Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Another thumb down

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge - "critical of the recent World Cup in France."

"It was a good World Cup in terms of the public attention, but I'm not happy about the quality of play," [Rogge] told The BBC.

"I am passionate about rugby but I think that the game has to evolve to keep its appeal. Defence has taken precedence over attack.

"At the Rugby World Cup play went from one maul, to another maul, to another maul, waiting for a penalty to be blown.

"I think the law-makers have to think about making the game more open, probably by working on a quicker liberation of the ball in rucks."


Friday, October 26, 2007

ps. Auckland are NPC champs - again!

Sim-ply Perfect!

Belated news buried under the RWC snorefest and the huge pile of work at my desk. I stayed up late (2:30 am) to watch the game - the first half was certainly exciting, but the 2nd-half made me think the players had been paying too close attention replicating the World Cup Q- and SFs.

Determined Auckland score treble

Sunday October 21, 2007
New Zealand Herald
by Lindsay Knight

Isa Nacewa, nursing a gash after being involved in a head clash in the first spell, capped his own splendid season and that of Auckland's, with another starring role in last night's Air New Zealand provincial rugby final at Eden Park.

Before a crowd of just 16,000, who again were drenched from Auckland's unseasonable weather, Nacewa landed three second-spell penalties as Auckland fought off a strong Wellington challenge, especially after the interval, to win 23-14.

Having scored one of Auckland's two first-spell tries, Nacewa finished with a personal tally of 18 points.

The win, even if it was not in the regal manner which seemed possible during a bright first spell, gave Auckland three notable milestones for the season: the Air New Zealand Cup premiership title, the Ranfurly Shield and an unbeaten championship record, the first time a team has gone through a season unbeaten since Auckland in 1990.

Read the rest.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

RWC 2007 Final: A cure for insomnia

Oh, I saw the final, all right - just like I watched every single minute of all 48 World Cup matches - and oh!, I'll have plenty more to say in the coming days weeks months (oy, my aching head!).

But why waste time when Peter Bills, chief rugby correspondent for Independent News & Media in London, gets right to the point:

England were brave and courageous, South Africa disciplined and dedicated to defence. So was this a World Cup final to put before the planet via global television? You must be joking.

What South Africa and England churned out in Paris was - in a technical sense - poor, unadventurous, defensive-minded rugby, littered with aimless kicking.

But this isn't rugby as we know it. Nor is it the rugby most people want to see played now or in the future. [...]

We are surely entitled to ask not only what that tells us about the Springboks' approach, but also about what is wrong with the modern game. Do people pay anything up to 1000 euros ($1925) or more to watch a match of penalty goals, as well as interminable kicking up in the air?

This was one of the most boring Rugby World Cup finals in history. Neither side wanted to risk anything; consequently, they kicked the ball away and invited the opposition to make mistakes with it.

England did, conceding five penalties in the first hour that were all translated into points. Those acts of transgression decided the game.

And that was all it took to win the trophy. No attacking-minded play, no inventiveness, little skill behind the scrum, scant originality in the play.

The formula was dire and depressing
. Only England's Mathew Tait offered a glimpse of back-line creativity and cunning.

So is this what rugby has come to, circa 2007? Is all that matters the fact that World Cup officials can sanction outrageous sums for tickets to the final, demand 15 euros ($29) for a programme and 30 euros ($58) for a couple of bags of fries and two beers? Just a cynical exercise in how to fleece the public? Never mind the product; sure, that's garbage and we all know that. But throw in a few fireworks after 80 minutes of mind-numbing boredom and hope the pundits will go home happy.

The fools might have done; any with a brain would have known that what they saw was complete rubbish.

About 12 months ago, All Blacks coach Graham Henry told me frankly "If winning a World Cup means we have to play defensive rugby, we have to kick the ball away and not play, then I'd rather not win it."

I have to tell you this: I believe Henry was dead right. Why would you want to win a World Cup playing no rugby, focusing entirely on defence and keeping the other lot out?

If this is what it takes to win a World Cup, New Zealand is better off without the tarnished trophy.

This glittering World Cup is no trophy of excellence. It's been dumbed down to a trophy of the basics ... who can deny longest, who can strangle the opposition, who can stop opponents playing, who can force mistakes from their rivals? That is what is required to win a World Cup in the modern game and New Zealand rugby is better off without such a devalued ambition.

New Zealand got a lot wrong in their campaign, but playing no rugby, kicking the ball up in the air and just trying to keep out the other lot, were not their failings.

This once-great game is at a crossroads, post the 2007 World Cup. Unless serious steps are taken to reward attacking play, to negate the incessant kicking and find some way to marginalise those who just don't want to play, we can forget all about rugby as it once was.

In Paris in front of 80,000 people, we had a foretaste of what this game will become in the future unless urgent action is taken to address its failings. Frankly, if this was a vision of the future, it was frightening.


Friday, October 19, 2007

Rugby World Cup Final: South Africa vs. England

The IRB Rugby World Cup Final goes tomorrow (Saturday) afternoon, between Pool A winners South Africa against defending RWC champs and runners-up of the same pool, England.

The two teams met earlier at St. Denis, with the Springboks thrashing the Poms by a scoreline of 36-0.

On that day however, England started Mike Catt at flyhalf. England has since recovered and been on a roll with oft-injured wunderboy Jonny Wilkinson directing traffic. Wilkinson hasn't played particularly brilliantly at the tournament - his goal-kicking, ball-handling and defense are nowhere near his heroic levels of four years ago - but there's no question that England plays with more grit, determination and confidence when he's in their side. And in terms of skill, experience, leadership and been-there-done-that, I rate him higher at his position that his Bok counterpart Butch James.

