and are damned if they’ll do it again. Who will play with the smarts needed to smother the other team, to choke the life out of their game plan, to grind them into the turf, and to crawl our way to victory, one desperate inch at a time.
Not every player on the field will be old and gnarly, but the core of the team should be. The ones who will call the plays, direct the troops, lead the charges. Lead the charges: throwing tired old bodies into battle one last time without thought of hurt or future. Calling “On me!” so that a tide of irresistible black engulfs a dispirited, disjointed defence.
007. I Come From …
Bill Bryson, The Lost Continent
Well, Bill, I come from Hamilton. And I reckon Des Moines would have been pretty cool compared to 1960s Middletown New Zealand.
The big excitement in the whole week was to go to town on Friday night. That was it. Victoria Street, open until 9.00pm on Friday night.
I can’t remember actually doing much in town, except waiting for Mum who was always talking to people. Walk a few more yards, yak some more.
And waiting for Dad, who was always late from a meeting. With Mr Dominion and Mr Breweries.
When I was a kid the DIC department store still had a manned elevator, which was fine if you really wanted to get out amongst the women’s wear. If you wanted to be wild, you’d go ride the only escalator in town at the fabulously modern P&M Plaza. But that was always a bummer because it meant Mum and sisters would be spending hours and hours in Pollock & Milne choosing dress patterns and material and buttons and zips … and meanwhile my brain is leaking out of my ear as I softly beat my head against the floor.
The biggest excitement I knew as a kid was when a truck lost its brakes going down Boundary Road, and plunged down the bank towards the river. Even then, no-one died or got seriously injured or anything.
The weird thing about growing up in Hamilton – the really weird thing, that I didn’t even know was weird until I left home – is that Hamilton is inland, which is so not New Zealand. It’s not on the coast. It doesn’t have beaches or ports or seagulls or sand or rock pools or horizons.
A bit like Des Moines really.
012. The International League of Pain
I used to work with a guy called Bernie. For some deep historical reason that he once explained to me with the bright-eyed intensity of the true sports fanatic, but which I thankfully no longer remember, he was a follower of Aston Villa.
He spent much of his time in his cubicle in detailed internet research about English football, rather than doing his actual, like, you know, work. What he was really working on was his League of Pain.
It was a very simple idea that became, in practise, extremely complicated: to compile a single numbered list of English football teams from the one you most wanted to win (Aston Villa) to the one you most wanted not to win (Manchester United). For any given match (such as Portsmouth versus Coventry) he could quickly consult his League of Pain to decide which team he would support: you always wanted the higher-ranked team to beat the lower-ranked team.
Nice idea, if only because it creates the right context to watch every single match going.
One of the ways in which it falls down, of course, is how a particular match affects the competition standing of your preferred team. Sometimes poor Bernie just had to hope for a ManU victory if it would help keep Villa up the table.
What it really is, though, is a very nice way to spend the summer. Okay, so there’s no actual football on, but that shouldn’t stop you thinking about it all the time.
In trying to create a similar table for the All Blacks, in the specific context of Rugby World Cup 2011, however, you immediately run into the issue of what sort of pain is involved: hate or shame.
I would absolutely hate to lose to England. I would be utterly ashamed to lose to Russia.
So I’m therefore proposing two separate parts of the league. There’s the Table of Hate for those teams who have previously beaten or drawn with the All Blacks (SethEfrika, GirtBySea, Pongoland, LesBâtardsBleu, Jones&Jones, Oirland, Bargies, HaggisEaters).
Then there’s the Table of Shame: the other 11 teams who will be at the Cup (Canada, Fiji, Georgia, Italy, Japan, Namibia, Russia, Samoa, Tonga, USA, Romania/Tunisia/Uruguay/Kazakhstan).
There are three rules:
- The Table of Shame ranks above the Table of Hate. That is, in any match between a Shamer and a Hater, I will be supporting the Shamer.
- If the All Blacks lose to a Hater, there will be a period of national mourning of not less than four years. We can all have as many sick days as we need by informing the Boss “Sorry … I just can’t … Not today, sorry.”
- The All Blacks are not allowed to lose to a team in the League of Shame, under any circumstances. Mrs Windsor will declare a national emergency at the 79th minute if it appears possible that such a result may eventuate, and Phil the Greek will be on hand to smooth it over with People of a Foreign Persuasion. The Government will be sacked, and martial law will be declared (which will be a bit tricky if the Army’s Landrover has a flat battery that day). Girls’ blouses will be instituted as the compulsory national costume, and the Rugby Channel will be replaced by the Morris Dancing Channel. There will be a period of national amnesia of not less than 125 years.
