Archive for October, 2015

Is it just a game?

So, how did you enjoy the semi finals? did the two best teams got through?

Yes they did, both semi final winners scored tries, the point of the game, and conceded none; but no thanks to the French whistleblower in our game; thirteen penalties to six was a bit on the nose; to say nothing of that yellow card. The referee, legitimately or not, kept the Springboks in the game when they had 43% possession, from that ran 149 metres against the ABs 387 metres, beat 3 defenders against the ABs 20. The penalties may be legitimate, but it did seem to be a strategy of the Springboks to focus more on winning penalties rather than scoring tries.

It was a bit different in the Australia/ Argentina game where the Argies had more possession 55:45 and more territory 54:46. But the Australians made more of their possession with four tries to nil and the Argies were kept in the game courtesy of being awarded 12 penalties, five kickable and converted to 15 points, while conceding only six, one of which was kickable and converted to 3 points. 

And that, my friends is probably the real impact of a referee. NOT what penalties he awards to a team, which draws the slow motion, frame by frame scrutiny of every camera at the stadium together with millions of analysts, but rather the penalties that are not awarded which are much harder to notice. The game and our attention moves on too quickly to notice many indiscretions. As Michael Cheika tried to explain about the penalty of life they were given against Scotland, there was an experiment when a bear (sic; it was actually a man in a gorilla costume) walks through a bunch of people playing with a basketball but goes unnoticed because all the focus is on the ball.

So does it happen? are there ulterior motives?

Do the World Rugby executives have sound commercial reasons for musing in front of the referee selection committee chairman ‘who will rid us of this turbulent team?’

Are there subliminal forces at play in the minds of the referees?

Are the referees occasionally just missing the gorilla?  

Do bookies have an interest and an influence?

I am one who would rule out the bookies; while undeniably they have a very big interest in the game, the Indians do not play rugby and I think the referees appointment committee would spot external match fixing without any trouble. I just never really believed that rumour after the 1995 final that ‘bookies’ had arranged the food poisoning of the tournament favorite All Blacks. But what is undeniable is that 27 of the squad did get food poisoning 48 hours before the game. Possibly accidental, but when aligned with the semi final result, possibly deliberate, although not by bookies.

Videos and analyses of South Africa’s semi final strongly suggest that South Africa should not have even got through to the final. It should have been another All Black/ France final. A number of collapsed mauls with the French on attack went unpunished then a try by Benazzi in the last-minute of the game was denied by referee Derek Bevan who then whistled full-time. The suspicions of bias were not appeased when, at the after match function, Bevan was, to the embarrassment of IRB officials, awarded a gold watch by South African Rugby Union president Louis Luyt for his outstanding refereeing.

Bevan hoped the presentation would not be misconstrued, but he accepted the watch. Sportingly, Benazzi later said that while he was certain he had crossed the line and scored, the outcome was important for Mandela and the new era for South Africa. I think the world generally concurred. This was a fairytale ending for a nation being welcomed back to the global community and let us not deny it, brought the South African Rand back into IRB coffers. But does the end justify the means?

The rugby world rejoiced in this 2015 Cup when Japan beat South Africa and then went on to also beat Samoa and the USA. It is possibly conceivable that Japan could beat USA and even Samoa. But to beat South Africa was absolutely inconceivable. The penalty count was 12 to Japan, 8 to South Africa, but more importantly Japan had six very kickable penalties and got five of them for 15 points, South Africa had two kickable penalties for six points. That, of course, does not explain how the South Africa with such a brutal defense structure conceded three tries. Another fairytale story for the brave Blossoms. But behind the scenes Japan, which is hosting the next World Cup, was struggling to put together a team having been awarded a place in the Super 18 competition for next season. This would put a lot of financial pressure on the hosting of the RWC 2019 and the successful development of the Yen as a major contributor to the World Rugby coffers.  Achieving the inconceivable, beating a team that sat at the top table, has created the desired surge of support for rugby in Japan. A miserable day for South Africa but happy outcome for rugby. Perhaps the Boks were promised a friendly referee in the quarter and semi finals as a reward for taking it on the chin? Perhaps they were reminded of the IOU they signed to the IRB in 1995?