Many experts always tip the team with the superior pivot - in this case, Wilkinson's England - but I expect the South Africans have a big advantage in team speed, at the breakdown and on defense. Their scrummage, lineout, mauling and rucking will match anything Dad's Army can throw at them, and they look more dangerous out wide. Fullback Percy Montgomery has also been a metronome with his goalkicking boot, and will be sure to punish every infringement in the English half.

Alas, the result may come down to errors, lucky bounces, referee decisions (i.e. dodgy yellow cards and missed forward-passes) and drop-kicks. For us neutral observers, let's cross our fingers and hope that it's an exciting game that does credit to the sport.

As for my predictions, I expect the Springboks to run away deserved winners by 12 points or more, and I hope they do.

A few months ago I rhetorically asked the question if England repeated as World Champions - and become the first team to ever do so - then would that make them the Greatest Rugby Team of All Time? The question was asked with tongue planted firmly in cheek, but if England does win they will also become the first team to win the Cup after losing a game in competition, and will prompt many questions about the value of a 4-year RWC cycle that marginalizes the annual test match calendar. We'll cross that bridge when we get there, but let's face it: England has been the absolute worst-ever defending RWC champ by a country-mile.

The lineups:

SOUTH AFRICA: 1. Os du Randt, 2. John Smit (captain), 3. CJ van der Linde, 4. Bakkies Botha, 5. Victor Matfield, 6. Schalk Burger, 7. Juan Smith, 8. Danie Rossouw, 9. Fourie du Preez, 10. Butch James, 11. Bryan Habana, 12. Francois Steyn, 13. Jaque Fourie, 14. JP Pietersen, 15. Percy Montgomery. RESERVES: 16. Bismarck du Plessis, 17. Jannie du Plessis, 18. Johannes Muller, 19. Wikus van Heerden, 20. Ruan Pienaar, 21. André Pretorius, 22. Wynand Olivier.

ENGLAND: 1. Andrew Sheridan, 2. Mark Regan, 3. Phil Vickery (captain), 4. Simon Shaw, 5. Ben Kay, 6. Martin Corry, 7. Lewis Moody, 8. Nick Easter, 9. Andy Gomarsall, 10. Jonny Wilkinson, 11. Mark Cueto, 12. Mike Catt, 13. Mathew Tait, 14. Paul Sackey, 15. Jason Robinson. RESERVES: 16. George Chuter, 17. Matt Stevens, 18. Lawrence Dallaglio, 19. Joe Worsley, 20. Peter Richards, 21. Toby Flood, 22. Dan Hipkiss.

Date: Saturday, October 20
Kick Off: 21:00 (19:00 GMT, 20:00 BST) 03:00 pm ET (Toronto, New York)
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Conditions: Clear, dry, moderate north-easterly winds - max 12°C, min 2°C
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Touch judges: Joël Jutge (France), Paul Honiss (New Zealand)
Television match official: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)
Assessor: Michel Lamoulie (France)

Planet Rugby predicts South Africa to win by six points. Rugby Planet final preview, click here.

Setanta Sports in Canada is televising the game on a 26-hour delay (!!) at 5pm ET on Sunday. I will be shutting down my computer and not receivng any email messages or phone calls for the weekend in the hopes that I might be able to watch the game pretending it's live.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

NPC Final: Auckland vs. Wellington

There's another rugby championship final going this weekend: The National Provincial Championship (NPC) Air New Zealand Cup: Auckland vs. Wellington. There's a better-than-strong chance it'll be a more exciting game than the World Cup final. A small number of All Blacks - who'd undoubtedly rather be playing in Paris than Auckland - make the last-minute reserve benches for both sides.

AUCKLAND: 1. Saimone Taumoepeau, 2. Tom McCartney, 3. John Afoa, 4. Kurtis Haiu, 5. Jay Williams, 6. Jerome Kaino, 7. Daniel Braid, 8. Brad Mika, 9. Taniela Moa, 10. Isa Nacewa, 11. Benson Stanley, 12. Sam Tuitupou (captain), 13. Ben Atiga, 14. David Smith, 15. Brent Ward. RESERVES: 16. Keven Mealamu, 17. Nick White, 18. Troy Flavell, 19. Angus Macdonald, 20. Grayson Hart, 21. Lachie Munro, 22. Isaia Toeava.

WELLINGTON: 1. Jacob Ellison, 2. Luke Mahoney, 3. John Schwalger, 4. Jeremy Thrush, 5. Bernie Upton, 6. Api Naikatini, 7. Tom Harding, 8. Thomas Waldrom, 9. Piri Weepu (captain), 10. Jimmy Gopperth, 11. Shannon Paku, 12. Ma'a Nonu, 13. Tane Tu'ipulotu, 14. Hosea Gear, 15. Cory Jane. RESERVES: 16. Dane Coles, 17. Anthony Perenise, 18. Fafili Levave, 19. Rodney So'oialo, 20. Alex Tulou, 21. Alby Mathewson, 22. Conrad Smith.

Date: Saturday, 20 October
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19:35 (08:35 BST, 07:35 GMT) 02:00 am ET (Toronto, New York)
Referee: Chris Pollock
Touch judges: Keith Brown, Vinny Munro
Television match official: Jonathon White
Assessor: Glenn Wahlstrom, Keith Lawrence

Rugby Planet preview click here.

RWC Bronze: Argentina vs. France

The 3rd-place contest goes Friday between last weekends' semi-final losers France and Argentina, a re-match of the opening pool game of RWC 2007. I expect France to rebound and exact revenge against a very dispirited Pumas side that are licking their wounds and trying to pick themselves up after their loss to the Springboks on Sunday.

FRANCE: 1. Jean-Baptiste Poux, 2. Raphaël Ibañez (captain), 3. Pieter de Villiers, 4. Lionel Nallet, 5. Jérôme Thion, 6. Yannick Nyanga, 7. Thierry Dusautoir, 8. Imañol Harinordoquy, 9. Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, 10. Frédéric Michalak, 11. Christophe Dominici, 12. David Skrela, 13. David Marty, 14. Aurélien Rougerie, 15. Clément Poitrenaud. RESERVES: 16. Sebastian Bruno, 17. Nicolas Mas, 18. Sébastien Chabal, 19. Rémy Martin, 20. Pierre Mignoni, 21. Lionel Beauxis, 22. Vincent Clerc.

