Friday, March 8, 2019

Harshness reflected in 1972-73 tour account

Sports books revisited, No.3
It's said that it is important to maintain a healthy balance and that due consideration should be given to all sides of an argument before making a judgment on all manner of events.

That thought kept running through the brain when revisiting J.B.G. Thomas' account of the 1972-73 tour of Britain and France by Ian Kirkpatrick's All Blacks, The Avenging All Blacks.

Thomas was among the first of the British rugby critics who used to provide New Zealand rugby fans with all manner of angst for his reported comments on games involving the All Blacks. He and T.P. McLean were seen as journalistic rivals, much in the manner of the great Australian poets Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson, forever competing over the justice or injustice of the award or non-award of Bob Deans' try in 1905. The comparison with the poets is intended as an example, not of their literary capabilities.

In maintaining that sense of balance it must be said the McLean had the ability to upset the British in the same way as Thomas did antipodean readers.

Overall The Avenging All Blacks was a disappointing read. If Thomas made the point that the All Blacks were insular, uncommunicative and dour once, he made it ad infinitum throughout the book.

Halfback Sid Going came in for plenty of treatment, as he did on tour for his perceived inaccurate feeding of the ball to scrums, a campaign waged throughout the media all tour. Going's truculence toward the media was understandable given the pressure that had started against him a year earlier during the 1971 British & Irish Lions tour of New Zealand.

But as Going explained in Behind the Silver Fern, British medical officials had tried to have him ruled out of the tour with an 'irreparable ankle injury' after the first tour game. Going felt he was being set up from the outset.

There was a sense of hungover triumphalism as a result of the Lions' success in much of Thomas' coverage of the tour. He didn't attend every game, a broken arm restricted his ability to travel, but he called on New Zealand scribe Bob Howitt to fill in the blanks for him.

In terms of a contribution to the annals of rugby literature, the most valuable part of the book is the foreword by Lions' coach Carwyn James, a man who cast his own influence over the tour by coaching Llanelli to beat the All Blacks in their second game of the tour, and for working with the Barbarians in the outstanding tour finale in which Gareth Edwards scored his outstanding try.

Even now James' words ring true: "The strength of New Zealand rugby is, and in fact always has been, in the power of its forwards, in the magnificent way they support and back one another up, the way they drive into the ruck and the next ruck, and in the contrived way they set up artificial platforms for delivery of the usable ball. The pattern is machine-like in its precision; it calls for dedication discipline; it is highly technical and teachable, and it is governed and controlled by the coaches who are very much in command of the game they know, and will not allow it to develop into an area which they do not comprehend or is not coachable."

At the same time, James said the rigidity of the approach while suggesting strength was also inhibiting and with that in mind the strength became a weakness. James believed the loss to Llanelli inhibited Ian Kirkpatrick's side causing them to play a game based around their loose forwards and halfback Going.

James believed, after seeing the attacking potential of the side unleashed late in the tour at Leicester and Neath when 40-point scores (four-point tries then) were posted, that if they had started their tour again, with the benefit of what they had learned, they would have been a formidable side.

Presciently James noted: "The question facing New Zealand rugby thinkers now is this – can they afford to stick to their traditional pattern, play the Going type scrum-half and neglect the genius of generations of exciting players like [Bob] Burgess, [Bruce] Robertson and [Bryan] Williams. I think not."

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and James' view was not long in being borne out, especially in the late-1970s, the late-1980s and, of course, since the introduction of the professional game.

Like many British journalists, Thomas placed too much emphasis on referees, in his case determining who were good chaps and deciding who had the best interests of one side at heart, and that one side wasn't the All Blacks. He also had his say on the Murdoch incident although, unlike a good wine, it hasn't aged well as time has revealed more pertinent facts. As a representation of the time, it could best be described as typical of the day.

It should be said, in the interests of the aforementioned balance, that New Zealand's journalists struggled with the tour, McLean titled his own account They Missed the Bus. 

But longer-term benefits of the tour did occur. New Zealand's back play did advance. Future tours were much happier and the side did achieve much recognition for their travelling to Belfast to play Ulster in the midst of Northern Ireland's troubles. It wasn't all bad, and that deserved to be recognised.

Whatever happened to the dropped goal?