Is it just a game? Is there a game behind the game? The substantial incomes of players and officials from all countries depends on cooperating for the greater revenue streams of the World Rugby organisation. Sometimes the franchises may just have to play the game. For aren’t they are in the entertainment industry? Aren’t these just our 21st century gladiators? Heroes and villains, blood and guts, fear and courage, despair and elation. Predictability is boring; just keep taking us all on the emotional super roller coaster; it is addictive and we will pay plenty for the ride.


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its not over til its over

A week ago there were a lot of predictions, anxiety, even mild panic about the All Blacks. It was not good enough that they won all four of their pool games, scored 25 tries along the way, conceded 4; picked up a couple of bonus points along the way and cruised into the quarter finals without any serious injury. No, no. The fact that they did not double that number of tries at least and concede zero tries had the fans in a panic.

The question that should have been asked is, to what point? The point is to win and maximise points. The maximum points available in 4 matches was 20. The All Blacks scored 19, four points clear of the second qualifier. More side steps and swerves, more crash banging through opposition to get more tries gets us no higher on the ladder; it has only two possible outcomes: more for opposing teams to analyse, more risk of injury.

Then came the glory. The game everyone was looking for against Namibia and Georgia. But instead it came against France, in Cardiff, in the quarter-final. Now we are simply unbeatable. We have all the stars. Savea and Nonu just run through and over opponents, Millie runs a round them; SBW draws defenders then releases an unmarked supporter into glory. Against all comers we are now, in the fanzone, simply unbeatable. We will take tries at will. We will not just win the Web Ellis, we will humiliate all the old foe in the process. We are already planning the parade.

But beware the distraction of glory for glory’s sake. Have a look at this chess I game I played againstIts not over til its over a computer character named Deon. Deon, significantly was playing in Black and Deon is a computer who plays like a machine. Black set about racking up a solid lead in the game but then black’s queen got blood lust. Instead of marshaling his superior numbers and focusing on my king, old Deon decided to humiliate me by taking everyone of my noblemen before finishing off my friendless King. With one very long shot available, I sneaked my King behind two pawns and shuffled quietly up the sideline, like Aragorn with a pair of hobbits sneaking up on Sauron. So while Deon distractedly finished off my remaining noblemen and a few pawns. It gave me just enough time to secure this miraculous checkmate you see above.

A lesson to be learned. It’s not over til its over. So it was that Japan beat South Africa. So it could be that the Boks could beat the AB’s.

You may say that I only created this warning as a cover story to show-off to you about this chess game. You may suggest that, I could not possibly comment, except to say this was one of my finest games against Deon who, in this game, got away on me and I found a way to win against the odds.

And in rugby there is one other consideration that you do not have in chess. A referee. What a difference a referee can make. You may be the better team, but if the referee is ‘making human errors’ and you are on the receiving end of his ‘human errors’, then you are ‘having a bad day’.

And that brings us to the Jocks playing the sheep shaggers last week. In this game the Scots had the game in the bag with a minute to go. The ref made a human error. The Scots lost. They made their feelings about referee human error very clear and Joubert ran like a rabbit.

The point being, we do not have the Webb Ellis Cup yet. Its not over til its over. 

Having said all that, there is no way the Saffas can beat us this week; we will smash them and then the Ozzies or Argies after that. Go the All Blacks, we are unbeatable. At least as long as the bookies and World Rugby politicians keep out of it.

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Fun with flags2

The flag issue is really struggling to generate any enthusiasm. Has it gone on too long? But now the business end arrives in the form of advertising alerting us that the first referendum is approaching. Is this when we start asking ‘oh were you really serious?’

The idea of change appeared to have been built on the indignation that globally many people confused our flag with Australia’s. Our national pride was offended; we became outraged. This cannot be allowed to continue. So thousands of us got out our crayons, waxy or digital, and poured forth all manner of variations of ferns and korus that were uniquely ours.

The general reaction once we got these thousands whittled down to four, then up to 5 has been a bit underwhelming. They do, as critics say, just look like designs for commercial packaging whereas the existing flag looks like a national flag.

