Monthly Archives: September 2009

Guest Post: DeadBall Predicts the All Blacks

DC_3_phixr(2)

It really hasn’t been as bad as it might have been. Despite being nought from three against the Boks (easily the world’s best side at present), we have retained the Bledisloe, and are 3-zip over the Australians in 09. And, as last week’s virtually flawless victory over the hapless Wallabies at the Cake Tin proved, we really may have made some strides this year in terms of establishing some depth in key positions – if not (at all) in others.

Okay – the good. The 33-6 hammering of Dingo’s Wallababies was clearly the All Blacks’ most complete performance of the year, which means they have ended the season in better shape than they started out (although to be fair, that’s not saying much). Andrew Hore’s first lineout throw sailed over new lock Tom Donnelly’s head (my companion Uncle Pete: speechless with silent fury), but when it was miraculously scooped up by a magnificent Richie McCaw, it seemed like the forwards rallied and the lineout was immaculate for the rest of the match, ensuring a good supply of quality ball that the rejigged backline made fine use of.

The scrums were messy, with Wallabies tighthead Ben Alexander going to ground repeatedly and failing to take the engagement cleanly (Tony Woodcock may or may not have been doing a number on him). The contentious reselection of a trimmer looking Neemia Tialata saw him getting through a solid 45 minutes, even hitting the odd ruck and making some tackles – his selection in this match just may have saved his international career.

Adam Thomson appears to have made some adjustments to his style of play (he no longer always looks like he is playing sevens), and together with converted number 8 Kieran Read and captain McCaw, they were a very impressive and well balanced unit, certainly having it all over their Wallabies counterparts. McCaw was regularly employed as a ball carrier, making 15 or so charges with ball in hand – an unusually high number for a modern day openside. And, yet again, Brad Thorn was immense.

In the backs, Ma’a Nonu looked relieved to be back in his favoured second five role, and even delivered an effective clearing kick from in-goal with Carter tied up, while the stuttering international career of Isaia Toeava took a great leap forward with perhaps his best game in black. But the real star of the show was Wellingtonian Cory Jane.

Overlooked for most of the season in favour of the seriously out-of-form Joe Rokocoko, Jane finally copped a break courtesy of an injury to Sitiveni Sivivatu, and boy, did he seize his chance. A magnificent try on the back of a fine kick-chase, and a consummate all round performance (kicking, defence, support running) would have to make you wonder when he might get a chance in his favoured fullback role, especially with incumbent Mils Muliaina not exactly setting the world on fire.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves – as Henry himself pointed out, the Wallabies are still a long way off the pace that the Boks are setting, despite their excellent victory over a weary looking Springbok side in Brisbane, and by and large they looked like a school team. You had to feel a bit for 19 year old fullback James O’Connor, who the AB’s targeted ruthlessly; sending high kicks in his direction with monotonous regularity, delivered with a side order of extra attention from Adam Thomson and Brad Thorn – one hopes that Deans has not done permanent psychological damage to the young man by failing to hook him from the field.

Some tough decisions on some players’ international careers need to be made on this end of year tour, with a view to us being in the best possible shape for 2011. For example, is Rodney So’oialo really going to be a serious contender in two years time? Is Brad Thorn, at 36, still going to be cutting it?

For my money, I would suggest that some of these guys should stay at home over the summer, and give us further opportunity to develop depth. Isaac Ross and Owen Franks have been thrown into the inferno of international rugby against the other two of the three best sides in the world, and have emerged relatively unscathed. Tom Donnelly looks capable, Adam Thomson and Kieran Read have made terrific progress, and let’s not forget we have the likes of Anthony Boric, Richard Kahui, Keven Mealamu, the utterly top drawer Ali Williams, and hopefully Carl Hayman and Nick Evans(!) to come back too.

Stephen Donald, alas, has really never made the grade – goodbye, you are the weakest link. It may be time to look at some alternatives, whilst also accepting that in Carter and McCaw, in particular, we have two players who are utterly irreplaceable – best we just pray for their continued good health through to 2011…

If we assume the selectors will take 36 players on the six match tour, these would be my choices:

THE DEADBALL ‘IDEAL WORLD’ THIRTY SIX

Fullbacks: Cory Jane, Israel Dagg, Mils Muliaina

Wings: Sitiveni Sivivatu, Sean Maitland, Lelia Masaga, Zac Guildford

Midfielders: Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Ryan Crotty, Tim Bateman, Isaia Toeava

First fives: Daniel Carter, Aaron Cruden

Half backs: Piri Weepu, Jimmy Cowan, Andy Ellis

Number 8: Kieran Read, Liam Messam

Opensides: Richie McCaw, George Whitelock

Blindsides: Adam Thompson, Jerome Kaino, Victor Vito

Locks: Tom Donnelly, Isaac Ross, Anthony Boric, Jason Eaton

Props: John Afoa, Neemia Tialata, Wyatt Crockett, Jamie Mackintosh, Owen Franks

Hookers: Aled De Malmanche, Hika Elliot, Andrew Hore

IN & OUT

No So’oialo, no Woodcock, no Rokocoko, no Brad Thorn – nothing to be gained by flogging these trusty old warhorses. No Luke McAlister, who has resolutely failed to impress since his much heralded return from the UK. If Mealamu were fit I wouldn’t take Andrew Hore either, and Mils only goes because he is the incumbent and because of his experience and leadership. Andy Ellis gets my vote as the third halfback over Brendon Leonard, who has never recaptured the form that saw him selected for the 2007 RWC squad – halfback is still perhaps the key area where we are genuinely lacking world class players, with Cowan appearing laboured and predictable by the end of the Tri Nations. Cory Jane also offers an extra wing option, and hard done by Waikato captain Liam Messam absolutely deserves another chance, while Canterbury skipper Whitelock must be groomed as McCaw’s apprentice.