2019 Rugby Almanack, edited by Clive Akers, Geoff Miller and Adrian Hill. Published by Mower.

The extraordinary rise of loosehead prop Karl Tu'inukuafe has been recognised by the editors of the New Zealand Rugby Almanack by his choice as one of the five players of the year, and as starting prop in their Almanack XV.

Coming from obscurity, without a contract and only a week-by-week connection with the Chiefs in Investec Super Rugby, Tu'inukuafe played 13 Tests in his first season and headed the player regarded as the best loosehead in the world, Joe Moody, for the honour. Moody managed only six Tests during the year.

In an otherwise predictable choice, the selectors opted for Ben Smith at fullback rather than on the wing where he played most of his Tests last year. 

The Almanack XV was: 1.Karl Tu'inukuafe, 2.Codie Taylor, 3.Owen Franks, 4.Samuel Whitelock, 5.Brodie Retallick, 6.Liam Squire, 7.Ardie Savea, 8.Kieran Read (captain), 9.Aaron Smith, 10.Beauden Barrett, 11.Rieko Ioane, 12.Ryan Crotty, 13.Jack Goodhue, 14.Waisake Naholo, 15.Ben Smith.

Substitutes: 16.James Parsons, 17.Ofa Tuungafasi, 18.Angus Ta'avao, 19.Scott Barrett, 20.Sam Cane, 21.TJ Perenara, 22.Richie Mo'unga, 23.Damian McKenzie.

The Happenings section of the Almanack is always a delight for the statistical achievements that are often overlooked in mainstream media coverage of the game. 

One item demonstrated the impact of Beauden Barrett at international level. By achieving the top scoring status in world rugby last year he became only the second player, and first All Black, to finish top in consecutive seasons since the introduction of the professional game. It was the third consecutive year he kicked most conversions in Test rugby and he became the first first five-eighths to score four tries in a Test after his effort against Australia at Eden Park. His 25 tries, as a first five-eighths, is the most in Test history – 23 of them being scored in the last three years.

Putting that record into perspective, World Rugby player of the year, and first five-eighths, Johnny Sexton hasn't scored any tries in the last three years. Barrett's 30 points against Australia was the most against them by any player.

In making their annual review of the season, the editors highlighted the neglect of the dropped goal in New Zealand rugby. Astonishingly, there were no dropped goals recorded in first-class matches in 2018 in New Zealand.

It had been 101 years since that last happened, and that when only 15 first-class games were played in 1917 during the First World War. Beauden Barrett kicked two during the All Blacks' northern tour and they were the sum total on the first-class record.

"Considering defence is much practised, analysed and coached these days, it is surprising to us that the dropped goal is not an option against these well-set defences, particularly post the set pieces," the editors said.

Evidence showed that dropped goals could have changed results in the dying moments of at least three games last year: the Wellington Test against South Africa, the Mitre 10 Cup final when Auckland declined a drop kick chance when the scores were tied in the final minute, resulting in 20 minutes of overtime, and the Heartland Lochore Cup final when Wairarapa Bush chose not to attempt a shot which would have forced extra time. They lost the final by three points.

In recognition of the increasing place of women in the New Zealand game the editors have extended their coverage of the women's game in the Almanack, including their women's players of the year, Kendra Cocksedge and Sarah Goss, and their Almanack XV, for the first time.

The team was: 1.Phillipa Love, 2.Fiao'o Faamausili (captain), 3.Aldora Itunu, 4.Eloise Blackwell, 5.Charmaine Smith, 6.Lesley Elder, 7.Sarah Goss, 8.Aroha Savage, 9.Kendra Cocksedge, 10.Ruahei Demant, 11.Portia Woodman, 12.Kelly Brazier, 13.Stacey Waaka, 14.Renee Wickliffe, 15.Selica Winiata.

Substitutes: 16.Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate, 17.Leilani Perese, 18.Aleisha Nelson, 19.Jackie Pater-Fereti, 20.Charmaine McMenamin, 21.Kristina Sue, 22.Chelsea Alley, 23.Michaela Blyde.

Friday, July 27, 2018

A saucy story, of a kind

It's reaching crisis point.

