OPINION: RWC organisers hit sour note with song choice

NOT FEELING IT: The Feelers have hit a sour note with their cover of "Right Here Right Now".

I WAS astonished when Martin Snedden unveiled a cover version of British band Jesus Jones’ song Right Here Right Now performed by the Feelers as the official unofficial anthem of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Now before I get into this I can already here some people saying “Big deal, get over it. You should be more concerned about whether Auckland will be ready in time for the event or if the All Blacks can end their 24-year drought at rugby’s showpiece event and finally lift the William Webb Ellis trophy.”

I agree. The abovementioned issues are legitimate concerns as the world cup draws increasingly closer.

However, that still doesn’t disguise the fact that event organisers have hit a sour note with many New Zealanders, who have panned the choice of song and group performing it.

No disrespect to the Feelers, but they’re hardly the greatest New Zealand band, are they?

Moreover, one of their songs was used on an advertisement for failed finance company Hanover, whose owners (Eric Watson and Mark Hotchins) have left many New Zealanders with bitter tastes in their mouths and financially up shit creek in a leaky waka without a paddle. Hardly a good look, eh?

But that is an entirely different matter altogether.

Surely a New Zealand song performed by a New Zealand band would have made sense given the event is being held in OUR OWN backyard?

Apparently not. The reason Right Here Right Now was chosen was because it tells a story of a significant moment in history (it is inspired by events that led to the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall), is catchy and well known internationally.

Be that as it may, opting for a foreign song – which isn’t even about sport – over a local one is  a slap in the face to the New Zealand music industry, which is currently thriving (see Gin Wigmore, Evermore, Dane Rumble, Lady Hawk, to name but a few) and has come along way since the days of Crowded House and OMC’s international smash hit How Bizarre in the 1990s.

The Rugby World Cup presented a grand opportunity to showcase this- as well as the other great aspects of Kiwiana that make our two little beautiful islands at the bottom of the South Pacific ‘heaven on earth’ – to a huge worldwide audience.

After all, the world cup is third biggest sporting event behind the Olympic Games and the Football World Cup, with the 2007 instalment drawing a global television audience of 4.2 billion.

It is estimated around 60,000 tourists will grace Aoetearoa for 45 days in September and October next year, meaning the rugby world’s eyes will very much be focused on us. Thirteen venues – from Whangarei in the far north to Invercargill in the deep south – will be spotlight and centre stage as 20 teams from around the globe do battle.

Using Right Here Right Now as part of an marking and advertising campaign is also questionable, as it’s implying the 2011 Rugby World Cup is going to be another huge, defining noment in world history.

While it will be a huge event for those in the rugby fraternity, it’s hardly going to carry the same weight – let alone significance – of the events depicted in the song. The world is not – I repeat, is not – going to stop spinning on its axis and come to a standstill when the All Blacks play their Pacific cousins Tonga in tournament’s opening game.

LOYAL: McCormick is plumping for Dave Dobynn's popular song to be the 2011 RWC anthem.

Entertainer and poet Gary McCormick, who has started a campaign to have the song changed, told the NZPA last week after the announcement was made that kiwis deserve to have a New Zealand tune as the unofficial anthem.

“The people of New Zealand are stumping up a couple of hundred million dollars so far and rising towards this World Cup and it’s being held in New Zealand,” he said.

“The very least we can do is have a New Zealand song for the anthem for the World Cup…”

However, I don’t agree the song should be Dave Dobbyn’s Loyal, which McCormick is plumping for.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good song – Dobbyn’s finest hour, I believe – but far too old. We’ve been there, done that and got the t-shirt and coffee mug to show for it.

Anyone remember the 2003 America’s Cup? You know, that disastrous yachting regatta in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf where Team New Zealand’s mast snapped in half en route to being totally massacred by Alinghi.

Instead I reckon the organisers should have asked a New Zealand band or solo artist to write and perform a song for the occasion. How hard would it have been to approach a Kiwi muso with a description of what they wanted the anthem to epitomise?

Better still,  they could have had a bit of fun and run a competition where young unknown New Zealand singers, bands or songwriters are asked to enter their songs, with the winners getting the right to perform and record their masterpiece.

