Tag Archives: Rugby

In Praise of High School Sports, Part One

Mount Albert Grammar vs Auckland Grammar 2009

All Blacks aside, the two most compelling matches I watched over the past week involved players aged between 12 and 19. On Saturday some friends and I trooped along to Eden Park to watch my old school, Auckland Grammar, be soundly thrashed by Mt Albert Grammar in the final of the Auckland Secondary Schools rugby competition.

Because of the well-documented suspensions Auckland Grammar were just steamrolled by MAGS, in part due to the suspended foursome being replaced by tiny little children, and thus the game lacked a little tension and perhaps skill level. But there are things you see in a game like this, audacious manoeuvres and raw-boned talent, which are mostly trained out of elite adult sports teams.

The crowd was fantastic, too, around 6000 crammed into the ASB stand (Eden Park is a total bombsite right now, but the skeleton of what’s coming looks exciting), with the AGS boys on one side and the MAGS supporters on the other. The contrast couldn’t have been more overt, and was oddly reflective of way the teams approached the game too.

AGS were dominated by the shirt-and-tie obligation of the Tibbs House (the boarding section of the school) contingent, who are required by some arcane school bylaw to attend every first XV game and support their troops. They sat at the front and were most quiet and emotionless, setting the tone for all who sat behind them. This despite AGS being in the game for large stretches – they scored the first try, and got back to within ten points after the opposition had threatened to run away with it.

Mount Albert’s crowd, by contrast, were young, multi-ethnic and, as befits a co-ed school, with seemingly as many girls as boys. They were loud and dressed in school colours and a large chunk had generated a full-blown Wellington Sevens atmosphere down front, replete with chants of ‘you fucked up’ whenever the hapless AGS kids dropped the ball. Far be it from me to endorse anything associated with our trumpets-n-bucket fountain-toting capital, but that particular sporting event does seem to have a pretty reasonable atmosphere, and the MAGS kids dominated the off-field competition as completely as their peers took out the on-field one.

MAGS played with a spirit, freedom and unpredictability which AGS had no answer for. Admittedly it looked from on high like the Gold Coast Titans (whose uniforms MAGS’ own closely resemble) were beating the shit out of an under 12s side, so marked was the contrast in physical size of the two teams (just look at the scale differences in the admittedly terrible photo above). But more than that, the suburban team allowed creativity room to grow and prosper on the field. The team were having fun, and trying things. Periodically they came off, at other times they turned the ball over. But they played with an elevated intensity as a result, rarely missing tackles and dominating possession for huge chunks of each half.

Auckland Grammar might be the most successful school in New Zealand rugby history, but they looked weighed down by that knowledge on Saturday. They played a very structured, traditional game, intelligent and buttoned down and got completely slaughtered. Their supporters were as conservative and subdued as their school’s play, and in the end they were embarrassed by the scoreline. For a lot of the team this was the biggest match of their career (which is why I have no problem with the disparity in sentences handed down to the Kelston and AGS players by the tribunal over the weekend), and they went down limply.

So it was nothing like a classic, but I enjoyed it more than any super rugby I saw this season. It wasn’t perfect, professional sport, but it was very high level, and refreshing in the unknowns and enthusiasm evident throughout it. In the US a game like this would be televised, with pre-match analysis, and the players involved would be famous, on some level. While that introduces some very distasteful elements into the athletes’ lives, it also produces benefits for them, their schools and the audience. I feel like high school sports should be given far more prominence than they are here, particularly rugby and cricket, where you’ll be seeing players who are clear future stars.

Instead we waste time on irrelevances like sevens (seriously, no one outside Wellington cares) and ‘grass roots rugby’ (translation: players nowhere near good enough to play professionally). If high school rugby was televised from, say, quarter finals on, and had a national tournament which took the best four teams from each island and pitted them against one another in a seeded, sudden death format, it could become our version of March Madness. You know you’d watch it.

– Duncan

PS – Tomorrow I’ll be writing a sequel of sorts to this, about the game of Little League I saw on ESPN last Sunday which inspired me to thinking about the topic. It was beyond sublime. If you want to know why, this guy was a key protagonist.

Austin

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"Don't Make Us Come And Get You" – Rugby Is Dying

ontheballpic

6-0. Yes, 6 – 0. The lowest score in Super rugby history and it happened last Saturday. Not only that, it happened between two of the competitions proudest franchises, the Crusaders and the Highlanders. Tragedy.  In between the fumbled passes, botched scrums and terrible kicking there was something that resembled rugby, but it was a warped version – confused, uninspired and unskilled. It was broken and I’m afraid rugby as a whole is too. If you listened carefully,  over the mumble of the crowd and the bored ramblings of the commentators,  you could almost hear the final breathe of interest being exhaled by the rugby watching public. It was the most boring thing I’ve witnessed this year… and I work at council. Continue reading

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Merry Xmas From DeadBall

On a beach just north of Thames, Christmas 2008

On a beach just north of Thames, Christmas 2008

Merry Christmas to all those visiting us this festive season. The above photograph was supplied to us by Wheelsucker, one of our guest bloggers, and captures something that I think justifies any and all merriment today. Because while Australia might have Robbie Deans and England might pour all kinds of money and resources into their game, there isn’t another country on earth where you could witness a scene like the one pictured above.