So, over the next 15 months or so I’ll be working diligently on my International League of Pain, and I’d be delighted for any advice along the way.
029. MrsDavy Cheers Me Up
MrsDavy and rugby and I have a complicated relationship.
Rugby understands that I love MrsDavy very much and sometimes that means I’ll put her first. And MrsDavy understands that I love rugby very much, and so on and so forth.
But they don’t really get along together. They’re not pals. MrsDavy is very polite when rugby is around, and rugby tries to keep its voice down when MrsDavy is in the house, even if sometimes it just has to let a roar loose.
So MrsDavy can occasionally surprise me with an observation about rugby that makes me think she really does care, deep down.
When I told MrsDavy that today was the 23rd anniversary of the All Blacks winning the Webb Ellis Trophy, she paused for a moment, looking pensive:
“That means there are children alive today whose parents weren’t born when we last won the World Cup.”
And she wanders off with a Mona Lisa smile and a little cheery hum in her throat, leaving me slumped with the burden of multi-generational failure.
065. The Jigsaw Law
When the LittleOnes were little, MrsDavy created The Jigsaw Law. It is one of those laws which I have a hard time following because I have a hard time remembering it because it just doesn’t make sense to me.
Like most things to do with children.
The Jigsaw Law states that whenever a child is attempting a new skill (such as doing jigsaws) the role of the adult is to:
sit on your hands and be quiet.
That’s it. See, I told you it didn’t make sense, well certainly for most males I know anyway. If we see a kid having trouble doing a jigsaw we’re going to jump straight in there and show them how it’s done lickety-split. We’re not going to sit on the sidelines and watch them take forever to put that piece in there and that one there so that we can move on to getting some ice cream.
Which – apparently – is exactly the wrong thing to do, it getting in the way of the child actually
- learning how to do it themselves and
- having fun.
Who knew? (Okay, okay, so obviously MrsDavy knew, but who told her? And why did they tell her and not me, so that I could have looked half-way competent?)
There’s a Corollary to the Jigsaw Law, which goes:
the real role of the adult is toprovide a clean flat surface and make sure the jigsaw has all its pieces.
That is, provide the right environment and tools for the kid to be able to succeed at the task.
So when LittleDavyOne was doing her homework the other night (regrettably having grown out of doing Wiggles jigsaws somewhere along the way to starting college), it was apparently a mistake for me to make some intelligent remarks about how it could be improved if you did it this way, and then moved that to there, and had you thought about this?
Because, whether the child is a toddler or a teenager, if you break The Jigsaw Law you get exactly the same result: a crying child and a 90 minute lecture from MrsDavy.
And no ice cream.
081. Minutes of the Triennial Congress of All-Davy Deputies
The Chair called the meeting to order at 6.37pm by asking LittleDavyOne to please eat the dinner before it went cold and advising LittleDavyTwo that if God had meant knives to be used to transfer food from the plate to the mouth She would have called them forks.
LittleDavyOne sighed heavily, and LittleDavyTwo looked sullen.
Ned was asked to present the financial report for the previous year. It was, he said, in the context of the worst global recession since the 1930s, a not wholly unsatisfactory result. The bright spot was a steady revenue figure, which was an excellent outcome indicating no actual deaths or redundancies during the period.
However, Ned noted significant increased year-on-year expenditure, and drew shareholders’ attention to a 97-slide PowerPoint presentation which analysed the various Casa del Davy cost-centres. He highlighted the increased investment in Project Children Will Support Us In Our Old Age, and queried whether the expected financial benefits would ever materialise at this rate.
He also referred to the recent media controversy regarding excessive and/or inappropriate credit card use, noting that General Ledger Code 37486 (Health/Personal/Stress Management) was considerably over-budget due to the Directors’ discovery of a really yummy yet good value Gisborne chardonnay.
Ned concluded his report by encouraging all members of the Davy organisation to pay closer attention to risk management policies and procedures in the coming year, especially those regarding Cell Phones, Buses, Losing By Leaving On.
MrsDavy thanked Ned for his report by refilling her glass. Again.
MrsDavy then asked LittleDavyOne to present the New Product Division’s report. LittleDavyOne’s head lifted from the table and fell back again with a loud bump. The report was received by acclamation.
