The Ground that We Won

November 7, 2015 at 5:28 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I finally got to see Christopher Pryor and Miriam Smiths’ documentary film about the Reporoa Rugby Club’s mens team’s 2013 season.

The team have had a terrible 2012 season – they lost every game – and got relegated. Against a backdrop of a drought, the team sets out to: win every game and win the grade. Reporoa is dairy country, and the lack of rain hangs over the little community; the collective of relief at one of the early 2013 practice sessions is palpable.

The film is in black-and-white; early on in the film I expected the colour to slip in. But no. The black-and-white gives the film a timeless effect; but for a few details (like the quad bikes, but not the team bus) this could have been the 2003, the 1993, or even the 1963 team! The Reporoa valley on the early morning looks fabulous.

The film closely follows three members of the team: the youngest member (‘peanut’), the captain (‘Kevin’), and a member of the bench (‘Broomie’). Broomie is the oldest; possibly not by much, but he is the real find of the film. Broomie is single-handedly raising twin sons (seven years old), and running a dairy farm by himself, and finds time to go to practice, to play the odd game, and coach some of the ‘littlies’. Kevin is taking over the family farm from his parents; they are still live there, and step in when he has an injury. Peanut (if they said his real name, then I missed it) is just a young guy starting out.

We see the team at work (dairying) and at play (rugby games, rugby practice, and ‘sessions’), and some of their private lives. Peanut and Kevin are seen hooking the cows up at the herringbone shed; Broomie’s got a rotary shed. Kevin is seen helping deliver calves – he attaches a bungy cord to the exposed hoof and uses his body weight to give the calf a bit of help to come out. Broomie is often seen calling his twins on his mobile phone, while leaning on a cow, in the pre-dawn morning, checking that they are ready for school.

The film is not about rugby; it is about the role rugby plays in a small dairy community – at least for the men. It gives the lads (of all ages some structure); there is a lot of energy, and baggage of life to deal with when you are a dairy farmer – beholden to the banks, depending on fickle markets, at the mercy of the weather. Rugby provides a way for the men in the community to come together, to work off frustrations, let off steam, and pass on values. Peanuts, 17, gets a lot of stick, but it is never malicious. Honestly, some of the male bonding and coming together immediately before a game would have been recognised by the Spartans.

Peanut is learning to box, for a charity event, and like many teenagers is a bit uncoordinated, and uncontrolled. His boxing coach (also a rugby player) lays it out for him: no showing off or acting out in public; “not cool”. His coach tells him don’t get angry, don’t loose control; of course peanut does, and flays away at his coach. His coach just lets him get too extended and ‘pops’ him ; “get up … keep going”.

Broomie cuddles the twins, but certainly doesn’t molly coddle them. They have chores (make their own lunch, get dressed, tidy their room, etc) to do if they want to go to rugby practice and not sit in the car. Broomie’s lays it out: there have to be rules or its chaos. At one littlies’ practice, one of the twins, trips another player and gets sinbinned by their dad-and-coach to the car. Tears of frustration, of missing the rest of practice, and of letting dad down.

There is the bus ride to and from the game – typical of sports bus trips. The core of the team end up at the back ‘holding court’. The bus gets quite wet at times; but next morning Kevin and a helper are washing it down.

The swearing was a surprise – heaps of it in the changing room. The drink sessions after practice was not; nor were the special sessions to mark some milestone.

You don’t have to be a New Zealander, nor have played rugby to see this film. But it is a uniquely New Zealand story, that needed to be captured, before the corporatisation of farming changes the make-up of small town rural New Zealand. If you have played rugby then some of the practices and games will be a bit more interesting. [Actually, the film could not be of the 1963 team because there is lifting in the line-outs.] But the film does not try to show too much of the games – just enough to show that the players and their communities care about the result.

A great documentary film that shows a side of the New Zealand male psyche that is not seen in an increasingly urban New Zealand.

