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Peter Thomson’s Blog

Interesting to see how Folau centre experiment plays out

It’s with a nagging feeling of unease that I approach this, my first Sportsword blog in almost two years. Having failed, in that time, to deliver on a promise to resolve crossword access issues as our No 1 priority, I now fear I may be running the risk of being labelled a fair-weather blogger.

If that sounds a bit convoluted, let me explain.

It just so happens that I’m launching my blogging “comeback” at a time when, as a Super rugby tipster, I’m travelling pretty well (and if you can’t accept that at face value, I’d invite you to line my Season Update up against those of some of the other media “experts” around the country).

It also comes at a time when I’m inclined to give this trumpet of mine a short burst as the Waratahs attempt to salvage their 2016 campaign when they face the Brumbies in tomorrow night’s Allianz Stadium blockbuster.

It’s not that I’m tipping the Tahs (in fact, my hard-earned would be riding on the Brumbies). It’s just that I’m delighted to see new Waratahs head coach Daryl Gibson has finally opted to start Israel Folau in a position I suggested here, all of three years ago, that he may ultimately prove the most effective — at outside centre.

I won’t indulge in revisiting my reasons for floating that idea at the time (May 2, 2013) the multi-code-hopper was settling into rugby union at fullback. But let’s just see how things play out tomorrow night before assessing whether Wallabies coach Michael Cheika might see value in following his Tahs successor’s lead.

— Peter Thomson

Don’t hold your breath but solution to tech issues in sight

I hope I’m not jumping the gun — and please excuse the pun — but after several months of frustrating technical issues on this website, I think we’ve finally found a solution.

 OK, I wouldn’t recommend holding your breath, but might I at least suggest you watch this space.

Meanwhile, I salute yet again our irrepressible footy form expert David White.

 Having continued to hold up his end of the bargain with his weekly multi-code tips, YT’s now poised to complete an impressive double on the soccer front — with Brisbane Roar and Manchester City his pre-season title selections in the A-League and English Premier League respectively.

I suspect a few of the serious punters amongst you who follow YT have managed some tidy pick-ups at the pointy end of the season, too.

— Peter Thomson

Tipping foray may be ‘solution’ to avoid going crossword crazy

What a Super idea, I thought … if tech issues are going to continue to frustrate the hell out of me crossword-wise (more on that later), why not at least have a bit of fun on the tipping front?

OK, no big deal really. But, having watched the odd game of rugby in my time — and committed myself again to one of those online tipping comps — I figure I might just be sufficiently equipped to make a modest  contribution to YT’s weighty weekly multi-code offering.

You could call it Thommo’s Two Bob’s Worth … in fact, on reflection, I will, too.

YT allowing, you’ll find my Super rugby tips tacked on to the end of his each week.

Who knows. “Two Bob’s Worth” could prove fair value.

We’ll see …

Good luck!

For the record, my South Africa Conference-only first round tips for this weekend are: Sharks (v Bulls), Cheetahs (v Lions).

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Don’t get me started on feedback … but, hey, if there’s a tech head out there who can help resolve a Java issue with my crosswords (“Application Blocked By Security Settings” blah blah), I’d be a very happy man.

— Peter Thomson

Departing Wallaby skipper surely knew his days were numbered

It may seem a bit dramatic to suggest Europe-bound Wallaby captain Ben Mowen has jumped before being pushed. But from where I sit it looks to be a pretty smart decision he’s made.

Yes, with a World Cup campaign little more than 18 months away, you could say the timing’s not flash.

But with the likes of Scott Higginbotham, David Pocock and Wycliff Palu back in the mix after lengthy injury layoffs, nor were Mowen’s prospects of retaining his place in the Australian side – much less holding on to the captaincy.

That, I hasten to add, is in no way meant to diminish Mowen’s efforts since being thrust into the leadership role – though I must admit I was never convinced he’d shown the ability to consistently impose himself on a game at the highest level. Rather, it says more about the quality of the Wallabies’ backrow stocks once they have all hands on deck.

So who will be entrusted with leading the Wallabies through to the 2015 World Cup?

