• Kick? No, Run and Pass

    Yesterday’s narrow and stuttering win against Japan highlighted an affliction that has increasingly handicapped the All Blacks in the modern era. Time and again, the keen-eyed observer will have seen that the first response of an All Black back, finding himself in possession and with space to move, was to kick the ball (or attempt to do so) – usually with no apparent motive other than to get rid of it. They seemed to have no confidence in their ability to run and pass with it.

    This was in marked contrast to the Japanese backline who made serious gains (in territory, confidence and points) by running hard and by clever support and inter-passing. “Aimless kicking” has been the hallmark of All Black rugby for some time now; it seems to be accepted, by players and coaches alike, as the way modern rugby is to be played.

    One way of looking at this development is to lament what appears to be the final triumph of the “rush defence” – the tactic developed, largely in the northern hemisphere, as the best way to negate the superior running and passing and catching skills of teams such as the All Blacks.

    New Zealand coaches have adopted what is now called “the kicking game” as the best and possibly only way of sowing doubt in the minds of rapidly advancing tacklers, and allowing incisions to be made behind them as they advance. There is, of course, some value in this tactic being used from time to time, but it has become so much the standard response that the ability to do anything different seems to have been lost.

    We have almost reached the point where possession is seen as nothing more than an embarrassment, and our players feel more secure by getting rid of the ball, rather than using it in an attempt to score. This attitude is completely at odds with the real point of rugby, which is, after all, to move the ball across the opponents’ line and score a try; possession of the ball is surely the sine qua non of that enterprise?

    The Black Ferns show how it should be done.

  • Truss and Luxon

    Students of international politics will have registered the disaster created by the new British Prime Minister, Liz Truss – a disaster which she has now had to disown and reverse.

    In what was apparently a feeble attempt to emulate “the Iron Lady”, Liz Truss proclaimed that she would cut taxes for the seriously wealthy and “kick-start” the economy as a consequence. In this, she was demonstrating her belief in what came to be called the “trickle down” theory of economic policy – that, if you increased the wealth of the already wealthy, their increased spending would “trickle down” and benefit the economy as a whole and, in due course, help those who needed it most.

    It is a theory that enjoyed a brief period of support during Ronald Reagan’s presidency but was quickly discredited when it didn’t work. Liz Truss quickly discovered that today’s money markets were not persuaded by it either, when the British economy nose-dived and the pound sterling dropped sharply in value. So severe was that adverse reaction that she abandoned the policy and dismissed the Chancellor of the Exchequer she had herself appointed only weeks earlier.

    Keen-eyed observers will have drawn the lesson that tax cuts for the wealthy, without any indication of what cuts in public services will be necessary to fund them, are a recipe for disaster. Even keener-eye observers, here in New Zealand, will have seen the obvious parallels between Liz Truss and our own National party. Christopher Luxon has at least had the benefit of a trial run of the policies which he has threatened to impose on us.

  • No Comment?

    Today’s issue of the Herald is a classic. There is, as is always to be expected, the usual swathe of anti-government commentators – in this case, John Roughan, Claire Trevett, Steven Joyce, but – surprisingly – no report or comment on the resignation from the front bench of National MP, Barbara Kuriger, on the ground of her conflict of interests. The only reference to that matter is an invitation to watch and listen to Christopher Luxon speaking on the subject. From the Herald itself, no comment. Their political commentators, so free with their opinions on other subjects, have nothing to say; the only information we are permitted is what the National leader deigns to tell us.

    This is surely carrying political bias to extreme levels. The Herald’s probity and accuracy on political matters is now so seriously undermined as to constitute a significant threat to our democracy.

  • A Guide to the General Election?

    The results of the local government elections have prompted the right-wing media (which, of course, includes the NZME-owned outlets, such as the Herald), to detect a significant pointer to the outcome of next year’s general election. But is that really the case?

    Some commentators have already been astute enough to cast doubt on that conclusion and to point out the significant differences between the two polls. The local elections were largely contested by individual candidates, whose party political leanings may or may not have been known and who certainly did not bear party labels; the elections were contests between individuals, not political parties. It is anybody’s guess as to how big a part, if any, was played by party politics – and, in any case, some left-leaning candidates, as in Wellington, did very well.

    And the topics at issue in the local elections were, on the whole, of local significance rather than bearing on matters of national consequence. Most importantly, half of the nation-wide electorate, who would normally vote in a general election, did not bother – sadly – to cast a vote in the local elections. None of us is well-informed enough about the views and intentions of this substantial part of the electorate to make any predictions as to how they might vote next year.

    What we can say with some confidence, however, is that, as was not the case in the local elections, the general election will be fought on wider issues – not least, such as who is the preferred Prime Minister, Ardern or Luxon? On that issue the polls are clear; National will have to carry the burden of a leader who has failed to command confidence and who is all too likely to make unfortunate blips and blues during the campaign.

    So, we should conclude that the verdict issued with such confidence by the Herald and others is not borne out by what we know. The problem with the local elections remains that of low turnout;
    as a guide to next year’s general election they are worth no more than whistling in the wind, even if we knew what tune they were whistling.

  • Disarmament or MAD?

    John Roughan has an extraordinary article in today’s Herald. He is normally a measured commentator on public affairs, but in this case, so anxious was he to attack the Prime Minister at any cost that he took aim at the speech she made at the UN on the subject of nuclear weapons and on the wisdom or otherwise of relying on the doctrine of mutually assured destruction (MAD) as the best way of avoiding nuclear disaster.

    In that speech, the Prime Minister pointed out that seeking protection from nuclear annihilation through mutually assured destruction left us all vulnerable to a madman like Putin who might see it as advantageous to threaten the whole globe with destruction in order to get his way. As a means of avoiding a nuclear catastrophe, therefore, mutually assured destruction, she concluded, suffered serious deficiencies; as a consequence, she thought, we would do better to seek different outcomes by facing up to what she called “the challenge” of achieving international disarmament.

    A reasonably intelligent listener to the speech would have been clear that Jacinda Ardern was not addressing the immediate battleground issue represented by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. She was looking further afield and further into the future; she was looking for an end result that did not leave all the options in the hands of a power-crazed dictator. Better to seek the elusive goal of disarmament, she thought, rather than delude ourselves that mutually assured destruction could guarantee our future safety.

    This was all a little too difficult for John Roughan. He chose to think that the Prime Minister’s talk of “disarmament” signalled her willingness to “turn the other cheek” and to accept Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Yet there is nothing in the Prime Minister’s speech to suggest that she is anything other than determined, along with other world leaders, to ensure that Putin fails in Ukraine.

    Roughan may have been surprised that a world leader like our Prime Minister would have taken the trouble to lift her gaze from the immediate battlefield and was able to take a longer-term and strategic approach to the life and death matters raised by Putin’s threats. Those who think more deeply and see a little further than Roughan does will immediately see, however, that Jacinda Ardern was correctly identifying the real choice that she says now faces us. Mutual threats of nuclear destruction? Or nuclear disarmament? I know where my vote goes.