AS I SEE IT (30 October)


By Terry O’Neill.

This year experienced rugby referee Craig Joubert was put through the rugby wringer after he awarded a late penalty which enabled Australia to go through to the Rugby World Cup semi finals. Days afterwards the World Rugby organisation claimed Joubert’s decision was incorrect yet World Rugby high performance official manager Joel Jutge believes, “despite this experience Craig has been and remains a world class referee and an important member of our team”. Meanwhile, World Rugby’s CEO Brett Gosper said Joubert’s sprint off the field after the game was “he was keen to get to the bathroom.”

Referees are often the whipping boys as supporters of both teams either criticise or favour decisions they make. And referees’ performances at all levels are critically judged by their own. SANZAR stood down referees following complaints against their rulings.

Concerns about a specified referee’s ability have been around for over a century. The most obvious incident was of a try denied to the 1905 All Blacks centre three-quarter Robert George Deans with Wales leading 3-0. Deans’ try was disallowed by Welsh referee John Dewar Dallas. Despite the All Blacks protests that Deans had been dragged back into the field of play before the suited referee belatedly arrived on the scene. The ruling became part of All Black rugby history.

Many asked why Joubert did not ask for clarity from the TMO. According to protocol this incident was outside the TMO’s area of concern. Since Joubert’s demotion in the quarter finals, some experienced international referees suggested changes.

International referee Mark Lawrence, actually an optometrist, believes that with all today’s technology captains should be given a chance to query contentious decisions as in tennis and cricket, with some limitation on the number of appeals for reviews.

Should we could revert to the days before “real” referees? Prior to a game the two respective captains would meet and set down rules, and would arbitrate throughout the game. Imagine the lively dehydration post-match sessions. Another notion is to maybe microchip referees, or like another international referee Steve Walsh, have a body tattoo – Walsh’s: “He who controls himself controls the game.”

Locally, the late Eddie Lapsley, a pastrycook during the week and a referee over the weekend, was a dedicated Athletic club supporter all his life. During a break in play another Athies supporter asked him how their team on the paddock was going.

Eddie said, “We’re behind at the moment, but I’m doing my best.”



AS I SEE IT wc 486

fr-rwc 11

By Terry O’Neill.

Why is winning or losing in sport, or indeed in life, so important?

Why are we competitive? Does competitiveness evolve since birth or does an element in society promote this streak? Some very young children don’t display it. Yet maybe it is a throwback, a feral one that’s uncomfortable to acknowledge, harking to the realities of grim personal survival.

Why do we play sport? “It’s fun”. “My friends play.” And a degree of competitiveness develops, and with those who support and follow the play, attitudes towards winning and losing. May we in New Zealand strive to model honour in winning, nobility in losing.

Imagine you were an English or Australian rugby supporter at Twickenham for the England/Australia match. Reactions to the result would vastly vary. The English fan base would likely be demanding the head of English coach Stuart Lancaster, whilst Australian supporters could smugly afford to be generous, an aspect of our emotional makeup sometimes difficult to apply.

Take the 2011 All Blacks World Cup victory in the final over the French team. The build-up was extreme. New Zealand political journalists said a loss would be catastrophic and implied an All Black loss might bring about the downfall of the government. Fortunately, maybe, the All Blacks won, the sun rose again in New Zealand the following morning, and supporters could afford to be magnanimous despite a solitary point being the winning margin.

Did New Zealand win or did the French lose? Lancaster’s England team lost by a wider margin to a better team on the day. Handling defeat takes more stamina to cope with than a victory. But we can learn from losses.

According to “Jonathon Livingstone Seagull” author Richard Bach, “losing is what learning is all about. It’s not whether we lost the game but how we lost and how we are changed because of it, and what we take away from the loss is something that we never had before to apply to other games. Losing in a curious way is winning.”

And from Bill Crowder of “Sports Spectrum”, “Playing a superior team or individual and losing ensures we learn more than if we played and defeated easily a series of teams of lower ability. Today’s culture celebrates winners and sacks losers. Sport is part of life which is filled with victories and defeats and we should learn from both. Victories should teach us humility and losses can teach us character.”

Some claim that if it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, why is the score recorded? Or consider the approach of former top woman tennis player Nartina Navratilova: “Whoever said, ‘it’s not whether you win or lose that counts,’ probably lost.”

Or maybe take the English rugby loss like Trev who twittered after the England loss, “considering all Australians are descendants of British criminals, I’ll take the Aussie win as a home win.”

In winning or losing, a sense of humour may be a healing balm .



AS I SEE IT (4 Sept)

     By Terry O’Neill.
 Our world is highly technical. Often we’re encouraged to believe answers to sporting problems come from scientific or medical discoveries and analyses.

It was refreshing to learn of Highlanders and All Black winger Waisake Naholo apparent rapid recovery from his officially announced serious leg bone injury sustained during the test against Argentina. Word from the All Black camp shattered Naholo’s aspirations for World Cup inclusion. End of story? Not quite. Naholo returned home to a small Fijian village and a local doctor utilised leaves of specific plants to bring about a spectacular cure.

Advance to early this week. Notably, upon Naholo’s inclusion in the World Cup squad New Zealand, medicos immediately expounded to claim the fracture was not in the serious category after all. The same medical expertise so quick to sideline the winger after the Argentinian test? Former All Blacks doctor John Mayhew earlier this week stated that Naholo’s recovery was “not a surprise” and claimed that the All Black medical teams original claim that the injury would require a three month recovery period was a “ridiculous over-estimation”. 

Maybe this illustrates that modern science does not necessarily embody all answers. If it did, surely Steve Hansen and company would be replaced by a bevy of scientific professors, psychologists and motivators to guide the All Blacks to their third World Cup. But it takes more than a purely scientific approach to win world trophies.

Does rugby history harbour answers? The All Blacks played 43 World Cup matches in the seven World Cup tournaments. The All Blacks are the only team to make all semi-finals 1987 to 2003; the only team never to have lost a pool game; have always been top qualifier in its group; and won the Webb Ellis Cup twice, 1987 and 2011.

In the 1987 Cup team under Brian Lochore the All Blacks won all its six games and hopes were high in 1991 under Alex Wylie and John Hart. However in the post group games it was Australians, especially their precious David Campese, who brought about our downfall in the playoffs with a 16-6 win.

1995 under Laurie Mains carried all before it in South Africa before a field goal from Joel Stransky, ably assisted off-field by hotel waitress Susie, gave the home team a three point win in extra time. 1999 under John Hart closed with losses to France and South Africa. Frustratingly, more of the same in 2003 under former Waikato number eight and linguist John Mitchell. We watched Carlos Spencer’s long hopeful pass gratefully intercepted by Australian centre Hedley Mortlock who galloped away to knock the All Blacks out of contention. Little consolation emerged when the All Blacks defeated France 40-13 to attain the bronze medal.

Graeme Henry had his first joust for the Cup in 2007 and the French cavalry knocked out the All Blacks, 20-18. In Henry’s second chance in 2011, and in a thrilling final, a would-be white-baiter Stephen Donald kicked a penalty to hand the All Blacks an 8-7 win. Hysteria floated New Zealand heaven high, and now the agenda is to recover that blueprint of success.

Will science and planning carry national rugby through to World Cup glory?

Or will an explosion of spontaneous brilliance from one like Naholo bring the Cup home?