AS I SEE IT (22 April)

By Terry O’Neill.

Many sports involve physical contact and often only a faint margin exists between physical contact and violence.

Alleged rugby player violence in a game is under initial scrutiny by the referees/umpires who control the game. Once cited, a player is then brought before the sport’s local ruling body which is charged to come to a decision on the alleged violent incident.

Punishments can range from a warning to suspension for a number of playing days up to virtual banishment from the sport, whether the person is a player, administrator or, importantly, a spectator.

How spectators conduct themselves is particularly relevant at the onset of the winter sports season noting that violence is not exclusively a winter sport issue. The NZRFU has initiated a campaign on its policy to deal with violence that will be mirrored by other winter and summer sports.

Violence from the sidelines is usually vocal. Unfortunately incidences arise there amongst spectators and also involving players.

And where are these aggressive loud-mouths? Attend a Saturday morning winter sport and in due course they’ll cut through the air, often parents exhorting their protégées to greater heights, a loftiness the parent never achieved themselves if they had indeed played the game.

Most parents/grandparents are the great models to youngsters they should be, and are sincerely commended.

Positive support at games is the focus in “My Parents Are Ugly“, a NZRU booklet, and it reaches beyond “advice” to players. Surprisingly referees/umpires are abused by critics sometimes basing comments on aged rugby laws now obsolete.

The percentage of abusive spectators is low but their impact can be out of proportion to numbers. Fun for the players, and for their parents, is the essential element in sport. And it’s the referees, those people giving up their time, who ensure everyone else can enjoy the game.

And who at the game moans each referee rule against their darling’s team? Some spectators, and even team officials who should know better, scream “not straight, sir“, “offside, sir“, “knock on, sir“, “hands in the ruck, sir“, with a derogative title substituted sometimes, and could be forty to sixty metres away. And there are the “off-side shouters” who encourage a mob not always in a position to judge.

We welcome the pleasant banter between supporters of competing teams as part of the game. However some sports websites spell out what is, and is not, acceptable and, I hark you, they offer an electronic form to register complaints about bad behaviour.

Ever watched a game without a referee/umpire? I haven’t either. The question asked sometimes is why those public-minded individuals bother when they have to deal with yahoos and mean-minded grandstanders of ignorance.

A prerequisites for referees is not that they can walk on water. They make mistakes. Just like you, just like me.


AS I SEE IT (15 April)

bronson ross aisi

By Terry O’Neill.

Rugby scrum front row activities can ensure many rugby props do not compare with an internet dating Adonis due to cauliflower ears and noses not centred. But one rugby prop who doesn’t fill these bills bolsters the front row for Ulster, that former local broth of a boy, Bronson Ross.

There’re those with perception who recall the former Irish Bar now known affectionately as Fat Sally’s. The original proprietors were Eugenia and Rob Ross. Eugenia is one of the McGeown clan headed by Anne and the late Jimmy who migrated to New Zealand from Belfast, Ireland, to settle in Oamaru where Bronson was born in 1985.

Bronson left St Kevin’s College and eventually made his way to Dunedin and played for the Dunedin Club, and aged 22 embarked on his OE to Europe. After two years with the Scottish Boroughmuir club, he represented the Spanish Guernica club, and joined the English Coventry club at the start of the 2012/13 season. Bronson’s form came to the notice of Ulster coach Mark Anscombe who attracted him to join the Irish club which included eminent players like Jared Payne, Ruan Peinaar and Franica van der Merwe in its ranks. He made his debut against the French club, Toulon, in January last year, and has currently played 26 games for them. Bronson, now 30, plays tight or loosehead, and is 1.83 metres and weighs 118 kilograms.

But Bronson’s rugby aspirations deviated slightly when online he met Belfast girl, Leanne Reilly. In March last year Bronson and Leanne, on a romantic getaway, stopped at Dundrum castle at Bronson’s insistence. At the top of the tower Bronson got down on one knee. Just tying up his shoelaces, thought Leanne! After their wedding the pair discovered an earlier family connection – their respective grandfathers, Jimmy McGeown and Bobby Reilly, both played for the local hurling club, Davitts GAA in Belfast.

Bronson relishes the opportunity to play top level rugby. “I have always wanted to play at this level and I’m delighted to be part of the best rugby operation in Europe. And my mother is from Belfast, so it’s almost like playing for my second home.