Think of the marketing opportunities that could’ve presented, not to mention the music career it could have launched given the ad featuring the song would be played worldwide.

Nonetheless it is unlikely the status quo will change. Whether we like it or not, the unofficial anthem is here to stay.

I just hope the organisers have the decency to make all venues across country to play only Kiwi music during games. That should at least go someway to showcasing the local music scene and appeasing those who are feeling a little ripped off that a New Zealand song was overlooked as the anthem for what’s going to be the biggest sporting event to hit our shores.

FOOTNOTE: The official anthem of the Rugby World Cup is World in Union, hence the use of official unofficial Rugby World Cup anthem when referring to the Feelers’ song.

‘Battle of the Hemispheres’ back on agenda

BRAGGING RIGHTS: An annual fixture between the Super 14 and Heineken Cup winners is back on the agenda.

WHO IS the best club team in the world?

That question could soon be answered, with an annual match between the winners of the Super 14 and Heineken Cup back on the agenda.

According to website RugbyHeaven, England’s premier clubs are backing the concept of a  “battle of the hemispheres”, meaning the long-mooted game looks set to become a reality.

CLICK HERE to read more.

OPINION: NZ should add maul to attacking repertoire

ROLLING ROLLING ROLLING: The maul is fashionable again and has become a big part of the game.

THE ROLLING maul is back with a vengeance and this scribe – along with countless gnarly forwards who long for the rough and tumble of yesteryear – couldn’t be happier.

But it is the South African sides that are reaping its benefits during in this year’s instalment of the Super 14.

The Bulls have showed how effective it can be. They have bullied, smashed and out-muscled every team they’ve played this season and that’s because they’ve used this piece of old-fashioned forward play to devastating effect.

New Zealand – like we were last year under the high ball during the Tri Nations – has once again been caught short by the old foe.

Although Graham Henry tried reinstalling the maul during the early part of his All Black tenure, this pillar of New Zealand forward play in the 1960s and 70s is very much a forgotten art at the top-level these days.

In fact, when is the last time you saw a New Zealand Super 14 franchise – or NPC team, for that matter – getting their drive on and rumbling up the field in unison?

East Coast captured the nation’s admiration using this tactic. The minows from Ngati Porou rolling mauled their way to back-to-back NPC Third Division titles and a Second Division finals appearance during a fairytale run between 1999 and 2001.

But I digress.

Kiwi sides would rather play free flowing rugby. And that’s fine. After all, attacking rugby is entertaining rugby. It ensures bums on seats, so I’m told.

But this style of play requires space, which is a rare commodity at international level. How often have we seen the All Black simply shuffle the ball from one side of the field to the other in recent seasons trying to find holes in the watertight defensive screens that plague the game?

With the opposition no longer committing players to the breakdown, there are no gaps to be exploited, no acres of space for the likes of Cory Jane and Ma’a Nonu to cut some merry cappers out wide.

This is where the maul could help. If done correctly, it can aid the attempt to play open rugby, as it provides the ideal conditions to move the ball wide.

In short, mauls are designed to draw defenders in. And with the new rules outlawing the collapsing of mauls, the opposition are now forced commit players in order to stop a team gaining momentum from a lineout drive.

That opens up space, which in turn leads to opportunities and, most importantly, tries (provided you’re any team but the Hurricanes of course).

Even if defenders aren’t sucked in, they’d likely try to stop the opponent’s weigh on by pulling the maul down illegally, meaning a possible three points or chance to reset and have another crack.

So really it’s a win-win.

Defending the maul, however, has left a few players and coaches baffled this year.

Which is surprising, as it’s Rugby 101, the stuff you learn when you’re a kid running around on a cold Saturday morning.

But the Sunday Star Times ran a story two weeks ago in which Highlanders coach Glenn Moore said it was difficult to stop when a team has its platform set.

That may be true, but like former All Blacks Craig Down and Ian Jones said in the same story, it can be defused before any damage is done.

From my experience, the key is to get in early, hit it hard and make sure you have the numbers. Good body positioning is also paramount. Go too high and you’ll get smashed, as the South African teams have shown.