I think I’d prefer to leave that curly one for another day. But the reinvented Quade Cooper?  I seriously doubt it.

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I must confess I’m not an avid follower of American football. To say I’d prefer to watch paint dry would be a bit of a stretch, but you get the picture.

Nevertheless, I can’t ignore our tipping maestro David White’s National Football League feats, which he modestly alluded to in a recent blog.

Not only have Seattle and Denver, the two teams he tipped, pre-season, to contest the Super Bowl, emerged as the top seeds for the playoffs; he also managed to predict five of the eight conference winners.

It’s little wonder we’re starting to generate some serious website traffic out of the US.

Good stuff, YT!

— Peter Thomson

Aunty’s timely gesture helps fire enthusiasm to tackle New Year

Made any New Year’s resolutions? Can’t say I have. But, thanks in part to our favourite Aunty, I must admit I’m feeling pretty upbeat about 2014 – on several fronts.

As Sportsword.com.au regulars would be aware, 2013 marked a 30-year milestone in the life of my crossword, which, on reflection, is a fair sort of effort — even if I do say so myself.

Pleasingly, our national broadcaster seemed to share that view and, as a result, saw fit to have me as a studio guest on 612 ABC’s Weekends program just a few days out from Christmas.

More by accident than design, the timing of my few minutes of fame could not have been better. The interview went to air on Saturday, December 21, 2013 – the 100-year anniversary of the world’s first crossword, published in the New York World.

So there you go … a nice little Christmas “bonus” that, along with a couple of exciting projects I have in the pipeline, has me looking forward to 2014 being a biggie.

New Year’s resolutions or not, I trust yours will be, too.

Here’s a link to that interview: http://blogs.abc.net.au/queensland/2013/12/puzzling-out-the-crossword.html?site=brisbane&program=612_weekends_with_warren

— Peter Thomson

Mandela legend puts long road to Ashes cricket glory in perspective

It’s been impossible to avoid seeing images of Nelson Mandela these past few days. How different it was when I was living and working in Johannesburg during the apartheid era — in the early 1970s.

South African newspapers were banned from publishing photos of the charismatic freedom fighter – by then already a long-time resident at the notorious Robben Island jail, off Cape Town. To even mention Mandela’s name back then was to run the risk of facing a stint behind bars yourself.

Of all the memories that have come flooding back from my time as a sports writer on Johannesburg’s The Star newspaper, one has particular resonance as it involved an assignment in the squalid black township of Soweto.

The only white journalist covering the All Africa Games (make that All Black) at Soweto’s Orlando Stadium, I’d had to go through a few hoops to get there. Just as “non-whites” required passes to access “white” areas, the reverse applied to whites.

Somehow, given what we’ve witnessed on the cricket front — with the Aussies seemingly nearing the end of a long road back to Ashes glory — the death of South Africa’s first black president has tended to put a few things in perspective.

If you can manage a bit of reading in between Tests these holidays, I’d seriously recommend that once faceless man’s autobiography, Long Walk To Freedom.

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While I’m adopting something of a “left-field” approach to this week’s blog, permit me to put in a plug for one of the most exciting young musical acts I’ve seen in a long time.

As it happens, there is a tenuous sporting link – in that I was introduced to a dynamic all-female Bundaberg strings quartet, Quatro, at a Brisbane bowls club.

If music appeals to you more than reading, you may just like to check them out: http://quatrolive.com.au/

— Peter Thomson

League lucky in-goal farce didn’t turn into an ‘own goal’ tragedy

Rugby league’s mix-and-match World Cup certainly attracted more than its fair share of critics, but surely nothing can detract from that consummate Kangaroos performance against the Kiwis at Old Trafford.

That’s the long and the short of it.

What must be seriously questioned, though, is the wisdom of playing the code’s international showpiece at a soccer ground.

England, of course, has long had some of the shortest in-goal areas in the game. But that doesn’t make what we saw at Old Trafford, home of Manchester United, any more acceptable.

In these days of increased player safety concerns, such a skinny in-goal surely represents a disaster waiting to happen.