His first start for Ulster against the much vaunted French club, Toulon was significant.

They don’t come any more difficult than against Toulon. When you’re doing the hard yards in the pre-season and you are working your way up, they are the games you dream of playing in. The lads are great, there’s a good vibe, good banter, great facilities, a great place to improve my rugby . . . to earn those starts and to climb the pecking order by right rather than opportunism.

Props are often known for their longevity, uncompromising attitude to their code.

So Bronson, when Ulster has lost its attraction, there could be a place in the North Otago front row!


AS I SEE IT (8 April) 

hockey nz olympics rio
By Terry O’Neill.

Professional sport centres on money. Who gets how much. 

And this is especially so in an Olympic year.

New Zealand hockey’s generous supporter Sir Owen Glenn has come out firing about Hockey New Zealand because it asked its current Olympic players to plead/beg sponsors for funds to finance the build-up to Rio. $12,000 has been bandied about as individual obligations. There are obvious questions. “What about Sport New Zealand’s high performance system? Doesn’t it allocate funds to sports?”  It does. But what  it doesn’t indicate is that the goose which lays the golden egg is light on eggs.

Consequently Sport NZ’s budget is reduced by a $4 million dollars through the fall in returns from lottery grants.

The government has come under criticism in spite of its investment of $62 million in High Performance Sport NZ, which in turn made funding decisions based on targeted performance results.  

Women’s hockey receives $1.3 million in High Performance funding with individual players receiving between $9000 and $20,000. Men’s hockey will get $700,000 from HPSNZ , a $300,000 drop from its previous level. The fall-off in support for national lotteries, and the absence of large payouts, has dimmed lottery buyers’ spending.

Meanwhile local rugby kicked off last Saturday with no red cards issued, a few yellow cards and no blue cards.

Blue cards? These could become part of local rugby if an innovation from the Northland Rugby Union is adopted nationally.

Head knocks and concussion are increasingly before the public. Northland introduced a system whereby a player who receives a head knock is asked a few questions by a team medic/physio and, if required, the referee then gives him a blue card which means that the player is effectively out of the game for 21 days. This has real merit.

rugby blue card front

rugby bvlue card back

Blue card front and back

Rugby opening day last weekend resulted in high scoring from Old Boys and Athletic Marist and an entertaining performance between Maheno and Kurow.  It may have been due to opening day collywobbles.

No match liaison officer was publicly named at the Stadium on Saturday, so supporters were kept in the dark over team or number changes making the provided programme far from accurate. That, combined with the lack of a Public Address system, meant that point scorers faced a bit of a lottery at that venue. At the Maheno Domain there was no such problem I believe, but at Weston no programme was available for supporters.

Not a good beginning.
I’ll excuse it because it’s the start of the season. But will rugby supporters?


AS I SEE IT (1 April)

virgin cola blue can                  

By Terry O’Neill.

The new Springbok rugby coach is to be announced today.

After months of uncertainty following South Africa’s exit from the rugby World Cup last October and former coach Heyneke Meyer’s decision to stand down, Allister Coetzee apparently is the firm favourite although Rassie Erasmus or Johan Ackermann have support.

On a less serious sporting theme may we acknowledge today harks back to the Roman Hilaria, the Indian Holi Festival and the medieval Feast of Fools first recorded in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales in the 1300s. You know his story of the vain cock Chauntecleer who was subtly tricked by a wily fox, and it heralded that date for playing harmless pranks on family and friends.

The media have not been slow on that date to call on the good sport in us all. Back in the 1980s the evening newspaper The Oamaru Mail responded to a hot topic and published a photo of a substantial industrial building on Oamaru’s Cape Wansbrow connected by conveyor belt down to the wharf in the harbour to indicate the proposed cement works’ construction would enable cement to be exported. Absolute outrage gave a new meaning to indignation. 

It was the Otago Daily Times that pictured a tractor and plough rooting up Carisbrook’s hallowed turf. Phones scorched many ears in the furore that followed.           

And the Guardian newspaper introduced a “British Weather Machine”. This discovery would control weather within a 5000 kilometre radius – good news for the Brits with a guarantee of long summers with rain falling only at night.