BOLTERS

Manawatu ingénue Aaron Cruden, Hawkes Bay’s well-rounded Israel Dagg, outrageously talented Wellingtonian Victor Vito, and the young Canterbury trio of Maitland, Crotty and Bateman. These are all pretty speculative selections, but then the same could have been said for Owen Franks and Isaac Ross. Some of these guys won’t even play much, but it will do them good to be in the environment, and we need to be prepared for the fact that such a green squad may lose a game or two in the pursuit of developing depth – something everyone is fine with in principle, but only as long as they win…

(I don’t think, by the way, that this will at all be the squad they take – you can, for example, almost guarantee that McAlister and Rokocoko will make the cut, no matter how dreadfully they play).

– Jeremy Taylor

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Rugby, Tri-Nations

Guest Post: Top Four Sunday

thisisawatch

This is a watch. Somebody needs to introduce Martin Atkinson to one. Old Trafford is like a casino in that time does not appear to have any relevance until the house wins. More than anything I am just annoyed because I lost the near full page of notes I made during this derby, that will surely be remembered as one of the most pulsating ever played. On a day that schedule makers pat themselves on the back for enabling the top four teams on the table, well before Liverpool unwantedly shoved their way in with a 3-2 win over West Ham, squaring off in two derbies back to back. 

But first to rather more humble arenas…

Turf Moor Stadium in Burnley. You know it’s a small town team when a major sideline hoarding bears the words David Fishwick Minibus Sales. I thought I should watch a Sunderland game as they were one of the teams at the start of the season that I thought could push into the upper middle of the standings. A good number of quality off season additions to the squad and a new manager in Steve Bruce has confirmed this feeling with the best start to a league campaign since 1980. All facts that would have had the Black Cats’ biggest Northern Ireland residing Scot fan Anthony feeling very chuffed. That was before Portsmouth cast-off David Nugent kept alive a number of surprising trends with two well taken goals.

I am still utterly perplexed by The Clarets as a Premier League entity.  For most of this game they were thoroughly outplayed yet a 3-1 scoreline meant the result was fairly comfortable. The lesson is to put a chunk of change on them when they are playing at home. No promoted side since Blackburn in 1992 (who won it all two years later) have won their first three home games, making it nine straight at the Turf Moor. Making their start to the campaign that little bit more impressive they have also now played four of last years’ top five and so should have an easier time of it until the return fixtures kick in.

Arsenal kicked their habit of winning late against Wigan by simply thrashing them instead. Maybe they just wanted to give a Yankees cap-wearing Spike Lee a better sideline experience than suffering through another Knicks game. At 3pm (gmt) these two teams were only two places apart on the table. Wigan’s new spot of 15th more accurately reflects the gulf in class between the two squads. Forced into constant fouling to keep the half time score respectable at 1-0, they had given up 13 free kicks to do so. Emmanuel Eboue must have compromising pictures of Arsene Wenger because his continual presence on the starter’s sheet is unfathomable otherwise. In the corresponding fixture last season this happened.

This game he managed to hold it together somewhat more convincingly, but the sooner any of Rosicky, Arshavin, Walcott or Nasri can make it through 90 minutes I will feel an overwhelming sense of relief. As it was the Czech featured in his first competitive game at the Emirates since an FA Cup draw with Cardiff City on January 25th, 2008.

 The real star though was Belgian Thomas Vermaelen. His scouting report from the usually impeccable Ajax Academy was that of a good but limited player. I am still waiting to see the same. With these two goals he is now the club’s leading scorer. The second was a work of true beauty.

Picking the ball up just forward of the centre circle and advancing 20 metres, pushed it left to Eboue and then ran through the middle plainly calling for the return. 59,103 people in the stadium could see this and thankfully EE did too and a) Diaby left it and b) Eboue managed a simple squaring maneuvre. Hitting it first time with his left foot the resultant curl perfectly brought the T90 Ascente inches inside Kirkland’s left upright.

 Continuing a theme for the weekend we move to Manchester for the first of Sunday’s derbies to see whether Citeh can continue their best ever start to a Premier League campaign.

At 2:25am (nzt), after 94 of the most thrilling, free flowing minutes of counter thrust football you would ever hope to see, the answer was yes. United took the lead three times but could only hold it for 14, 3, and 10 minutes each time. It is unfortunate then that the final memory will be one of, not so much a refereeing mistake – more indifference, say, because Martin Atkinson actually had an excellent game. Only for United’s third goal could any other questions be asked with an incredibly soft free kick awarded. This was duly fed onto Fletcher’s head from the boot of an irrepressible Ryan Giggs. For two such cosmopolitan teams, featuring players from nearly every Fifa confederation including the “infinitely yours SEOUL” marketing unit Ji Sung Park, the goals were scored by three Englishmen, a Welshman twice, and a Scot also twice.

bellamy
Bellamy Fires One In

The Welshman, Bellamy, was particularly excellent on a day in which Citeh had £75 million of strike power sitting in the stands in civvies; Robinho could learn a thing or two about caps from Spike Lee. Even purer than Vermaelen’s the day before, from pretty much nothing he fired an absolute rocket from the left corner of the penalty area across into the top right corner. This time Foster could not be blamed. Citeh’s desire to prove themselves more than just a “small club” was best exemplified by Carlos Tevez and his hustle that saw him absolutely mug poor Foster and create Barry’s goal. Both Foster and the player formerly known as England’s premier centre half, Rio Ferdinand, should have to shine Michael Owen’s boots for the rest of the season.  All which leads me to set the Manchester United Cuntiness level for the first time this season.

Right now it is running at an inverse of the amount of relief expressed in the media after the All Black’s win on Saturday night.

 How do you follow up a game like that? The initial plan was to just record the action at Stamford Bridge but there was no way that sleep would come quickly with emotions running as high as they were. Yet was there any way that it would feel anything but anti climactic? Even the pitch looked like a pale imitation of that of the Theatre of Dreams, the smaller dimensions meaning the play was of a more intricate nature.