Some time ago the South Island source of finest sauce, BOSS Sauce, and especially the BOSS Mild Worcestershire sauce, was taken over by Delmaine in Auckland.

Now Delmaine, in their wisdom have decided to do away with the two BOSS Worcestershire sauces, the Mild and the Spicy. They have apparently replaced them with a combination of the two called the 'traditional' BOSS sauce.
The new

The only problem is that while there are all these new variations of BOSS Sauce, the smoky, the Texan and probably the barbecue, because everyone seems to make barbecue sauce these days, it is damned near impossible to find the 'Traditional' BOSS Sauce. 
The old

It doesn't help either when Google tells me it isn't available in my area.

This can't continue. Serious withdrawal symptoms are being experienced. 

Can I ask please, if anyone in the Auckland area, preferably on the North Shore given how much extra petrol tax I will have to pay if I need to travel over the Harbour Bridge in my quest, sees the BOSS Traditional Worcestershire sauce brand please let me know. 

I know some wag out there might tell me I should try some 'saucery', or that I should return again to 'Saucelito', that lovely little spot on the other side of San Francisco Bay, but truly any help would alleviate my 'ex-Sauce-tive' searching.

Friday, March 23, 2018

A World Rugby Championship? Not a bad idea

Among the usual delights in the annual release of the New Zealand Rugby Almanack - the 2018 issue has just hit the bookstands -  is a noteworthy suggestion regarding the future of Test rugby by the editors.

Clive Akers, Geoff Miller and Adrian Hill have suggested that the top 10 teams in the world should play annually to give some credence to World Rugby's rankings.

"Perhaps the time will come, sometime in the future, when consideration will be given for a merger of the northern hemisphere's Six Nations Championship and the southern hemisphere's four-nations Investec Rugby Championship," they said.

That would see each of the 10 nations playing each other, no final would be played but the nation scoring the most championship points after the round-robin would be declared the winner.

With all the talk of a global rugby season, it is something that could almost be achieved within the parameters played now.

In their respective championships, the sides could play each other once, four games could be played in the November window leaving the June window as the chance to complete the series, or to be the start of the next year's competition.

Such a scheme, without a final, would leave the Rugby World Cup as the ultimate prize every four years.

The editors also made their case for some changes to the sending off, or red carding, of players during Test matches.

"Red cards are rare but when issued the contest is defused. Two classic examples have occurred in internationals in recent years.

"At the 2011 World Cup, Welsh captain Sam Warburton was sent off in the 18th minute of Wales' semi-final clash with France. It was heart-breaking for the Welsh fans who had paid big money to be at Eden Park that day.

"In the second against the 2017 Lions the All Blacks played with 14 players for 56 minutes following the sending off of Sonny Bill Williams. The All Blacks struggled throughout the 65 (sic) minutes. Would the Lions have won the test, and consequently drawn the series, had the test been 15-a-side throughout? We doubt it.

"We would prefer to see even contests and players placed on report for post-match examination, rather than time wasted while officials study television replays before making their decisions. There are instances when a player completely loses control and deserves to be sent to the sideline, but couldn't they be replaced to continue the contest the public have paid to witness?" they said.

That's a sensible discussion point worthy of earnest consideration.

But here's one you won't see included in newspaper reviews, that is if they ever bother to review the Almanack.

The editors expressed their concerns over the loss of sports reporters from regional newspapers.

"While this has little impact in the major cities, it will severely cut the communication between sports and the followers of local sports. Several provincial unions will be hit hard. Some unions do run an efficient and up-to-date website, but many followers of rugby do not use computers.

"The success of local sportspersons and sports teams at national competitions, whether at primary school, secondary school, or senior level, feeds pride within the region. The coming months will be interesting to see how the affected provinces cope with no regular and knowledgeable reporter providing stories of local club and schools rugby and to what extent it impacts on spectator support at games.

"Newspapers have been a way of life to readers ever since the invention of the printing press. Sadly, in many regions sports enthusiasts have lost their connection with local sports," they said.

The traditional Five Players of the Year should find plenty of favour. They were Sam Cane, Rieko Ioane, Waisake Naholo, Codie Taylor and Portia Woodman.

The Promising Players of the Year were: Matthew Johnson Jr (Southland), William Jordon (Tasman), Du Plessie Kirifi (Wellington), Vilimoni Koroi (Otago), Mike Tamoaieta (North Harbour).