LittleDavyTwo submitted an apology for having to leave the meeting early as Top Gear was about to start.
The Chair asked for nominations for the position of Chair and Chief Executive for the coming year. All those present demurred, expressing total loyalty to the infallible leadership of the glorious revolution, and extending her full plenipotentiary powers.
Ned asked whether now would be a good time to debate the Ned Amendment. Well, not necessarily a debate, you know, maybe just have a discussion. Or just mention it, really, in passing. Or not, if now isn’t a good time for you.
MrsDavy declared the meeting closed, and asked for another glass of chardonnay, actually just leave the bottle thank you darling.
098. The Art of Sport
You’ll have spotted by now that I am a big fan of Brian Boyd, ever since I heard his lecture about The Storytelling Ape broadcast on National Radio last year. Listen to it, then go buy his book. He’s a very clever kiwi.
But I reckon he misses a trick or two along the way.
Which is not that surprising given that he had his eye on the thing that he knows most about: art, specifically literature.
We can define art as cognitive play with pattern. Just as play refines behavioural options over time by being self-rewarding, so art increases cognitive skills, repertoires and sensitivities. A work of art acts like a playground for the mind, a swing or slide or a merry-go-round of visual or aural or social pattern. Like play, art succeeds by engaging and rewarding attention, since the more frequent and intense our response, the more powerful the neural consequences.
Art generates a confidence that we can transform the world to suit our own preferences, that we need not accept the given but can work to modify it in ways we choose; and it supplies skills and models we can refine and recombine to ensure our ongoing cumulative creativity.
Here’s the trick I reckon he missed: replace ‘art’ with ‘sport’ and you make as much sense again.
- Sport is play with pattern.
- Sport succeeds by engaging and rewarding attention.
- Sport generates a confidence that we can transform the world.
- Sport supplies skills and models we can refine and recombine to ensure our ongoing cumulative creativity.
(It’s even better if you replace ‘art’ with ‘rugby’.)
Art is play is sport is rugby is art.
Ah, now we’re getting somewhere.
158. Richie’s boots
My godson, Mayhem, plays junior rugby in Palmerston North. If there’s one thing he likes, apart from loping back to halfway with a sheepish proud smile after scoring a try, it’s tackling. Especially tackling bigger blokes who are used to having their own way, with a driving shoulder into the midriff and a leg extension to sit them back on their bums.
So he loves watching the All Black loosies – McCaw and Read and Vito – sitting the Wallabies and the Boks on their bums.
Earlier this year Mayhem and his dad were at the Palmerston North International Airport and Drycleaners to collect a friend off the plane, as you do. And, as you do, they went up the escalator so they could look out on the tarmac and watch the planes come in.
Well, as they went up the escalator young Mayhem spotted a familiar heroic figure having his afternoon tea in the cafe. Young Mr McCaw himself, getting ready to fly home after a stint at the gumboot throwing champs in Taihape.
Mayhem saw Richie, and Richie saw Mayhem. One gasped, the other smiled. A handshake, and a “good on yer”.
A few minutes later, Richie beckons Mayhem over.
“Lad,” he says. (And there’s a good Kurow way to address a Mayhem fellow.)
“Lad. See those boots?” And he points to a pair of gumboots by his bag. “Bring them to me.”
Well, what are you going to do if the All Black captain tells you to fetch a pair of boots? You’re going to jump off that cliff, aren’t you?
So Mayhem brings him the boots.
“These boots were mine,” says Richie. “And now they’re yours.”
Mayhem’s not known for being silent, or even nearly quiet. Never at a loss for words.
Except for the day when Mr McCaw gave him his boots.
194. Why rugby
It has often been observed that the essential difference between soccer (football) and rugby is that soccer has simple rules while rugby has complex rules – probably the most complex rules of any major sport.
Soccer’s global appeal is also, in part, due to the simplicity of its technology: a round ball and some open space. The space itself can vary widely in texture, form and size. You don’t particularly need a referee for social play, because the simplicity of the rules means that players can largely referee themselves.
Rugby, on the other hand, needs a specialised ball and a specialised space. The texture needs to be firm enough to run on, but safe enough to fall on. And you really do need a referee, even for pick-up games.
The complexity of the rules means that rugby is a fascinating example of the evolution of culture. The administrators are constantly evaluating rule changes that will “improve” the game. Obviously what constitutes “improvement” is the essential question.
