sportreview.net.nz update

Some news. In March, I am joining New Zealand Cricket as Digital and Comms Advisor, leaving my current role at Telecom*. Somehow I’ve managed to combine what I do professionally with one of my great pleasures and passions – I’m thrilled.

Common sense says everyone’s least favourite satirical NZ sport blog needs to change in some fashion, especially when it comes to cricket. I’m still figuring out how that’s all going to work.

Because this seems like a significant moment in the almost-ten year history of the site, I will recap. Readers will know that sportreview.net.nz was and is about about having fun, not being cruel**. Constructive, not scatter gun. Remember, sportreview.net.nz’s raison d’etre is this:

“We Kiwis support our sports people admirably, but take it all a bit seriously. I just want to inject a little humor. Relax, it won’t hurt a bit.”

I do this site simply for the enjoyment of writing it and to hopefully entertain you along the way. And so, dear readers, please bear with me while I find the right way to do this.

 

*And now, at last, I can start working on the satirical telecommunications blog I’ve been longing to do. I joke.

**Clive Woodward did cop it, in fairness. Let those without sin, etc.

Championes

This feels unusual. The Chiefs’ normal role in the scheme of things is starting slow, get our act together mid-way through, knock over the NZ teams heading for the play-offs, then have a bitter, nothing in it, game with the Hurricanes. Which we usually lose.

Which is why the sight of our guys dancing around the Waikato Stadium turf in triumph is a bit of a shock. The 2012 Chiefs had a new coach, lots of new faces and supposedly lacked horse power in the pack, who’d struggle to get ball to the backline, who were full of good looking razzle dazzle, but unproven as a combination.

IMAG0116
The office-worker-rugby-guy’s version of a MySpace self portrait

Turns out that was all bollocks. Rennie, Wayne Smith and Tom Coventry have created:

a) a forward pack that smashed the fearsome Crusaders in Napier early on, and turned over most everyone that came their way since (except for the *ahem* Crusaders in the last but one round)

b) a backline that survived Kahui’s season ending injury, with the new guys performing just as capably as the super stars, and super stars Williams and Cruden reaching new levels of, ah, super stardom, and

c) a team culture that from the outside (and on the Twitter) seems like family. Watch the team song, and AWESOME haka – it’s more feel good than Winnie The Pooh meeting ET

The Chiefs were consistent (pretty much) all season. Bouncing back from the thrashing by the Reds away was significant to me. They’d been flying high until then, and that was the point where the Chiefs of old’s wheels would have fallen off – but they didn’t, surviving even some late-season wobbles against the Crusaders and Hurricanes to secure the home finals spot. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a rugby match less than the one versus the Crusaders. They’re the Jason Voorhees of semi-final rugby – no matter how many times you chop their head off and throw them in the lake, they’re likely to be back two minutes later to jump out of a wardrobe armed with a meat cleaver.

But the Chiefs hung on, and rode their luck to get the home final. Despite some good work in the first half, the frequent-flyer Sharks had no answer to the Chiefs’ pack, and the backs did enough in the slippery conditions to take their first trophy, and becoming the third NZ team to win the title (I’m magnanimously not inserting a big Hurricanes-troll at this point).

Rennie has done OK for his first season to say the least. Even though we’re saying goodbye to some key players, the team is more youthful than McDonalds counter staff for the most part. Retallick, Tameifuna, Kerr-Barlow and Cane (who’s seemingly played more for the All Blacks than the Chiefs) are all at the very start of their careers, while Cruden, who seems to have been around forever, is actually only just old enough to shave. There’s no doubt we’ll miss Sonny Bill, both for his distracting presence on the field and the bums he puts on seats. It’d be great if he’s genuine about wanting to come back.

Still best rugby stadium in NZ cc @chiefsrugby

It’s a good time to be from the Waikato. I made it to two matches this year – the basketball-on-grass match versus the Blues at Albany, and the late competition match versus the Crusaders. Waikato Stadium is a pit of facepaint, flags, Waikato Draught gear and cowbells – hard to take if you support the opposition, but magic if you’re from round our way. The stadium is the right size to sell out regularly, and is just bloody LOUD – it’s a huge advantage to us, and it looked like a Hamilton-as-Rio cow cocky carnival last night.

And so, just after our netballers won NZ’s first transtasman netball trophy, the Chiefs are on top of super rugby for the first time. The only way it could have been any sweeter would have meant Stephen Donald somehow kicking the final points, but *cough* this’ll do. I hope it’s the first of a few more.

