Friday, April 12, 2019

Maori Battalion B Company story vividly told

Ake Ake Kia Kaha E! (Forever Brave) by Wira Gardiner, David Bateman Ltd, Hobsonville, 2019, Price $49.95.

World War One centennial commemorations have faded in a publishing sense, after the scramble of activity between 2014-18, and the field of military interest has widened again.

One of the latest offerings is the immensely-readable, prodigiously-illustrated Ake Ake Kia Kaha E! by Wira Gardiner.

If military history to the general populace is about reducing the amount of jargonised description of battles and skirmishes in all their technical detail, then Gardiner has managed to tell his story appropriately. 

This is written in an easy format and while dealing with military matters, as it must, it is in a readable style that those with a non-military upbringing or background can enjoy.

What will appeal most in this story of the B Company of 28 Maori Battalion is the description and personalisation of events as they affected the Company whose members were drawn largely from the Central North Island and Bay of Plenty. This is not only of the eye-catching examples of personal bravery and acumen but also of some of the less palatable behaviour of Kiwi young men overseas.

Gardiner, already a chronicler of 28 Maori Battalion nearly 20 years ago, has backed his writing with a marvellous collection of photos of many of those who were part of B Company throughout the Second World War, not the least being the roll call of all who served, with a high percentage of photographs to accompany their individual placement in a special section towards the end of the book.

But, as in all the most readable war histories, it is the personalisation of war activities that lends authenticity to the book. 

There is time for a brief appreciation of what a Maori Battalion represented especially after the efforts of the Maori Contingents, the subsequent Pioneer Battalion with its mixture of Maori and Pakeha Companies, and then finally the creation of the New Zealand Maori (Pioneer) Battalion in 1917 during the First World War.

With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, much discussion occurred on the best way to involve Maori and by January 1940, 28 Maori Battalion was established. Issues of establishing the command structure of the group, and the recruiting for the Battalion are covered by Gardiner before they sailed, initially for Egypt with the Second Echelon, but then being transferred to England when the invasion of Britain appeared imminent.

Once joining the Division in Egypt, there was little time before they were shipped on to Greece and the sorry episode that resulted in the retreats from Greece and Crete, both with significant numbers left behind and to spend the rest of the war in prison camps. Stories of escape and derring-do began in those difficult days, not least being the famed bayonet charge at 42ndStreet on Crete. Accounts of the action and its aftermath make for chilling reading.

Likewise, the accounts of B Company's involvement in battles fought in the to and fro of the early years of the North African campaign are supplemented by personal description which capture the events vividly, especially in the breakout at Minqar Qaim.

Equally, the key battles at Tebaga Gap and Takrouna are brought to life, and the toll on B Company in the latter, is especially telling and evocative.

Across in Italy and with the impasse at Cassino there was some humour in one instance where a patrol under Stewart Black, that had been given instruction in mine warfare, and how to clear mines, had picked up 25 mines. At one stage they were carrying out their tasks, initially some distance from the Germans. Black related: "We got closer, ten yards, five yards and then we stood still. A section of Germans was passing us and our section passed them at the same time. They did not seem to know we were there. However, we knew they were there. They marched and we marched too into the night."

Having been close to some German pillboxes during the incident they reached the last pillbox and one of the members of the group said: "Bugger this, we're not going to come all this way without some excitement." 

Black said: "He returns and lobs a grenade into the pillbox. Everything exploded. Well that was the fastest 250 yards, the fastest time in the world we ever ran."

Progress beyond Cassino was slow as they and the NZ Division crossed river after river before finally war ended with the securing of Trieste.

Gardiner's story does not end there. Returning home, and all the adjustments that took are also described while on-going activities of B Company and the Battalion overall are included to complete a full and rounded tale that is not only a worthy record of B Company but highly readable for those without any connection to the group.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Vale Ray Harper - a true rugby man

You're lucky in life sometimes when in your everyday working life you come into contact with people like Ray Harper, the former New Zealand Rugby Union councillor and life member of Southland Rugby, who died on Thursday after a lifetime of devotion to the game.

For 10 years as sports editor of The Southland Times, it was my privilege to work with Ray in his role as Southland's representative on the NZRU of the day and as member of the Southland Rugby Union's management committee.