It’s not as if Cup officials hadn’t been forewarned, either. The Luke Lewis injury earlier in the tournament, for one, should have had the alarm bells ringing.

In the event, they must have breathed a huge sigh of relief that the injuries to Australia’s Brett Morris and New Zealand’s Manu Vatuvai  weren’t more serious.

The solution?  In the circumstances, while Cup organisers were playing so fast and loose with player eligibility laws, I wonder if they shouldn’t also have agreed to shorten the playing field length by, say, five metres to ensure (slightly) more player-friendly in-goal areas.

Controversial, maybe. But I’d suggest a lot less controversial than if the in-goal farce had turned into a tragic “own goal” for the code.

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English rugby referee Wayne Barnes may still be the Wallabies’ favourite whistle-blower after that breathtaking win against Wales in Cardiff, but how different it would have been had his late sin-binning of playmaker Quade Cooper brought Australia undone.

Barnes, who has now officiated in 10 Tests involving Australia – all of them won by the Wallabies, including five against Wales – deserves great credit for the way in which he allowed the Millennium Stadium spectacular to flow.

And a first half with not a single scrum surely has to be some sort of rugby world record.

But his questionable reaction to Cooper’s marginally early tackle on Welsh centre Scott Williams – surely worth no more than a penalty – could have had dire consequences for an Australian outfit reduced to 14 men for the final six minutes.

Had Wales somehow conjured a get-out-of-jail victory, Australian fans would have been left condemning Barnes in much the same way as those New Zealanders who have never forgiven the then rookie Test ref’s role in their disastrous World Cup quarter-final loss to France back in 2007.

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I’m not quite sure how to approach this without perhaps sounding a bit like the kid threatening to pick up his bat and ball and go home.

No, I’m not alluding to an explosive Ashes cricket series that has the potential to get downright ugly – but, rather, to sportsword.com.au’s ongoing battle to engage more strongly with you sports buffs out there.

This time last year, as I recall, I made the suggestion that you needn’t bother taking the trouble to send us a Christmas card – that we’d happily settle for a bit of feedback instead.

Then, as now, I was conscious that we might just come across as a couple of desperates looking to have our egos stroked. But, in truth, it was/is simply all about trying to ensure we deliver what you want – in the most user-friendly fashion.

And, frankly, there’d be nothing better than a bit of feedback to serve as motivation if, at times, this labour of love threatens to become a bit of a drag.

— Peter Thomson

It’s hard not to be cynical about over-the-top Wallaby sanctions

Call me a cynic – there’s probably a club out there you can join — but I must admit I’ve found myself questioning Ewen McKenzie’s integrity in the wake of his extraordinary disciplinary crackdown.

On balance, I’m prepared to accept there may have been perfectly valid reasons –  “due process” etc – for McKenzie not hitting six of his “night owls”  with those bans BEFORE the Wallabies’ critical match against Ireland in Dublin last Saturday.

But, sorry, I’d be inclined to bet my (Gilbert) balls that if the Wallabies were playing England or Wales this weekend — not relative lightweights Scotland – those over-the-top sanctions would have been watered down to a range of fines.

There’s no doubt McKenzie inherited serious team culture issues when he took over from Robbie Deans. And he’s already made some big calls – not least in sending wild child James O’Connor to Coventry (OK, to be more precise, London Irish).

But I’m by no means convinced this has been one of his smarter ones.

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Love him or hate him, you’d have to agree Kevin Pietersen’s nothing if not a straight shooter.

One of the more interesting insights to emerge during an otherwise fairly juvenile anti-Pietersen campaign conducted by a Brisbane tabloid in the run-up to the Gabba Test was provided by mild-mannered former Australian batsman Ed Cowan.

Cowan was reported to have recounted a story of Pietersen examining the lunch buffet during an England-Australian A game and exclaiming: “What the f… is this?”

The Tasmanian opener told him that, being English, he should recognise bread-and-butter pudding when he saw it.

To which England’s South African-born batting trump replied:  “I’m not f…ing English, Eddie. I just work there.”