Chelski fully deserved their 3-0 win and are now the only holders of a 100% record now that the Manchester Blues have lost theirs. Carlo Ancelotti is the first manager ever to win his first six games in the Premier League and he also managed to get his team to put in an impressive post Champion’s League performance. Something they have been notoriously bad at. That he has restored a harmony to an unsettled squad is shown by the performance of the biggest malcontent of them all, Drogba who has equaled his entire league goal tally from last year in six games.

UKRAINE/

To finish I will leave you with the opening of the first stadium to be considered elite by Fifa in, of all places, Donetsk in the Ukraine.  Awesomely timed for the annual holiday that is Miner’s Day, appropriate as the team is named after a miner.  They threw a big party that featured of all people Beyoncé. No Kanye though…

– Tom Townley

2 Comments

Filed under Football, Premier League

The Skinny Post: This Week in the Not For Laughs League

I would, but then she might actually be a Chargers fan....I would, but then she might actually be a Chargers fan….

OK, so sometimes I have to actually work for a living. So this week it’s strictly the facts. And tits. Whew, thank god for the tits.

HIGHLIGHT GAMES:

SKY 2 4.30pm MONDAY (delayed)

DETROIT LIONS v MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Wow. Talk about age vs beauty. Last week septuagenarian Brett Favre handed off to the awesome Adrian Petersen (see below) and the Vikes won. Same recipe, new week. As long as they can stop Favre throwing the ball, they look REALLY good. This is absolutely the most nuts strategy in the NFL. Bring in, at HUGE negative PR cost, a veteran legendary gunslinger to stand around and hand off. Make that a VERY EXPENSIVE veteran legend gunslinger. Well, can’t argue with success I guess. Meanwhile blond, blue-eyed Matthew Stafford was drafted by the Lions to usher in a new era. Not this week. Perhaps not ever. The Lions get shellacked, and Petersen beats his 180 yards from last week.

David Fincher’s new Nike ad starring the rather alien-like Mr Petersen:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS v NEW YORK JETS

OK, the Patriots looked rusty last week and the Jets looked really good. Appearances can be deceptive. Rex Ryan’s cool voicemail aside  I think the Pats show real dominance here, even though they are on the road at New York. The big battle will be in the chests of women everywhere (and more than a few gay men) as the two major dreamboats of the NFL face off. To choose the real winner let us compare their girlfriends:

Damn that Brady's good. Damn that Brady’s good.

NEW ORLEANS v PHILADELPHIA

Drew Brees is an enigma. He’s apparently a very nice guy, plays hard, a terrific quarterback, and will one day take Dan Marino’s record for passing yards in a season. Why then do I dislike him so much? Because I do. I really do.  Totally irrational. Philly meanwhile now has a surfeit of quarterbacks after signing the great bald one Jeff Garcia this week. The rather inept Kevin Kolb is due to start, but come on. If McNabb (injured last week) can’t go next week or Kolb makes a dick of himself early in this one (highly likely) then Vick will enter next week, backed up by the able Garcia, who may actually see action in this game after being on his couch a week ago. I’d love to give this to Philly just for releasing the very annoying reality star Hank Baskett, but New Orleans look too good. God I hate Drew Brees.

The freshly unemployed Mr Baskett & his Playboy meal ticket. The freshly unemployed Mr Baskett & his Playboy meal ticket.

NEW YORK GIANTS v DALLAS COWBOYS

Dallas are finally starting to look good now that Mr Romo’s banging some new young tail and Mr Owens has left the (very large and very new) building. The strange career of Eli Manning continues, but its the return of stud defensive lineman Osi Umenyiora that is the real difference here. Mr Romo will taste the fine new turf at the new Dallas stadium many times in this game. It’s close this one, but Dallas take it.

– Mark Tierney

Leave a comment

Filed under NFL, The Skinny Post

Daniel Vettori: Two Years in the Abyss

single malt and a hand-written list of mediocre cricket statistics

I intended to write this post on September 12, when it was exactly two years since Daniel Vettori assumed the test captaincy of the Black Caps. Unfortunately a very good friend’s 30th birthday party was on September 11th, which proved catastrophic to my ability to get this done (though I did manage to drive to Hamilton and watch the All Blacks lose live in person for the first time this decade, completing a trifecta First Four* of live losses which involved Auckland Grammar, The Warriors and the Auckland NPC team – I think the latter are just called ‘Auckland’, which might be amazing or rubbish, I can’t tell at this point).

Anyway, I’d been planning this post for a while is what I’m trying to say, and now I’m sitting here with a glass of The Macallan (pictured) and I’m gonna write it, goddamn it. Because, I guess, I feel cheated. I came of age as a test cricket fan later than most, in the late ’90s to early ’00s, when, astoundingly, we had a team worth shouting about. I think it began with that monumental series win in England, when Dion Nash became the first cricketer to take 10 wickets and score a 50 in the same match at Lords. It might be an obscure and slightly weird record, but it’s ours, you know?

In that era we beat India at home, lost narrowly to South Africa at home and India away, smashed the Windies at home, tied a series with Pakistan on more than one occasion, drew with England at home and India, Australia and Sri Lanka away… There are a few series I’ve ignored in there, mostly in South Africa and Australia. But for this incredible six or seven year period, we became a competitive test side. And I was in love.