The 2018 Rugby Almanack, Edited by Clive Akers, Geoff Miller and Adrian Hill. Published by Mower.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Sir Nick Shehadie never forgot his rugby mates

Having only met Sir Nick Shehadie once was no impediment to understanding the stature of one of the great men of world rugby.

Under the circumstances, and having heard of his reputation from some of his opponents, there was something of a feeling of already knowing him. 

Two men specifically helped in this regard.

One was Southland player, coach and administrator Ray Harper who went on to become a New Zealand Rugby Union councillor and manager of the All Blacks in 1980 who spoke often about playing against the big Australian forward, and then meeting him several times during the 1980 All Blacks tour of Australia.

The other was a little more personal but involved another Southland rugby identity, C.E. 'Eddie' Robinson, a flanker from world rugby's southernmost rugby club Bluff who was an All Black in 1951-52 and who should have been on the 1953-54 tour to Britain and France, but that's another story.

While researching my history of Southland rugby, Something to Crow About, I rang Eddie to see if he would be available for an interview about his experiences with Southland. I knew he was pretty crook with cancer and said to him I was aware he wasn't well and that I would understand if he didn't feel up to it. He said, "No Lynn, come on down, it will be great to chat."

He was fantastic and had some great yarns. We talked for ages.

He said when he was selected for the 1951 tour to Aussie, Bob Duff took him under his wing. He thought it was because they were both prematurely bald. Duff and Shehadie were mates and so when Robinson came on the scene Shehadie always called Duff and Robinson 'Dad and Son'.

Robinson made a big impression on both sides on his first tour, having arranged for a significant number of Bluff oysters to be sent to Sydney for both teams to enjoy after the first Test.

Anyway, early on the return trip to New Zealand in 1952, Australia played Southland just before the first Test of the tour. Southland beat them 24-9, the only provincial side to win against the tourists.

At one of the first lineouts Shehadie went up for the ball and Eddie hit him. Shehadie ended up flat on his back in the Rugby Park mud. He looked up at Robinson and said ' Your bloody old man put you up to that didn't he?" 

The loss to Southland could not have been too off-putting, Australia won the first Test 14-9.

It was all part of the banter the trio enjoyed and Robinson recalled they had some great times together.

Anyway, 40 years later as a guest at the NZRU centennial  dinner in Wellington,  Sir Nick's and my paths were about to intersect. He and Tony O'Reilly were the guest speakers.

At the end of the speeches all the knobs gravitated to O'Reilly and Sir Nick was left sitting on his own.

I went over and sat beside him and said "Sir Nick, you don't know me from a bar of soap, but I wrote the centennial history of Southland rugby and one of the people I interviewed for it was Eddie Robinson."

He said, "Dear old Eddie, how sad it was when he died."

I said to him that Eddie had been very sick when I spoke with him, but that "when he talked about you and Bob Duff and the fun you had his spirits really lifted." 

And at that Sir Nick broke down and said "Thank you very much for telling me that, it means so much to me." I spent a few more minutes with him and then headed back to my seat.

For all that happened to him in his subsequent rich and fulfilling life, Sir Nick could still be moved by the memory of his rugby mates.

He was a man who defined the spirit of rugby at its very best.

That was evident when in 1983 he was asked to open the Golden Oldies rugby festival in Sydney, the third staging of the event. He was 57 then and when finishing his speech he said he would see everyone at the banquet at the end of the festival. But someone in the crowd shouted, 'Ave a go mate'. So he stripped and played a game.

He said to his new-found team-mates that he would be seeing them. And he turned out on both the second and third days to play.

"This is what rugby is all about," he said. "To start with it brought me out on the paddock again and I had three runs. I enjoyed myself immensely.

"The way in which the 16 nationalities involved here played the game and mixed off the field is a lesson for all the world. Surely, there would be no more wars if we all played rugby like the Golden Oldies," he said.

Australian, and world, rugby has lost a great man.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

World War One air stories long overdue

FEARLESS – The extraordinary untold story of New Zealand's Great War airmen by Adam Claasen. Published by Massey University Press, Auckland, 2017

If the work being put into the First World War Centenary History publications achieves nothing more than to publish this book Fearless then it will have been well worthwhile.

