• Cards Ruining the Game

    World Rugby has got itself into something of a pickle.  It is one thing for Michael Cheika to complain about referees’ rulings; but when Steve Hansen joins in with expressions of disquiet about two yellow cards issued to the All Blacks, we know that there must be something seriously wrong.

    The Rugby World Cup in Japan is in danger of being discredited as a contest and ruined as a spectacle by the number of cards – both yellow and red – being issued in one match after another. The referees will no doubt say that they are responding to instructions from World Rugby to come down harshly on dangerous play.

    Their intentions are no doubt for the best – they are quite right to have regard for player safety and to try to minimise head-high tackles. Rugby players are not usually small and can do considerable damage to fellow-players if they tackle them incorrectly.

    The concern is not that the referees are prepared to use sanctions in order to restrain such dangerous play. The problem arises because the sanctions at their disposal threaten not only the offending players, but also their teams as a whole, and ultimately, the viability and meaningfulness of the match itself.

    There is a further problem. There are circumstances, quite frequently, where the requirements of the game itself make it almost inevitable that a player will transgress. Where an opposing player is coming (and falling) forward at knee height in the attempt to score a try, the defender is necessarily in a quandary.

    If he uses his arms to halt the ball-carrier, he is almost certain to engage that player in the head or neck area. If, in recognition of the rule against head-high tackling, he desists from using his arms, he will be guilty of a “no-arms” tackle.

    In either event, he will be penalised. And this is where it gets really difficult.

    The referee will not only penalise the offender and award a penalty kick but, in order to signify the seriousness of the offence, will reach for his pocket and issue a card – a yellow one, requiring the player to leave the field for ten minutes, or a red one, that banishes the player for the rest of the match.

    The referee might compound the damage by also awarding a penalty try if he believes that a try would, but for the offence, have been scored. And, in terms of piling penalty on penalty, it does not end there; the offender will then be cited after the match and will often be suspended for a significant number of weeks or matches.

    And all of this for a player and a team who were doing no more than making a tackle to defend their line. There need have been no malice or ill-intention – the mere fact of physical contact is enough to constitute the offence; it is usually the posture of the ball-carrier that makes a breach of the rules unavoidable.

    The referees clearly believe that they are acting under instructions when they impose this range of sanctions. The fact that most games are ruined as contests once a card has been issued seems to be of no consequence.

    There is a further puzzle. It is almost as though World Rugby and the referees have come to see an ordinary penalty as ineffectual and having no teeth. But this is a mistake – the award of a penalty kick can have a great bearing on a game.

    To concede a penalty can interrupt a period of dominance and good play by the team penalised. It can offer the team awarded the penalty the chance of a kick at goal or, at the very least, of biting off a good chunk of easily won territory, perhaps opening up the possibility of a line-out throw-in and drive, five metres from the opposing line.

    We do not need, in other words, the whole superstructure of cards and penalty tries in order to enforce the rules – especially when there is no malevolent intention. The ordinary penalty is in most cases sanction enough. The deliberate or reckless causing of injury is of course a different matter.

    Bryan Gould
    7 October 2019

  • What the All Blacks Mean to Us

    The All Blacks have been, for more than a century, arguably the most successful International sports team in the world. But they are more than that; even for those Kiwis who are immune to the charms of rugby (and there are more than a few), the All Blacks are ambassadors for New Zealand and a symbol of how a small country can hold its own on the world stage.

    I have grown up, like most Kiwis of my age or younger, with an intense interest in how the All Blacks fare, especially against their main rivals. The All Blacks’ opening match against South Africa in the World Cup will take place before this article appears in print; as I write, I can only hope that they will win or at the very least acquit themselves well.

    When I was a boy, it was the Welsh who were the main challengers for the All Blacks’ crown. When the two teams met in 1953, as part of what was one of the then regular major tours of the UK by visiting teams, the Welsh enjoyed a winning record over the All Blacks, and they enhanced that record by winning again on this occasion. I had been allowed to get up in the middle of the night to listen to Winston McCarthy’s commentary on the match. I was distraught at the result.

    It was the last time Wales tasted victory over the All Blacks. Only Welsh octogenarians are old enough to have been alive at that moment and to have understood what had happened on that day. For most Welshmen, victory over the All Blacks is the stuff of fable.

    By the time a Rhodes Scholarship took me to the UK, the All Black legend had grown apace. It is my proud claim that throughout the 32 years I spent in the UK, pursuing – for most of the time – a political career, I never wavered in my support for the All Blacks. I remember being grilled by David Frost on one occasion; the famous interviewer insisted, on the eve of a rugby test between England and the All Blacks, on knowing which team I would support.

    I evaded the question for a while but was eventually compelled to admit on British national television that, having grown up in New Zealand, I had no choice but to support the All Blacks, even when they were playing the national team of the country of which I had aspirations to be Prime Minister.