Weepu eats Cruden

NEWSDESK: The All Blacks injury crisis deepened today when it emerged out of form half back Piri Weepu ate starting first five Aaron Cruden. “It’s a worry,” said Steve Hansen. “Dan’s hamstring strain, along with Aaron being in Piri’s stomach leaves us short, so we’ve called up Beauden Barrett. Piri himself could even cover first five once his heartburn settles down.”

Weepu told reporters he ate Cruden at a Hamilton Cinema, where it was ‘pretty dark.’ “When the lights came on, everyone was like ‘where’s Aaron?’. Yeah, you always regret eating a team mate, I’m gutted for him. Hopefully the boys can dig deep on Saturday night and win it for Aaron,” said Weepu.

Dave Rennie said being eaten was obviously a career setback for Cruden, and could limit his impact on the remainder of the Chiefs campaign. The eating is not without precedent, it was long rumoured that Colin Meads ate Keith Murdoch after the 1972 Grand Slam tour, until Murdoch was found un-eaten in the Australian outback years later.

Highs so high, lows so low

Harry’s Tottenham has a lot to like about it. Modric, with his geometrically perfect passing and Bale, with runs that make defenders turn into office chairs are the jewels in the crown. Van Der Vaat (his wife is awesome on Twitter) though, is my favourite, all running, giving everything for the cause – he just looks like he loves Tottenham and would do anything for us. There’s old pros (King, Friedal, erm Nelsen), young kids (Walker etc) and about 37 quality midfielders to choose from.

At one stage, we were playing sublime football, all wingers, full backs, overlapping runs, tasty balls through the middle (ooo-er) and goals going in all over the place. We were also genuinely challenging for the league. Or so we told ourselves. And anyway – the beauty of being in the top three for the first  three quarters of the season was that surely, surely, if we messed up, at least we could fall back on Champions League qualification for next year.

Right?

Um, this is Tottenham, haven’t you been paying attention? The two Big Distractions came mid season. First came the ‘is Harry Redknapp a dodgy geezer?’ court case, to apparently no effect. The players rallied around and continued winning. But then, on the day Harry was found not guilty, Fabio Capello flounced out (if you can flounce out in a car) of the England job. All of a sudden the newly-not-dodgy ‘Arry was the popular choice for England. And Spurs began crapping themselves.

The slide was painful. Whenever Tottenham start doing well, I’m bracing myself for the inevitable failure. THIS SEASON, for the FIRST TIME, I’d finally come to terms with us being a Proper Team, a team that wouldn’t just inexplicably fold in a Tottenham-like matter when it really counted. But slide we did. Second. Third. Fourth. FIFTH. Jesus wept.

Somehow, we kind of turned it around toward the end, and clung on to fourth. If it wasn’t for WBA’s second choice keeper throwing the ball into the net three times against Arsenal, we would have wrapped up third and a definite champions league spot on the last day, but we should have wrapped up third (at least) months ago. We only had ourselves to blame.

And so, our fate was in Chelsea’s hands. The veterans Terry, Lampard, Drogba, all tackles, dirty tackles, painful OTT goal celebrations, referee abuse and loathsomeness beyond reasonable levels had one last chance to get that European trophy their owner has been so desperate to buy. But against Bayern? In Munich? Surely they’d have no chance.

Right?

Again, this is Tottenham.

 

I worked myself into an epic frenzy on the Twitter but sadly, it had no effect on the outcome. Chelsea, with their football-free style took it, in the most painful fashion you can imagine if their success was the difference between your team making the Champions League next year. It was awful.

And so, we’re out of (proper) Europe, and I expect it’ll be a very long off season. Some Spurs fans have turned on Harry after his flirtation with England. Modric and Bale will no doubt be linked with every top Italian or Spanish club, and may well go. I don’t have a clever way to finish this, it’s been a harrowing, frankly. As Ali G said, there is a high, but there is also a low. I’d love to be optimistic that we’ll build on what we have now, but you know, this is Tottenham. Let’s see who’s still there next season.

Some say this post is a Clarkson tribute

Jeremy Clarkson is pretty much my first read in a Sunday Star Times. Yes, he’s a loud mouth with a haircut and dress sense worse than stablemate James May, which is no small achievement, but on paper, I find him very amusing indeed. It’s no co-incidence he’s mates with AA Gill, another fine metaphor athlete.

 
 Picking up the steed for the weekend

So when I was offered the chance to drive a Honda Insight for the weekend by Honda New Zealand as part of their Business Insight challenge, I thought “finally, here’s my chance to do a sweet Clarkson-style car review. Yinnow, pick up a car, hoon around in it, then write some witty shit about it. I didn’t know I’d always wanted to do this, until now”.

