£25,000 World Cup Night Out

The Rugby World Cup was a great spectacle, for the most part, and of course the result was what we Kiwis were holding out for (although I, for one would have preferred an easier match to watch as a final!) There was some great rugby played, (as there were also some pretty indifferent performances), there were some wonderful images of enjoyment with fans getting together and just having fun, visitors related some great stories of generosity by ordinary Kiwi people they met on their travels, and our Prime Minister thought it was one of the best opportunities he’s ever had to get his face plastered over our local newspapers!

Most players would have reckoned this to be the pinnacle of their careers as they arrived and many would likely have carried that feeling away as well even though a decent number who left following some of those indifferent performances will be already priming themselves for the new pinnacle of their careers when they play better in the 2015 World Cup!

Sadly one of the abiding memories for me will be the disgraceful antics of some players, players who I would have thought should have known better. All teams who came were a mix of experienced ‘old hands’ and bright and exciting emerging players. Call me old-fashioned but I believe that it is the responsibility of management and the ‘old guard’ to nurture and lead the younger players on and off the field, and thereby help them to live up to the ‘role model’ tag that they inherit when they reach the top echelon of national and international sport. Whether or not this is entirely fair given they are simply following a career in the game that they love and are good at is moot, but I guess the ‘career’ bit gives weight to the expectation that they model a role. It is an unfortunate fact, however, that too often we see management and ‘old guard’ coming up short in this regard.

One would expect (reasonably, I think) ALL players who were selected to represent their countries in this (or any similar ‘World’) event would, as hinted at before, reckon this to be the pinnacle of their careers. To win a World Cup has to be the ultimate achievement of any sportsman (if, indeed you are in a World event and not a ‘World’ event such as the US baseball ‘World Series’!!) To be part of a team given the chance to compete at the World Rugby Cup would, I would expect, make one make special efforts to do the best one could. Many teams did impose restrictions on their players and most players seemed to have little difficulty staying within ‘the rules’.

It would seem the England team had little real leadership. The management clearly fell short of making it clear what was acceptable and what wasn’t while the team was in New Zealand playing for The Cup. If I am wrong in this, then clearly the team leadership (captain) and may of the players had little or no respect for any ‘rules’ outlined by management. From this it would also seem that England had no expectation of dragging themselves out of the hole that their game has fallen into to try and commit to a winning game, and thus just viewed this trip as another ‘away trip’ for the boys, and an opportunity to have fun. For the Captain of the team to lead the way with bar-room shenanigans with a young lady who wasn’t his (new) wife, and then to lie about it to his own management, and for other England team members to enjoy late night partying, and others to act inappropriately with hotel staff,  speaks volumes as to the suitability of the Captain for the job, and commitment by the team to the task.

It has to be said that the English team were not the only transgressors- for example two young All Blacks were widely publicised as having broken curfew and had a late-night drunken outing. That they were young members of the NZ squad was no excuse, and they seem to have learned from the incident (even though the note at the end of this post might tell a different story!!)

What I find interesting about the Tindall story is that as his actions have been judged to have been serious enough (presumably both his actions as a captain and the manner of his antics) for him to be fined and dumped from the England ‘Elite Squad’ by the UK rugby authorities, it was largely ignored or ‘papered over’ at the time. To my mind that approaches the reprehensible and puts the authorities in as bad a light as the player they are supposedly sanctioning. Little wonder English rugby administrators are held in as lowly regard as their game.

A footnote to this story may be read here. Young All Black Zac Guildford has disgraced himself while holidaying in the islands by assaulting bar patrons while naked and drunk. That’s bad enough but it follows on from other documented incidents and after he had, we are  led to believe, attended counselling and corrective ‘courses’ required by NZ Rugby administration. This young man is one of the new All Blacks and he has, rightly or wrongly inherited the responsibilities of that position. That he’s not currently ‘on duty’ is beside the point, as is the fact that he has personal matters to deal with, but he will obviously be on some sort of behaviour contract given historical issues of a similar nature and such behaviour should have been so far from his mind that if there was any hint that he couldn’t handle alcohol (as may already have been proven) he would have considered his future against the ‘fun present’. If he can’t get his head around this he needs to start looking for a new job.