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Sports crossword tragics will no doubt be pleased to see we’ve finally got our act together  and picked up where we left off with our weekly interactive/printable puzzles.

But do me a favour. If you have any issues (using Firefox?) — indeed, any feedback — let us know. Pronto.

— Peter Thomson

Still haven’t ticked the Cup off your bucket list? I’m a starter!

I suspect there’ll be quite a few people around the country ticking Ashes cricket off their bucket lists over the next few weeks. And good for them.

Me? I’ve been there, done that … but that’s not to say I’m struggling to get excited about what remains one of the world’s truly iconic sporting events.

It’s just that, in terms of my own bucket list, I’ve been distracted by the thought that yet another Melbourne Cup has been run and won and I still haven’t experienced Flemington on the first Tuesday in November — in the flesh.

As it happens – not least because it belongs in the romantic age before all those foreigners started squeezing Aussie and Kiwi-bred horses out of the field – one of my great regrets is that we didn’t venture to Melbourne for the Cup’s 1990 edition.

That’s when close family friends, from the backblocks of New Zealand’s North Island, brought over a gutsy galloper by the name of Mr Brooker – to clinch a Cup start by winning the Geelong Cup and then claim third place in the big one behind Kingston Rule. (From memory, one of their party also cleaned up in Fashions on the Field!)

Anyway, if I have my way in this household, come this time next year, I won’t be kicking myself any longer for not ticking off the Cup.

Keep this under your hat, but I’m looking to treat my other half – fast approaching a “milestone” year in her life – to one of those Melbourne Cup cruises.

Any starters?

— Peter Thomson

Melbourne Cup at Epsom … now there’s a long shot for you!

As former tennis firebrand John McEnroe once famously exhorted: You can’t be serious!

I may have missed something during my recent sojourn across the ditch, but that was my reaction when I read that American golf officials are considering taking the US PGA on the road, internationally  – and that Australia has put its hand up to host one of men’s golf’s four “majors” somewhere down the track.

Reading that golf yarn, as I did, on Melbourne Cup day, I couldn’t help but feel it made about as much sense as taking our great race abroad and staging it at, say, America’s famed Churchill Downs — or, perhaps more pertinent, England’s Epsom Downs.

Sadly, on further reflection – given the stark reality that the Cup’s now all but totally dominated by European raiders and imports – I came to thinking that such an outrageous proposal may actually have some currency.

For starters, consider the money it would save some of those poor battling Sheiks – not to mention Gai and co, desperate to find another ready-made Cup winner they can fly in from Europe – if we simply sold the Melbourne Cup to the Northern Hemisphere.

It’s just a little hard to imagine Australian racegoers flocking to Flemington on the first Tuesday in November for a midnight big-screen viewing.

Crazy times? You bet.

— Peter Thomson

 

New Kiwi ‘first’ as fast-food outlet scales the height of absurdity

New Zealand has produced a few significant “firsts” over the years. First country to grant women the vote; first person to split the atom (OK, to save you Googling, Ernest Rutherford); first climber to conquer Mt Everest (Edmund Hillary) …

Then there’s the world’s first pavlova – though, of course, that’s long been a claim hotly disputed by Australia.

And now … first country to come up with the culinary equivalent of a pub with no beer — a KFC with no chicken!

I kid you not.

And of all times to be greeted with a stunning “sorry, before you order, I need to tell you we don’t have any chicken” apology, it so happens it occurred after I’d just treated myself to an early-evening viewing of a film (Beyond The Edge) documenting Hillary’s remarkable 1953 feat.

The explanation? Well, I’ve got to say it wasn’t immediately forthcoming and, frankly, I was too dumbfounded to ask. But as I headed towards the door, en route to Maccas, I swear I heard the young lass offering her next unwitting customer extra fries with his fries.

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Having spent the first 21 years of my life in Wellington, I thought I’d seen it all when it comes to the bizarre impact of high winds on a game of rugby.

That’s until I watched TV coverage of New Zealand’s national second division final — between Mid-Canterbury and North Otago – played at a gale-battered Ashburton, 80-odd kilometres south of Christchurch, last weekend.