As well as going in hard and low, defenders must firmly place their feet by digging their sprigs into the ground. That will help set a good foundation to counter the drive. Should you lose your footing, then peel off and re-enter the back of the maul and re-establish your footing.

It’s hardly rocket science, eh?

So the maul is fashionable again. No doubt Messers Henry, Hansen and Smith would have noticed this during their eight-week diet of Super rugby.

The good thing is time is on their side. They can analyse the maul, develop methods to combat its effectiveness and look at incorporating it into the All Black’s repertoire.

Hopefully the ‘three wise men’ will heed the call.

A couple of interesting stories

I WOULD like to draw your attention to two stories I wrote for Whitireia Journalism School’s news website NewsWire.

The first is a feature profile about legendary rugby photographer Peter Bush, who has been covering rugby matches since 1949:

IT WAS the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland.

Peter Bush’s picture shows the All Blacks and Ulster walking onto the field while armed soldiers and sharpshooters surround the stadium, after a threat to kill a player from either side was made.

Nothing eventuated, but later a bomb warning went out and Bush was escorted to a nearby pub and told to wait. CLICK HERE to read more.

The second is a feature about Maori rugby and what New Zealand’s national pastime means to Maori people and what is beng done to raise the profile of their unique brand:

MORE workshops, training camps and tournaments for Maori rugby players and coaches.

These are initiatives Wellington Maori Rugby is considering to increase Maori involvement in the game, says its deputy chairperson Rick Whatarau (Ngati Kahungunu).

They are looking to work with the New Zealand Rugby Union or local iwi, but plans have not been finalised. CLICK HERE to read more.

OPINION: Hurricanes job is a two-horse race

Hurricanes coach Colin Cooper will stepdown at the end of the season

WITH long-serving coach Colin Cooper moving on after next season, the search is on to find his successor at the Hurricanes.

Whoever steps into the breach will have huge boots to fill. After all, Cooper, who is the second longest serving Super rugby coach behind former Crusaders maestro Robbie Deans, has easily been the most successful mentor the ‘Canes have had in their 15-year existence.

While he has failed to bring any silverware to the capital, Cooper has done a remarkable job of transforming an exceptionally gifted and talented – but often ill-disciplined, erratic and inconsistent – bunch of players into a consistent force that can challenge for the championship and is usually there or thereabouts come the business end of the season.

Four semi final appearances – including a final (the infamous ‘Battle of the Fog’) in 2006 – in six years speaks for itself and shows how far the team has come from the token playoff experience they had between 1996 and 2002, a time when the Hurricanes promised much, but ultimately failed to deliver despite having all the strike power in the world.

But the time has come for the 50-year-old to move aside. He has probably achieved everything he is ever going to with the team and if they are to push on and finally win the elusive trophy, some new ideas and direction are needed.

Fortunately the region is flush with quality coaches within its ranks, with three candidates – Dave Rennie, Peter Russell and Jamie Joseph – in the running to inherit the reigns at the Wellington-based franchise.

Jamie Joseph

Joseph is an up-and-coming coach with a big future. He is highly regarded in rugby circles and has shown he’s got the goods, the no-nonsense task master guiding the Wellington Lions to back-to-back Air New Zealand Cup finals and ending the city’s 26-year Ranfurly Shield drought – something this scribe will be forever grateful for, I must add! He was also assistant coach of the New Zealand Maoris in 2006.

But there is a feeling that while the former All Black flanker may have the backing of the Hurricanes board, he is too young thrown into the Super rugby caldron and would probably benefit with a few more years cutting his teeth on the provincial scene or as an assistant coach at one of New Zealand’s franchises to gain more experience.

That essentially means the road to finding Cooper’s successor is a two-horse race. In the blue corner we have Hawke’s Bay’s Russell, while fighting out of the red corner, representing Manawatu, is Rennie.

Both  have worked their way up the ranks, crafted impressive track records and have the mana to do the job justice.

Lets run the comb over the two applicants, starting with Russell.