Remember, for example, that in the original game points were only awarded for a successful kick at goal. Forcing the ball over the goal line did not give you any points, only the right to ‘try’ to ‘convert’ the opportunity into a goal.
Over 150 years, the game has evolved to emphasise scoring tries over kicking goals: increasing the number of points for a try (from 0 to 3 to 4 and now 5) and decreasing the number of points for a goal. (Indeed, the obscure ‘goal from mark’ used to be worth 4 points, until 1905 when it was reduced to 3, and then abolished altogether in 1977.)
Successive generations of rules makers, then, have demonstrated a preference for the skills required in scoring tries. Partly that is for the benefit of the players: scoring tries is more of a team effort than the kicking of goals. But it is also for the benefit of the audience: a consideration that has become even more important in the professional era where the need to attract and retain the attention of a mass television audience is critical.
As an aside, the emphasis on scoring tries has also been facilitated by improvements in the technology of rugby. Two examples:
- The rugby fields of yore – even the test arenas – were often muddy, heavy and slow. That favoured grim ‘ten-man rugby’ of mauling and kicking for field position. The modern fields – even for schoolboy rugby – are constructed to be firm and fast, allowing for continuous running and passing.
- The ball used to be large, heavy and subject to deformation. Accurate goal-kicking was restricted to a fairly small portion of the field. Modern synthetic balls are uniform in size, shape and pressure, and can be accurately kicked over long distances.
The very complexity of rugby’s rules has given the game’s administrators the ability to constantly tweak the game to achieve their aesthetic goal: a game for all sizes and shapes of people that rewards team skills over individual skills. A balanced team needs height and strength and speed and agility and decision-making and courage, as well as a whole host of specialised skills from scrummaging to punting to throwing and catching.
The downside of complex rules is that it becomes harder to recruit an audience, because they have to invest so much more time and effort to understand what is happening. Before you have learned to read a game of rugby, it just looks like a confusing mélange of people doing inexplicable and violent things. In marketing terms, that creates real barriers to entry for new consumers, even if at the same time it builds stronger loyalty amongst existing consumers.
That’s why the game of Sevens, with its emphasis on easily understood running and passing, is the ideal entry product for marketing the game globally.
As cricket has found with its two shortened versions (50-over and now Twenty20) the challenge is to convert the new audience to the full version of the game.
Or will the child surpass the parent?
197. Charlie at cards
Grandad Charlie was the bee’s knees when it came to cards. He could play everything from Snap to Happy Families to Cribbage to Euchre to 500 to Bridge with just the right amount of cunning and good humour to entrance grandchildren of all ages. We wanted to play with him because we wanted to see the magic of how he played.
Euchre was the entry level game for playing with the adults – all the cousins and uncles and aunts and brothers and sisters and hangers-on who swirled around on late summer holiday nights. Best was to play with Charlie and Dad and Uncle George because they had a fearsome level of card skill. The cards would be shuffled, dealt, called and played in a blur of boisterous banter.
Once you’d earned your stripes there, you would be allowed to sit next to Dad to watch and learn 500. Second player plays low. Third player plays high. Lead back your partner’s lead. Finesses and counting cards and making your losses early.
The competition to pick up kitty was intense, especially when you needed to keep the opposing pair from winning. Much better, reckoned Uncle George, to look for a miracle in kitty, even if it meant going out the back door more often than not. And Dad’s style of thumping down the winning card for the decisive trick with a smash of the knuckles on the table.
Charlie was more subtle than that. You’d think that he had been put into an impossible contract, and then he’d play with a deftness that mesmerised. How, exactly, had he persuaded the other players to throw away the right card at the wrong time?
But he’d just grin broadly and say something about luck, and kiss the grandkids good night, and look like he was in heaven to have his whanau all gathered around and having some fun together.
216. 2010 Awards
Although I hate the genre as shallow and flatulent journalism, we do need to clear the decks for next year, so here’s my end of year awards.
Try of the Year
Mils Muliaina against Wales. It exemplified the Graham Henry style of keeping the ball in play, running the other team ragged, before surgically inserting a try.
The Welsh played into our hands with a couple of kicks that didn’t go out, or didn’t go out far enough so we took a quick throw-in – but really, how were they to know? The composure of the All Blacks in swinging from defence to attack is unnatural, and when they had finally kept the ball in motion for five minutes and the Welsh defence was in disarray, Mils looked up to see he was facing a couple of puffing wee fat po-pos, put the gas on, a bit of hip swivel, and he was through into the sunlit pastures of an undefended Welsh back yard. Poetry in motion.