Unfortunately for me and my Hamilton right foot, burnouts were pretty much off the menu. The challenge (against other Telco types) was to bring the hybrid Honda back with the most fuel efficient score I could. When I arrived at Honda’s Newmarket branch, Peter (who is a lovely man) talked me through the Insight’s control panel. There’s numerous cunning ways to show how much gas I used, including a kind of glowing orb that throbs green when you drive like Metiria Turei, and throbs blue when you drive like a bogan. As I set off into Friday rush hour traffic, my eyes hovered between the road and the panel, as it told me second by second if I was using petrol, no petrol or charging the battery.

On Saturday, after a quick child-seat install (there are child seat bolts and side bars, safety fans), we went for a weekend drive from East Coast Bays along the Riverhead highway. Turns out it was possibly the worst road I could possibly have taken, its twists and turns were poison to the economical driver. I did myself no favours on the way home either, when I explained to my co-driver that I owed it to myself to plant the foot just the once. I did, and the car went forwards faster than it had before, but kind of slowly, like a hungover thirty-something creaking out of bed.

But that’s OK – you wouldn’t buy this car because you wanted to mix it up with the kids at the traffic lights. It’s a modern, well-put-together economical car. Would I buy one? Maybe. It’s like owning a good, solid golf umbrella. Yes, it’ll do its job and do it really well, but would the 16 year-old-you have reckoned you’d end up as the kind of guy who REALLY APPRECIATED the pleasures of an umbrella? Not very rock ‘n’ roll, is it? The Honda Insight is a car for grown ups, proper ones, that want the right tool for the economical car around town job – it’s perfect for that.

As for the competition, it was the Constellation Drive motorway on-ramp that killed me. I had to negotiate it and the bumper to bumper traffic on the morning I had to return the car to Newmarket. At the bottom of the on ramp my ‘economy score’ was 5.1. By the time I’d crawled to the top of the hill, apparently braking and accelerating in a more gas-guzzling manner than the Dukes Of Hazzard, I was on 5.5. Gutted. Careful negotiation of the harbour bridge and spaghetti junction took me to 5.4, mid-table in the competition.

I’m happy with that. I’ll take my rock ‘n’ roll where I can get it these days.

Blues clues

Pat Lam is out. According to the TV news, big John Kirwin has the job already, in an Andy Dalton / Gary Whetton / 1987 word cup winning team handshake-and-back-slap-fest that’s more old boys network than a ‘Went to Grammar? You get a fucking massive watch FREE with every Ferrari!’ sale at a Newmarket European car dealership.

Appointing rugby coaches to coach the Blues has been done before – they’ve had no joy with this rag tag bunch of talented players, who’ve promised much every pre-season and inevitably underperformed, apart from when they won it and that. But that was ages ago. JK hasn’t signed a contract for next year yet; sportreview.net.nz reckons NZ’s biggest city should explore all its options. Like these:

Option one: Some kind of southern man

 

sportreview.net.nz is envisaging a weather-beaten, grizzled old man with a beard and oilskin jacket sitting quietly in the Blues dressing room, watching as the players come in, listen to dub step on massive headphones, make plans for getting shitfaced in the Viaduct that night and mess around with their hair.

When everyone quiets down, the southern-man-coach would stand up, say nothing for 35 minutes, quietly mutter “soft Auckland wankers” and walk out, never to be seen again. The Blues players would think about what he said, realise the errors of their city-living ways and go on to win every game and the championship. Somehow.

Option two: Kim Dot Com

 
sportreview.net.nz was unaware of its obligation, like all NZ media or websites, to link the Megaupload supremo to every story or issue, ever, but is putting this right now.

Pros:
Offers a wide variety of transport options to games and that. Has international experience. Could probably record some kind of awesome rap track to get the public on side if results start to go against him.

Cons:
May be jail-based for the 2013 season. Mates with Banksy. Unable to use the internet (arguably a pro, considering how upset Pat Lam got about it).

Option three: Twitter

 

Watching any sporting event in New Zealand in modern times is an exercise in juggling your remote control, beer and smartphone and keeping up with the witty online repartee while managing your life partner / wife asking what the hell you’re doing on your phone all the time situation.

New Zealand’s ‘online’ ‘community’ is CHOCK A BLOCK with highly developed rugby expertise, that happens on the fly, in real time. The only reason these guys aren’t coaching the Blues or the All Blacks RIGHT NOW is simply a combination of having to do stupid day jobs and bad luck.