So despite our having lost a ridiculous number of World Cups in a row now, you can be sure a rugby culture which sees a father erecting scaffold goal posts on a Thames Coast beach for a budding first-five son will always be strong. And sooner or later, despite the travails we’ve suffered through over the last 20 years, one day the Cup will come home. Because only New Zealand cares this much.

– DeadBall

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Guest Post: In Response – Can Rugby Have Swag?

gilbert_arenas_streetball1

Note: this is in response to this post on December 19.

 dancarterbullsl2

I agree in theory… but I wonder whether the comparison is fair.

For me at least, the reason the NBA players are so intriguing is that their stories speak of an experience very alien to my own. They are extreme – we are constantly hearing of players stabbed (Pierce), family members shot (too many to name), suicides attempted and, most importantly and basically, massive hardships overcome to rise to the top of their sporting arena. This is human drama all bundled up and thrown down on court, splendid and terrible, for us to see. Delivered with no excuses, no apologies. Continue reading

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Hating on the Haka

It seems like every time the All Blacks head out on one of these interminable Northern tours the English rugby writers draw straws to see who gets to roll out their anti-haka piece. This year, the Guardian’s Frank Keating won the lottery, and got to write his ‘think-piece’ describing the haka as a “now charmless eye-rolling, tongue-squirming dance”. I think the accusations of racism or cultural insensitivity are kinda moot; he’s probably guilty on both counts (elsewhere he calls it the “pre-match native rumba”, wtf?), but that’s not really why I take issue with him.

The free-thinker who called the haka a "native rumba"
The English free-thinker who called the haka a “native rumba”

No, my major complaint about the man’s column is basically that he’s just plain wrong on the subject, and if the first Kiwis-England game’s thrilling prelude hadn’t convinced him then surely the incredible scenes prior to the match in Cardiff must have.

Each was sporting theatre of the highest order, and Wales’ stoic meeting of the challenge, and the two-minute face-off that followed was the most spine-tingling event to occur on the field that evening. Take that away and it was another test match, occasionally diverting but ultimately would you be talking about it in a year’s time were it not for that thrilling moment?

Ali Williams’ nervously darting eyes betrayed the inner feelings of the All Blacks, no one out there had any idea what to do; neither retreated and the challenge was unequivocally met by that Welsh side. But Keating would have that moment banished, just as the IRB attempted to during that farcical game where the haka was performed in the dressing room: brilliant televsion, but a real slap in the face for the tens of thousands who paid to see the match. Continue reading

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Munster Revisited

It often seems to me that Rugby is a little lost amongst the glitz and glamour of professional sports. The contemporary entertainment economy seems too much, has gone too far, for this game. It’s meant to be the game of good, honest, hard-working men from rural ex-colonies and it’s somehow been turned into a sport of men that look like a cross between a super-hero and a hairdresser.
The commentators in today’s game often talked about “what it used to be like” and the “old times” and surprisingly, much of their nostalgia rang true. Though a modern professional team like anyone else, Muster played like a Rugby team from a by-gone era. Until the final minutes they held on to a slim lead like desperate men, savouring the opportunity to live their passions before returning to the farm or the office or the building-site the next day. It was a joy to see.

– Henry

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Liveblogging All Blacks vs Munster

Howlett Haka

Henry and I are going to attempt to live-blog this game, though we’ll be talking around the game rather than about it. The above is a shot of Howlett doing the Haka, along with the other NZers in the side. It’s a nice touch.

The ABs look hungry to score from the kick off, Donald sending it down field after a fine run across field.

Munster are playing well, full of fire, and Donald and Tipoki nearly got into it off the back of a ruck.

There is something different about a UK crowd.

(Munster just went up 3-0 with a penalty)

Anyway, I think it comes from the Football fanatacism  (3-3 now) but the crowds there just seems to be a dependance on every twist and turn of the game. At times you think it’s too much for the microphones to handle.

I was about to write that this looks a real contest, when the AB’s loosies came crashing through, but in some ways this Munster side looks more passionate and together than the Irish side. Given that the national sides in the Northern hemisphere have far less time together than the All Blacks, you get the feeling that they might prove a sterner test than Ireland, given the relative weakness of this AB side vs the test team.

Abs just tooled a fine attacking opportunity by throwing a pass over the sideline. Maybe a little too eager to set the tone. Continue reading

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