The BBC’s 1957 “spaghetti tree hoax” was either a joke or hoax to newspaper. In 1996 Virgin Cola ran an advertisement in British newspapers suggesting that, in the interest of consumer safety, it had integrated a new technology into its cans so when the Cola passed its use-by date, it would react with the can to turn it bright blue. And Virgin Cola warned consumers to avoid purchasing all blue cans. Meanwhile opposition company Pepsi had recently unveiled its newly designed cans which were bright blue.  Sporting?

Recently a line of socks, “Fatsox”, was advertised as a weight loss product incorporating a nylon polymer, Flora Satra Tetrazine, previously used in the nutrition industry. Apparently as the wearer’s body heat rose and blood vessels dilated, the socks drew “excess lipid from the body through the sweat from the feet”.  So, after sweating off the fat, the wearer simply washes the socks, and fat, down the plughole. The franchise is available for these in North Otago.

But above all, after enjoying a tad of sporting fun and belly laughs, remember the Feast of Fools ends at noon today after which the instigator is the fool!



By Terry O’Neill.

The local rugby season kicks off on 2nd April. Leading up to it local clubs will mirror other Heartland clubs and battle to e


nsure full premier squads, an increasingly difficult assignment.

Polynesian players are an integral part of the Heartland scene. Many unions made derogatory comments about North Otago’s inclusion of Pacific Island players but North Otago was simply the forerunner of today’s necessity. A couple of seasons ago former All Black and Mid Canterbury lock  Jock Ross told me that some Mid Canterbury clubs only survived in premier ranks because of inclusion of Pacific Island players. Similar to all other Heartland unions.

The all-important necessary visas for Pacific Island players are not easily obtained and often are only for a set time. In some cases Pacific Islanders arrive on student visas to attend school, and play rugby, and others can apply for work visas under a skills’ shortage category or there is the specific purpose or event category, a rugby visa, for one year that may be renewed.

The North Otago Rugby Union does not actively recruit Tongans who generally arrive because of family or friends here. NORFU CEO Colin Jackson said the Union tended to go to Europe, USA or Canada for recruitment and over the past eight years more than 70 players have been under this scheme in North Otago.

Putting aside claims from some white rugby supremacists, without Polynesians there would be no premier rugby locally because of our small population base. Polynesians’ natural talents see many promoted to the top of the North Otago rugby tree to fill the gap created by the lack of other skilled young local players.

But it’s not one way traffic. Over the last two northern seasons local players, Jeremiah Shields, Keegan Anderson, Kayne Middleton, Thomas Shields and Jared Whitburn, all spent a rugby season overseas. It’s not only a rugby experience they benefit from, it’s a life-enhancing experience too.

In addition local rugby clubs Athletic, Kurow, Excelsior, Maheno and Valley have made direct contact with overseas rugby unions and clubs and obtained players.

It’s a conundrum how Immigration NZ treats Pacific Islanders. For instance, French, Italian or Argentinian players may live here for a year or eighteen months without any problem while most Pacific Island players work visas entitle them to be here for only six months and they’ve got to head home if they have no other suitable employment skills to offer in New  Zealand.

Clubs and minor unions don’t seem to receive much support from the New Zealand Rugby Football Union. When will NZRU boffins realise that to ignore the deterioration of New Zealand’s rugby base will not augur well for those higher up the rugby food chain? And in Tonga, Samoa and Fiji  how long will they be able to retain their World Cup status?


AS I SEE IT(22 /1)


By Terry O’Neill.

There are those who claim that to grow, one must change often.If this is true, the International Rugby Board would appear to have become almost rabid, when compared with its approach to changes in the past.Change for the sake of change has little chance of being accepted and when looking at rule changes to the game one might well ask,why?

Whether it has been the drop in temperature at the beginning of this week or whether the build up of super rugby stories has been some motivation, I feel  that the 2016 rugby season is approaching, or maybe its just a throwback to the whiff of liniment used prolifically in my time.Today liniment would have been looked upon as an performance enhancing additive, although it could have quite an impact on tender parts of the anatomy!

The 2016 rugby season will bring law changes although not necessarily across the board. Why introduce law changes at the first class level before club level is a bit of a mystery to me but rugby fans will have to get used to the fact that the beloved  “ruck” will no longer be in the rugby vocabulary, replaced by “breakdown”.Hands will not be allowed by the tackler thus negating the skills of Richie McCaw and David Pocock.Get used to the idea that there will be two referees on the paddock and that penalty tries will be worth eight points,a try worth six points and a penalty is reduced to two points.