So – to harness this rugby hive mind, call plays and decide who gets subbed off, all we need to do is set up a hashtag and let the magic happen. Tweet #bluescoach to have your very own instructions carried out by a guy with a headpiece and an iPad, be it “smash him!” or “get that winger to pull his finger out of his arse!” or “give up, just walk off right now!”. Opposition players will be banned from tweeting instructions during matches.

Option four: A mime

 

Yes, the situation at the Blues is bad, and needs a serious overhaul, fast. I feel for Pat Lam, a capable coach that fronts when things are going wrong, but let’s call a spade a spade – the Blues’ 2012 season has been a delight for the neutral. With that hoary old myth that when Auckland rugby is strong, New Zealand rugby is strong out of the way, we’ve all felt pretty comfortable laughing at the Blues, and had a great time. The only I can think of to improve on this season’s comedy factor is to put a mime in charge. On the face of it, they couldn’t do much worse.

Flogging a dead 2011

2011 was the year you could say ‘it’s all happening’ and be right. Earthquakes. An election. A world cup. What didn’t happen? Here’s a quick round up.

Rugby World Cup
As a nation, New Zealand did the vacuuming, put the sausage rolls in the oven and hosted the rugby world simply and well, despite the haters and grandstanding, which became less and less important as we went. As for the rugby – well, we bloody won it, didn’t we? Two months on, you only have to show me Graham Henry’s post-final-win-eyebrow gymnastics or Richie McCaw being eye-gouged and I’m glowing like those folk in Cocoon.

Beating the Aussies
After a world cup (remember that) where we did our lose-in-the-semi thing, That First Win In Australia Since Ever was an epic of fingernails on the floor. It was hard to know what kind of NZ cricket team we had post-captaincy switch (alright, it’s ALWAYS hard to know what kind of team we have), but the Tasmanian fightback showed we had some real heart – and hope for the future. Bring on the South Africans.

Super Tottenham
I haven’t mentioned them much on the site, for fear of jinxing them. After missing out narrowly last time, Spurs are quietly having a brilliant season and look very much at home in the top four. Ask me more about how it’s going after we beat Chelsea this morning.

Le Tour
One of the best and worst I’ve seen – worst because of the first week crashes that took Wiggins et al out – best because of the slow burning drama and eventual, worthy winner. Cadel deserved his win for the way he rode, and the way he’s ridden over the last few years. He won’t do it again though, and I hope for a few more fireworks next year. It’s been a fantastic year for NZ’s cyclists also, the folding of Pure Black Racing aside – hoping for a big medal haul on the track in London next year too.

Man of the year
Well, who do you reckon? Stephen Donald is a bigger folk hero than Bob Dylan, his journey from whitebaiting to world cup winner was more beautiful than an unattended burger restaurant. The whole country got the Beaver fever and I couldn’t have been more pleased. Here he is resting on the beach or my little tribute.

 

sportreview.net.nz highlights
A new daughter, other family stuff and employment related madness meant I’ve not been able to give as much care and attention to the site as I’d like – but I’m still proud of how it’s gone this year. I’ve done some of my favourite rugby writing ever on the back of the world cup, with the brouhaha over the jerseys beforehand, and the nervousness against Argentina, beating Australia in the semi, the final the highlights for me. Drinking was a reoccurring theme over the year, with the All Black selectors getting drunk and this little number about alcohol abuse in the north of England.

Twitter, obviously, is where all the former sports bloggers are hanging out these days – and most of the athletes. It’s possible to go from abusing someone on the field to abusing them on the internet in no time nowadays. Two twitter related posts: for the cricket and for the rugby. I love Powerpoint (even thought it was a slow year for sportreview cartoons) and loved this.

Of course, most thanks go to you, mysterious readers. This site is obviously a little labour of love, I do it for no other reason than I enjoy it thoroughly. sportreview.net.nz is the kind of crappy NZ sports blog I would like to read if this one didn’t exit – it’s extremely heartening to know others enjoy it too. Thanks, appreciate it.

Other stuff:

My top five listened to songs, from last.fm:
1. Harry Nilsson – Lullaby In Ragtime
2. Robyn – Dancing On My Own
3. Robyn – Indestructible
4. Joni Mitchell – Car on a Hill
4. Harry Nilsson – Always

I’ve done bugger-all film watching or reading this year. Drive was the best (only?) (current) film I saw at the cinema, and I’m working my way through Peter Guralnick’s Elvis Bios. TV wise, I’ve really got into Game Of Thrones, Breaking Bad and Community. I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed the Discourse NZ podcast. All recommended.