Because, well, little old New Zealand was beating up – or at least drawing up – on these impossibly imposing foes! How did it happen? I picked one team at random (test no. 1573), thinking it’d be a typical New Zealand grab bag of trash’n’treasure, a few gems and some stinkers – that fleamarket vibe which is (mostly) our cricketing lot. Instead I saw this:

MH Richardson
L Vincent
MS Sinclair
SP Fleming
NJ Astle
CD MacMillan
DL Vettori
CL Cairns
AC Parore
SE Bond
CS Martin

I might be a bit drunk, but that is a fantastic cricket team. Sure Vincent (test av. 34) and Sinclair (test av. 32) are a bit iffy. But the rest is very high quality. When I say high quality, though, there’s the implied silent caveat ‘by New Zealand standards’. Were such a side to turn out for Australia you’d say awful. Maybe four of those guys (Bond, Cairns, Vettori and Richardson?) would make their very poor current side. And they’d be contentious. But for New Zealand? That’s one of the all time ten best sides we’ve ever fielded, no question

All of which is an extremely long-winded way of introducing the matter at hand. In the last two years New Zealand has played 21 test matches. I began to wax nostalgic about how much more test cricket we played back in the day, but then checked the total we played in 1998 and 1999, and it was 20. So we haven’t played a bunch of test cricket in a long time. What has changed is how well we’ve played it. We won eight of those 20 matches a decade ago, and drew seven, while losing only five.

The last two years? four wins, six draws and ELEVEN losses. We have slipped, and terribly. Test cricket, which at the time seemed so vital, now seems vaguely quaint (at least in terms of the esteem with which it’s held this country). And to my mind, most of that can be put down to that curmudgeonly philistine John Bracewell’s emphasis on the now-irrelevant (seriously, they will not play any 50 over cricket in English county cricket next year) ODI form of the game. He was utterly disinterested in test cricket, and it showed through brutally in our performances under his ruinous reign. But ultimately the players have to take some of the blame.

Here, then, is the complete list of the batting statistics of those who have dressed in white and gone out to bat for New Zealand under the captaincy of Daniel Vettori. I should warn in advance, it ain’t pretty.

In order of averages, with the figures running matches/total runs scored/average since Sept 07:
1. Jesse Ryder 11/898/49.9
2. Stephen Fleming 7/552/46.1
3. Daniel Vettori 21/1242/42.8
4. Ross Taylor 19/1343/39.5
5. Daniel Flynn 13/627/33
6. Brendon McCullum 21/1126/31.3
7. Jacob Oram 11/559/31.1
8. Matthew Bell 5/245/30.6
9. Tim MacIntosh 7/338/28.2
10. Martin Guptill 5/241/26.8
11. Jamie How 13/641/25.6
12. Aaron Redmond 7/299/23
13. Craig Cumming 4/114/22.8
14. Peter Fulton 3/87/21.8
15. James Franklin 5/139/19.9
16. Lou Vincent 1/37/18.5
17. Tim Southee 5/127/18.4
18. Matthew Sinclair 5/147/18.3
19. Scott Styris 2/59/14.8
20. Gareth Hopkins 1/27/13.5
21. Jeetan Patel 8/104/10.4
22. Grant Elliott 3/27/6.8
23. Iain O’Brien 17/142/17.5
24. Mark Gillespie 3/25/6.3
25. Michael Papps 2/ 17/4.3
26. Chris Martin 17/30.2.5
27. Shane Bond 1/1/1

So many amazing stats, right? My favourite is at the bottom: Shane Bond covertly sending the emergency number to us with his last test before our monstrous slump. You got to admire his dedication to the gag. But Papps above him? Here’s a tip: If you don’t get more runs in four innings than Chris Martin gets in his entire career, you’re shit at batting. Memo to the following: Grant Elliott; Matthew Sinclair; Peter Fulton; Craig Cumming; Aaron Redmond; Jamie How; Martin Guptill – if you’re never selected for New Zealand again, this list should tell you why.

More depressingly, we’ve had no batsmen average over 50 (though Jesse did until his last innings prior to this list) and only four over 35, while only two batsmen (one of whom is a bowler) have accumulated more than 1,000 runs in the period. In two years, 27 cricketers have worn white for New Zealand, and only eight have come out of the experience with an average of over 30! One of those scraping into that category is Brendon McCullum, who must be the most overrated cricketer in the world.

These guys are batting on infinitely superior home wickets than those our Black Caps of the late ’90s strode out on, but continue to fail to deliver runs of any real consequence. Seriously, I went to ‘the toilet’ just now and read about a dude who’s in Australian Idol and has lost more than the weight of John Afoa since he was a teenager!

Dude’s a lot more inspiring than anything we’ve conjured up in the last couple of years. When I was watching Monty’s incredible test saving innings against Australia a few months back it made me recall the legendary heroics of Greatbatch against Australia in 1989. Greatbatch gained nothing from the feat. He just didn’t want to get out, so dug in and drove them wild. Outside of Dan I don’t see a single guy in the current side with that kind of temperament. McCullum’s latest attempt to visit untold indignities upon the game is only the most recent sign that the current crop lack the spine of the one just passed.

Because, for all the ludicrousness of the situation, Monty saved that game. And the draw he procured ultimately handed the Ashes to England. When the histories are written they might point to the heroics of Broad, Trott, Strauss or Flintoff in the test wins as pivotal moments. But in truth it all came down to a grinning non-batsman who decided that he wouldn’t willingly concede his wicket. On that small molehill a mountain was built. That’s what sport is – a thousand tiny actions becoming something far greater.

So it seems a terrible shame that the current Black Caps, with a few notable exceptions (I’ll name them: Vettori, Martin, Ryder and Taylor) seem to take such a narrow view of the game that they don’t see the monumental triumphs that occasionally await those who doggedly resist the tide.

– Duncan Greive

* I looked this up after realising I had heard of a Trifecta and a Quinella, but not a quad____. Turns out it’s called a ‘first four‘. That’s maybe the biggest letdown I’ve ever had in googling, which includes looking for Scarlett Johansson’s boobs in The Killing Game at Bill Simmon’s behest.

4 Comments

Filed under Cricket, Fandom

Guest Post: Worth a Crack, Nigel

Springbok Champions

Worth a crack, Nigel…

For a town as infamously dull as Hamiltron, this was a thrilling game of football.

Needing to win and prevent the Boks from scoring a bonus point to keep the Tri Nations alive, and preferably gain a four try bonus point, the All Blacks threw everything at this one in the last 15 minutes and came up just a flattering three points short of stopping the Boks gaining a clean sweep over the AB’s to claim the title in 2009.