See it if you can – warning contains swearing, drinking, and carrying-on!

RWC 2011 – the Final – New Zealand vs France

October 24, 2011 at 3:27 am | Posted in Sporting Event | Leave a comment
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So I watched the final – last night. As a New Zealander, I am so glad and relieved that the All Blacks won. It was not a pretty victory, nor a big victory, but a deserved victory – 8-7 !

Once again, defence won the game. The All Blacks, did not deliver the kind of performance that they did against Australia (semi-final) and Argentina (quarter-final), but they tackled their hearts out and the forwards worked the hard tough metres.

It was a close game and the result was never assured. Both teams had a bad night with their kicking; both kicked 1 out of 4 attempts, and thankfully for New Zealand, our kick was worth one more point!

I think that the All Blacks without Dan Carter was weakened. But it speaks volumes for New Zealand’s depth in players that Stephen Donald became an unexpected hero – he kicked what turned out to be the winning penalty. Such has been the bad run of injuries to the first five-eights, that Donald who was not in the original team was called up – while whitebait fishing, so the story goes – within days of the final to provide cover for Aaron Cruden (who was also called in, from his skateboard, so the story goes) when Dan Carter was injured in training.

The pressure on the kickers must have been immense. Piri Weepu had a bad night with the boot, but made up for it in his tackling and marshaling the team – and saving a certain French try. the French kicking was equally ‘off’: only managing the conversion from close in.

Given the work done by both sets of forwards, it seems fitting that both trys were scored by forwards: Tony Woodcock and Thierry Dusautoir. The later, the French captain, was also made man-of-the-match. This was fitting in some ways, as the All Black team work, on defence, won them the game.

France were a little more inventive with their attacks; but the All Black defence was up to it. France won better line-out ball and their scrum was more than competitive; but the All Blacks tackled and tackled and tackled. In the end it was not anything fancy: just tackling hard, and sprinting back to your place in the defensive pattern, and doing it again.

Only with three minutes to go did the All Blacks snuff out French hopes: by retaining possession in the forwards, through a series of slow pick-and-goes that wound the clock down.

The win puts the demons of 1991 and 2007 to rest, and sets them up for the next decade or so. It sets the example and the bar for future All Black teams.

Finally, I think it is fitting that France, who out tackled a spirited 14-man Wales to an 9-8 win, to get to the final, were, in turn, out tackled to a 7-8 loss, in the final.

RWC 2011: Australia vs Wales

October 21, 2011 at 8:20 pm | Posted in Sporting Event | Leave a comment
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I found myself in front of a TV at the right time and watched a disappointing game that pretty much summed up Rugby-World-Cup style rugby: tense, defence oriented, play to the referee, and not quite delivering on the promise.

Both teams are capable of playing entertaining rugby, but stick a label – World Championship 3rd place – on the game, and suddenly everyone is tense and focuses on defence. If you stop the other guy from scoring, you can’t loose – so you will probably win.

Poor old Wayne Barnes missed another forward pass – in much the same circumstances that he missed the ‘other one’. Only this time it did not affect the outcome of the match. I also felt that he let the Wallabies get a way with a bit too much at the breakdown. And what about that charge down early in the game on Shane Williams – the second Aussie guy to arrive made no attempt to play the ball and seemed to have no regard for player safety – neither Williams, nor his own guy.

Australia deserved the win: they defended very well and kicked all of their kicks. And their scrum looked good.

Wales will rue the fact that they lost three crucial games – South Africa, France, and Australia – because they could not kick the points when they were on offer. Still Warren Gatland done a very good job getting his side very close to the final.

Still four tries were scored – two a piece.

RWC 2011: New Zealand vs Australia

October 16, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Posted in Sporting Event | 1 Comment
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I watched the other semi-final of the the 2011 Rugby World Cup last night and the difference between it and the Wales-France semi-final was amazing. Last night both teams came to play attacking rugby; and it was fast, and exciting.

