Tottenham’s brave new world



Vive le revolution. The new regime of Santini, Arnesen and Jol promises much, but Tottenham fans are all too used to fresh starts and false dawns. There were promising signs when the first signings were defensive midfielders, something the team has cried out for too many years, but then the transfers largely dried up. Arnesen is renowned as a talent spotter and a couple of youngsters have been added, but presumably they won’t go into the first team for some time. The side looks alarmingly similar to the underachiving model of last year, so the pressure will be on Santini right from the start. Missing out on Davids was a blow, a couple of big names in midfield and defence would have had us breathing a little easier.

It seems we have to be patient again, and put our faith in three men new to the premiership. Their credentials are impressive, but it seems there are a number of factors that need to gel for improvement to come about. Spurs fans just want for the team to rise above the midtable position we’ve been occupying for a number of years, show some fight and just maybe to show the style and flair we miss so much.

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The big show



We can breathe a little easier with the Bledisloe already won, but Saturday night gives the All Blacks the chance to wrap up the Tri Nations, complete the clean sweep over Australia, answer the backline critics, and put on a show at Rugby’s greatest stage.

The team is unbeaten this year, having survived some enourmous pressure in conditions that have not suited the new backline formation, especially in the last two games. If we’re sick to death of talking about the flat formation, I’d guess the team is even more so. They will want to prove that thier tactics are the right ones, and now they have the dry track to show what they can do.

I think the Aussies will struggle to contain the black pack, bolstered by the return of Jonno Gibbes, who have done the hard work this year with style and considerable steel. Let’s hope the backs can match thier efforts, and create some memories of this massive fixture we’ll enjoy remembering for a change.

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Warriors – dear oh dear oh dear



NZ sport’s version of Shortland Street has gone from the penthouse to the frying pan on the thin ice in just a couple of years. Sacking Daniel Anderson has to be one of the worst moves of many the club has made.

It all seemed so rosy when the team was playing some absolutely sublime football on their way to the sharp end of the finals. But when it started to go wrong, former hero Mick Watson has been exposed as a man without a long term plan, clouding the issues in some of the thickest business-speak heard anywhere, let alone in Rugby League.

This weekend they face the Broncos, the team they have aspired to emulate. After the season they’ve had, a win won’t mean much at all.

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Flat back line debate? Blame France.



Six tests in 2004, six wins, including two against the world champions, one each over Australia and South Africa, and the Bledisloe cup safely tucked away for another year – all is well in our rugby loving land, right?

No. With a week off while Australia and South Africa played, the debate has raged about the flat back line, and the potential disaster, pestilence and woe we face by persisting with it.

Blame France. A certain world cup semi final played out in 1999 changed rugby watching in New Zealand forever. We got carried away by the painted jet, the flash new Adidas kit, and the master stroke of including Lomu, Cullen, Wilson AND Umaga in the team at once… until ten minutes into the second half. No-one wants to be caught out like that again, so as a nation we prepare for potential soul crushing disappointment by watching the All Blacks like hawks, trying to detect weakness no matter what the results are.

If you’re confused by this, but would like to join in, try slipping these phases into your rugby debates:

1. “We need a few changes in that backline, that’s for bloody sure. Pack of girls”

2. “The Aussies are bloody good. Their backs will run all around us, it’ll be a cricket score if we’re not careful”

3. “Finally we get some mongrel in the pack, and the backs fall to bits – bloody hopeless”

4. “Carlos can’t tackle”

5. “Umaga can’t release his outsides”

6. “Marshall? Don’t even get me started”

7. “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” etc etc etc

Now relax, and smugly start picking the next All Black coach. Helen is just lucky the election has fallen in between world cups this time.

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Jonah’s recuperation begins



Jonah arrived as perhaps the ultimate rugby player – big, fast, strong, a mountain of a winger who could just as easily run over the top of you as step you. Then he got worked out, his defensive lapses becoming more and more glaring, and the knockers started on him. Lomu’s copped some of the most heated criticism of any NZ sportsperson in recent years, because he never really lived up to the potential we had him marked out for after the 1995 world cup. Apart from the odd moment of magic (Twickenham 1999, Telstra stadium 2000), he wasn’t really the same.

Jonah speaks frequently of his burning desire to play in black, but surely he would have been smarter to give the game up altogether while getting his health to 100%. His advisors, family, team mates and coaches should never have let him continue while his health wasn’t right, and talk of a comeback is farcical.

Get well Jonah.

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Toys ejected from pram – Coutts sacked



I like Russell Coutts. He’s earned NZers’ ire, but has forced us to grow up as a sporting nation for doing the same thing that many, many rugby players and coaches are doing every year, going overseas to find a better opportunity. It’s just that unlike Taine, or Craig, or Christian, Russell came back to take ‘our’ cup, and freed up a lot of warehouse space in the Viaduct in the process.

Coutts is supremely focussed, won’t accept second best, is outspoken, and a winner. Like Glenn Turner and Arthur Lydiad (until recent years), this hasn’t made him popular. It’s hard to see what he’ll do next, it may be impossible for him to race in the next regatta, but Team New Zealand would have a much better chance with him (in any capacity) than without him.

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All Blacks undefeated but nobody happy



Chris Rattue on the weekend’s test match. Yes the back line was sluggish, and yes they could use a plan B, but we’ve just won 6 in a row, chaps! (Including two close ones, remember we used to always lose those) By my reckoning we haven’t had a pack this good since 1997, and for once it’s the forwards instead of the backs winning matches for us. Once it all comes together we could be looking at something special – and our next two matches are to be played on dry tracks.

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Armstrong out on his own in front



Lance Armstrong’s sixth consecutive Tour De France victory will go down as one of the great sporting feats. The 2004 event ended up being as straightforward as these races can be, with the competition wilting in the face of Lance and his USPS team, the Blue Train. Great to see his prickly attitude though, when urging Ullrich to race in the mountains, and not letting Simeoni get away from him. A superhuman feat from the cancer survivor.

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NZ Rugby needs our greatest rivals to be great again



I remember sitting up to watch our first game against South Africa after they were re-admitted to international competition, and watching the grainy coverage of the brown grass, the forwards that seemed impossibly huge, and feeling the tension. That green jersey evokes so many memories, from the colossal test series of the 50s and 60s, to the 1981 tour and all that means for us as a young nation, to the 1995 world cup loss. It’s been six years since the Boks have beaten us, and now the foot-shooting is starting all over again. Rivals make each other strong, and we’re missing that all-out confrontation that a traditional ABs v Boks match brings. The fans from this proud rugby nation deserve far better than this.

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Millar’s cautionary tale



There’s more talk of drugs in sport nowadays than on a Nandor Tanczos visit to his dealer. You just know that a big name athlete is going to be thrown out of the Olympics this year, if they haven’t been banned from going to the games at all. This is the story of David Millar, the Brit cyclist who was recently banned from Cycling for taking EPO. Millar has come clean and told his story, a refreshing attitude compared to some.

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