The line out was, once again, atrocious. After 30 minutes we had lost five of our own throws, with Victor Matfield using his glowering presence and masterful reading of play to turn Andrew Hore and his jumpers into gibbering wrecks. There was a distinct lack of urgency in this phase of the All Black game – we still take far too long to get into position and get the ball back into play, giving Big Vic ample opportunity to exert his influence. As the missus’ ‘colourful’ Uncle Pete summed it up – “I’d rather chew dogshit than watch this…”.

Breakdown penalties conceded in the first half were punished three times in a row from within the Boks own half by the monster boot of Francois Steyn, again confirming that possession is not necessarily of paramount importance in the game’s current incarnation. The Boks much touted scrum weakness was not in evidence, with under-fire skipper and makeshift tighthead prop John Smit more than holding his own against a decidedly weary looking Tony Woodcock.

Brad Thorn, too, looked a shadow of his former swashbuckling self, having shouldered a huge workload this year, and must now be deemed unlikely to still be around in 2011, at the ripe old age of 36. Fortunately, the investment made in youngsters like the impressive Isaac Ross, and the returning-from-injury Anthony Boric should reap rewards come World Cup year. Ditto young front rower Owen Franks, who still has a way to go, but should provide solid cover for Carl Hayman upon his (much needed) return from the UK.

The fact that Stephen Donald was yanked around the 50 minute mark suggested that the double pivot experiment had not been a success (with Henry admitting as much at the aftermatch press conference), Carter looking much more assured running the show on his own, with the more conventional line up of Nonu and Isaia Toeava outside him. And while the erratic Toeava was electric after coming on, making the decisive line break that set up Sitiveni’s try, Nonu had a terrible case of the dropsies – ball retention in contact is still a significant problem in his game (Uncle Pete: “He must have a photo of Henry f***ing a pig to still be in this side”). Carter’s restart kicking was perhaps a little patchy, but his tactical and defensive kicks were top notch, as was his goalkicking – in fact, none of the goalkickers (Carter, and those pesky Steyns) missed a shot all night.

A soft intercept try to Jean De Villiers (Carter, alas) gave the Boks a comfortable lead, before a baffling All Black decision not to take a gift three points when the Boks infringed in front of their posts; then an equally baffling one to goal the next penalty from a similar position – had the hope for that magical bonus point try win (presumably why they took the scrum on the first) evaporated in a couple of minutes?

Adam Thomson and Cory Jane’s (not before time) arrival off the bench seemed to really pick up the tempo against a Bok side visibly wilting in their third game in as many weeks, and when Carter picked out Richie McCaw with a pinpoint crossfield kick, there was a faint glimmer of hope that the AB’s might be able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat – suddenly they looked more alive, electric and dangerous than they have all season. Carter nailed the conversion in seconds flat, and the All Blacks regathered from the kickoff and continued the assault on the Springbok line, and with time up on the clock Carter attempted another audacious cross field kick to the left hand flank – this time nudging it too far and sending the ball into touch, probably a fitting and symbolic end to a frustrating season.

All is not lost, however (although it sort of will be if we can’t beat the Wallabies in Wellington next week, and end up finishing last…) As we surmised at the start of the Tri-Nations, this was always going to be the Boks year, and man for man they are currently, on the whole, stronger than the AB’s. It’s not even entirely fair to claim our tactics have been inept – mostly it has been a case of poor execution of often basic skills (catch, kick, pass, tackle) that have let us down, and while these things may be easy to do on the training field, they are a damn sight more difficult with (Justice For) Bakkies and the boys bearing down on you.

You could argue that flawed selections have played their role in the ’09 AB’s demise, and certainly the retention of the woefully out of form Joe Rokocoko is frankly baffling. But then the same could be said for so many of our players that if you were to start culling, you could end up with me and Uncle Pete on the field. The lineout is still an A-grade cock up, and forwards coach Steve Hansen must shoulder much of the blame here, given that Mike Cron takes care of the scrum – fortunately, the return of Ali Williams should shore this up. Fading old warriors who have served us well cannot be retained simply out of loyalty, although neither should their experience be cut adrift too hastily. Kieran Read has come on in leaps and bounds, but retaining Rodney So’oialo on the bench is like having some insurance, and also gives Rodders the chance to press his claims for a return to the starting line up.

Luke McAlister’s much touted return to the international arena has been disastrously managed – there are perfectly valid reasons why players have previously been required to play in either the Super 14 or Air New Zealand Cup to gain selection, and McAlister (clearly not the sharpest knife in the drawer) has looked woefully out of his depth in a selection that reeked of desperation, and a desire to recoup on what has obviously been a costly investment.

Unfortunately, we have to concede a horrible, horrible thing – that the Springboks of 2009 are a better side than this year’s All Blacks line up, and that three defeats this year at their hands and two consecutive home losses present a pretty compelling argument for their credentials. Congratulations to the Springboks – worthy champions indeed.

– Jeremy Taylor

Leave a comment

Filed under Guest Post, Rugby, Tri-Nations

The Skinny Post – Fat Tits & Fatsis: Hey, the NFL is back!

lucy-pinder-white-bikini-wet-in-pool

The low sun in the sky had turned the surface of the pool a gorgeous orange colour that matched my skin. I’d been in there just long enough for my extremities to wrinkle nicely. Nadia, back from a shoot for yet another global underwear brand handed me a watermelon margarita, her dramatic frame bronzed and pert. Sipping the cool drink while floating out to the middle of the pool I made my toes splash in the water, the droplets backlit by the sun. In the distance a faint buzzing of commentary could just be heard over the low narcotic thump of the mixtape DJ AM had dropped off a few days before his demise.

“What’s that?” I asked Nadia as she slid naked into the pool. “That buzzing sound?”

