Archive for category Rugby World Cup

an hour of glory

A French-sounding journaliste asked the question of Richie McCaw at the post-final news brief, ‘is it like they say? Victory has an hour of elation, then there is emptiness’.

It caused a little pause in Richie, I thought; in his eyes and response I think he knew exactly what she meant, but this was no time for that sort of downer to hit the headlines; Richie was too professional to fall into that trap and he assured us he still felt pretty warm inside and did not want this time to end. But in the answer he betrayed his heart. He did not want this time to end, but by the time he woke the next morning he would be facing the sobering thought that the tournament was over. The routine, organisation and sense of purpose would be over. The downer begins.

Sure the welcome home hoopla is a bit of a final upswing on the roller coaster ride, but really after that everyone will move on. The energy was in the battle; in the planning, preparations, training and in the game itself. Afterwards? And while New Zealand’s TV audience for the final no doubt numbered in the millions, the welcome home crowd will be well down on that.

There is a bit of a victim cry going up from some Dunedin quarters that the boys are not coming here for a parade. But realistically even on their first day home in Auckland only 2% of the population came to see them at the airport/ Victoria Park receptions. We would be lucky to get 10% of us in the Octagon for a welcome parade and if our city council’s planning and organisational efforts for the Highlanders welcome home earlier this year is anything to go by, we really have not got much of a drawcard to keep them on the road another day. Lets see what the City Council can do for Ben Smith who is our born and bred RWC15 hero; that should be a big enough event for us without the whole team turning up.

But in a week it will be just a trophy in the rugby union’s cabinet and from the moment it is placed there all anyone will think about is the next tournament. RWC2015 will be a a great piece of history, but history it is. RWC2019 is the only one that will be in our minds. Hanson only hinted that he might not be around after 2017 and the media were immediately (see what I did there?) full of profiles on our potential new coach. Sorry Shag, you are a legend but we are moving on already. Despite Richie being the heroic leader of the RWC11 and 15 campaigns, it seems that from the minute he stepped off the field on Saturday night all the media wants to know is the news of when he will retire. And the minute he makes that announcement he will join Shag in the history file while we speculate and get excited about who will be our new hero.

Maybe that is why the French can be a little blasé. a little shrug over something that we take so seriously. A trophy is not le Louvre nor la Tour Eiffel. The RWC final is not Waterloo.

But one thing I have decided after this tournament is to play to the whistle. Accept the referees’ calls without getting upset; without screaming ‘conspiracy’.  The anti-ref venom from the Australian media made me realise how unbecoming this practice is. In the old days of local referees we just accepted the South African referees were a tad biased and no doubt the New Zealand refs reciprocated. We all just accepted that was what home advantage meant. In the modern era of four professional, impartial referees and a plethora of cameras, if a referee wears an eye patch today you can be pretty sure it was officially supplied. And if the bookies ever influence a result, it will be through food poisoning not through referees. No doubt the RWC15 final was refereed much more leniently than the lead-up matches. But so it should be. This is a spectacle, this is entertainment. What a hollow result it would be if a team won a trophy while the opposition had lost one or more players to red cards. And so even though the TMO had eyes all over the place searching for fouls in all preliminary games, Kepu got away with one late and two high tackles, the second on Milner-Skudder included a neck roll and suspicious looking grab at the eye sockets, but this evaded notice as Nonu took off for his try from the recycle. Interestingly Nigel Owens was heard shortly after that asking Kepu if he was keeping his tackles down. The only justice in that incident is that Kepu was still only getting up off his fat arse when Nonu ghosted past him on his way to the line. Pocock also avoided a red card with his face stomp on McCaw; admittedly he was annoyed by Richie holding onto his boot, but in any other game that is a red card. The Aussie media also screamed that Smith’s yellow should have been a red (ridiculous) and Kaino’s high tackle should have been a card not just a penalty as called by Owens.

But neither the All Blacks nor the All Black fans would want a victory that had two Australian red cards.  What a hollow victory that would be. How flat would we feel ? (as the Aussies should have done when they could only score tries when we were down to 14 players). So even though the referees were not as strict and punitive as in the preliminary rounds, it was right to be more lenient in this final. And maybe there are other occasions that justify referees being given instructions for selective refereeing. In addition to such instructions from above, the referees cannot see everything in slo-mo replays as we do with MySky; so missing things is just part of the game. What a bore the game would be if refereeing was completely robotised by cameras.

So that is my RWC15 resolution; from now on to just accept the referees’ calls as part of the game, part of the unpredictability, part of the roller coaster excitement that draws us to these games. That is until that bloody Wayne Barnes ever refs another of our games or some other useless one-eyed bastard makes some ridiculous bloody decisions.