The Dagg-Nonu try will go down as one of the amazing trys of all time. Dagg beats the last man in the Australia defence, but is unbalanced and falls – towards the touch line – but is able to deliver a pass inside to Nonu who is following up, and goes over for the try. All of this happens awhile running a a pace that any 100 metre runner would be proud of!

The All Blacks dominated much of the game: Australia were starved of possession. And a good thing too, when Australia had the ball they looked dangerous. Australia was forced to kick all too often – and for some reason they kept kicking to Cory Jane. Who was never flinched and gathered up everyone.

The All Blacks have finally added the drop kick to their arsenal. Aaron Cruden’s drop kick, in the 23rd minute, means that the AB’s are not some one dimensional. Dan Carter’s drop kick against Australia – in the Tri-Nations clearly signaled their intent.

World Cup Rugby is about taking points when you can – kick them, dot them down, drive up the middle, or run them in. It doesn’t matter; what matters is the points.

The role of the AB’s forwards and scrum was huge. They dominated much of the set pieces, though the line out lost some of its clinical execution towards the end of the first half. They even won a tight head in scrum late in the second half!

The amount of physical conditioning work (and the mental commitment) that the AB’s must have put in shows – how do you play 80 minutes of rugby at this pace and impact otherwise?

The only blemish was the goal kicking: The AB’s missed close to half of their attempts at goal. But in the end it didn’t matter.

Final word for the Wallabies – great sporting gesture at the end guys.

RWC 2011 : Wales vs France

October 15, 2011 at 8:39 pm | Posted in Sporting Event | 1 Comment
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I found myself in front of a TV last night and watched this intriguing semi-final.

Despite being one player down for three quarters of the game Wales stayed in the hunt, playing positive attacking rugby whenever they had the ball. France played a game that was an exemplar of safe rugby: keep it in the forwards and kick for field position. France did just enough to stay ahead of Wales – the final score 9 – 8 to France a reasonable reflection of the game. France are into the final for the third time.

Defense wins games, and it certainly did that for France. Who were content to use their one player advantage to defend stoutly and kick penalties when the Welsh were forced into conceding them.

In a high risk strategy France opted to defend a 6-point lead. In effect, Wales were in with a change right up to the end. France made no real attempt to put the game beyond reach. It was almost as it some marketing genius on the French side decide to even out the game; to keep the game as a spectacle alive!

So it was fitting that Wales scored the only try. Thus bring them within one point. The conversion appear to hit the lefthand upright, and France breathed a sigh of relief.

A very disciplined French side meant that most of Wales penalty kicks at goal were from way-way out. Leigh Halfpenny’s attempt at a 48m penalty dropped just under the cross bar late in the second half typified it all.

The game did come down to the last play: Wales had the ball and were camped in the French half, but solid disciplined defense saw France sneak home. Why Wales did not go for the drop kick – they got to the 22-metre line – or put the big up-and-under into the far corner we will never know.

it is tempting to dismiss this French effort as a bit one dimensional and not very adventurous; with no chance against either New Zealand or Australia. But they won. And they did it by soaking up a spirited Welsh attack for three quarters of the game. The last 10 minutes was reminiscent of the 2007 quarter final between France and the All Blacks – France defending their line while the All Black’s tried to punch through with their forwards.

Much will be written about the refereeing decision to send off the Welsh captain and #7 – Sam Warburton – for a dangerous tackle. But there is no denying that it was dangerous, and such dangerous play has no place in the game. Especially, if the International Rugby Union wants to make rugby a globally acceptable game and therefore watched by billions and thereby generating billions in sponsorship and advertising. But something else that has no place in a ‘game’ is a one sided contest.

What really hamstrung Wales was that they were not able to put another loose forward on. They were forced to pack down one of their backs on the side of the scrum. The scrum ceased to be a contest and became a very dangerous encounter every time one was called. The Welsh to their credit did not flinch from the fray and eventually the French marketing genius told the French pack to cease screwing the scrum and just to shunt the Welsh pack backwards; at the end France just held the Welsh up, so as not allow the scrum to collapse and thereby force the referee toss the die to see who to penalise.