    The All Blacks deserve that kind of loyalty and have done more than enough to repay it. They embody so much of what it means to be a New Zealander. They play hard and they play fair. They respect their opponents but they play with an indomitable will to win, and their levels of skill and commitment mean that they usually do.

    An All Black team is both an exemplar and a beneficiary of the bicultural and multicultural texture of our national life. It demonstrates many of the qualities that are essential to success in the wider aspects of life more generally – determination, effort, teamwork, camaraderie and courage. The All Blacks’ success has played a huge part in developing, in the early days especially, our sense of nationhood and the image we have enjoyed internationally.

    It would be easy to conclude this rehearsal of what the All Blacks have meant to so many New Zealanders without mentioning one of the most important of the gifts they have brought us. That gift is the pleasure of watching them play – and, most of the time, watching them win. It is the pleasure of seeing something inherently difficult being done very well – and of seeing, in a competitive environment, the side one supports and identifies with doing well and prevailing.

    As for the South African match, and the ones to follow, fingers crossed! My money is on the All Blacks.

    Bryan Gould
    17 September 2019






  • Sharing our Lives With Brodie

    My wife and I have had dogs for the whole of our 52 years of married life – and that has meant sharing our lives with our little furry friends. Because we usually spend a good part of our evenings watching television, it also means that our dogs have learned to become devotees of the screen as well – and our new puppy, our little West Highland White terrier, Brodie, is no exception.

    He seems to enjoy watching sport (which is fortunate for all concerned, since we watch a good deal of it), and rugby in particular, and he is a great fan of the All Blacks – he gets especially excited if his namesake scores a try!

    But what really spins his wheels is if he sees another animal, most of all another dog, on the screen. Despite the fact that we are convinced that he is unusually intelligent (what dog owners do not believe that about their pets?), he seems to think that what he has seen on the screen must be hiding behind the television set – or has somehow managed miraculously to escape on to the deck outside – and so what ensues is a good deal of barking and dashing around and jumping up on the screen in what is always a fruitless attempt to bring the interloper to account for itself.

    Brodie is very sociable and likes nothing better than to meet other dogs for real, so his reaction is not a hostile one, but rather, we think, an expression of excitement and pleasure – he is hoping to meet a playmate or to make a new acquaintance.

    His reaction is most marked when it is a dog that makes an appearance, but he reacts to any (apparently) living creature in a similar way – cats and horses are particular favourites, but even fish or insects or cartoon characters will do.

    It is only when one has spent some time watching television with someone like Brodie that one realises how often animals – and especially dogs – appear on the screen. Dramas, soaps and documentaries will often find a role for a dog. And advertisers have grasped that a dog can help to persuade viewers to engage with whatever it is they are trying to sell and it is amazing how many ads feature a dog – so even the commercial breaks can be the occasion for a Brodie explosion of excitement.

    We have got used to having our viewing (and listening) interrupted in this way and are reasonably tolerant of the fact that it is the critical moment of action or dialogue that is most often drowned out or obliterated by Brodie’s performance.

    But the whole experience leads me to reflect on the interaction we have with our pets, and on the value that it brings, especially to children, in teaching us that we share our lives with other living creatures. Small children are just like puppies – in both cases, their initial perception of the world is that they are at its centre and that it was made just for them. Whereas puppies grow up naturally to reach a different view, however, children need help to do so.

    The growing up process is essentially one in which the realisation gradually dawns on them that the world does not revolve around them, but is actually inhabited by a myriad of other people and creatures, all with similarly strong clams on its goodies. Good parents are the ones that aid this process, and having a pet in the family can help. Maturity is the state reached by those who grow up to understand the importance of the fact that we share the world with others and that our own interests do not and should not always take precedence.

    So, my wife and I accept that, in addition to all the pleasure that Brodie brings us, the love and affection, the companionship, the long walks together, he also teaches us about life – that it is worth putting up with having to clear away his mess, with having our socks and underwear chewed up, with having our television viewing disrupted. It is a price worth paying for sharing our lives with another – and delightful – little creature.

    Bryan Gould
    23 August 2019



  • The Importance of Kindness

    Television advertising has a huge impact on our lives. Even if we don’t recognise that, we know it has to be true, since otherwise why would advertisers spend so much on it?

    Its significance, however, is greater than simply the influence it has on what we purchase and consume. It also has a role in reflecting back to us the values the advertisers assume we hold and the preferences we have.

    That is why I am interested in – and encouraged by – what I detect is a recent trend in the themes emphasised by television commercials. I refer to the number of current ads that take kindness as their theme.

    My first exhibit is a delightful commercial for a well-known chocolate bar. It features a small girl shyly trying to buy a bar, using various worthless plastic trinkets as currency. She watches carefully as she offers each trinket to see whether the shopkeeper will accept them.

    The shopkeeper enters into the spirit of the transaction and eventually signals that he is satisfied with the price she offers. She gratefully takes delivery of the chocolate bar, takes it outside and gives it to her waiting Mum as a birthday present.