“I don’t know,” she said, her hands drifting over my now submerged lower half. “Perhaps it is, you know, the footsball. The kind they make with my friend Giselle’s husband.”

“Ah, Tom,” I said distractedly. “Good old Tom.” Her hands were definitely having an effect now, and I turned towards her in the water and….

“HOLY SHIT!!”

I’m standing dripping wet, wrapped in a Ralph Lauren beach towel staring at my 100″ LCD. I look down at the $50,000 Omega Seamaster I won in a ‘who’s got the better abs’ bet with Daniel Craig: holy crap it really is September. There is football on. Tom Brady is already hurt. Can this be happening?

“Don’t worry,” says Nadia, unwrapping the towel as she sinks slowly onto her knees on the Indonesian hardwood floors “it is only what you call the preseason…”

Whew. That was close. What a nightmare. I almost missed it. The start of the freaking NFL season. How did this happen?

I blame an exiting offseason. From Living Coaching God Mike Shanahan out in Denver (more on this later), QBs Cutler and Orton trading condos and O Lines like two kids switching bikes,  Favre finally coming back (after retiring in tears TWICE in 4 months) to join a team his old fans regard as their arch enemy, Vick strolling back into the game with the Eagles, Terrell Owens choosing to drive to work through 10 feet of snow, Plaxico out for a LONG time thanks to not having a holster in his Hanes, Helmet Catch hero David Tyree released by the Giants (’yeah, you won us a Super Bowl, but what have you done for us lately?’) Tom Brady’s knee/shoulder/wife and a laundry list of shootings/assaults/wife beatings/dope arrests that could keep all the Law & Orders in business for four full seasons… who needs the actual games for entertainment?

C’mon: Three days before the season one of the game’s stars is arrested for choking his drunk girlfriend who is mostly famous for her flagrant bisexuality.

Ms Tila Tequila alone
Ms Tila Tequila alone
...and with friend.
…and with friend.

This isn’t a sport. This is a big budget VH1 show.

But play the games they must. Back in the real world Pittsburgh & Tennessee have just played 3 hours of some of the most average football I’ve seen in a long time (about 6 months actually) and GIDDY UP, the ‘09 NFL season has begun. If the on-field play is half as shocking/surprising/bizarre as the last 6 months of non-stop action, its going to be a doozy of a season.

This week’s key games:

ON SKY 2 (Delayed) 4.30pm Monday

Philadelphia Eagles v Carolina Panthers

Whoever writes the capsules for SKY thinks this will be a high-scoring game. Um, no it won’t. We are still 3 weeks away from the Dog Killer taking the field, Jake Delhomme is now very rich but still flat out ordinary, so its run run run all the way. Philly takes it, but not by much.

Miami Dolphins v Atlanta Falcons

THIS will be a high scoring game and a huge indicator for both teams. They are both ready to break out and be this year’s Arizona Cardinals and go the distance. I love both teams, but I’ll give it to Atlanta by a nose. We’ll see a lot more of these two squads later in the year.

Detroit Lions v New Orleans Saints

Listened to a long, well thought out argument on 710 ESPN the other day suggesting that it was possible for the Lions to repeat as a winless team. I couldn’t fault the reasoning, but there’s no way. Detroit WILL win at least 3-4 games this year. This will not be one of them. New Orleans will beat their brains in. If I were a Sportcenter anchor I’d already be starting on my Lions beat down insults. It pays to prepare.

Buffalo Bills v  Tom Brady’s shoulder

Still coming to grips with the Terrell Owens move to upstate NY. Makes no sense whatsoever, as it has almost no immediate impact on what is a running, short throwing team. It’s like getting Usain Bolt as your tennis doubles partner. Nice, but perhaps not the best fit for him. The Patriots meanwhile continue to be the Yankees of the NFL. If they don’t win a Super Bowl its a down year. Patriots run riot here.

Chicago Bears v Green Bay Packers

The Packer bandwagon is loaded already, and you couldn’t get a bigger ‘fuck you’ to the Favre, so that’s a terrific reason to support them winning the Super Bowl. However, Chicago now has complete dickhead Jay Cutler at QB, which instantly transformed them into a less likeable but much more dangerous team. This will be a great game to watch as both offenses are exceptional, and their defenses aren’t bad either. Pushed to choose I’m going with the Pack but I think it’ll be closer than most think it will be. Them Bears will score.

And now for a short book report:

030209

Stefan Fatsis is a Wall St Journal reporter who managed to convince the Denver Broncos to let him join the squad for training camp and pre-season as a kicker. He was 43 at the time, an age some of us have come to love. Because we have no choice. Anyway, its a great Plimpton-esque look into the business and complexity of the NFL written by a Scrabble playing nerd.

There are a few too many huntin’ shootin’ born-again Christians going on in that locker room for my taste, but Fatsis absolutely nails details like the level of intellect it takes to play the offensive line, the emotionally rough life of NFL journeymen bouncing from team to team, and the level of micro-management the coaches and trainers put the players through. He even makes then Coach For Life Mike Shanahan seem human, which is no small trick. And its a good read even if you know very little about the NFL, just for its exploration of the last gasp of an athletic dream before the lights finally go out. It’s not laugh out loud funny, and it won’t make you cry. But if you want to understand the game of the NFL and the game in the NFL its a terrific read.

– Mark Tierney

2 Comments

Filed under Guest Post, NFL, The Skinny Post

The DeadBall Interview: John Dower, director of Thrilla in Manila

thrillermanila1

Thrilla in Manila is a new documentary covering the legendary 1975 bout between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. John Dower has directed documentaries on everything from Britpop and Kurt Cobain to NYC soccer team the Cosmos, who signed Pelé late in his career. He explored the fight, cited as one of the greatest and most brutal of the 20th century, from Frazier’s perspective, and thus breathed new life into a subject which can feel a little shopworn due to the pervasiveness of the Ali myth.