Ray Harper, right, showing off Rugby Park's readiness for the 1987 Rugby World Cup games played in Invercargill to the tournament boss John Kendall-Carpenter while the writer tagged along for a few words for The Southland Times.
He was a terrific representative for the province who never held back if the province needed defending and ensured that every time a North Island rugby team was in town for a game with Southland, and the sun was shining, he would enquire if their travelling reporter ever needed sunglasses in order to cover the game.

There was none happier on the July day in 1977 when Bay of Plenty visited and the ground at Rugby Park was so dry that dust was raised whenever a high kick fell to ground. It helped that Brian McKechnie completed the feat of scoring in each possible way in Southland's win.

But there was a much stronger connection to the province. He was well known and respected in the commercial sector for his carpentry business.

It was at one SRFU management committee meeting around about 1980-81 that Harper said it was only a few years until Southland was due to celebrate its rugby centennial and he thought a committee should get together to start preparing for the occasion which would be in 1986. From that arose a relationship with Craigs Publishing which saw me commissioned to start working on a book to celebrate the occasion that became Something to Crow About. The luxury of five years to research the subject was typical of Harper's thinking.

It was while interviewing Ray about his own extensive playing and coaching involvement with the province in which his side beat the touring British & Irish Lions in the opening game of their 1966 tour and which a year earlier went within an ace of relieving Taranaki of the Ranfurly Shield when they drew 6-6, that he revealed how much rugby had helped him recover from the loss of his father as a youth when the pair of them were cycling on a street in Invercargill and his father had been killed.

He worked through a tough period in the New Zealand game around the 1981 Springbok tour which created so much division while running into him on the 1986 morning it was realised that the country's best players had flown out the evening before on an unofficial tour to South Africa he was mortified that such a thing should have happened.

The game was always the thing for Ray and it was fitting that he should have been given the job of managing Graham Mourie's side on their centenary tour to Wales in 1980. He revelled in the opportunity and carried his style into the international league with a memorable speech at the centennial dinner in Cardiff. He said he knew he could never hope to match the eloquence of the speakers who had gone before him, but as he listened to them and gazed above to the intricacies of the woodwork in the ceiling of the famed establishment they were in he wondered aloud how many of them might have been able to construct something like that they were seated under.

He was also a good guardian of the significant financial resources the SRFU had carefully built up over the years and anyone seeking to spend some of that money had to have a pretty good case to get it past himself and the SRFU treasurer Fred Ward.

So it was with some interest, having been forewarned, when the late Peter Tait suggested the SRFU needed to do something about further developing the all-weather grounds at Oreti Park that Ray's reaction was slightly less than muted when ballpark (excuse the pun) figures were thrown around about what it might cost. But it was decided to form a committee to look into the venture.

This resulted in the specific advancement of what became the Les George Oval with its own small grandstand and superb turf as a back-up playing surface to the often water-logged grounds in the city. Ray became one of its firm supporters and once again it proved a timely development.

Behind it all was his Pirates Rugby Club, now but all a distant memory in the wake of inevitable club mergers. However, throughout fair weather and foul, of which there tended to be plenty in Southland, Ray Harper was a constant attendee and there can be no greater measure of his commitment to the game. All the trappings that came with his subsequent appointments were just that, trappings. Ray Harper was your true rugby man.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

New Zealand's first contribution to South African rugby

The following article appeared in Dunedin's Evening Star on April 13, 1928 in a special feature celebrating the departure of the 1928 team for their tour of South Africa

"Most followers of rugby probably think that the New Zealand Army team that toured Africa in 1919 was the first New Zealand side to display its prowess in the land of the veldt, and they will be interested to learn that a side of dominion players made its mark there in 1903.

It was after the Boer War that a number of young New Zealanders settled in South Africa and that sufficient of them came to live near Pretoria to allow of the formation of a modest social and sports club. Among the British, Dutch, and colonials there was much competition for appointments in the new civil administration, but the New Zealanders received quite a fair share. All hands settled down to work, and later to play. It was only to be expected that when a Rugby football competition was inaugurated that the New Zealanders should take stock of themselves and form a team. About seventeen, many with senior football experience in New Zealand, and some who had gamed interprovincial honors (sic), were found who were willing and anxious to try conclusions with the best the Transvaal could produce. 