It’s fair to say this man possess the Midas touch judging by the polished, comprehensive and strong resume he a crafted over the years, something that will work in his favour.

Peter Russell

Peter Russell

He guided Marist St Pats to four Jubilee Cup finals appearances in the Wellington club competition, winning three titles in the process, and tasted NPC third division and Meads Cup success with Wairarapa-Bush in 2005 and 06 respectively.

There are also stints with the New Zealand Divisional/Heartland XV and as Glenn Moore’s assistant at the Highlanders, a role he will resume in the ‘Edinburgh of the South’ later this year.

But it is with Hawke’s Bay where Russell has shown his wares. In fact, there is much to like about how he has gone about his work with Hawkeye guys.

After stepping into the breach in 2007, Russell used his nous over the past three seasons to work wonders with a bunch of middle of the road players.

Indeed, three semi final appearances in three years, victories over Super 14 bases Waikato (four), Otago (twice), Auckland and Wellington, a fortress at McLean Park – which have become a graveyard for opposition teams – and a whole heap of Super 14 players is a good return and a throwback to the unions glory days of the 1920s and 60s.

He has also introduced and nurtured some future stars of New Zealand rugby during his time with the Magpies, with three of them – Zac Guildford, Bryn Evans and Hika Elliot – having gone on to wear the black jersey, while at leaste two others (Israel Dagg and Karl Lowe) are likely to do so in the future.

Dave Rennie

Like his counterpart, Rennie has also played an influential role in developing and unearthing future talent or ‘cattle’, a term he uses often to describe his playing stock, courtesy of his work at Murray Mexted’s International Rugby Academy and New Zealand under-20 side (read: Aaron Cruden, Andre Taylor, Kade Poki, Sean Maitland and Robbie Robinson, to name but a few).

The former Wellington midfielder has also helped Manawatu go from backwater status to a point where it is at least competitive in the ANZC after answering an SOS in 2006 at the eleventh hour.

While the Turbos have finished no higher than eleventh on the competition ladder, victories over Otago, Canterbury and Southland, a draw against Waikato and a close losses to Auckland and Hawke’s Bay in recent seasons show the team is far cry from the one that looked like it would struggle to score in a brothel (anyone remember that embarrassing effort against the British Lions in 2005?).

His résumé may not match that of Russell’s, but Rennie does have an NPC first division crown with Wellington to his name, not to mention back-to-back world championships with the New Zealand Under 20s. There was a spell as Hurricanes assistant coach in 2002, too.

But perhaps most importantly the 46-year-old has the support of the provinces and has shown he is not afraid to work his way up from the bottom again, something he did when he returned to his coaching roots (Upper Hutt Rugby Club) to take the under 21 side when his first foray into the top level stagnated.

So there you have it – two equally good mentors vying to become just the franchise’s fourth coach.

The successful applicant has an expectation to deliver. The Hurricanes region is overflowing with talent at the moment that a Super 14 title will not only be demanded, but also expected.

But something tells me the ‘Canes should be able to produce the goods if either of these two is given the nod.

King Carlos to make Super Rugby comeback

FORMER All Black first five Carlos Spencer will play in the Super 14 this season – but not for his beloved Blues.

Website Supersport.com reports the 34-year-old (left), who played 34 tests for the men in black between 1997 and 2004, has signed with South African outfit the Lions.

He replaces former Springbok pivot Andre Pretorious, who will turnout for the Western Force this season.

Spencer represented the Blues between 1996 and 2005, playing a key role in Auckland-based franchise’s three championship victories.

He has been plying his trade with Gloucester in the Guinness Premiership after a stint with Northampton. CLICK HERE to read more.

Macqueen to coach Melbourne Rebels?

SPECULATION is mounting that former World Cup-winning Australian mentor Rod Macqueen is in line to become coach of the Melbourne Super 15 team.

Macqueen, who lifted the William Webb Ellis trophy with the Wallabies in 1999 and supported the city’s bid for inclusion in the expanded competition, is believed to be considering a position as a coaching director or head coach, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

But Melbourne Rebels franchise head Harold Mitchell is remaining tight-lipped on the subject. CLICK HERE to read more.