ARGENTINA: 1. Rodrigo Roncero, 2. Alberto Vernet Basualdo, 3. Omar Hasan Jalil, 4. Rimas Álvarez Kairelis, 5. Patricio Albacete, 6. Martín Durand, 7. Juan Martín Fernandez Lobbe, 8. Gonzalo Longo Elía, 9. Agustín Pichot (captain), 10. Juan Martín Hernández, 11. Horacio Agulla, 12. Felipe Contepomi, 13. Manuel Contepomi, 14. Federico Martin Aramburu, 15. Ignacio Corleto. RESERVES: 16 Marcos Ayerza, 17 Eusebio Guiñazu, 18 Esteban Lozada, 19 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 20 Nicolás Fernandez Miranda, 21 Federico Todeschini, 22 Hernán Senillosa.

Date: Friday 12 October, 2007
Kick off: 21.00 (20.00 BST, 19.00 GMT) 3:00 pm ET (Toronto, New York)
Venue: Parc des Princes, Paris
Referee: Paul Honiss (New Zealand)
Touch judges: Stuart Dickinson (Australia), Nigel Owens (Wales)
Television match official: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Assessor: Tappe Henning (South Africa)

Full Rugby Planet preview click here.

As mentioned earlier, I've been super-busy and had to put rugby on the backburner. I did manage to catch all four QFs and both SFs. While there have been some nailbiting close contests and epic upsets, it's also worth noting the actual quality of the rugby being played has mostly been boring rubbish. Rather than write up reviews of all the matches, I will withhold comments until my RWC post-mortem. Let's just say the tournament pool stages had me feelng the love for the tournament, and ready to plead - against my earlier beliefs of the past several years - that the format should remain at 20 teams. But the knockout stage has me leaning toward the feeling that this may in fact have been the worst RWC played from the perspective of a "showcase" for both rugby fans and neutral observers.

It's the New Jersey Devils "trap" strategy applied to rugby. Lou Lamoriello, eat yr heart out! It may be a winning hand to succeed at World Cup, but it's not winning many new converts to the sport.

Case in point #1:

[French coach Bernard] Laporte said the All Blacks played the tournament's best rugby and in fact, they are the only team to play any rugby.

"This World Cup has been crazy. Who has played any rugby? The only ones are the All Blacks," he said on the BBCwebsite.

Case in point #2:

[The dropped goal] scoring method has been a blight on the latter stages of the tournament.

It became an all-too-repetitive points solution for sides in the final four, especially England and France, who had seven attempts during their semifinal, against three efforts in South Africa's playoff with Argentina. [...]

Administrators should consider whether the value of the dropped goal needs to be reduced to two, or perhaps even a solitary point, as a way of persuading sides to use the ball more to discover the tryline.

Case in point #3:

Criticism of the World Cup finals as boring, defence-dominated kickathons has been rife in France since the Wallabies and All Blacks were knocked out last week, but don't expect new rules that encourage running rugby to transform the likes of England into entertainers, experts say.

Viewers of the game's showpiece event have been treated to ping-pong with a rugby ball in the past fortnight as teams kick backwards and forwards in the hope their opposition makes a mistake. Tries have mostly dried up, with the defending champions advancing to the final despite scoring just one five-pointer in the knockout stages.

Enthralling risky play and counter-attacking has been virtually eradicated and critics are demanding that the Experimental Law Variations, new rules supposed to reward a ball-in-hand approach, be implemented as soon as possible.

Even England flanker Martin Corry, in his column for The Guardian after England's semi-final victory over France, admitted, "There was a lot of aerial ping-pong which doesn't make for great entertainment."

I'll expound more about this that in the following week(s).

In other news, the IRB has conceeded that wet-behind-the-ear referee Wayne Barnes, who infamously officiated the France vs. New Zealand boilover at Cardiff, was lousy.

I'll expound more on that later, too.

Back shortly...

Friday, October 12, 2007

Quick update!

Extremely light posting this past week and the next couple days. Please check the box at the upper-right for all news & previews. Short explanation, repeating what I replied to a commenter below - I am currently working on an art exhibition for a major financial institution in Toronto. I don't need to get into the nitty-gritty here, but a presentation deadline that was originally scheduled for December 1st got telescoped to next Tuesday, October 16th - and that new notice was given to me on Friday, the day before the RWC QFs. (Think of it as, "your thesis is due in 8 weeks, sorry we need it faster, get it to us in twelve days!") The only QF match I have so-far seen is the New Zealand All Silvers vs. France Les Blues Marine nightmare. I have yet to see any of the other three QFs and will miss this weekends' Semi-Finals. I'll get tapes of all the games, sit down to view them all Tuesday & Wednesday, and write up some previews for the Final from Thursday to Saturday. My picks for the weekend are South Africa and France, but again, not having seen those QFs I'm wildly guessing. England keeps getting better and better, and France looked pretty fortunate last Saturday, it should be a cracker. And do the Pumas have another shock up their sleeves? Again, sorry, right now I don't have an extra 10-12 hours to spare.

Back soon, after the nervous breakdown!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Red Terror Suicide Watch

It's the shape of the rugby ball. Click image.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Rugby World Cup quarter-finals Saturday!