The new “breakdown” will form as soon as just one attacking player is over the ball on the ground.The old “gate” is gone and as long as players come from their side of the ball they may enter at any angle.At the breakdown  it is proposed  that the offside line will be a metre back from the hindmost foot of the hindmost player. It is expected that  this will encourage defending teams to contest the breakdown more often instead of just creating picket fence defensive lines. It is envisaged that the “lead” referee will look after the breakdown and the second whistle blower will scrutinise the offside line.

The proposed laws have been trialled in domestic competitions in Australia, South Africa and Wales.In Australia it was noticeable that kicks at goal were reduced and there was a lot more kicking for touch but a lot more tries were scored,although on the negative side there were more yellow cards issued as the value of penalties had been reduced.

With the local club rugby set down to kick off on April 2nd, the Saturday after Easter, the North Otago Rugby Union is waiting for information from the NZRU as to which,when and if the law changes will be invoked.

It appears that the Citizens Shield and other competitions will utilise only the change in points for tries and penalties.One problem that will arise with the two referee suggestion is that with four referees,two assistant referees(line umpires) and the two on field referees, required for each game it may mean  that lower grades could suffer.

For those looking further afield the Heartland competition will start a week later on the 22nd August with the finals set down for 29th October after Labour weekend.

AS I SEE IT (18Dec)


NO rugby against AS

North Otago players celebrate as Bill Pile scores the game-winning try against Australia at the Oamaru Showgrounds in 1962. Photo from ODT files.

By Terry O’Neill.

This year’s North Otago’s sporting prowess is renowned despite the low population of this district . . .

Development of our swimming talent is the success story of 2015. Seventeen local swimmers under coach Narcis Gherca brought home a massive total of 45 medals, set 76 personal best times, and many qualified for the 2016 national age group championships. Take note of swimmers like Micah Hayes, Tandia Gooch, Jasmine Emery, Danny Gilbert, Iessha Mansfield, Tiana Mansfield and Imogen Keeling.

Oamaru rowing club administrator Peter Scott maintains the eighty active rowers on the water this season makes the club in the biggest in its 128th year and comprises School, Club, University and Masters rowers. Most satisfying for him is the great parent support and mingling of all local secondary schools.   At last weekend’s regatta Oamaru’s Mark Taylor, Charlie Wallis, Jared Brensell and James Scott were outstanding.

North Otago rugby’s consistency has been the key to significant performances over the last two decades. The playoff systems for initially divisional, and later the Heartland competitions, have been in existencefor nearly two decades.North Otago has made those playoffs on nineteen times since 1997 taking titles on four occasions. 2015 was no exception with Lemi Masoe and Ralph Darling again making the NZ Heartland XV.

The North Otago senior cricket side is currently only one match away from winning the zone four Hawke Cup challenge repeating last season’s effort. This season the team had two outright wins against  Otago Country and Southland. And there’s games coming up against South Canterbury (9/10 Jan) in Oamaru and Mid Canterbury(23/24 Jan) in Ashburton.

Winning the Ian Smith Trophy for only the fourth time was the feature of the North Otago mens hockey side this year. On an individual basis Logan Jopson and Jonty Naylor took a further step in their development being selected in the Southern under 18 side. On the club scene Waitaki Boys’ first X1 won the second division South Canterbury title beating Tainui B,3-0 in the final.

Valley Gold won the2015 premier grade netball title beating Waitaki Girls’ Wildfire in a thriller late in August. Wildfire led by four at the end of the first quarter, three at halftime, and two at three-quarter  time before Valley Gold stormed back to win 37-35. Jennifer O’Connell was impressive for the Waitaki Girls’. Her ability was further confirmed by her selection for the pathway to podium system developed by Netball New Zealand, one of three from the southern region, and she will play two games for the national development team in the Cook Islands this week.

Football Waitaki caters for over 480 children including teams from Twizel and Omarama. In competition, St Kevin’s U/18 finished second, Waitaki Boys’ U/16, second and Meadowbank U/14s finished fourth. Young players coming through the ranks and heading for senior ranks are Caleb Roberts, Riku Koyama and Tom Prestidge.