Anyway, that is a side issue, so will it be Kieran Read or Sam Cane to take over the captaincy from old whathisname ?

 

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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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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.

 

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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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RWC series: hello little blossoms

It’s the big festival of Rugby. Called the Rugby World Cup and ostensibly held to decide who is the best team in the world.

Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 8.14.46 AMIf the AB’s happen to drop a game in the play offs and don’t win the final, then they will not retain the world cup, but it would be hard to still claim that they are not the world’s best team. They are. They have lost just three games in the four years since the last world cup. Dropping one more game in this tournament will not change our position as best team in the world

Certainly a tournament such as this seems, at the playoffs end of it, seems to be a battle between two responses: temporary deflation at losing, or sheer relief at winning. And should that be what a world cup tournament is all about? Being crowned world champions is just relief? Where is the joy? And as for the temporary nature of both winning and losing, the All Blacks were crowned 2011  world champions on 23 October and the following year they lost to England who had had a shocker of a world cup tournament. England’s media made much of the beating the World Champions. The former English coach,  Sir Clive Woodward, rubbed salt into the wound claiming the French were robbed by the referee in the RWC Final. It took a little shine off the Webb Ellis.

Still he may have a point, the RWC11 Final certainly had a fortuitous last ten minutes as regards All Black discipline in the most tense and stressful environment of their careers. However it was nowhere near as blatant as the refereeing bias in the RWC07 quarter-final when co-hosts France came back from the dead at half time with an error free (or at least penalty free) second half, including a metre forward last pass for the winning try awarded by a ‘deer in the headlights’ Wayne Barnes. That coach Graeme Henry survived the traditional sacking, was also unusual. One cannot help but speculate that France not being in the semi final in Paris was politically or commercially unacceptable to the IRB and so NZ were promised similar refereeing leniency in NZ 2011 for just taking the 2007 quarter-final loss on the chin and keeping Henry quiet. Henry survived and everyone failed to challenge Barnes’ refereeing (or at least until after 2011 when Henry finally published his book).

Is politics alive and well in the Rugby World Cup? One would have to think so. Do the IRB through control of the referees have the opportunity to fix games? Well, establishing and maintaining such complex rules does give them a lot of flexibility. No one but the referee (or the IRB puppet-master for the day) knows what way a penalty would go when someone is tackled, (did one fail to roll away or the other prevent him rolling away?) or a scrum collapses (did he jump or was he pushed?).

So where is the joy in Rugby World Cup tournaments?

The joy, my friends, is in the gods of rugby delivering not only the unexpected, but also the unimaginable. The puppet masters see this only as a knockout tournament between eight teams. Another dozen teams are patronisingly included in the tournament to help fund it and to provide a bit of a training run for the final 8 who play for the Cup.

And one of the lightest training runs scheduled was for the Springboks’ opening game. The chance to run up a cricket score against a team of lightweight Japanese players,  padded out with a few ‘no names’ from the South Pacific nations who were never in the running for their home-country teams.  The team associated with the delicate and fragile image of a blossom was about to be trampled under the thundering hooves of a horde of rampant Springboks. The referee would never been given any instructions from the puppet master; why would he bother? So the referee just refereed what he saw and it was honest refereeing, just as it would be for any ‘friendly match’. The players played and it was honest playing.

But the Japanese did the unthinkable, the unimaginable; they turned down a kick at goal to get a well deserved draw and they played for the try against the bigger team with a desperation to defend their line. And the Blossoms got it! they scored the try against all odds. They won. And at last a game delivered pure, unadulterated  joy. The joy was not only amongst the Japanese supporters, the joy was from the entire rugby world, excluding South Africa. Unless he now wins the trophy, the risk for poor Heyneke Meyer is not just sacking, it may well be imprisonment for high treason.

The tournament will probably go back to normal after this. South Africa will probably still top the Pool; Japan may win another game against the USA, but that will probably not be enough to get them into the quarter finals. The puppet-masters may have already decided that England will have this tournament, (best result all round for global sponsorship, what?), but who cares anymore?

Whoever gets the Webb Ellis trophy this year, the All Blacks will still be the best rugby team in the world and Japan will still be the little engine that could (and did). The South African jersey, no matter what hi-tech fabric it is made from, will still feel like sack cloth for decades to come.

Bless you little Blossoms, you brought the joy back into the tournament and delivered the karma to South Africa for the food poisoning of the All Blacks in RWC95.

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