So let us re-evaluate the premise of outrage upon which we launched into this multi million dollar project: that people confuse our flag with Australia. The first consideration is that the New Zealand design had been in use in NZ since 1869 as our flag to be flown at sea (although given official status in 1902). The Australian flag was designed in a competition held in 1901. New Zealand’s flag in use was obviously the inspiration for the Australian design.

Australian Flag

Australian Flag

Current NZ flag

NZ flag






No doubt there is a strong family resemblance. Is that unique to us? If we were at an olympic stadium and looking around all the flags on display we would see:

French flag

Dutch Flag





So, which is the French flag and which is the Netherlands flag?

Italian FlagHungary Flag






One of these is the Hungarian flag the other Italy.

Mexico flag

India flag





One Mexico, the other India

Ivory Coast flag Ireland flag





One of these is our dear old Ireland the other is the Ivory Coast.

So do we see the Dutch giving up their Tricolour to replace it with an orange flag with a tulip? or the French changing to a bleu flag with a garlic clove or phallic baguette?

Are the Irish having a referendum for a green flag with a shamrock? The Italians for a red flag with an olive?

Are we being too precious? I saw that little boy star Justin Bieber from Canada being interviewed and asked his perception having been brought up with the original ‘brand flag’ the maple leaf. He looked at the selection of options and couldn’t understand why we would change. A visiting comedian from Britain asked the same question thought the fern design looked like a condom packaging design. So children and clowns support the status quo, that is normally a good indicator.

So is our premise that our flag must be unique in the flag world a valid one?

Is it our intention to have one “Brand NZ” that is used not only on our flag but also on all commercial packaging for NZ-made products? all sports, academic, political, military and cultural groups representing NZ? on our national airline livery? The answer is emphatically no. This isn’t North Korea. We are a capitalist country and the referendum is being run by capitalists. Freedom of choice. Individuality. Free market competition rules. Brands must create their own persona. So what is this referendum all about?

Is it interesting that none of the 5 alternatives features the Union Jack, in any format? The Union Jack did feature among the thousands of submissions. Adapting from the current Union Jack on blue ensign with Southern Cross, there were alternatives that combined a Union Jack with other elements/ colours, but none of these made the cut. The Union Jack was persona non grata in the options selected by the appointed committee.

So what is the point of it all? There must be over 200 flags and any averagely-educated person would be lucky to identify 5% of them. Is it important that other people recognise our flag? Is it only important that we look at it; that we recognise what it represents and that we rally under it because we know it’s story? And the story of our existing flag is that the Southern Cross is the common navigational guide that brought all of our pioneers to this country; from Hawaiiki, from Europe and from Asia. The Union Jack tells the story that it was under the umbrella of the United Kingdom that we became a globally recognised nation. A part of the modern world. And we remain under this umbrella as part of the Commonwealth of Nations, headed by the Queen of the United Kingdom. That is our story. And a fern just does not tell a story. The reason Australia’s flag is so similar to ours is that our national stories are both so similar.

I wonder…..I wonder if this is less about a referendum for a flag design and more a republican referendum in drag; testing the nation’s attachment to Great Britain and the Royal Family. But I just don’t buy John Key as a republican zealot. National party tends to be more conservatively royalist as a general observation. JK loves the Royals. He and his family stayed with the Queen at Balmoral and picnicked with the Royal family. He gets on famously with the rock star royals and would really recognise the value of his ability to leverage off these relationships in his life beyond the NZ PM role, which now has a close horizon. So the first referendum is November 20th and just two weeks before that Charles and Camilla are popping into New Zealand for a visit and it is unlikely that this has happened without encouragement from the Government. They should shore up the royal vote.

And Republicanism is generally a Labour Party ambition. All the Labour leaders have tended to publicly supported a republic. They have a current (2013) policy to call a referendum on becoming a Republic. Perhaps cunning old John Key is using this whole flag thing to antagonise the general public against wasting money on a flag design, reinforce the national psyche as royalists loyal to the Union Jack and thereby undermine any Labour party attempt to raise the republican debate in the foreseeable future?