The highlight of the basketball season was the performance of the North Otago U/15 team which qualified for the nationals beating Otago in the process. Individually Harry Thorp and Tom Crutchley from Waitaki Boys’ are in Las Vegas with the Mainland Eagles Academy team while Matt Brien of St Kevin’s made the National Secondary Schools A tournament team.


AS I SEE IT wc 461


By Terry O’Neill.

A coach, whatever the sporting code, requires a robust determination and willingness to listen assertively to all critics and supporters (though that varies depending upon the success rate). Coaching has advanced far from the fifty years ago “my way or the highway” approach and now a coaches mission statement must involve “bringing out participants’ ability” and “working towards achieving their full potential”. Some coaches express that more succinctly.

A coach must be competent to evaluate performances, adapt to the needs of players, to break tasks into sequences, and ensure players are always in an appropriate health/safety situation. Generally, a coach must be a role model to gain players’ trust and respect along with the ability to work long irregular hours as most coaches in New Zealand are voluntary part-timers. A 2014 estimation claims 7849 such individuals were involved in this manner in New Zealand.

One of a coach’s real strengths is motivation but individuals can do much for themselves too by listening to those who, with hard work, integrity and ability, have risen to the top of their sporting profession.

Michael Jordan said ,”never say never because limits like fears are often just an illusion.” USA founding father Benjamin Franklin stated that things that hurt, instruct, while Napoleon Boneparte said victory belongs to the most persevering.

In the twentieth century, according to top tennis player Andre Agassi, if you don’t practice you don’t deserve to win, and Tiger Woods believes that you can always become better. John Wooden said a coach should ensure players know the coach is working with the player and not for him/her. And former coach of the UCLA basketball side said it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.

The last word on coaches is attributed to Stephen Jones , a rugby union correspondent for The Times and The Sunday Times for more than twenty years. Jones is noted for controversial and provocative articles and, in particular, for his anti-Irish and anti-New Zealand comments.

He names his best twenty rugby coaches of all time.

Ian McGeechan (Scotland and Lions) takes number one spot. McGeechan in terms of longevity, great one-off wins and test glory leads the field followed by Fred Allen (New Zealand), a dynamic coach full of rugby nous and brilliance; Sir Clive Woodward (England); Bob Dwyer (Australia); Carwyn James, coach of the 1971 Lions test winning side in New Zealand; John Hart (New Zealand); Ray Williams (Wales); Jack Rowell (England); Graham Henry (New Zealand, Wales, Lions); Nick Mallett (South Africa; Warren Gatland (Waikato, Wales); Marcello Loffreda (Argentina); DeclanKidney (Ireland; Robbie Deans (Australia); Jacques Fouroux (France); Jake White/Kitch Christie (South Africa); and Paul Turner (Bedford, London, Welsh, and others).

You disagree with Jones? He’s used to criticism.

Who’s missing?  Who would you include?

And while on the subject of rugby, It was disappointing last Saturday prior to the North Otago/Mid Canterbury Heartland game which I covered as a rugby commentator along with comments man, Paddy Ford, to be handed less than a half hour before kickoff the Mid Canterbury team which had eight changes from the side which I had been given on Friday morning. According to NZRU regulation, teams must be in the hands of the appropriate Unions 48 hours before kick-off! I’m still trying to decide whether it was through ignorance, arrogance or whether someone in the Mid Canterbury camp was playing a silly game.




By Terry O’Neill.

Gradual improvements in practice continue on concussion issues with the horizon a far distant mirage. It sounds simple: “a temporary unconsciousness or confusion caused by a blow on the head” (Concise Oxford English Dictionary), and from the Latin concutere: to dash together or shake.

The issue’s always with me. Fifteen years ago our younger daughter was squashed and bashed in a vehicle collision and the devastating effects of her serious head injury will be with her, and the family, for the rest of her life. There’s no outward sign of disability, and her good looks mask her debilitating injuries within. She married and gave birth to two sons and fatigue dictates absolute rest daily after lunch with demanding tasks sometimes rescheduled next morning, and also she has to accept outside help with children and housekeeping – for a “normal” life that will never be normal again. Nevertheless, magnificent therapies, and all that love can do, means her confidence still improves and she “has a life”.

Concussion in sport may have additional dimensions.