The talking heads are of an exceptional standard: Imelda Marcos, Ali’s doctor Ferdie Pacheco, and Joe Frazier, who looms as noble and tragic figure throughout. Dower was a fine, eloquent speaker, and is clearly exactly the kind of man you want helming a documentary of this nature. He does a great job of placing the fight in its historical context, at the centre of a battle for the soul of black America, and the political and social ferment which fed into it. All this made the Thrilla seem like so much more than just a boxing match.

D: I wanted to start by asking you what compelled you to become a documentary maker?
J: I guess I kind of like real stories. It’s as simple as that. I think documentaries, factual stories can give you an element of story telling and drama that you don’t really find in actual movies these days. It’s just largely special effects driven and contrived… not all of them but I think when a documentary clicks, you can’t beat real life.
D: The film I’m wanting to talk about is Thrilla in Manila. What attracted you to that as a subject?
J: I was quite fortunate with that film. I had made some other feature documentaries, I’d made another sports feature documentary about a football team in America in the ’70s called The New York Cosmos and normally what happens is when you have ideas, you kind of tout them around the British broadcasters and drop down on your knees and beg to be let into the channel and if you’re let into the channel, you might get a hearing on your idea, but with this film, I was actually approached by a Commissioning Editor at a British channel, who I’d made some other films for, who had always wanted to make this film, and he knew that I was a big sports nut and fortunately he asked me to make it. So it was a bit of a rarity, it kind of dropped on my lap, which doesn’t happen often.
D: As an aside, if you’re a sports nut, there have been some fantastic sports documentaries over the years. What are some of your favorites?

J: I still think the best sports documentary is When We Were Kings, ironically. The film about Muhammad Ali. There aren’t that many of them to be honest because sports documentaries I think are very difficult to make because firstly, you can’t beat the drama of the actual sporting event and also sportsmen are quite dull, really. They’re trained not to have another life, especially these days, they’re marketed certainly not to have an interesting life. So it’s unusual to come across very good sports characters but When We Were Kings and Hoop Dreams, I guess. There aren’t many. It’s difficult to pull off.
D: One thing I really admired about Thrilla was the ability of it to give a dissenting voice to the whole Ali mythos, to present him and Frazier as equals rather than Frazier as almost a bit player in the whole Ali drama. Was that something you intended to do from the start or was it something which welled up in the story?