Look Away Moment
Piri Weepu’s foot points the wrong way as he plays for Wellington against Taranaki in the ITM Cup. The cruelty of sport, for a guy who had put in all the hard yards and was shaping up as a unique squad member able to cover halfback and first-five. Pring Pack Piri.
Coach of the Year
A joint award to Graham Henry and Peter de Villiers for demonstrating the critical importance of the coach: Ted, for all the right reasons, PDV for all the wrong ones.
Player of the Year
Actually, it was me. Honest.
Christmas Day on the beach, the touch game where the old fullas get to show the young bucks who’s who and what’s what and how it used to be. Tied 1-1 with the bangers burning on the barbie, JB the nephew makes an intercept on our own goal line and sets off up the sand before he’s tagged just short. BrotherDoug puffs up the centre, takes the feed and – miraculously – hears me screaming on the left flank, and – even more miraculously – flings the ball in my general direction. As I remember it, I took it with a one-handed scoop while at full pace, jinked to my left, and scooted around about a dozen young fullas who collapsed in exhaustion. The victory dance was something to remember.
Give me a call Ted, and we’ll talk numbers.
The only dowry I ever received was when my esteemed father-in-law, SirMrsDavy, took me to a rugby match. Which may not sound like much, but was worth a lifetime of
grief expense joy, when you consider it was the All Blacks vs. Australia at Athletic Park on 6 July 1996.
You remember the game: a classic Wellington day when the rain came in horizontal sheets of glass, and the ground was heavy and sliding. Our tickets were in the south-west corner of the ground, with just a smidgen of protection provided by the Millard Stand (if you ignored the rust flakes that pelted down).
Then look at this for an ABs team:
- Christian Cullen
- Jeff Wilson
- Jonah Lomu
- Frank Bunce
- Walter Little
- Andrew Mehrtens
- Justin Marshall
- Zinzan Brooke
- Josh Kronfeld
- Robin Brooke
- Ian Jones
- Michael Jones
- Olo Brown
- Sean Fitzpatrick
- Craig Dowd
There’s not a weakness across the park, and it’s packed with some of the all-time greats.
The Aussies brought some fair players themselves: John Eales in his first season as captain, Finegan, Horan, Campese, Burke.
And even better, this was the very first game of the first Tri-Nations series, the first truly professional test match between the two countries.
It was a large and boisterous crowd (which is to say, well gone on the sponsors’ product, which was always a problem at the Park where the toilet facilities were essentially an open drain). Given the weather and the ground SirMrsDavy and I were expecting a fairly dour contest up-front and a spot of hypothermia on the wings.
Instead we got one of the all-time great performances by a rugby team, any rugby team. The ABs ran the ball, and the passes stuck, and the forwards rolled over the shell-shocked Aussies, and we scored six tries to none in a 43-6 shellacking.
Now that’s what I call a dowry worth having.
292. Plan B
It had become fairly apparent over the last fortnight, by what wasn’t being said by the authorities, that it was unlikely that Christchurch would be able to host its seven RWC matches. That was confirmed yesterday afternoon by all the big alphabet players: IRB, RWC, RNZ2011, NZRU.
That’s very sad for Christchurch and the whole country and the event itself. Canterbury is one of the Big Two unions in New Zealand rugby, and it brings a special character to the game. It would have been a great location for all those overseas visitors to experience a unique piece of New Zealand.
The authorities were absolutely correct to take the time to collect the information and analysis before rushing to a decision, and their words yesterday showed they were sensitive to all the ramifications of what, in the end, they needed to do. It was clear that their hearts said Plan A, even as their heads said Plan B. The only bum notes being struck were from those trying to take some positional advantage in anticipating a decision: a few northern hemisphere journos, and a few New Zealand politicians. And Murray McCully having an undignified and unnecessary swipe back at them. Muzza, you know it’s the retaliation that gets the penalty.
The advantage for Christchurch out of the decision is that RWC will now not be a distraction from the task of re-building the city’s infrastructure. All those machines and people and concrete can be focused on roads and houses rather than the stadium. And at least there is a firm decision for people in a city where the not knowing about so much else must be an additional burden to what is known only too well.