Advertisements

Promote The Game

The IRB (International Rugby Board) will be rubbing their hands together contemplating the enormous income that’s they will receive from the 2011 Rugby World Cup tournament currently under way in New Zealand. (At the same time the NZRFU [New Zealand Rugby Football Union] will be gnashing their teeth over the lack of income they will receive from the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Who’s fault is that? Surely it can only be the NZRFU’s!)

The IRB will be celebrating with the rugby watching public of New Zealand and The World over the fun results, the performance of most of the ‘minnows’ and, in general the quality of footy on display. The NZRFU will also be patting themselves on the back with the way the tournament is running- satisfactory crowds ALL of whom are well-behaved and having fun.

The IRB may not be quite so chirpy about the hiccups that have occurred that have taken a bit of the gloss off what should be a glowing show- heavy-handed bullying of local businesses who have (apparently) innocently infringed the rules of sponsorship, players’ after-hour revelries that should be a no-no, naughty tweeters who have been told not to but who think they’re above the restrictions, on-field cheating that is punished by wet bus-ticket slapping, and over the top punishments handed out to a couple of players who carry almost invisible non-official sponsorship on their mouth-guards ($10,000 fine each!!). Of course the IRB will have little problem in taking a ‘hands out’ position over these tournament problems by laying responsibility for dealing with such trivialities up to the NZRFU/Rugby World Cup Inc..

The IRB will probably be snorting at the fracas that have been caused by, at best the shortcomings, or at worst the displays of incompetence by some the referees controlling the games but will again shuffle responsibility for these issues sideways into the court of the International Referees Board.

So at the end of the day/tournament the International Rugby Board, over a few convivial drinks (Heineken?…or perhaps Dom Perignon) will congratulate themselves on another job well done, and move on to reviewing the laws to make sure they cater for the stodgey game played by some of the more influential/wealthy Northern Hemisphere countries (although, to their credit, some of the ‘smaller’ nations did stoop to quite a attractive running/passing game on occasions!) or restrict the mobility of most of the southern hemisphere nations, and to work towards commercial contracts that are more to do with television scheduling and sponsors’ imperatives than they are to do with benefiting The Game.

I have always suffered under the impression (now obviously illusion) that sports administration is there to nurture, foster and promote the game (netball, rugby, athletics, soccer, etc.) It is now my belief that various sports are very poorly served by their collective administrations. This can hold true at the very basest level with clubs becoming more and more susceptible to the whims of the few who are prepared to put in the time but becomes more obvious when at a provincial or national level, then reaching a self-serving rock-bottom with international bodies such as IRB (or ICC, IOC, FIFA, and others.) These closed and apparently self-serving societies have had the sight of their prime imperative clouded by the influence of the mighty $$$. Professionalism has done little for the various sports than made them a trade that now generations of sportsmen and women have been able to make a healthy living from. Neither have the lesser nations gained from the advent of the professional game even though individual players from these countries have travelled to take up contracts in foreign lands. This doesn’t grow the game to the extent that I believe the international administration has a responsibility to do. I can cite the New Zealand national rugby team as an example. It is one of the most visible rugby teams in the world, and is even recognised by many who have little or no interest in the game. The All Blacks are a team that could be a boon to the growth of the game if only they were used as wider-ranging ambassadors. The World Olympic Champions in rugby are the United States but to my knowledge the All Blacks have never played a test in the States and neither have the All Blacks toured there. They have a following, especially among the universities of the Western US and with the success of The Eagles, the US rugby team in tournaments such as the World Cup and the ‘Sevens’ there is a ready market for the game to grow. All that would be required would be for the contact-sport loving spectator-dominated US public to see the stars of International Rugby teams performing live.