Mid-Canterbury goalkicker Murray Williams had set the tone with a massive wind-assisted penalty from 12 metres inside his own half. Then, from a halfway restart, North Otago fullback Ed Keohane could only watch in disbelief as the ball travelled no more than five metres forward before being blown straight back over his head, bouncing end over end and over the deadball line!

If you haven’t sighted it — it immediately went viral on YouTube — here’s a link: http://www.givemesport.com/395428-new-zealand-rugby-team-terrorised-by-gale-force-winds

One of my most indelible Kiwi rugby memories is of legendary All Black goalkicker Don Clarke sealing a skinny 5-3 win against France at Wellington’s Athletic Park in 1961 (three-point try days) with a freak near-touchline conversion.

With the All Blacks playing with an horrendous southerly gale at their backs, Clarke placed the ball on the then 25-yard line, aimed at the Millard Stand that ran along the western side of the field. He then used the “25” as his run-up line – and watched as the wind caught the ball and hurled it, at right angles from where he stood, through the goalposts.

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Mount Athos and/or Sea Moon. For what it’s worth — and probably not a lot unless you’re planning a major plonk — that’s about the best I can offer on the Melbourne Cup front. Good luck!

— Peter Thomson

Break from blogging’s a breeze as windy Wellington beckons

One of the beauties of having a blog like this is the fact that you can write what you like, when you like – with no-one cracking the whip.

It  means you can put it on the backburner for a couple of weeks without feeling you’re in some way letting the side down.

Which is precisely what I’m planning to do as I gear up for a bit of business and pleasure back in my old stamping ground (Wellington, NZ).

I’d like to say the “pleasure” will include slipping down to Dunedin for that Bledisloe Cup match on Saturday, but, sadly, I’ll be having to make do with the local TV coverage.

It’ll be interesting to get a Kiwi take on the SBW saga – and their rugby league World Cup hopes generally.  And, who knows, I might even come back with a hot Melbourne Cup tip.

Somehow, though, as much as they may fancy the all-conquering All Blacks’ chances of putting the rejuvenated Wallabies firmly in their place, and as much as they may see themselves as a genuine RLWC threat to Australia, I’m not sure they’ll have too much to cheer about on the first Tuesday in November.

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While I don’t expect to experience any pangs of guilt blog-wise, I must confess I feel I’ve been letting down the crossword tragics amongst you in recent times.

For what it’s worth – hopefully with a bunch of new subscribers aboard, too, thanks to some timely cross-promotion in my regular Sunday Mail spot – I plan to hit the ground running on that front on my return.

Mind you, I might just have to get out that old whip of mine.

— Peter Thomson

As ‘Two-eyed Cyclops’ sees stuff of legend, it’s very much all black

How’s your knowledge of Greek mythology? OK, not to worry. It’s just that a certain “Two-Eyed Cyclops” and I seem to see pretty much eye-to-eye on a recent sporting epic that’s been hailed as the stuff of legend.

So much so that instead of trotting out a few thoughts of my own for this blog, as planned, I’ve decided to run with those of a subscriber to a popular Australian sports opinion website, The Roar (www.theroar.com.au).

No, sadly for you rugby league fans, I’m not referring to last Sunday’s NRL title showdown in Sydney – though I heartily acknowledge it was an absolute cracker – but to that remarkable Rugby Championship decider, between the All Blacks and the Springboks, in Johannesburg.

(And no, I haven’t forgotten there was another Rugby Championship match played last weekend – yes, maybe, just maybe, the embattled Wallabies have turned the corner — but, frankly, that Rosario wooden spoon decider was rendered a mere blip on the rugby radar by the blockbuster that unfolded at Ellis Park.)

With apologies to non-rugby types – and permission from the Gold Coast-based Roarer with that fascinating pseudonym – here’s the piece (an epic in its on right), under the heading “Can anybody catch the All Blacks?”, that took my fancy.

“Another Rugby Championship done and dusted, another whitewash by the All Blacks, who went on their merry way and left everybody gasping in their wake,” he wrote.