Martin Snedden and his team have a mountain to climb to re-jig the competition, but they seem to be doing all the right things calmly and methodically. As someone with tickets to some Christchurch games, I am quite relaxed to wait and see what they come up with as alternatives. They’re on to it. My role is to wait patiently awhile, even if I am pretty crap at waiting.
Such personal stuff is utterly insignificant in the scheme of things, but, ah, I’ll miss being in that big stadium in Christchurch, with that one-eyed crowd baying on their local heroes McCaw and Carter and Read and Thorn.
Bloody bastard bugger earthquake.
323. Storm warning
There’s a big scandal brewing in the UK which has some interesting, albeit longish, connections back to New Zealand rugby.
The scandal is about how some journalists illegally accessed the voicemail of politicians and celebrities to create their stories. It includes several surprisingly lacklustre police inquiries into the practice, the resignation of Andy Coulson as David Cameron’s Communications Director, and a progressive retreat by News International from blaming ‘a rogue journalist’ back in 2007, to last week admitting wider responsibility and offering compensation.
There’s only a small likelihood that even this defensive position will hold against the torrent of information, allegations and inquiries that have been unleashed.
So far, so UK. What’s the New Zealand and rugby connection?
News International (which owns The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun, as well as The News of The World tabloid that is at the centre of the scandal) is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. And News Corp, of course, is the global media conglomerate with, amonst many many other things, major stakes in Sky Television (New Zealand) and Fox Sports (Australia).
But wait, there’s more. NewsCorp doesn’t just report on and broadcast sport, it also owns some, through Fox Sports’ 50% stake in the National Rugby League, and outright ownership of the Melbourne Storm rugby league club (through News Limited).
I believe that sport is fundamentally about ethics: it is about a fair contest to see who is the best within an agreed set of rules. (It’s also about aesthetics, but that’s another story.) That is why it engages our interest and attention like nothing else.
And I like professionalism in sports because it does two things:
- raises the quality of the game, and
- ensures a chunk of the value goes to the players (rather than just the administrators or promoters), many of whom come from economically modest backgrounds.
But, and it’s a big but, big money can mean big temptations to interefere with the outcome of the contest. Anything that undermines the fairness of the contest strikes at the very purpose of sport, whether it is drugs cheats or betting scandals or salary cap rorts or poor (not even deliberately biased) refereeing.
Outright cheating is the most egregious way to undermine the fairness of the contest, but there are other, greyer, ways that can affect perceptions of fairness.
Which is why I am uncomfortable with the restructuring of this year’s Super XV.
The purpose of the changes was simply to increase attendance and ratings: more bums and more eyeballs means more moolah. So hello home and away ‘local derbies’, and goodbye each team playing every other team in the competition. Hello to at least one team from each country being in the finals series, and goodbye to the principle of just the very best playing through.
My guess is that at the end of the regular season there will be one, or possibly two, teams whose fans could feel aggrieved to have missed out on the finals. Because, for the wannabes, which overseas teams you don’t play has a big impact on your points potential. For example, would you rather be the Blues (who don’t play the Bulls and Brumbies) or the Chiefs (who don’t play the Cheetahs and Force) or the Highlanders (who don’t play the Sharks and Reds). Let’s not worry for the moment about the Crusaders, who will beat anything, or the Canes, who won’t.
There’s got to be five or more points in those differences: the Chiefs are robbed of playing two weaker sides, while the Highlanders avoid two of the better sides.
By trying to squeeze one more team and more ‘local derbies’ and guaranteeing one team from each country into an expanded finals format, the authorities have slightly damaged my perception of the inate fairness of the whole competition.
And perceptions of fairness are fundmental to whether I want to watch a particular sport or read a particular newspaper. I absolutely want to know the ethical standards of the propreitor of the sport or the media I choose.
The UK phone hacking scandal comes at a bad time for News Corp, which is trying to get regulatory approval to buy the 61% of BSkyB that it does not already own. As The Economist noted back in January: “The hacking furore involves alleged crimes; the Sky bid is a competition issue. But they are related because many objections to the takeover cite the influence wielded by Mr Murdoch and his media. He and his executives could help allay concerns about their papers’ power by urgently demonstrating that they are accountable.”
454. Final farewell
As I sat in the pew listening to the familiar call and response of the liturgy I had one of those moments of feeling out of time and place. If you relaxed the eyes and ears to take in the broad sweep rather than the details, this could have been any one of ten thousand different places over the last dozen centuries.