The same applies in many other nations of the world where rugby is played as a much more minor sport in soccer dominated countries, Central and Middle European the most obvious but also Asian and the once ‘Iron Curtain’ states. My Club Captain from WAY back went to Europe and Russia on business on a regular basis and he once told us, in the early 70s that when he was in Moscow he was told there were as many club rugby players in that city as there were in New Zealand. You would expect a country with such a player resource would be fairly active on the international scene, but this is certainly not the case. This is another country that has never seen the All Blacks. The All Black international involvement has been pretty much confined to IRB countries (no, not all countries are represented on this august body!) If we went through the list of participants at this year’s Rugby World Cup I am sure that the countries who have had tours by the All Blacks or who have played full Test Matches against them (outside the Rugby World Cup tournament) would be significantly less than those who deserve to have. I have singled out the All Blacks, but to varying degrees the same holds true for all of the other Test-Playing Nations of the IRB. And so I say the IRB are not fulfilling their role in promoting and growing the game world-wide. They should!!

Something that could help some of these underprivileged rugby nations is for the IRB to be convinced to extend their membership to include representatives from those countries on their Council. If you believe they should do this, you can put your name to an on-line petition that calls for Samoa, Tonga and Fiji to have a seat at the Council table as of right. Perhaps then these nations, and others who have largely been ignored by the IRB and the BIG BOYS of international rugby can get a fairer deal and the game can grow in those countries and not just by exporting their players to points around the globe, away from home, family and hardly benefiting the game ‘back in the homeland’.

Death Taxes & Shit Happens!

Dan Carter is a wonderful 1st five- that can’t be disputed. Dan Carter was definitely a vital part of the overall plan we had for the Rugby World Cup– that can’t be disputed. Dan Carter ruptured important bits and pieces in his groin and has been ruled out of the Rugby World Cup- that can’t be undisputed. Without Dan Carter New Zealand‘s chances of winning the Rugby World Cup are dashed. That certainly can be disputed.

Dan Carter is a fantastic player, perhaps one of the best in the World today, and some would argue, THE best. BUT he is only one man in a team game that allows for 15 players to be on the field at any given time. He has been replaced in the full New Zealand squad by Aaron Cruden (who I think should have been there in the first place, but that’s a horse of another feather!) Whether Cruden makes the teams to play the remaining matches is something the selectors will sort out, in their infinite wisdom (and that’s another thing I have a contrary view on, but that also is a horse of a different feather!)

If we win the World Cup it will not be because of Dan Carter, clearly, BUT if we lose the Rugby World Cup it will not be the fault of Slade or Cruden or whoever fills in at 1st five eigthth. If we find ourselves in that terrible position we will surely be able to find plenty of other reasons for the failure. Yes, perhaps Slade will have lapses at important times, but so also might McCaw, Weepu, Nonu, Dagg, or any of the other superstars of the game we call ‘Our Boys In Black’. But we can’t lay any team failure at the door of one player. If one player happens to fall short of realising his potential then it is up to the players around him to help him through it and to compensate for it in another way (score tries instead of relying on the boot for points would do it in my book), up to the captain to re-jig on-field tactics to compensate until he hits his straps again, up to the 3 Wise Men in the God-Box to pass down sage advice of what to do about it. Surely to goodness the team are good enough to be able to get through to victory as a team and not on the back of one player?

As a Nation we should also be above blaming one player- is Dan Carter the winning or losing of the Rugby World Cup? If our thousands of passionate rugby fans believe the whole effort hinges on one player then we, as a rugby nation are in BIG trouble.

We have won the Rugby World Cup just once which means we have LOST the thing 5 TIMES!!! But guess what? The world didn’t end, we came through it, we chose new players and contested the next and the next (…and the next, etc.,) we did all sorts of navel gazing and soul searching, we became the top rugby nation in the world several times over in the intervening years, and we did this despite the fact of losing important players at various times! We will do it again (and again, if needs be.) We are far too proud a nation to let this hiccup distract our one-eyedness! We are a great rugby nation and for some years have been getting away from being a bunch of ‘tall poppy‘ syndromists, and I see no reason why we should revert, because in a funny sort of way that’s what this grief and dispair is, reverse ‘tall-poppy’ syndrome.