!EnglishRugbyTeam.wins(worldcupFinal, 2007)

October 21, 2007 at 8:00 am | Posted in Sporting Event | Leave a comment
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I got up at 8:00am to watch the live telecast of the England vs South Africa Rugby World Cup Final – The game I watched pretty much met my expectations.

Oct 21, 2007 by Show_Hanger

England 6 – South Africa 15

It was a typical game of finals rugby – everything to play for and everything to loose. So, it was not surprising to see a 10-man game. The game was a demonstration of defence and forward-play. There was very little running of the ball out wide. This was a kind of rugby that you seldom see – 80 minutes of controlled forward aggression – combined with the tactical and strategic thinking you normally associate with chess.

Most rugby games at this level is founded on achieving forward dominance – this leads to pocession of the ball and quality ball for backline options. Neither the English, nor the South African forwards truly gained dominance; so the whole game was spent trying to do so. To do anything else invited disaster; and both sides were playing percentage rugby – it was the world cup final.

The South African forwards matched the English forwards in the scrums, ‘rucks’ and mauls. They dominated the line-outs, and I think this explains why South Africa won. Both sides played great defence and so there were few line breaks. But the line-out dominace probably gave South Africa slightly more pocession at key times and more time-and-control to force errors from the English. These errors translated into penalties – yes, another tryless final.

So hats off to both the South African and English forwards. The purests in the northern hemisphere got the kind of final they have alwats wanted. Us southern hemisphere types got to see a tight final.

South Africa always looked slightly more in control – they led for the whole game. England were forced to play a waiting game – stay in touch and create something at the end. It was almost like watching a basketball match where the winning team is able to use up time and manage pocsssion so as to be in a position to score the last points, and gift the ball back to the opposition who have no time to score (or if they score, still be behind).

Both teams played for field postion and then contrive a situation where the referee will see some infingement and award them a penalty. South Africa did this better and won; their lineout dominace gave them slightly better pocession and so were able to put England under more pressure.

It was a game where the referee – unconciously – decided who won. I say this not in a negative sense. Rugby is such a complicated game with regard to obstruction and ‘contact’ that you can give away a penalty just standing still – this is exactly what happen late in the second half. Cueto ran into a South Africa loose forward on a kick-and-chase. So the team that wrong foots the opposition, or rushes them, can get a penalty. From the point of view of the players – good on them, they had more control of the ball and so were rewarded.

South Africa are worthy winners: they showed that they can play the expansive game; make few errors; able to fice and captialise on the opposition’s erros, have a good forward unit; have a great line out; and held their compose in some tight games.

England should not feel too bad. They made it to the finals, when on form they should not have – they have a 54% loss rate since 2003! They made it to the finals and 18 other teams did not.

0.3

So one way or another, the officials decided the winner. Stu Dickinson’s decision to disallow the try was hugely influential, and has draw some negative reaction from the English fans. Even in slow motion it was not a clear decision. Why it was required a video decision is also unclear; the linesman was right there, why didn’t he make an instant ruling ? It is a game played, watched and afficiated by humans.

If you can’t rely on the linesman standing at the corner looking down the line, why not have a video official rule on the run of play that led up to every try – then the French would not have been awarded a try from a forward pass!

I have to say something about the modern ‘ruck’. Boy these are silly. Even though you cannot use your hands in the ruck – everyone does. How many times did the halfback reach in to the ruck and pull the ball out ? How many times did a mysterious hand pass him the ball from inside the pile-up ? If the last man in the ruck unbinds and picks up the ball, why are not all the players on the ground infront of him allowed to obstruct ? How come the side with the ball is allowed to stand players alongside the ruck in positions such that it would be a forward pass if the half back were to pass them the ball ? Bring back the boot I say !

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