It started with the approach through the normally busy Auckland streets: crop the image to take out the cars and houses, and this was a scene straight out of medieval Europe, a Romanesque church pitched against a bright blue sky. The inside was shaded and cool and tall, with that smell of wood polish and dusty incense, a congregation gathering in murmurs, hugs and greetings for friends and relatives coming together to farewell our friend.
When the priests gathered around the altar with hands outstretched, hold your breath to feel how ancient is our predicament: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
And then an aria by a soloist captures those motes and floats them into the rafters, so you sit back and wonder at the magic of combining sadness and beauty to give thanks for this man’s one good life.
Requiescat in pace LHW.
459. Actually Mark Reason, blame the refs
I promised myself that I would not rise to the bait of every little sideshow of controversy that is going to erupt around the World Cup, especially during the nervous wait of this Phoney War period.
But I think I just might make an exception and pile on to the self-promoting garbage by Mark Reason today appearing on Stuff, if only because I’m beginning to get gloating emails from the Northern Hemisphere.
The All Blacks no longer even bother to bend the laws. They set out to deliberately cheat.
The All Blacks cheat in spades.
The next time the All Blacks play a big game, watch what they do around the breakdown. They deliberately splinter off into offside positions to block the defence.
It’s about as accidental as the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior.
Let’s start with that appalling breach of good taste.
The sinking of the Rainbow Warrior was an act of state-sponsored terrorism. Fernando Pereira died. People went to jail. (Not enough of them, and not for long enough, but still, they saw a cell from the inside.) Excuse me if I don’t think that’s a clever line.
Now to the substance of the article, that the All Blacks are ‘cheats’ because they deliberately obstruct at the break down.
For a start, Mr Reason is guilty of the sin of omission. Every action that he complains about is done by every international team. See, for example, the way that Keven Mealamu was held by the foot by an Australian, on the ground and away from the ruck, for long enough for Will Genia to snipe around the edge and send Digby Ioane away for a try during the match at Eden Park. And that’s just one example, when there are hundreds of them in any international match you want to watch in the last decade.
By focusing on the All Blacks for such tactics, Mr Reason is able to claim that they are the biggest perpetrators and the biggest beneficiaries.
Mr Reason compounds that error by finding the fault in the wrong place: “don’t blame the refs,” he says, “blame the players and coaches”.
What arrant nonsense. Of course we should blame the refs, because they are the ones who are failing in their responsibility.
It has been well-said that rugby is a game where you don’t know the rules until kick off. That’s because the Laws are so many, so complex and sometimes apparently contradictory that it all comes down to how the ref is going to interpret things today, especially at the breakdown. That’s why so many penalties in the first ten minutes are really about the players testing exactly where the line is being drawn, and can then play exactly up to it. That’s not cheating, it’s rugby. And it’s why the most important thing is for refs to be consistent in their interpretations, within each game and within the tournament as a whole.
If the refs are not able or willing to police obstruction at the breakdown there will only be one result: all teams will play into it. If they don’t, they will be at a severe disadvantage.
And there’s the real craziness of Mr Reason: the All Blacks style of play is the one which would benefit most from there being better policing at the breakdown.
Exactly contrary to Mr Reason’s reasoning, this is not a player or coach problem, it’s a referees problem. And given, as we all know, that referees are controlled by the Dark Overlords of the Northern Hemisphere, whose fault is that?
Given the extreme nature of Mr Reason’s judgments, I can only conclude that the article was a rather cynical attempt to make his name better known to the rugby public in his adopted homeland of New Zealand. Well, it will be much more widely known now. The only problem is that, for many people, it will be regarded as a synonym for ‘plonker’.
504. Omens and superstitions
All this year, when people have asked me “Do you think the All Blacks will win?”, I’ve sputtered and looked aghast. Even asking such a question is bad ju-ju. Bad bad ju-ju.
I’m not superstitious or into charms and incantations you understand: but you must immediately spin around three times and spit. It’s the only sure-fire way to cast off the green-eyed monster.
I’d love to know the little rituals that each All Black goes through before a game, except that it would be ultra-bad ju-ju to tell anyone. But you can be damned sure that all of them, up to and including Ted, have their little ways. The bag packed in a certain form: jersey and shorts and boots put on in a certain order. They will be routines that allow them to manage their anxiety, that get you up to the first whistle.