[Winner Pool B] vs. ENGLAND [Runner-up Pool A]

AUSTRALIA: 1. Matt Dunning, 2. Stephen Moore, 3. Guy Shepherdson, 4. Nathan Sharpe, 5. Daniel Vickerman, 6. Rocky Elsom, 7. George Smith, 8. Wycliff Palu, 9. George Gregan, 10. Berrick Barnes, 11. Lote Tuqiri, 12. Matt Giteau, 13. Stirling Mortlock (captain), 14. Adam Ashley-Cooper, 15. Chris Latham. RESERVES: 16. Adam Freier, 17. Al Baxter, 18. Hugh McMeniman, 19. Stephen Hoiles, 20. Phil Waugh, 21. Julian Huxley, 22. Drew Mitchell.

ENGLAND: 1. Andrew Sheridan, 2. Mark Regan, 3. Phil Vickery (captain), 4. Simon Shaw, 5. Ben Kay, 6. Martin Corry, 7. Lewis Moody, 8. Nick Easter, 9. Andy Gomarsall, 10. Jonny Wilkinson, 11. Josh Lewsey, 12. Mike Catt, 13. Mathew Tait, 14. Paul Sackey, 15. Jason Robinson. RESERVES: 16. George Chuter, 17. Matt Stevens, 18. Lawrence Dallaglio, 19. Joe Worsley, 20. Peter Richards, 21. Olly Barkley, 22. Dan Hipkiss.

Date: Saturday, 6 October
Kick-off: 15:00 local (14:00 BST; 13:00 GMT) 09:00 AM ET (Toronto, New York)
Venue: Stade Vélodrome, Marseille, France
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Touch judges: Paul Honiss (New Zealand), Nigel Owens (Wales)
Television match official: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Assessor: Tappe Henning (South Africa)
Full Rugby Planet preview - click here.

[Winner Pool C] vs. FRANCE [Runner-up Pool D]

NEW ZEALAND: 1. Tony Woodcock, 2. Anton Oliver, 3. Carl Hayman, 4. Keith Robinson, 5. Ali Williams, 6. Jerry Collins, 7. Richie McCaw (captain), 8. Rodney So'oialo, 9. Byron Kelleher, 10. Dan Carter, 11. Sitiveni Sivivatu, 12. Luke McAlister, 13. Mils Muliaina, 14. Joe Rokocoko, 15. Leon MacDonald. RESERVES: 16. Keven Mealamu, 17. Neemia Tialata, 18. Chris Jack, 19. Chris Masoe, 20. Brendon Leonard, 21. Nick Evans, 22. Isaia Toeava.

FRANCE: 1. Olivier Milloud, 2. Raphaël Ibañez (captain), 3. Pieter de Villiers, 4. Fabien Pelous, 5. Jérôme Thion, 6. Serge Betsen, 7. Thierry Dusautoir, 8. Julien Bonnaire, 9. Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, 10. Lionel Beauxis, 11. Cédric Heymans, 12. Yannick Jauzion, 13. David Marty, 14. Vincent Clerc, 15. Damien Traille. RESERVES: 16. Dimitri Szarzewski, 17. Jean-Baptiste Poux, 18. Sébastien Chabal, 19. Imañol Harinordoquy, 20. Frédéric Michalak, 21. Christophe Dominici, 22. Clément Poitrenaud.

Date: Saturday, 6 October
Kick-off: 20:00 local (19:00 GMT) 03:00 PM ET (Toronto, New York)
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Touch judges: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa), Tony Spreadbury (England)
Television match official: Chris White (England)
Assessor: Steve Hilditch (Ireland)
Full Rugby Planet preview - click here.


No decision on All Blacks shirts

The jersey controversy at the Rugby World Cup is still not resolved.

World Cup organisers are still dragging the chain over the New Zealand - France strip clash.

Tests have shown the All Blacks' alternative grey strip clashes with the French dark blue.


ABs might yet wear black

Meanwhile, there is also a chance the All Blacks may yet play the game in their traditional black jersey after tests which featured a simulated game by Cardiff club players left host broadcaster ITV worried about a clash of colours.

The All Blacks are meant to wear their alternative silver strip after they lost a coin toss to see who had first choice of jersey.

France were to play in their blue jersey, which has been darkened and now clashes with the All Blacks jersey.

However, the television tests done in Cardiff this week have left ITV executives worried that the All Blacks silver jersey may also clash with the French strip.

One solution could be to tell France they have to wear their alternative white jersey. The All Blacks could be left in their silver strip, or allowed to wear the black one.

An IRB spokesman acknowledged it seemed to be taking a long time to resolve the issue but it was important the jerseys were distinguishable.


The Shanghaid RWC

The number of hijacks at this RWC is another slap in the face for the racially structured IRB. Wales and Ireland shanghaid back home, France shanghaid to Cardiff, Scots shanghaiing the All Black jersey and then their players being so embarrassed they wore camouflage, and now the hijacking of the Black strip by the IRB, Nike and the Ayatollah Laporte.

The Black strip is the most famous and loved in rugby and it will be denied the world for a second time in less than a week. The whole world may not hate England and Australia, but everyone loves the All Blacks except a few xenophobic hacks. The All Blacks play with imagination, skill and risk. They are worth the price of a ticket, like all the Pacicfic nations, except Australia. It shows how scared the Home Union dominated racist Gerrymander is, that the All Blacks will dominate this tournament, like they have the world for the past four years.


Wynne Gray: Saga as simple as black and white:

The jersey debacle bodes well for the IRB's summit meeting about an integrated global season. That will also be chaired by Blind Freddie.

For all their flaws, it seemed colour-blindness was not on the list of IRB sports crimes. However the farce about the jersey clashes in Cardiff and for the All Blacks pool game against Scotland has been extraordinary.

The saga spluttered on after All Black manager Darren Shand lost a coin toss which meant his side were asked to wear their alternate silver-grey jersey because their traditional uniform clashed with France's new inky-blue black strip.

Not everyone was convinced that was the best solution. The tournament broadcasters, ITV, remained concerned about the jarring new jerseys and filmed them at a suburban Cardiff rugby ground to make sure.