But the Transvaal Rugby Union flatly turned down the application, of the New Zealanders to be entered as a senior team. Considerable heart-burning followed, and representatives were sent to plead with the controlling body, who thought a few New Zealanders could hardly produce a team class (sic) enough to make anything like a respectable showing against the crack Transvaal teams. To prove to the New Zealanders that they were not class enough the T.R.U. invited them to play a game against ” The Diggers,” who had the champion team of the Transvaal.

In an amused but sporting manner, the New Zealanders accepted the challenge, it being agreed that if they made a reasonable showing they would be admitted to the inner circle. When the day of the great match arrived—it was played at Johannesburg—the New Zealand team could muster only fourteen players. The surprising result of this match, in which the New Zealand team was reduced to thirteen men in the second half, was that the Diggers, with a full team, scraped home by only 11 to 9. In the eyes of the T.R.U. it was as good as a win for the New Zealanders, who were admitted without delay to the senior grade competition.

During the 1903 season the New Zealand team, frequently playing short owing to the long distances that had to be travelled, won every match of the competition, when it was beaten by the Wanderers by a single try for the championship. The Wanderers held an unbeaten record for the season. An Auckland writer last year gave (from memory) the team which played in the first match as follows:—Full-back, J. Freeth (Wellington); three-quarters— Merle Bonnor (West Coast), Tom Baker (Hawke’s Hay), Pat Fitzherbert (Manawatu); five-eight, Jack Gatland; (Thames) ; half-back, Fritz Haselden Rangitikei); wing forwards, H. Knight (King Country), Willoughby Wilson (Auckland) ; forwards—Geoffrey Haselden (Rangitikei), Burton Taplin (Manawatu), Charlie Lewin (Christchurch), “Yorky” Smith (Auckland), Jock McGregor (Thames), “Toby” Foreman, (Taranaki). Others who played in the team were “Scotty” Peebles (Woodville), and W.H. Foster (Wellington). In a match against a side at Pretoria the British team of internationals me. a three-quarter line all New Zealanders.

The part which New Zealanders played in the development of African Rugby in another part of the country was referred to in an interesting article written for the ‘ Star ’ in 1921 (at the time of the Springboks’ visit here) by the late honorary secretary of Pietermaritzburg Rugby Union (a resident of Dunedin). He stated: ‘Members of the Tenth South African Contingent may remember the doings of their team, led by D. Gallagher (All Black captain). After easily defeating; the leading Transvaal teams, they met and defeated a representative Maritzburg team by a narrow margin. 

On my arrival in Durban in 1903 I joined the New Zealand R.F.C. This 'club had commenced the previous year. Prior to that date Rugby enthusiasts could only muster occasional scratch teams. We played out on a mud flat, with a handful of spectators; but the New Zealanders had such an excellent team —we had Australians as members, too—and played such open and pretty football that gradually keen rivalry was started, other clubs were established, and eventually Rugby gained a footing at Lord’s, the big Durban sports ground.

“It was almost entirely due to the little band of New Zealand enthusiasts that Rugby became a popular game in Durban. The Durban New Zealanders were disbanded in 1907, but during their career they held the championship cup of Natal for five consecutive years, defeating the Pietermaritzburg Club on each occasion. During 1904 the South African College team, winners of the Cape competitions of that year, toured Africa, and defeated all the leading clubs in the Transvaal and Eastern Province, besides defeating representative Durban and Pietermaritzburg teams. The only match lost on the tour was that against the Durban New, Zealanders, who defeated this redoubtable team by 4 points to 3). A. J. Sise, a well-known Dunedin boy, was playing in this match. The only “fly in the ointment” of this game was that we were one man short, and played Dave Nourse, the well-known South African representative cricketer and Soccer player. Nourse also represented Natal at Rugby, and he fluked tho potted that goal that won us the match. 

“In the 1905 Durban representative team there were nine New Zealanders, and there were six in the Natal team of the following year which toured Johannesburg for the Currie Cup tournament of 1906. At Pretoria, the New Zealanders also had a club and took a leading place in the senior matches on the Rand. Other New Zealanders could be found sprinkled throughout the union in the various clubs.”

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.