Or am I just reading too much into it all? Surely politicians aren’t really cunning and underhanded with secret agendas and irresponsible attitudes to spending millions of tax dollars on a political agenda. Nah, it must be just what it appears, a genuine belief from a genuine bloke that designing a new flag  is a genuinely high priority for our country at this time.





a thousand pardons monsieur

So, Australia won the pool game against England. And quite convincingly. Rather than there being a referee bias in favour of England as I had predicted, (even, perhaps, accused), it seemed a very fair refereeing job by monsieur Romain Poite (please to prononce as ‘pwat’). My conspiracy theory proved completely groundless. The true, gentlemanly spirit of rugby is alive and well. As pure and clean as the spring snows on Coronet Peak. The ball fell where the ball will fall. A thousand pardons monsieur Bernard Lapasset for challenging your duty of honor.

So what went wrong with my well thought-out theory? Who will ever know, however humour me as I speculate on a hypothetical post-match telephone conversation.

ringtone: ”ello?”

Bernard, it’s Bill

Monsieur Bill, ‘ow are you?

Pretty pissed off actually Bernard. Bloody convicts got a win; we’re out of the tournament. Heads being lined up for the chopping block as we speak. I could be one of them.

Well we ‘ave a guillotine zat we ‘ave not used for a while, but is still in fine working order I understand. Perhaps?

No time for jokes Bernard. I though we had a deal sorted.

A deal monsieur Bill, je ne comprende?

Over a damned decent cognac at the club, Bernard. About the importance of England getting past Australia and into the quarter finals at least; and the fact that one of your mob was refereeing.

I remember well zees pleasant evening monsieur Bill; ze cognac was indeed quite superb; and I fully agreed with you zat zis was very importante for England to win. Such a pity zen zat zey played, ow do you say…..? like a pock of wonkers.

For pete’s sake Bernard, this was serious; this was big money in the Rugby Union’s coffers. We had an understanding; you were supposed to fix this game. You double crossed us.

Fix? Fix a game monsieur Bill? In ze Rugby World Cup? Surely you are not serious?

Come on Bernard, the Japanese Rugby Union were struggling to get the necessary sponsorship and suddenly a bunch of cobbled together Blossoms beat the bloody Saffas and the Sammos. Now the Blossoms are national heroes with sponsors back home queuing up! Are you saying didn’t have a hand in that?

Ah such brave little Blossoms. Zey played so well did zey not?

And with a noticeable penalty advantage. As I counted it Samoa was out-penalised 17 to 4.

Ah yes ze discipline of Blossoms is so excellent; of ze Samoans, perhaps not so good.

And South Africa? Your little Blossoms didn’t get a bit of a helping hand there?

Ah, zis was just a bad day for ze Africaans, but zey recovered, no? still zey qualified. All is ‘appy now?

I don’t give a stuff if the Saffas are happy Bernard, I certainly am far from it.

I am sorry you feel zis way monsieur Bill; I feel zis is a very exciting and successful tournament; and in its own way, England’s loss ‘as added much to ze enjoyment of many fans all around ze world.

Not to put too fine a point on it, Bernard, but over that cognac or three we talked about history; specifically we talked about the quarter finals in Cardiff  in 2007; and about a bloody accommodating English ref. Young Barnes, a man of the silk no less, put his whole career and credibility on the line to get your useless frogs into the semis. Everyone knew we put the fix in for France on that one; and now your man couldn’t make a few calls the right way to get us through the pool? He could easily have denied the Aussies’ second try for a forward pass; we get penalised 9 to 5 against us and then, insult to injury, young Farrell gets yellow-carded with ten to go for a marginally mis-timed tackle when that thug Hooper stayed on the paddock after a vicious, pre-meditated, no-arms shoulder charge.  Australia winning that game is a bloody travesty of justice, Bernard.

‘istory monsieur Bill? 2007 at Cardiff is not ‘istory to ze French. For France ‘istory is two hundred years ago, last June 18 to be précis, at Waterloo.  And a travesty of justice is not from a referee’s whistle. A travesty of justice is five treacherous armies of Europe colluding wiz zat poxy duc de Wellington to defeat ze brave general Bonaparte and zen ‘aving tens of thousands of drunken English barbarian soldiers swarm into Paris, on July 7th to be précis. Zis is ‘istory and zis is travesty of justice to ze people of France, monsieur.

You’re having a laugh, Bernard. Waterloo? This is the twenty bloody first century.