Photographs were also sent to World Cup officials. Officials from both sides saw the chance to agitate in an escalating manufacturers' turf war.

Nike sponsor France and there is no doubt around the All Blacks camp they changed the Tricolores uniform to create a problem with the adidas-sponsored All Black strip.

And the longer the delay, the stronger the All Blacks' case to play in their traditional colour.

Every World Cup team sent two sets of their jerseys last year to World Cup officials for inspection to avoid this sort of confusion.

How the mess was not sorted out then is baffling. Maybe the clothes police were interested in only measuring logos on the jerseys or the size of the stitching and overlooked any colour clashes.

It became a sideshow which threatened to take the gloss off an already shabby decision to stage a quarter-final in Cardiff. The players largely ignored the issue although the French did wonder about their supporters having to chant their chants to Allez Blanc.

Meanwhile there was no word from the IRB, the sporting czars who meet after this tournament to solve an integrated international schedule.

If they couldn't sort the jersey chaos at Murrayfield for Scotland's home match against the All Blacks, what hope in Cardiff?

Forget the coin toss and tournament rules because they were clearly defective.

New Zealand should have played in their traditional black while the French should have been made to wear their alternate strip.


Grey versus white showdown looms in Cardiff:

CARDIFF - France have backed down in the battle over playing strips ahead of tomorrow's rugby World Cup quarterfinal against New Zealand, saying they are prepared to wear a white strip if necessary.

The drawn out saga over who wears what in tomorrow's match at Millennium Stadium crystallised today when France told the International Rugby Board (IRB) they would compromise on their deep dark blue outfit as long as the All Blacks still wore their alternate grey strip.

The two most likely scenarios are that France will keep their blue jersey and wear white shorts and socks, or that they will wear an all-white outfit which was to be sent from Paris this morning (NZ time).

It could lead to the farcical sight of neither team wearing their first-choice strip - with a New Zealand team dressed in grey playing a French side in all white.

All Blacks coach Graham Henry again side-stepped the issue today, saying it was irrelevant to him and the players.

"As far as we know, we're going to be wearing silver," he said.

"It's got the same technology as the other (jersey), we've got no concern about that.

"It'll be a contrast of colours, and that's the main thing isn't it?"

A coin toss on Tuesday was the start of what has turned into a messy and unwanted issue for the IRB.

All Blacks manager Darren Shand lost the toss, meaning his side had to forfeit their traditional All Black outfit for the grey uniform they wore against Scotland in Edinburgh two weeks ago.

That game was spoiled visually as the alternate strip closely resembled Scotland's.

Concerned about a repeat this weekend, host broadcasters ITV have spent three days running television screen comparisons on both All Blacks' strips against the French outfit, which is considerably darker for this tournament than their traditional blue.

Neither combination suited ITV and the IRB today asked France if they would change.

French manager Jo Maso said his team had agreed to compromise mainly because the sellout crowd of nearly 80,000 spectators and millions of television viewers deserved to watch a quality spectacle.

The issue was expected to be concluded later today (NZ time) but don't expect All Blacks captain Richie McCaw to lose sleep over the outcome.

"It doesn't change a whole lot at all," he said.

"Whether we're wearing black or have to change, the boys haven't really thought about it this week.

"The jersey doesn't decide whether you play well or not, it's the guys that put the jersey on."


Thursday, October 04, 2007

Setanta apolgises to Canadian fans for blatant bias

Public letter from Roger Hall, CEO Setanta Sports North America, to Rugby Canada:


During the Canada vs Japan match last month a number of viewers of the feed produced by Setanta were upset by comments made by the announcers prompting dozens of e-mails to the Rugby Canada website.

After investigating the nature of the complaints leveled at Setanta, which broadcast all of Canada's pool matches through Rogers Sportsnet, Rugby Canada Marketing & Communications Director Nick Taylor issued a formal complaint with the Irish broadcaster, with the following response coming to the Rugby Canada offices. We provide this letter in its entirety for your consideration.

October 04, 2007
New York, NY

I am writing to you because I am extremely concerned that the Setanta Sports presentation of the Canada v Japan game in the Rugby World Cup has caused considerable anger among fans of Rugby Canada, the Canadian National Squad and the board of Rugby Canada. I want to take this opportunity to apologize unreservedly on behalf of Setanta Sports for the comments made during our commentary; they were unnecessary, unacceptable and clearly offensive to many Canadian rugby fans.

Sometimes in the heat of battle, commentators and co-commentators can get caught up in the events unfolding before them and cross the line between professional presentation and speaking their mind too freely. In this instance, Liam Toland did stray off what would be considered acceptable as co-commentary. There is a need for presenters to strive to be forthright in their views because, as most sports fans recognize, dull coverage is simply not adding anything to the game. However, impartiality and good grace should not be lost in the effort to entertain. I have spoken to the producers of our Rugby World Cup 2007 coverage to ensure this does not happen again.

I would like everyone associated with Rugby Canada to know that I understand the pride that the nation has for its national rugby team and why this sort of unfortunate expression of opinion is hurtful on both a personal and national level.

Once again I want to offer Rugby Canada and the fans our sincere apologies and to assure you of our commitment to improving and thereby providing the very best international sports coverage available.

Yours sincerely

Roger Hall
CEO Setanta Sports North America


Truth be old, the Setanta broadcaster Liam Toland was saying some pretty nasty stuff about Canada during that match, rallying behind Japan ("Go Japan!!") and generally disparaging the Canadian boys and repeatedly saying out loud he hoped Canada would lose. I've always been a supporter of the Irish national team in Six Nations competition, but can tell you I was gleefully ringing my hands when they face-planted their way out of the RWC, Early-Exit-Stage-Left, after hearing that Setanta horseshit. The compeuppance was delicious. Those announcers point a many-a finger at the lameass performance of their national rugby team, but would do well to look in the mirror at their own pisspoor work. Toland was unprofessional and plainly disgusting, and I am glad many Canadian fans took their own initiative to dial up and vent.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Auckland win Ranfurly Shield

This news is a few days old and gotten buried in the World Cup hoopla - Auckland defeated old foe Canterbury 26-15 in Christchurch on Saturday to win the Ranfurly Shield.

