Hard News by Russell Brown

One eye on the game

I had written a pungent and thorough post about the use and abuse of language, and I do have a couple of good guest posts about TVNZ in the bag, but given that my colleagues have chimed in with any amount of erudition today, I'll content myself with some one-eyed observations about the rugby.

The England match must have been a cracker, because I have not only watched it (and in particular, that last, thrilling 25 minutes) three times, I downloaded the torrent (it's here and still in good nick, if you live somewhere - like Australia! - where they didn't screen the game) and I feel more comfortable every time I see it.

In which spirit, you might enjoy this:

November 20, 2005
Stephen Jones: Black knights

FOR New Zealand, an astonishing victory over England... for the English, a nightmare that came true.

New Zealand's 23-19 success at a disbelieving Twickenham stadium in London yesterday was awesome.

The whole of England had been up in arms of late at the sight of New Zealand at the top of the world rugby rankings, and the hosts were desperate to crush the burgeoning hopes of the colonials in the World Cup to follow in 2007.

Yet New Zealand was able to win more convincingly than the score suggests. They also won when far from their best.

Their heroism and composure were magnificent, with Jerry Collins and Carl Hayman in the forwards operating at the highest class. But the technical merit of their performance was less satisfying, indicating that New Zealand can play off-key and still beat the defending World Champions.

And they inflicted humiliation on their hosts in one amazing passage of play, holding out against superior numbers when Tony Woodcock, Neemia Tialata and Chris Masoe were in the sin-bin. Surviving the siege gave New Zealand a massive psychological advantage for the rest of the match.

"It was heroic and gutsy, the team were brilliant," said Graham Henry, the All Black coach. "To play well against these guys, back-to-back-to-back wins over the World Champions, that's brilliant. To hold on with 13 men was
defensively outstanding."

The Kiwi captain Tana Umaga was quick to pay tribute to his team's resilience: "I said to the boys not many southern hemisphere teams have won here. Even the Wallabies have only won a few games up here. But England know they're going to get a lot better. They made mistakes and so did we."

Umaga said many people thought New Zealand would crack after the England started slotting dodgy penalties.

"We said, 'Let's crack them, let's not fold'," he added. "The second half was so stop-start. It was a little bit all over the place and we never felt we got much continuity. We made a few too many errors but we won the game."

No, it's not for real. It's a very able little parody posted to rec.sport.rugby.union (sorry, the original poster's name is lost), based on this story that Stephen Jones really did write, when England beat the All Blacks in Wellington in 2003, after having two players sin-binned for professional fouls rather more blatant than those that saw Woodcock, Tialata and Masoe marched on Saturday.

In 2005, naturally, things were different. For Jones, the All Blacks cheated their way to victory, while England, despite not actually winning the game on the scoreboard, "showed the way to the rest of the world" and made the All Blacks "look ordinary".

Without venturing into the detail of those offences, it seems fair to say that on most days they would not have occasioned a yellow card, especially for Tialata, who was marched for his first offence (being a fat man on the wrong side of the ruck) after being on the park for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, at one point England (and especially Lewis Moody) conceded a string of penalties for killing the ball and were warned six times about play off the ball and after the whistle - and the only reason one of them went off was because he was exhausted from being totally owned by Carl Hayman in the scrums.

Vickery's effort in rucking Chris Jack's head has gone strangely missing from English reports of the game, and I would think that a really brave Irishman could have penalised England twice in the last couple of minutes (holding on in one tackled ball, flopping over another). Whatever. We won. Jerry Collins (a "journeyman" there to make up the numbers, according to Jones) was a giant.

Yamis from Blogging it Real and Spiro Zavos have useful commentaries on why the idea that the IRB should have given the Rugby World Cup to Japan to "develop the game globally" doesn't really stack up.

And on another tip entirely, I'm chairing a Book Council event tomorrow evening called Why is History So Hot?, featuring a panel of Ranginui Walker, the editors of the new illustrative history Frontier of Dreams, Bronwyn Dalley and Gavin McLean, and publishers Geoff Walker and Peter Dowling.

It's at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Auckland (arrive 5.30pm for a 6pm start). Cost: $13 Book Council members, $15 students, $18 non-members (ticket price includes a glass of wine). You can book via events@bookcouncil.org.nz or call 0800 258 255.