Of course monsieur Bill, as you say I was just ‘aving laugh. I am laughing but truly I am sorry zat England is out of ze tournament. ‘owever I enjoyed dinner and a few drinks with some old rugby friends a few nights ago and one said zat when you called today I should simply say to you: ‘four more years.’ An amusing man is little George, no?

You’re a bastard Bernard.

Perhaps, monsieur Bill, in France we can never be certain. But now I must end zis little chat. I ‘ave to arrange an enquiry about English coaching staff perhaps trying to influence a referee at ‘alf time? We cannot tolerate any ‘int of impropriety, I am sure you agree. Au revoir monsieur Bill.



RWC series: Je prédis…. j’accuse

So what money on Australia beating England in the qualifying game this Saturday?

A quid to a knob of kangaroo poo that the Poms will get the win. No point talking about form, the squads, the coaches, the strategies, the injuries. Talk about the dollars.

Rugby needs TV. TV needs advertising revenue. ITV currently can charge 300,000 pounds per 30 second advertising spot on a game with England playing in it. That’s 600,000 pounds a minute. Just shy of $NZ1.5 million per minute. The price of the 30 second spot moves with the audience levels. Take England out of the match and the price of a 30 second spot drops south of 200,000 pounds, as I am reliably informed. Every 30 second spot they can sell on the back of England playing is essential revenue. ITV needs England to get through at least to the final, as they may well point out to IRB. Perhaps their contract with IRB already has the England contingency built in? In which case ITV scarcely need to tell IRB how important it is for England to get through the qualifiers and into the final. To quantify it, losing England is losing almost $NZ500,000 revenue per advertising minute. Having Wales replace them in the finals would be small consolation to ITV; the big audience is English.

And one step back, if the price of the 30 second spot drops dramatically it is simply that the advertisers and sponsors value that exposure as being much less without England. So a loss of England dulls the enthusiasm of major advertisers and sponsors not only for English rugby but for International rugby. The IRB have done marvellously well in twenty years in building support from major advertisers and sponsors to financially support rugby. They do not need a wheel to fall off now. They do not want that momentum to be dulled by the early exit of England.

Then move into the merchandise. Businesses have paid rights to manufacture merchandise. There will be a warehouse full of England rugby jerseys, jester hats, flags, song sheets for ‘swing low sweet chariot’; if England drops out at the qualifiers then Arfer Daley will be right on the dog and bone to collect a nice little earner.

And there is just the development of the sport of rugby in England. That’s a tough ask in soccer crazy England, but we saw the public reaction in Japan when the brave blossoms beat South Africa. Victory is good for profiles. English world domination in rugby would lift the rugby profile up the ladder against ‘remember 1966’ England soccer. But drop out in the qualifiers and England rugby will get drawn and quartered by the mocking media.

No, an England exit at the qualifiers just does not bear thinking about around the IRB board table. Even for a French Chairman, Bernard Lapasset. Monsieur Lapasset was elected Chairman of the all-powerful IRB in 2007. Why does that year ring a bell? Oh yes, Cardiff, quarter finals of RWC, English referee, French team, inexplicable disparity in the awarding of penalties, inexplicable failure of all officials to see a metre-forward pass for the crucial winning try and a most unlikely French win. Anglo-Franco relations seem to be amicable in the rugby world.

So monsieur Lapasset: Australia vs England? A must-win game for England. A must-win game for the IRB coffers. So will the game be allowed to play as it plays? Will ze ball bounce where ze ball will bounce?

Sorry cobber, I reckon you ‘ockers might be dog tucker before you run on the pitch. If its not already mentally noted in the ‘do not minute this’ section of a ‘this did not happen’ IRB meeting, then surely it has been whispered over a cognac in the Club. But don’t make a fuss me old mate and they might toss you a Welsh bone next game; but that depends if Fiji beat Wales first so the Poms are already secure.

Monsieur Lapasset, je prédis victoire à notre époque pour l”Anglaise;  j’accuse.

Prove me wrong this time, Bernie, and I might concede that Wayne Barnes just had a very, very bad day on the 6th October 2007. Either that or one of the AB’s had slept with his wife.

footnote: the most important selection of this game has now been made. The match referee will be Romain Poite. Monsieur Poite, that sounds a bit French doesn’t it?.

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