The Shield has been claimed this season by North Harbour, Waikato, Canterbury, and will now rest in Auckland for the remainder of the season. Older readers mmight recall my divided loyalties in the NPC and won't find me complaining too hard about the Ranfurly Shield returning to Eden Park.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Tana Umaga and contemporary NZ society

This will doubtlessly be lost on Brendan Gallagher, Eddie Butler, Stephen Jones et al, nevertheless the life and career of retired All Black captain Tana Umaga (his autobiography is out now!) offers instructive insight into contemporary New Zealand society and a particularly sharp middle-finger to the vile "raping the islands" narrative currently being retreaded by rugby columnists in the United Kingdom.

Umaga bridged divide between old and new New Zealand

by Paul Thomas
New Zealand Herald
September 30, 2007


We're all products of our upbringings, Umaga more than most. The Wellington suburb of Wainuiomata in which he grew up and where his family still lives is unusual in two respects. It's self-contained - once over the crest of the hill, the capital is out of sight and, one senses, largely out of mind.

Secondly, it was the final destination for two waves of immigrants who came south in search of a better life for their children: Ngati Porou and Pacific Islanders, particularly Samoans.

The combination of migration and geography created a tightly-knit community in which organised religion was the dominant social and cultural force and Maori and Pacific Islanders became closely integrated. When they weren't praising the Lord, they played football.

Sports broadcaster and community leader Ken Laban, a lifelong Wainuiomata resident, believes the conveyor belt of talent begins with a long-established whanau touch football competition organised by the Wainuiomata Marae in which all teams have to include two of the following: an under-12, an over-40, and a woman.

The effect was, and still is, that three generations of a family could play together and youngsters could play with and against grown-ups, some of whom are prominent athletes.

If you're good enough, you're old enough - providing you're tough enough. Laban, who coached Umaga in the Wainuiomata Premiers that won rugby league's Lion Red Cup in 1992, says: "The environment is tough and as a result the kids who come out of it are tough. [Tana] was being exposed to that environment and level of competition at 16 when a lot of his peer group were behind the bike-sheds sucking lollipops or whatever."

As a dreadlocked Polynesian who played with flair and freedom, Umaga's accession to the All Black captaincy could be seen as symbolising the superseding of the old New Zealand - rural, taciturn, self-effacing, Pakeha - by the new - urban, self-expressive, flamboyant, multicultural.

In fact, Umaga's success in the role and his ability to galvanise the public behind the All Blacks lay in his ability to bridge this divide.

Appearances aside, Umaga possessed the qualities and attributes that New Zealanders have associated with the All Blacks for 100 years - stoicism, resilience, ruthlessness in pursuit of victory, graciousness when victory has been achieved - and which were personified by old New Zealand's rugby icon, Colin Meads.


While history will be the judge of Umaga's place in the game, it's already evident that he's had a profound influence on the current generation of Wellington and All Black players, especially the Polynesians. But perhaps the greatest legacy of this proud first-generation Kiwi, who handled his country's most demanding sporting assignment with grace and dignity, is to serve as a rebuke to those who wilfully ignore the multicultural reality of contemporary New Zealand.


Monday, October 01, 2007

Rugby World Cup pool stage completed

The final weekend of pool play got kicked-off Friday with ENGLAND facing upstarts TONGA at Parc des Princes in Paris with the coveted Pool A runner-up post and qualification for the knockout round at stake. Things didn't begin s'well when Lewis Moody took Pierre Hola's knee to his head in the games' 2nd minute, but England prevailed 36-20 in a spirited contest, showing good value for the win and earning tremendous respectibility to the Tongans who in recent years have been getting creamed by cricket scores. England has gotten better each game. Jonny Wilkinson's presence alone gives his team command and confidence, but the standout back on Friday was ex-league international Andy Farrell, who scored the first try of his international rugby career and made an impact all game. England are not looking like world beaters, but they are definitely on the uptick. They also looked mystified at lineout time when a number of times in the early 2nd-half Tonga adopted a cheeky tactic of refusing to come into maul contact, and instead stepping back from the lineout while the ball was in the air and permitting England to organize an uncontested maul and getting them pinged by the ref for "truck-and-trailer" obstruction. Prit-tee clever.

Following up on an earlier post about the prohibitive cost of RWCL broadcast rights and Tongan's having to listen the radio for live coverage of their World Cup matches, it seems that somebody realises how a good gesture can make excellent publicity:

Fundraising effort allows Tongans to see England match live

China's ambassador to Tonga has contributed to a fundraising effort which will allow Tongans to watch their national team's critical Rugby World Cup clash with England live on free-to-air television.

Another follow-up - add Brendan Gallagher's name to the list of Repeat Offenders Who Should Know Better. The wounded putz indignantly repeats serial nose-stretchers in his latest commentary, "Tonga deserve IRB's help":

Of course, one of the game's legends – Jonah Lomu – is a Tongan, and there was a mad panic in the week before the 1995 World Cup final when his immigrant parents were hastily issued New Zealand passports for the sake of propriety.