J: No, it was always deliberate from the beginning. We deliberately said it unashamedly. There’s this idea that documentary makers are somehow purveyors of objective truth, which in my mind is absolute bullshit. Every filmmaker has a point of view and an agenda in some way. It’s unavoidable as soon as you put the camera on someone, something changes, so let’s not pretend that you’re capturing their life exactly as it happens. We set out to make a film from Joe’s point of view unashamedly. We didn’t set out to trash Muhammad Ali. As I’ve said to you, one of my favourite ever films was When We Were Kings, but there was a side to Ali I think that didn’t quite fit the myth that’s in that film and gets kind of brushed under the carpet and we were very keen to re-address that.
D: Did you read Norman Mailer’s The Fight in your prep to the film?
J: Well I’d read it years ago. We had this dilemma about whether to have Mailer in the film or not. We approached him, he agreed to an interview. We were always slightly concerned about the associations it would have with When We Were Kings, which features him prominently. At the same time, he was an extraordinary character and I wanted to know what his take on the Manila fight was. But sadly, our schedule moved, mainly because of Imelda Marcos actually, who pushed us by a couple of months. By the time I came back to do Norman Mailer, he was very, very ill and shortly afterwards died. That decision was made for us.
D: It must have been incredible to film Imelda Marcos, she’s got to be right up there as a ‘get’?
J: She’s pretty out there, I have to say. She’s as mad as a bag of frogs. There’s no two ways about that. She’s one of those rough old characters, but it was good to get her. Again, that’s part of the thrill for me for making docs, trying to find everyone, to track down all the characters that were there. It’s the thrill of the chase.
D: When you’re trying to get someone like Imelda Marcos, how do you even go about making an approach? There would be so many layers to peel away that it would be very difficult to get there.
J: I think I was quite lucky in that respect. I knew somebody that had made a film in the Philippines and had a fixer that I think had known Marcos and it just kind of works like that, you just keep going until you get the definitive no and then you really get a kind of ‘Fuck off’ no or you get them. Imelda was relatively easy to get.
D: One thing which I found completely shocking was to see where Frazier lived. Such an iconic sporting figure to live, not in squalor, but it’s very modest circumstances.
J: Yep, well it may surprise you, but there are some rather unscrupulous people involved in boxing and I think they sadly took advantage of Joe. It happens in boxing. It’s the cliché that’s in Million Dollar Baby, the guy living out in the back room. It was the case with Joe and, having said that, Joe is very happy where he is. I can’t help thinking that even if he had all the money in  the world, he might still live in that room.
D: Well you do get that impression. He’s not a guy who wants for much, he just wants to be around fighters. So what is that area of Philly like? Obviously there are some scenes there but you don’t really get a sense of an area without actually being there. Is it as run down and dangerous as it looks?
J: I have to say I was shocked. I’ve done a lot of filming in America, but to go to an area like that, it’s like ‘Fuck me, this is America?’. I guess it was sort of unfettered capitalism in all it’s glory. That’s what happens with the bottom. It’s just a destroyed place. It was not a good place.
D: You said you’re a big admirer of When We Were Kings. The other big Muhammad Ali movie of the last little while was obviously Michael Mann’s Ali. What were your impressions of that?
J: They’re very difficult to pull off, those biographies, I think. I actually think Will Smith did a great job of playing Ali, I thought he was the best thing in it. Like any other Michael Mann movie, it was beautifully and stylishly made. The problem was, and I think this was it’s mistake, was it tried to cover everything and as a result it kind of didn’t say much. It was quite boring, which is always the worst crime of a film, and rather tellingly, like all the other Ali films, it ended at the Rumble in the Jungle. It didn’t go near the Thrilla in Manila. I think they are difficult to pull off, those real life biographies. I think the Johnny Cash film did it well, but then they didn’t try and include absolutely everything in the story, which I always think is a mistake. Just to throw in the kitchen sink.
D: I read that it was quite hard for you to get Joe Frazier to watch footage of the fight. Was that the case?
J: Yeah, it took me months. To watch the Thrilla, it took me absolutely months to get him to see it. I don’t know why. Apparently Ali’s never watched that fight again and a writer once tried to get him to watch it and he said ‘Why would I want to look at hell again?’. I also think Joe’s an incredibly proud guy and he’s certainly watched the first fight a few times.
D: In the process of making the film, you said it was unashamedly a partisan effort in some respect. Did it change the way that you felt about Muhammad Ali?
J: Not really, no. I still think he is and always will be the greatest sportsman ever. We do suggest in the film that his reasons for going to Vietnam were not quite as straightforward as they’re always portrayed, but yet he still didn’t go and it was an immense, terrible sacrifice. You can’t imagine someone like David Beckham saying ‘I’m going to forego three years of my salary because I don’t agree with the war in Iraq’. But I always felt, coming into this film, that Muhammad Ali had been turned into a kind of woolly saint and all the interesting, dark edges had been taken off him. So we’re kind of doing him a service in some way to restore that more complicated picture.
D: You say that David Beckham wouldn’t trade three years of his salary, and I totally agree, but why is it that sportsmen nowadays, with a few obvious exceptions, lack for the passions and the character that you seemed to get in sportsmen of years gone by?
J: I think it comes down to money and marketing. I just think you can’t say anything controversial because you’re so heavily managed, which is what’s interesting about Joe because Joe genuinely doesn’t care. I can’t imagine anyone being able to control him, if Nike or Adidas were in charge of him. Can you imagine the marketing team that would descend on him after he made that comment about pushing Ali in the Olympic flame? They’d be like ‘You can’t say this kind of stuff!’ But I think Joe’s a real human being in that respect, he’s still upset by it. In some respects, why shouldn’t he be?
D: What was it about the fight which aroused such monumental passions you see played out in the film and you see still echoing now, over 30 years after the fact?
J: I just think sporting contests of that magnitude are rare. It takes a lot of factors. Like the Ashes in 2005, it was a combination of two quite closely matched teams, some great bowling, which was lacking in the most recent Ashes, and they just clicked at the right time and it produced the most extraordinary cricket series, for instance. I think it was the same with Ali and Frazier. They were two very different boxers of two very different styles and they brought out the best in each other. I think, as I say in the film, Frazier was the one fighter that Ali truly feared, especially as he was the first fighter to ever beat him and knock him down. I think that’s why those fights had so much riding on them and it was all to play for in the final one.
D: Just on that subject, the 2005 Ashes kind of cries out to be documented. Is that a project which might interest you?
J: No, really, because I just don’t think there’s enough to hang on it. I do believe that any good film, whether it’s a sports film or not, without sounding like too much of a wanker, needs to be layered. It needs to have these other elements that make it more intriguing. With this, you had the backdrop of ’70s racial politics. You had a blood feud between two characters. You could forget the boxing and say this is a story about betrayal. It has those other elements, and while the Ashes was an incredible sporting event, there’s not really much else there for a film. I’d quite happily watch the box set of the actual matches again, but there’s not enough, I think, around it to make it a bigger film. I don’t think there’s much more than the actual action.
D: Returning to Thrilla in Manila. You got a really good array of people who were close to it, from a small level, up to Marcos and Frazier. Was it tough to track them down and were any reticent about participating?
J: This is one of those great films in which people were very forthcoming. Once you found them, for instance, the corner man, who’s the last surviving corner man in Joe’s corner, everyone said ‘Don’t bother with him. He’s shot, his mind’s gone’. Which only made me even keener to find him, and we found him and he was a bit confused and he was mixing up fights and jumbling them up, and we thought we’d give it a go and we went along and I took my computer and I had a copy of the fight on it and started showing it to him and the light bulb went off in his head and it was like he was transported back there, which was, again it’s what makes doing these films so great.
D: Was there a moment when you were filming it when you realised this was all going to work out pretty well for you?
J: Yeah… It’s unusual to have, there were a lot of interviews, Joe took a lot of time to warm up in some respects. He was very wary of us. There were a few interviews in the beginning that didn’t really yield very much. But I think it’s the test of a good documentary maker or a good film is just the patience. If you think the story’s there, you wait on it. I always thought Joe was a great character and I thought it was a great story.
D: Ali’s doctor  Ferdie Pacheco, to me, comes off as the least sympathetic guy in the film. There’s almost a cruelty about him towards Frazier, which is kind of distasteful at this distance.
J: Yeah, but he’s a great character, you kind of need those people to make these films. We’d have one person in the film that would take Ali’s view and he was a great one because he was not beholden to Muhammad Ali anymore and yet he’s just a great character. When you walk into a room and you’re going to do a series of interviews with someone like him, you rub your hands with glee.
D: Boxing in general seems to be the sport which has translated best to filming and has an inordinate amount of celluloid devoted to it. Why do you think that is?
J: It goes beyond sport. It’s like the purest contest of will. It’s man against man and nothing else and we’re intrigued by what it requires to do that. It’s got this kind of violence to it and films like violence. But there’s also this strange beauty to it and you’ve also got to be some kind of character to do that, which lends itself to good fictional characters.
D: Before you go, I was just wondering what projects you’re working on now?
J: I’ve literally just finished a drama documentary about two politicians in our country, so a very, very different film. It’s more comedy than anything else.
D: Which politicians?
J: David Cameron and Boris Johnson.
D: Boris Johnson’s a hell of a character.
J: Yes, he certainly is

Here’s the trailer. Thrilla in Manila is available now on DVD through Shock. I highly recommend it.


– Duncan

4 Comments

Filed under Boxing, Reminiscing