Hard News by Russell Brown

Clive TV

So the wicked Eden Park crowd should be prevented from seeing replays of foul play, according to England's coach Clive Woodward, lest they intimidate weak-willed referees. He appears to have forgotten what turning up to a big game is all about.

Eden Park's crowd does not, it should be noted, have a reputation as a mean one: quite the reverse, actually. But when the ground is full - for a big test match, or for last year's Super 12 final - it can get pretty noisy. That's our job. I was certainly on my feet politely requesting a dismissal when, 10 minutes into Saturday's night's return test match, English lock Simon Shaw dropped his knee into the back of his All Black counterpart Keith Robinson, and was shown the red card for his trouble.

As every man and his dog has noted, Shaw's effort was hardly the most violent of test rugby incidents, but his intent was malign and cowardly and he was unfortunate enough to get caught. Given that Shaw was also responsible for a nasty (and unpunished) king-hit on All Black hooker Keven Mealamu in last week's test at Carisbrook, he got what he deserved.

It was hard to avoid the feeling that even if Shaw's indiscretion had been missed, he or a team-mate would eventually have been banished for some act of petty thuggery off the ball. As it transpired, his locking partner Danny Grewcock was lucky to remain after stamping on the head of Daniel Carter (the judiciary has banned him for six weeks after the event), and, under other circumstances, the taking-out of Justin Marshall right on the English try-line would have occasioned a yellow card.

There have been other cheap shots in the recent history of the two teams - Martin Johnson's cynical blindsiding of Justin Marshall, which left the All Black halfback dazed and deaf in one ear for the remainder of a match; Lawrence Dallaglio's despicable knee to the head of Jonah Lomu after the big fella had scored a try - but this time it actually appeared to be a tactic: one for which the coach has to take responsibility.

But if England's coach didn't get it, the England fans sitting behind us at the game certainly did. "Just leave it out," sighed one as another England player took a swipe at a subsequent scrum.

The worst thing about the sending-off was that it gave England's cheerleaders an out: perhaps it might all have been different if England had kept 15 players on the field. No, it wouldn't. England lost two tests at an aggregate of 72-15, and conceded eight tries without scoring one. They are the World Cup champions; they are not, as the coach would have it, "still the better side."

Woodward got a right old rogering in a Herald editorial this morning, and the paper's sports correspondents were no more sympathetic. It was left to dear old Stephen Jones in the Star Times to declare that "we still know nothing for certain" as to the relative merits of the two sides. Er, really? Paul Ackford took a more sensible view in the Daily Telegraph, and the fans argued the toss on Planet Rugby. Yamis at Blogging It Real was pungent as usual.

Still, it was a great night out at the park, even if Joe Rokococo did work all his lightning magic on the other side of the pitch from where we were sat. Before the game, the Canton Café was as brilliant and bustling as I'd hoped, and the bill, when it came, was almost an embarrassment: more than 13 of us could eat for $119. Even after we chucked in a 20% tip it was crazily inexpensive.

Afterwards, we decamped to the London Bar, just ahead of several coachloads of happy fans, for a debrief and some beer. From there, my friends Phil and Renee and I strolled up to the Verona café, which was, after more than a decade as a K Road institution, having a party to mark a change of ownership. We were keen to pay our respects to the place and to Janet and Hilary, but were denied entry on account of not being in fancy dress. That was okay by me - I didn't want to be the only one not wearing a tutu. And anyway, fancy dress makes me uncomfortable.

So we popped around the corner and into Seventy Six, which proved quite agreeable. After about half an hour, the DJ suddenly turned the music down and a big, bald bloke and a woman stood up in front of the booth. "Jodie and I would like to announce," he said. "That after seven years together, we're taking the next step. We're getting married."

They embraced. Had we accidentally stumbled into a private engagement party? If so, we didn't appear to be the only ones. Did it matter? No. Deep into an Auckland night, we applauded madly.