Jonah Lomu was born in Auckland, NEW ZEALAND. It's the nation where he played ALL his schoolboy, club, representative provincial, international and professional rugby. A week before the 1995 RWC kickoff, the New Zealand-born Jonah Lomu had already played for the All Blacks eleven months earlier. Since Lomu had already represented the land of his birth, IRB laws ruled him ineligible to represent any nation other than New Zealand. There's no indication before-or-since that Lomu ever wanted to play international rugby for any team other than the All Blacks. Gallagher continues to live in a make-believe world where Jonah Lomu was poached. No mind that Lomu represented:

New Zealand Under 17 in 1991-92
New Zealand Secondary Schools in 1992-93
New Zealand Under 19 in 1993
New Zealand Under 21 in 1994

We're talking basic and easily retrievable facts about arguably the most famous rugby player of all time, yet Gallagher's narrative would have his readership believe the NZRU operated with sinister motives a week before the 1995 RWC and that Jonah Lomu was a big dumb brown native gangpressed beneath a coconut palm on a faraway island, gagged and straitjacketed against his will.

The race-baiter continues:

[...] There's the All Black, Sione Lauaki, who is Tongan through and through and played against New Zealand for the Pacific Islanders, before he was snared.

Sione Lauaki was born in Tonga -true- but immigrated to New Zealand when he was in primary school. Lauaki attended Birdwood Primary School at Massey in Auckland, Wesley Intermediate College, and Kelston Boys High School, receiving the entirety of his education in New Zealand, the land of his residency. Like Lomu, Lauaki was never "snared" from anywhere, and played every level of schoolboy, club and provincial rugby in New Zealand.

Brendan Gallagher and his equally clueless cohorts Eddie Butler and Stephen Jones don't do the sport of rugby union, the athletes, nor the daily newspapers that employ them, any favours by repeatedly peddling ignorant disinformation campaigns fueled by cynicism and envy (and worse, perhaps for "darker" unspoken reasons - see here and here).

Back to the games...

On Saturday, those nasty-cheating-thieving-Island-raping-conquistidor All Blacks of NEW ZEALAND took on the mighty Oaks of ROMANIA at Toulouse. The All Blacks scored a try directly from kick-off, run back 80 metres, set through several hands and finished off by Sitiveni Sivivatu. New Zealand ran away with the game winning 85-8 and leaving head coach Graham Henry with a rare smile. Flyhalf Dan Carter was a late scractch, down with a calf strain, and ably replaced by both Luke McAlister and Nick Evans. New Zealand has great depth at the position, but they will be concerned about Carter's health and preparation for what is looking like an incredibly tough knock-out road to the finals (France > Australia > South Africa) after having played comparatively soft opponents in the weakest pool division. The "through-and-through" Tongan Sione Lauaki had a barnstorming game at No. 8, but was cited and has been subsequently banned two weeks for a high shot on winger Gabriel Brezonianu.

AUSTRALIA had a tougher time wrestling to beat CANADA 37-6 in the rain at Bordeaux. Canadian skipper Morgan Williams, showing his roots with the initials "N.S." (Nova Scotia) crayoned onto his jersey, was playing his last game in Canadian colours, having started and finished his international career at the same park. Many critics are going to browbeat both teams for the performance. Wallaby fans will say their team should have destroyed Canada by 70 points. Canadian critics will say their team was too one-dimensional and gave away possession far too easily (true). In Australia's defense, Canada are not pushovers. The All Blacks learned that in June; Wales learned it a couple weeks back; and Fiji and Japan didn't get easy rides the past fortnight either. In Canada's defense, most of their starters faced the Wallabies on only four measly days rest after their disappointment against Japan. I'll have a proper post-mortem about Canada's overall RWC performance once the tournament is completed, but all I'll say right now besides the brief comments above is that this was a team that showed a lot of heart and character throughout their four games and never once dropped their heads and quit. Wallaby No. 8 David Lyons left the game - and now the entire RWC - out with a broken leg.

FIJI then defeated WALES at Nantes to steal the Pool B Runner-Up ticket, in a game many journos are calling "the greatest World Cup match ever played." It certainly makes the shortlist, but the sting of the excitement is taken away for those of us at the mercy of Setanta Sports policy of delaying many of the most important RWC matches for later broadcast on tape-delay. By the time Setanta broadcast the Wales vs. Fiji game, I already knew the result and basic plot outline as repeated endlessly by Setanta announcers and panelists throughout the Scotland vs. Italy match which was televised live. (Are you sensing my agitation yet?) O-kay, this game really was a firecracker. I had predicted the past couple months this match had a good chance of a boilover, and I was not disappointed. Fiji came all-out and showed they meant business. Vilimoni Delasau had shown nothing more remarkable earlier in the tournament than a penchant for dirty cheap tackles that should've had him sin-binned several times, but on Saturday he was a revelation in attack against the Welsh, unpredictable and threatening with every touch of the ball. My notes remind me that Akapusi Qera earned a yellow on a short defensive kung-fu kick to Stephen Jones; that Alix Popham must've woken up with sore kidneys after that hard clean body shot by Seru Rabeni; that Fijian replacement prop Henry Qiodravu did an ugly faceplant at a collapsed scrum near the 68th minute; and that there were several moments late in the match with pick-and-goes, mauls and full-on attacking moves sweeping around M*A*S*H units on the field with medics attending to fallen players. It was dramatic stuff. Three different lead changes in the games' last seven minutes. Some Welsh fans may well wonder why Martyn Williams dotted his 73rd minute intercept touchdown without rounding to score between the sticks, because the subsequent conversion bounced off the upright and missed. Fiji shock the world, beating Wales 38-34, and advancing to next weeks' QuarterFinal engagement against the Springboks at Marseille on Sunday. That would be a tough task made any time, but fatefully, at the 80th minute of the Wales match, flyhalf Nicky Little went down with unspecified knee injury and he'll be out for the remainder of the World Cup. His commanding leadership and skills - not to mention goal-kicking duties - are irreplaceable, and Fiji's task now rises from monumentally difficult to virtually impossible. Post-script: The WRU wasted no time pointing the finger at head coach Gareth Jenkins and fired him.