Look for omens in the history of the World Cup all you like, but you’ll find some of them will have to be broken this year.
Start with ‘The team that knocks out the reigning champion goes on to win the tournament’. That’s been true for every tournament except 1995, so put your money on Australia for having beaten South Africa. But that doesn’t fit with ‘The winner of the Tri-Nations will not win the World Cup.’
And try this: ‘The champion will go through unbeaten.’ That leaves only New Zealand out of the four in the semis.
Or you could spread your bets with this one: ‘the winner will have exited the previous Cup in the Quarter-Finals’. Stand up New Zealand or Australia.
Or you could try the symmetry of history: in which case let’s recreate the 1987 Cup, when New Zealand faced France in the Final, and Wales faced Australia in the Bronze.
None of these are true in the sense of being Laws of the Rugby Universe, of course. Rather they say something about the cycles of performance, how teams and coaches come and go over eight or ten year periods.
Or maybe 24 year periods.
Aaargh! Quick, everybody spin around three times and spit.
One of the great joys of the World Cup being in New Zealand – thank you Helen Clark, and thank you Martin Snedden for making it happen so well – indeed the greatest joy for me thus far, has been going to seven games at
Westpac Wellington Regional Stadium with MrsDavy and the LittleDavys.
Bear in mind that MrsDavy had never been to a proper rugby match before, and that now she has seen in the flesh Tonga beat France, and Australia beat South Africa, amongst other delights. She now knows how to rise to her feet with the rest of the crowd and scream at the ref. When I give her the nod that the ruck ball is being slowed down illegally, she’ll let rip the Davy special “Rip his arms off!” banshee, which is probably how the Afghani tribal women were cheering on their men as they dealt with the British army in 1842.
They have been great family expeditions, these matches: carefully prepared, impeccably timed. We’ve sussed out the best parking spot (reasonable walk, quick getaway), zoomed through the security lines, scooted past the big queues for food and drink and headed for the quieter outlets down the back. I got the drinks (one chardonnay and one pinot noir for MrsDavy, Cokes for the girls and I), while the LittleDavy’s grabbed the eats. MrsDavy was deployed just before half-time to get the donuts and coffee.
It has been a thrill to have them there, grinning at the crowds, learning the game as I sotto voce coach them on the ref’s rulings.
And then a pang, as I realised how quickly all this was going.
Not just the seven games running through. Not even how my LittleDavys are shooting up and away.
But even the games themselves. They go so fast now.
It will be 2,128,320 minutes from the Millennium Stadium to Eden Park.
And then all done and dusted in a mere 80.
That seems a cruelly brief flash in which to judge the worth of four years’ hard yakka.
528. The Moment
We had great seats for the Final: behind the eastern goal line, in the first row of the second tier. Tony Woodcock ran straight at me for his try, Dusautoir just to my right for his.
We made the 4.25pm ferry from Bayswater with two minutes to spare in typical Davy fashion. And then smash into the chaos of downtown Auckland.
The walk up the fan trail was a blistering noise of apprehension.
Beautiful to walk through the surreal art in the often missed Myers Park, up the steps to St Kevin’s Arcade, along K Road, across the motorway down Bond Street, for the first glimpse of the Park.
The crowd was buzzed, searching for anything to join. The star turn was a volunteer on his tennis umpire’s chair giving sing-song directions to the gates, with a scrum in front joining in as chorus: “A to the right, E to the left, C and D straight ahead”.
We were well early, so we did a turn around the Park before going in. Saw the team buses arriving.
Straight in no problems, grab the four Heinies, up to the seats. Woo hoo!
Soak it up for an hour, watching the stands fill, the Army band being very cool, the warm-ups, Ted stalking the grass.
The French response to the haka, an arrow formed on their captain and then swinging up and walking up to the challenge, roiled the blood.
Tight, tight, tight.
It was the 74th minute when I realised that we were going to have to play for time rather than seek more points. I turned around to our stand and saw half the folk pinned to their seats in consternation. And I screamed at them then, waved them up urgently, stomped my feet and demanded that we all bring the boys home on a wave of incessant Black.
That last penalty I threw up my arms, and then … then … felt a strange lightness of being. A great weight of apprehension had fallen out of me, and I would have floated away if I hadn’t fallen to my seat.
BrotherPhil and BrotherDoug and TaranakiTwelveFingers and I joined in a man hug of exhausted satifaction.