• Hold On to the Ball!

    For supporters of New Zealand teams, the Super Rugby Pacific competition has produced some entertaining matches (entertaining in terms, at least, of the closeness of the results, rather than, so much, the skill and quality of the play). But, all too often, we have seen – even from the Crusaders, on occasion – a weakness that is increasingly apparent in New Zealand rugby – the predilection of New Zealand backs in possession to kick the ball downfield, not to create an attacking position or to gain valuable territory, but (so it seems) simply to present the opposition with the ball and challenge them to do something with it.

    It is an affliction that seems to have struck all of our teams to varying degrees – the Blues, not very often, and the Chiefs, only on occasion. But it has characterised most of the Super Rugby games involving New Zealand teams, and it would be surprising if, given how much it seems to have become part of our game, it does not rear its ugly head when it comes to the All Blacks.

    The worrying aspect of this development is not just that it is so obviously counter-productive, but what it tells us about the state of mind of some of our leading players. The willingness to give up the opportunity to use the ball and instead hand it over to the opponents suggests that our midfield backs in particular have lost faith in their ability to run the ball back when it is kicked into their territory. They seem to want easy metres and to doubt their ability to beat a man or to break a tackle; they prefer instead to hand the responsibility of making an attacking play over to their opponents – something the opponents are, all too often, only too happy to do.

    We cannot expect to win matches against top-class opponents if we are willing so often and so easily to give up possession, and to ignore the age-old adage that you cannot score tries and win matches unless you have the ball. Coaches, please do something to counter this disastrous development!

  • Media v. Government?

    Why are the New Zealand media so hostile to the government – not just this government, but any government?

    The media I have in mind are not NZME-owned outlets like the Herald or Newstalk ZB, whose bias is overtly political and directed at getting rid of the current Labour government. No, the media whose anti-government hostility is worth remarking upon are the public service broadcast media, like TVNZ and Radio New Zealand.

    Journalists and interviewers on both of these channels seem to believe that a story is only worth reporting if it can be given an anti-government twist. Individual journalists and interviewers seem to think that, if they are to make a name for themselves, the best way to do so is to “take down” a government spokesperson.

    As a consequence, their daily news programmes are almost always dominated by stories that show the government in a bad light – and if, by chance, the story could be seen as commending the government for some step it has taken, the journalists seem to feel an obligation to find critical voices so as to take the gloss off anything that could otherwise be seen as showing the government in a good light.

    So, we find that, in a report on a major news story like the Budget, where the government could be seen to have taken a number of positive and helpful steps, there is a plethora of dissenting voices, and constant complaints that the measure “is too late”, or “does not go far enough” or “is misdirected” or “has left me or some other deserving person out”. And if a government spokesperson has the temerity to be interviewed on the subject, the interviewer will find it necessary to show their mettle by behaving in the most aggressive manner possible.

    What explains this extraordinary approach to the news? It is not a party-political bias, since it is a feature of news bulletins, whatever government is in power. No, the bias is against government itself, the very concept of government, rather than a particular government.

    Its origins seem to lie in a belief that the function of the media is to act as an offsetting force, so as to use their power to restrain what they believe would otherwise be the unchallenged and unchallengeable power of elected politicians. It is this view of the media’s role that has led to some describing it as “the fifth estate”.

    But this is to misunderstand how our democracy works. The people themselves decide, at election time, who should exercise the power of government. No one, on the other hand, has elected the media. Journalists, quite rightly, see their role as to “keep tabs” on what the government does – but that does not require them to be unremittingly critical; there could well be issues or occasions on which the government has faced unavoidable problems and has made a good fist of grappling with them. Shouldn’t responsible media, in that circumstance, see it as their role to help people understand what the issues are, and why they are difficult to resolve?

    Nobody is being done any favours if people form the view, by virtue of their intake of news programmes, that, as Ronald Reagan said, “government is not there to solve the problem – government is the problem.” This kind of nihilistic sentiment can do nothing but weaken our democracy.

  • Where’s the Self-Respect?

    If we needed any confirmation, we have it in spades in today’s edition of the Herald; our supposedly leading daily newspaper is determined to do what it can to decide the outcome of the next election – to act, that is, not as a newspaper but as the mouthpiece for those seeking a National/Act government.

    The Herald will provide a platform for any story or story-teller that can be presented as reflecting badly on the government. Such partisanship constitutes a real – and unacceptable – threat to our democracy. It is astonishing that self-respecting journalists could lend themselves to such an enterprise.

  • Hosking v. Ardern

    Mike Hosking’s all-too familiar diatribe in today’s Herald is so dripping with venom and anti-Jacinda animus that one can’t help but wonder if the content matters less than the spirit and purpose in and with which it was offered.

    Hosking clearly needs help. He seems to live in a world of his own making in which a titanic struggle is being fought between him and Jacinda Ardern. It seems that he cannot bear to accept that Jacinda has won every round so far and is currently Prime Minister of New Zealand, while he remains merely a hack. Get real, Mike!

  • How to Lose

    Losses to Australian teams over the weekend by both the Crusaders and Hurricanes have been greeted with shock and surprise by New Zealand rugby fans.

    Yet, an at least partial explanation is available; the two losses were both set in motion early in each match by a play that is seen all too often in New Zealand rugby and that in both cases lead to an opening try for the Australian opposition.

    Both the Crusaders and the Hurricanes sought to move in the opening minutes on to the attack by kicking from their own half deep into their opponents’ territory. The ball – in each case – was easily fielded and when the opposition’s speedy backs, predictably enough, ran it back at them at speed, crucial tackles were missed and, in each case, a try was scored.

    It beggars belief that New Zealand coaches have not warned their teams against the kind of aimless kicking that so often produces an opposition try and that did so again in the two weekend losses.

    A kick downfield that goes too far to be challenged for when it goes to ground or that fails to find touch for a useful gain of territory is nothing more than an invitation to the opposing team to launch an attack, with the all too common outcome that an opposition try is scored or that the line has to be desperately defended.

    The only way of scoring is to have the ball. What is the point of simply kicking it away?

    Do New Zealand coaches never study recordings of the games their teams play? We see the same error and failing in New Zealand rugby over and over again.