Saturday's late game saw SCOTLAND face ITALY in a winner-take-all knock-out match as Pool C Runner-Up in the drizzle at St. Etienne. The Italians scored the games' only try (to Mauro Bergamasco, collecting a ball after an up-and-under that saw referee Jonathan Kaplan knocked on his backside), but they couldn't match Chris Paterson's six penalty goals and fell 18-16. The match was a seesaw contest that saw Rory Lamont upended on his face, a dirty Bergamasco trip, and Ramiro Pez hissed and ridiculed by spectators for his "Hooray For Hollywood!" impersonation of Jurgen Klinsman in a penalty box. Italians lineout was a mess all evening, but No. 8 Sergio Parisse was pure class. The final whistle saw captain Alessandro Troncon inconsolable. Scotland get Argentina in Sunday's QuarterFinal at Stade de France.

Sunday morning saw hosts FRANCE, on 9 days rest, doing a training run on GEORGIA, who were hitting Marseille on only 3 days rest. It was no contest, France winning easily 64-7. Bizarre curiousity during the national anthems saw a small mob of French deaf sign-language translators dressed in white, performing "La Marseillaise". Since the lyrics of that anthem go - "Qu'un sang impur abreuve nos sillons! / May tainted blood water our fields!" - it looked - fascinatingly enough - something like a Gaulish haka, I kid you not. More M*A*S*H units, stretchering offs and foul play in this contest, the nastiest being a WWE Undertaker-style powerbomb-slash-piledriver "spear tackle" by Irakli Machkhaneli on Remy Martin, somehow missed by the referee Alan Lewis and his touch-judges. Georgia do try desperately hard, but they are also desperately naive and clueless. Down 54-nothing at the 65th minute, Lewis had to artfully warn the Romanians about their repeated abusive infringements within the "context" of the game, meaning his having no other option than to begin dishing out yellow cards in a game that was already a blowout. France are looking good, and have improved by leaps and bounds since the shock opening loss to the Pumas. The QuarterFinal matchup against New Zealand at Cardiff on Saturday looms as one for the ages.

Sunday's blockbuster was IRELAND versus ARGENTINA at Parc des Princes to decide Pool D. To make the QuarterFinals, all Ireland had to do was: 1. Win; 2. Score four tries; 3. Stop Argentina from scoring four tries; and 4. Beat Argentina by at least seven points. For three-quarters of the game, you actually believed that it might be possible. But Ireland couldn't match the Pumas simple gameplan kicking the ball down the tramlines deep into Irish territory and soaking up the pressure. Some terrific tries to Brian O'Driscoll and Geordian Murphy couldn't match the brilliance of Felipe Contepomi and Juan Martín Hernández, the latter slotting three beautiful drop goals, the last one at 79 minutes being an emphatic exclamation point! Final score: Argentina 30 vs. Ireland 15. The weapon of the drop goal looms as the big dark horse of the quarter-finals. The Pumas face Scotland on Sunday. Expect the Irish Union to conduct an inquest regarding the future of head coach Eddie O'Sullivan.

In the last and fortieth of forty pool-stage matches, SOUTH AFRICA downed plucky UNITED STATES OF AMERICA by a score of 64-15 at Montpellier. The Americans have acquited themselves admirably throughout the RWC, and their game contest against the Springboks, despite the Boks having an extra-man in referee Tony Spreadbury, was no different. (On a try to Fourie DuPreez, Spreadbury actually ran a pick in the flyhalf channel to block an American tackler, and he didn't call it back.) Flyhalf and captain Mike Hercus was huge again, as were tireless flankers Todd Clever and Louis Stanfill. 'Bok fullback Percy Montgomery was again masterful with his kicking boot, and Bok prop CJ van der Linde scored an awesome forwards try, but by far the moment of the match, and what is sure to be one of the abiding memories of RWC 2007, was the 39th minute try to American flyer Takudzwa Ngwenya. Todd Clever intercepted a stray Springbok pass near the American 22. Clever burst into space, gave a massive fend to Butch James' face throwing him off balance, before offloading cleanly to lock Alec Parker, through the hands to Hercus who put over a huge lateral pass to Ngwenya standing flat-footed, then shimmied, sidestepped and directly challenged Bryan Habana, burning him on the outside and scorching 50 metres to score without a diving Habana so much as even laying a finger on him. Apparently professional contract offers are "flooding in" for Ngwenya. Boks face Fiji on Sunday, in what is almost certainly the easiest of the four quarter-finals.


Saturday 6th October:

QF1: AUSTRALIA [Winner Pool B] vs. ENGLAND [Runner-up Pool A], Marseille -- 9:00 am ET

QF2: NEW ZEALAND [Winner Pool C] vs. FRANCE [Runner-up Pool D], Cardiff -- 3:00 pm ET

Sunday 7th October:

QF3: SOUTH AFRICA [Winner Pool A] vs. FIJI [Runner-up Pool B], Marseille -- 9:00 am ET

QF4: ARGENTINA [Winner Pool D] vs. SCOTLAND [Runner-up Pool C], Stade de France -- 3:00 pm ET

I'll get some previews up later in the week. Until then, turn up the heat!

NZRU black as jersey debate resurfaces

By JIM KAYES in Toulouse

CLASH OF COLOURS: France's new dark blue uniform means the All Blacks may have to give up their trademark black jersey.

A coin toss will decide whether the All Blacks wear black against France in their World Cup quarter-final this weekend.

And with no way to stop what appears to have been a deliberate ambush of the famous black strip at this World Cup, the New Zealand Rugby Union is working to ensure it won't happen again in 2011.

France have darkened their blue jersey – some think in a deliberate move to force the All Blacks to wear their silver alternative strip if they meet in the playoffs.

(The rest.)

More conspiracy...

France have regularly played in a lighter blue jersey but in what is seen by many as a cynical marketing ploy by Nike, the manufacturers of the French jersey, to provoke a conflict with the All Blacks' adidas clothing sponsor, they have produced an inky blue-black new kit.