“Every team has their moment in the sun, but has any other team dominated their sport over such a long period? To such an extent that even when they are merely good, their fans class it as a failure, and their opponents as the beginning of the ‘inevitable’ decline, that never materialises?

“What makes them consistently so good? How do they maintain their incredible standards of excellence and how do they consistently stay ahead of the opposition?

“After last weekend’s showpiece at Ellis Park, I joined the multitude of genuine fans (ignoring the jingoistic idiots and unpleasant one-eyed supporters) in lauding the All Blacks and congratulating the Springboks for “turning up” and making the game such an advertisement for our sport.

“When the emotion died out in the cold light of day, and after closely re-watching the game with good friends, the enormity of the All Blacks’ achievement really struck me.

“Every single factor in that game was stacked against them.

“Specifically:
• The long trip to Argentina and a hard and physical game against a fired-up Pumas.

• The long and arduous trip to Johannesburg to play the Springboks at altitude.

• The intimidating and incredibly hostile cauldron that is Ellis Park, where their record is not that good.

• A number of their key players missing, most notably Dan Carter and Owen Franks, with their skipper (Richie McCaw) returning from a month-long injury layoff.

• Playing the game for 20 minutes with 14 players.

• A very good, fired-up and well-coached foe, champing at the bit for redemption and looking to right the wrongs of Eden Park.

“Yet amazingly, they won at a canter.

“Make no mistake – on re-examining the game, I was left in no doubt that whether by one or by 40 points, they would have won.

“At no point, even when they were behind, did I detect a hint of panic, head dropping, or drop in performance and belief. They were in control.

“And out of the two teams, with everything mentioned above, I felt the All Blacks were racing away at the end like a true thoroughbred, not getting caught by the Springboks.

“Good as the Springboks were, they never had the All Blacks’ measure.

“The Boks surprised them initially by going wide early and scoring two quick tries, but being the smart team they are the All Blacks soon adjusted on the hoof and took control.

“They smartly neutralised what the Springboks considered their main weapons – the rolling maul, lineout and scrum. They seem to react and fix any issues during or after a game with ruthless efficiency and speed.

“I also read a lot of comments about the ‘soft’ tries the Springboks conceded and all the ifs and buts accompanying the chest beating.

“Substitute Springbok for Wallaby and the posts are identical to the first Rugby Championship match in Sydney this year. And I am sure if I could read Spanish posts there would be a few about the Ben Smith bonus point try against the Pumas recently.

“So I don’t buy the soft try theory.

“The All Blacks have the ability to create uncertainty, hesitation, a rush to the head by the most experienced of players (Jean de Villiers rushing off his line for the Barrett try), and when that happens the sublime skill to nail it. It happens too often.

“Among the countless memories I carry away from this Test, the one I will forever treasure is the sight of Beauden Barrett, with the game already won and from an impossible and hopeless starting position, hunting down Willie le Roux to miraculously save a certain try.

“That is what champions are made off, and a glance at the future.

“Now back to my question – can anybody catch them?

“Normally I would say yes, and at present some say that this Springbok side are snapping at their heels, but I don’t think they are as close as most people think.

“Let’s ignore the obvious and well-documented structures that enable the All Blacks to capture, nurture, develop and control their talent pool and effortlessly regenerate their playing stock.

“The problem is that the chasing pack never quite know what they are chasing.

“And when they eventually do catch up, the All Blacks – being the smart, trendsetting team they are – have already moved the goal posts. They are continually evolving, never standing still – sometimes obviously so, sometimes not.

“For example, until a couple of years ago the All Blacks were running the ball from everywhere to devastating effect. Broken play was their friend and their ability to provide quick ball from there to their deadly finishers was something to behold. That was also the time they perfected the ‘offload in the tackle’ technique, with a certain SBW turning it into an art form.

“At the same time, most of their opponents were derided for their ‘boring’ power/kicking game, and their inability to live with the blistering pace the All Blacks brought to their game. Trying to subdue them by kicking and muscle power was unfashionable and backward looking.

“Now let’s jump to the present. Is there a team out there that kicks more than the All Blacks?

“There might be but surely it wouldn’t be that obvious.