    Then, there is the commercial featuring another small girl who is sent on her own for the first time to collect a litre of milk from the local dairy. She is welcomed back with a big hug by her family who have been texted by the shopkeeper to tell them that she made it to the shop and is on her way back home.

    And then there is yet another small girl who is surprised and excited at being given a little puppy by her adoring father. And my final exhibit – a commercial by an insurance company which indulges in some wordplay involving the various usages and meanings of the words “kind”, “kinda”, and “kinder”, all in the attempt to persuade potential customers that they will be treated “kindly” when it comes to making a claim.

    My reason for attaching importance to this welcome trend is that it signals, I think and hope, how powerful kindness can and should be in our daily lives. At a time when religious belief is declining – and, as a result, the moral touchstones apparently vouchsafed to us by divine instruction may be losing their force – we have both an opportunity and a need to establish from within ourselves a set of moral values that will both serve us well and convince our fellow citizens to act according to them.

    The basis of my optimism on this score is not just the incidence of television commercials on the theme of kindness. We are fortunate in being offered signposts in this direction by some of our leading citizens.

    I recall the much-lamented trade union leader, Helen Kelly, whose last words – sadly – on her death bed were “I just want people to be kind to each other”. And we have a Prime Minister who has become a world figure on the strength of the compassion she showed in the aftermath of the Christchurch shootings.

    We each have it within our power to follow these examples and to adopt kindness as the fundamental moral value. That is where so many factors – our self-interest as a society, our instincts as social animals, the teachings we received at our mothers’ knees, our need to work with evolution to avoid obvious threats (like nuclear war) to the survival of the human species – would direct us.

    And from kindness will flow so many other welcome and valuable moral values. Tolerance, compassion, generosity, sharing, empathy, helpfulness, honesty, trust, and forgiveness are all forms of kindness – that propensity to think of others, to put ourselves in their shoes.

    If hard-headed business and advertising executives can grasp how powerful these ideas are, we should not be content to leave it to them alone to understand and know things about us that we do not recognise and act upon ourselves.

    We will all be better off, as individuals and as a society, if we adopt kindness as our watchword. It is the best available guarantee of a successful future for our species and our planet.

    Bryan Gould
    19 August 2019

  • Belle and the Community

    Belle is a lovely fifteen year-old border collie who belongs to our friends and neighbours at Bryan’s Beach, Michael and Judy Corboy. Belle, in her old age, can hardly see or hear, but – as a constant participant at social gatherings and as a regular presence in her daily walk on the beach – she is well-known and much loved by all of us at Bryan’s Beach.

    A few days ago, she asked, as was usual in the late afternoon, to be allowed outdoors for a spell. It was a cold, wet and windy afternoon and, worryingly, she failed to return at the expected time. Michael and Judy messaged all their local friends through the local community online network to alert them and to ask if they would check their gardens, ditches and sheds for any sign of the missing Belle.

    As the news of Belle’s possible plight spread, the local community mobilised. Darkness was falling, but parties of searchers walked the beach, checked ditches and ponds, and shone torches into dark corners while calling her name.

    But there was no sign of Belle.

    Many of us began to fear the worst. We began to picture the poor creature, disoriented and uncertain as to where she was, in the dark and unable to see or hear, and having perhaps fallen into a tight spot from which she could not free herself.

    The search went on till late at night, but to no avail. As midnight approached, the volunteers were reluctant to give up and had to be told to go home and that the search would resume in the morning.

    Messages of concern and hope continued to pour in. Even neighbours overseas on holiday sent messages to signal their distress. Michael and Judy hardly slept a wink. In the morning, with hope fading, Michael decided that he would have to retrace the searches he had already made. He found himself walking along the bottom of a deep and narrow steep-sided drain that ran alongside the road on which they lived.

    He stumbled along, through blackberry and puddles, flashing his torch ahead of him. The light suddenly picked up what he thought might be the white ruff around Belle’s neck. He bent down and discovered that it was indeed Belle. She was face down in the ditch and immobile, her black coat having made her indistinguishable from the black darkness of the night.

    Michael is 72 years old but he found the strength to lift her out and carry her home. The news that she had been found was joyfully welcomed by the Bryan’s Beach community. Belle was dried, warmed and fed, but had difficulty in moving. The cold seemed to have got into her bones.

    She was taken to the vet and was found to have lost a kilo of her normal weight and to be in need of rest, but otherwise to be on course to full recovery.

    Judy and Michael agree that there are lessons to be learnt from the experience. Judy says that Belle’s days of being allowed to go off “on frolics of her own” are over.

    Michael, who is something of a philosopher, says that “whether or not, as some people dispute, there is such a thing as society, there certainly is such a thing as community – and we saw it in action last night. Even in our despair, we were warmed by the concern and generosity of our friends.”

    We are all lucky to be living in such a community.

    Bryan Gould
    7 July 2019