In an earlier “As I See It” column I quoted Ireland’s Dr Barry O’Driscoll whose strong opinions lead to his resignation as a leading IRB medical advisor because the IRB introduced the controversial brief concussion bin, and this five minutes Pitch Side Concussion Assessment (PSCA) was later extended

Rugby players’ collisions vary in impact and severity but former All Black James Broadhurst has suffered a nagging headache for six weeks, and consequently, is ruled out of the remainder of the 2015 ITM competition. Broadhurst, a one test All Black, copped a couple of head knocks against Wellington in August and played until halftime. Broadhurst’s plea to players: “Don’t try to tough it out. I took a knock and thought I’d be all right. Two minutes later I copped another one that cost me my ITM season.” Now he wonders if his rugby career is in limbo.

While research continues on concussion after effects, it’s essential to also focus on causes of head knocks. Tackling in rugby needs to be redefined. The growing number of former rugby league players employed as defence coaches introduced the chest high tackle to control or slow ball distribution. This technique increases head to head clashes. Should rugby encourage the redevelopment of “around the legs tackling” with the head safely behind the opponents knees? Should we not examine the style of rugby whereby there are too many mismatches with bigger and heavier forwards consistently used as first receivers against lighter tacklers? Should supervision be more intense at the breakdown where players individually throw themselves head first into the fray?

Tentative moves are afoot whereby rugby tackling above the shoulder can earn a penalty. But wheels of change turn too slow.

Barry O’Driscoll insists the power of television, and the huge commercial influence, highlights the glory of the club, or the team, and not player welfare. Will only a fatality accelerate those wheels of change?

Parents won’t encourage their children to participate in any sport where the well-being of each player is not the paramount concern.


AS I SEE IT (25 Sept)    


The Slippery Slope – Tongariro Alpine Crossing 15 September 2015 (C) Adrift Outdoors.

By Terry O’Neill.

The inevitability of gradualness. A significant statement used to indicate a specific slippery slope as illicit actions, apparently condoned, lead to a deteriorating moral climate.

Formal protocols are part of rugby organisation and this year North Otago introduced a NZRU one designed to assist club and representative rugby during the game. It clearly sets specific areas for players, coaches, medical staff and water boys during play, and this strategy is overseen by the match manager wearing a high visibility vest appropriately labelled.

Protocols are only as good as those appointed to enforce them. No matter how essential, they fall apart when administrators fail the challenges of their duty.

An instance smacked of this at Levin Domain last Saturday when no other than Horowhenua-Kapiti coach Jared Tanira went outside the boundaries where he was required to be during the game. Nobody indicated to him he was absolutely out of order. Would the North Otago coach be accorded the same privilege?

Who was the match manager? The logical choice was Union CEO Corey Kennett but that day he was also the Horowhenua-Kapiti manager as well as liaison manager for North Otago! My queries lead to assistant referees on the sideline, all local referees. None was inclined to tap their Tanira on the shoulder and point out the error of his ways.

If the NZRU are going to inflict such protocols on local unions, these will be toothless if not respected and applied fully and equitably by unions. People involved will ignore them if they judge them to be bureaucratic puff.

Eventually the inevitability of gradualness sinks to deterioration of what was once highly prized, integrity and honour in the sporting code or a particular aspect of our society affected. Think of other examples of retrograde steps when protocols or laws are modified or not fully addressed as required.

Similarly there are attitudinal trends locally. We’re constantly aware of people thumbing their noses at laws and bylaws because experience has taught them those laws are not followed up. The illicit seems to become acceptable.

Individuals with enough arrogance for their personal convenience may feel we owe them a right to park vehicles across footpaths, yet obstructed pedestrians have a right to walk there. Consider those who park on the street facing the wrong direction. Note cyclists not bothering to wear the required safety helmet, drivers using cell phones on busy highways and intersections, and so on. Sadly maybe NZRU’s sensible forthright directives on game protocols might go the same way, into nothingness.

One highly respected and endearing North Otago rugby character, whilst involved before today’s technology, ran on the field at breaks in play to pass on words of wisdom to players, water bottle in hand. Towards the end of the game, after another incursion onto the field, the referee called the miscreant aside, and whispered: “If you’re going to come on as a water boy put some bl…. water in the bottle.”

Once upon a time the referee was the judge of what was, and was not, acceptable.