Dr Adam Claasen's achievement is all the more meritorious because it fills a gap that should have been filled many years ago.

It is well known that the history of New Zealand's First World War is poorly served, especially when compared to the effort that went into recording the Second World War histories, flawed as they may be. Possibly it was to avoid the situation after WWI that so much was put into the WWII coverage.

Whatever the story may be, there can be no doubting the worth of Claasen's work which in spite of the years between remains a compelling record of service, devotion, spirit and yes, sacrifice, of those who took to the air to fight between 1914 and 1918.

Remember war broke out just over 10 years after man's first powered flight achieved by the Wright brothers and just over five years and a week after Frenchman Louis Bleriot flew the English Channel. That the technology could expand so quickly to become a fighting weapon is extraordinary for the era.

That New Zealanders, so far removed from the developments in flight, should become so taken with it is little short of amazing, but then again in the wake of engineering achievements in other spheres it should not be a surprise.

However, the stories of these men who numbered around 850 by Claasen's study, most them pilots, some observers or gunners and others - various odd bods working as mechanics or other subsidiary roles - is compelling and readable.

The casualty rate does not make it an easy read but the achievements of these trailblazers cannot be under-estimated.

There had been little Government support for the benefits of flight – it was too early in its development to have been of interest as a means of speeding communication in the eyes of politicians. Some things do not change.

But the entrepreneurial spirit was alive, even in those early years and men like Henry Wigram, a businessman who had turned to politics, could see the benefits to be had but he couldn't sway fellow politicians who were still enamoured of the benefits of naval power.

Claasen describes flight's battle for acceptance in the pre-war years in New Zealand, producing highly readable accounts of some of the daredevil antics which proved so fascinating to citizens able to witness their flights.

It is in this area that the reviewer regrets two facts which emerge in the book, purely on a personal basis.

The first was the fact that New Zealand's first cross-country aircraft flight occurred on February 20, 1914 between Invercargill and Gore by Will Scotland. It was also the first flight in the South Island and was the first 'town to town' flight achieved in New Zealand. Not a word of it passed my eyes in my Gore High School history studies in Southland.

Scotland went on up the South Island to buzz a cricket match between Canterbury and Australia, The Press noting after the fall of a wicket, "Bishop went in, but the appearance of the flying machine caused a stoppage for some time."

Nor was there anything taught about the Gore lawyer Ron Bannerman who would become New Zealand's best fighter ace in the last year of the war.

These things weren't talked about often in that day and age, but they were surely worth more acknowledgment by the local community. Has there ever been an official plaque laid to mark the achievement? Like this book, perhaps it is not too late to mark the feat.

Back to Wigram. He set up one of two flying schools in New Zealand at the airport in south Christchurch which soon bore his name while in Auckland two brothers Vivian and Leo Walsh set up the New Zealand Flying School at Kohimarama. As Claasen points out, the onset of war only hastened the interest in flying and as he relates those who couldn't gain their training in New Zealand headed off to England to qualify. And from some of the battlefields, especially in the Middle East, there was no lack of volunteers to turn to flying.

What resulted was a significant contribution to the war effort, sadly not all of it was successful, and the loss of life, much of it due to lack of time for proper training, was horrendous.

But it was the intrepid approach of the New Zealanders, and others, which caught the imagination of the British and French. It is difficult to imagine the demands and dangers of night flying to take on the monstrous Zeppelins dropping bombs on England. Yet they not only took on the gas-fired behemoths but flew home to land in the dark.

Then there are the battles and operations over the Western Front, an area of conflict that advanced exponentially as the war continued due to the tactical advantages that could be gleaned from aerial observation.

Claasen has done an admirable job in scouring through all available resources to piece together some remarkable stories of heroism and rather than single out individuals in this review it's best left to the reader to admire the selflessness and courage of those who aspired to be part of this new form of warfare, often at the cost of their lives.

Fearless is precisely that, a story of which all New Zealanders should be acquainted because it is a sad yet powerful example of service that should never be forgotten. Claasen has lent even more strength to the phrase of remembrance 'Lest We Forget'. For 100 years the aviators may have been forgotten but not any more.