Dan, get well and back into shape- you’re young enough to still be the magic player again in 2015. (You can guarantee that if he’s fit, he’ll be selected!)

Come on, New Zealand! I don’t care whether you have a different preference from me for 1st five, let’s give whoever gets the nod ALL of our support so whoever runs on the firld KNOWS his country is right behind him!

GO THE ALL BLACKS! (Pity that has become such a Keyism, isn’t it? UNdervalues it, somehow!)

RUGBY WORLD CUP 2011

I make no apologies- I am a rugby person. I am not fanatical about it, in fact I hardly know much about it nowadays because I am ‘old school’ and played in the days of leather balls, rucking, touch judges just telling us where the ball went out, 5 minute half times (with maybe an orange quarter if the manager remembered to pick some up), and 3 point tries. I am pretty sure today’s game is probably a better spectacle given that EVERYONE is now a running, passing, kicking member of the team, and hookers find themselves on the wing as often as they find themselves rubbing jowls with their opposition in a scrum! I don’t necessarily agree that this is a good thing, but what do I know.

What I am sure about is that professionalism has NOT been good for the game. Great for the players who make a quid from what they enjoy doing, great for sponsors to get such saturation coverage from the modest fees they pay, outstanding for TV broadcasters, but it’s not doing great things for the game as a whole. The focus is now too much on the $$$ and those who earn it for the clubs/provinces/unions and less on the players who will never amount to much more than passionate supporters and players of the game. Sadly I doubt that this is going to change any time soon, and the cream will continue to get the cream and the grassroots will continue to rely on the dedicated and passionate to survive and continue to provide the cream with replacement players.

But the World Cup has come back to New Zealand after 24 years and expectation is high. We know we have had a few things go against us in the past, and many having the feeling that we were hard done by in a number of the championships we missed out on. Many believe we have developed into a team of ‘chokers’ but this is hard to subscribe to. Many have become cynical of our potential, but I don’t subscribe. Many think we have ‘hoodoos’ but this isn’t something I agree with. Many believe we have the team, have the passion, have the wood on our main oppositions and are going to win. So do I.

But- will the Cup be the success as a spectacle, windfall as a tourist spend, hoot as an experience that all of our organisers have heralded it to be? I sincerely hope so, BUT FOR GOD’S SAKE!!!!

Opening night of the tournament and we have Auckland transport system struggling to get people to (a) the game and Opening Ceremony venue, and (b) ‘Party Central’ in central Auckland where great entertainment is promised and views of the opening performances are anticipated with high expectations. And abuse and physical assault is directed at young Maori who are part of the performance. And young Maori paddlers hyped up after their time in the limelight acting aggressively to the crowds there to watch. And people dive or jump into the harbour to avoid possible injury. And passengers on delayed trains use emergency stop signals to enable people to get off trains before heat exhaustion overtakes them. What the hell is going on?

For years we have been told again and again this is going to be the biggest event in New Zealand history. Didn’t the organisers listen to their own hype? Party Central is a venue with just a few thousand capacity yet it is said hundreds of thousands tried to attend. The game and opening ceremony venue has a capacity of some 60,000 but problems occurred because so many of those tens of thousands wanted to take public transport to get to the park. Didn’t the organisers think that people would Take public transport? (Just because Auckland is a city of drivers and self-centred commuters, surely the organisers would consider the same public would listen to and buy into the promoted transport options?)

Let’s just hope that they have learned their lessons and that all future games and entertainments planned for Auckland are properly catered for, especially as regards access to the venues, and ease and comfort for those who take part.

And bigots? STAY AWAY!!!

GO ALL BLACKS!!