Wishing you a happy and more settled 2012 – see you next year!

 Photos:

Just me and some guy

Me and Dan. I told him how gutted I was for him, but also how stoked I was for Stephen Donald.

Best rugby ground inNZ #rwc2011

Best rugby ground in NZ, still. Tremendous atmosphere for all three matches I went to there.

CameraZOOM-20111015210736

Eden Park felt like a proper international stadium during the RWC. Let’s hope they keep those temporary stands somewhere handy.

Future Tour de France champ.

It’s full of stars

The French, eh? The wine! The cheese! The shrugging! The ability to make you crap your pants in a rugby world cup context! All week our sporting media had been telling us the All Blacks just had to show up not too hungover on Sunday night, and the cup would be ours. Our sporting media were talking out their sausage rolls.

In fairness, we got a bit of nudge-nudge-wink-wink ‘never under-estimate the French’ thrown around during the week, but nothing that was going to actually wreck anyone’s post-Aussie-wasting buzz. That was left to the French team themselves, who showed up ready to play. Play they did, treating the All Blacks like a faulty keyboard, and hitting them just as hard. Tony Woodcock’s try calmed the nerves somewhat, but Woolly Valley’s Piri Weepu, who’d featured on more T-shirts than tomato sauce during the week, didn’t have his kicking boots on. Still, things were still roughly going to plan until Aaron Cruden started writhing about on the grass.

“Cometh the hour, cometh the man,” said Grant Nisbett in a slightly horrified manner as Stephen Donald took his tracksuit off. sportreview.net.nz is on record as a fan of the Waiuku wonder (ahem), but even I was bricking it. The Bath-bound Waikato first five, whose style of play can best be described as ‘elbow-y’ was our only hope, our oval ball Obi-Wan. But god love him, there he was, charging on with a look of steely determination, just as most New Zealanders started thinking about hiding behind the couch.

Donald made a decent little break and run. He got his kick. Thank fuck. And he was part of a second half defense-orientated All Black performance that would have Chris ‘ocker shocker’ Rattue calling for Robbie Deans even more than he does now, but was precisely what was called for on the night. Looking at our performances from the quarters on, it seems we were doing our best England 2003 impression, relying on a battle-scarred forward pack to belt the opposition and play it tight, with heaps of kicking. It’s all pretty un-New Zealand, but I couldn’t care less. Finally we discovered we, too, can play finals-style rugby and in doing so, we put ourselves in position to win it.

Having said that, I doubt I’ve enjoyed a game of rugby less. I was thinking of my mate Mike, who was at Twickenham in 1999 and Cardiff in 2007 to see France dump us out – he was there on Sunday and I hope he screamed like I did when we got possession back four minutes from time. The French had battered us in prime drop goal or penalty territory for most of the second half, sending me into a mood darker than Grizz Wylie discovering a smashed bottle of scotch in the boot, but suddenly it was on – maybe that point would be enough. Stephen Donald, who missed finding touch in Hong Kong that time, played it comically safe booting it out. We won the line out, rumbled it up, then got the penalty. I saw stars.

Jeff Wilson spewing in Johannesburg, dwarf-sized Frenchmen dancing around the Twickenham turf, John Mitchell being surly at press conferences and Wayne fucking Barnes don’t matter any more. David Kirk has company.

I promise I will stop going on about it, but I am absolutely made up for Stephen Donald. He’s having a great week. To go out and kick the winning penalty (as it turned out) for his country after being most people’s idea of world cup poison took proper character, guts and steel. From the moment he rejoined the squad, he exuded professionalism and confidence and he must be quietly enjoying showing his critics what he’s really made of on the biggest stage of all. It says a lot about our remarkable depth that we can call up a bloke who was too busy whitebating to answer his phone to the national coach and throw him on the field to win us the world cup. Not many countries could do that, and not many men could do what Stephen Donald did. Fair play to you, Beav.

This week has been all parades and people treating the Webb Ellis cup with the respect it deserves. The thing I’m enjoying the most is the sense of restarting, of nothing mattering any more. If we’d lost, we’d be in the middle of recriminations, Steve Hansen versus Robbie Deans versus Warren Gatland and rugby-related moaning and wailing reaching unprecedented-ly stroppy levels. Fuck all that. We won, and there’s plenty of time to contemplate what happens next. Later. Let’s enjoy the fact that our big party ended the right way, with a party. I still can’t believe it.