“Is anybody criticising them for it? Absolutely not. Why?

“As teams started catching on and reducing the instances of broken play they thrive on, the All Blacks decided to manufacture their own broken play. And what better way to do it than by putting everybody out of position by kicking behind them?

“That in itself is not sufficient or revolutionary – all the opponents would have to do is either run it or kick it back, unless touch was found. It has only become a potent weapon because they have selected and up-skilled the right personnel to such an extent that it is a surprise when they don’t regather the ball and instantly have the broken play they crave.

“Watching Savea, Ben Smith and Dagg contesting those very contestable kicks has become a thing of beauty and adds rather that detract from the spectacle. Their excellence in regathering starts, a by-product of their aerial skills, is an added bonus.

“This is a simple but valid example of their evolution – there are others, and none of this is at the expense of executing the basics to perfection. Their smartness in playing what is in front of them, their composure under pressure, their stunning defence, their lack of obvious weakness, the way their domestic, Super Rugby and international teams work in sync, the seamless way they introduce newcomers to their set-up, their outstanding fitness and athleticism, the pressure they apply to their opponents, their consistency, the way they capitalise on almost every opportunity on offer… need I go on?

“You can also forget the current popular opinion that they are an ageing team coming to the end of their reign. Firstly, they are not an ageing team, and in the positions where they are ageing, the incumbents are there because they are the best in those positions – some arguably in the world – not because they cannot replace them.

“I remember similar statements in the past about legendary players such as Michael Jones, Josh Kronfeld and Richie McCaw, Grant Fox, Andrew Mehrtens and Dan Carter, Buck Shelford and Zinzan Brooke, Joe Stanley, Frank Bunce and Conrad Smith. Somebody always steps up.

“The way to match them and beat them at their own game is to set up the proper structures. Get all levels of rugby in your organisation to buy into a style and vision across the board, develop thinking leaders on the field, employ top and proven coaches and develop a game plan that suits your psyche and your playing stock.

“Then, perfect it. Then improve it further and keep evolving. Never stand still. Be different, take them out of their comfort zone, put them under pressure and create uncertainty. Easier said than done.

“But I am sure the way to beat them is not by trying to emulate them.

“When you do, they would have moved to another level.”

— Peter Thomson

Yachties eye Cup while Wobblies battle for the wooden spoon

Interesting, isn’t it, how, all of a sudden, yachting’s America’s Cup is back on Australia’s radar.

Let’s just hope that, with Bob Oatley’s Hamilton Island Yacht Club accepted as the official “challenger of record”, we’ll see some sanity restored to the event – not least in terms of nationality regulations.

Give the Americans’ propensity for engaging foreign mercenaries, I’m not sure we should be holding our breath, but at least we can be confident of an all-Australian challenge come 2016.

In this day and age, of course, we readily accept foreign coaches across all sports – well, some times — and, for that reason, we shouldn’t have any qualms about the make-up of America’s Cup teams’ “backroom” staff.

But to ensure the event’s credibility going forward, it’s surely vital that the onboard crew truly represent the respective countries mounting challenges.

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Ewen McKenzie’s embattled Wallabies have to silence a hostile Rosario crowd if they’re any chance of silencing their critics with victory against Argentina in their clash for the Rugby Championships’ wooden spoon.

I’m just not sure that, lasers or no lasers, Australian TV viewers are going to get anything remotely like a true sense of the intensity of the occasion.

No doubt Fox Sports’ techies would have an explanation, but from recent viewing experiences it seems to me that either there’s a sorry lack of effects microphones at those Argentine stadiums or foreign broadcasters are forced to commentate from within the confines of a telephone box.

Or is it my hearing?

Good calling, Clarkie.

— Peter Thomson

No place for that dreaded “c” word in America’s Cup wash-up

Australia may not occupy too much of the high ground in international sport these days, but it certainly hasn’t prevented serial Kiwi knockers from revelling in New Zealand’s America’s Cup misery.

And fair enough, too. Had the roles been reversed, there’s no doubt many of our friends from across the ditch would have taken great delight in seeing an Australian team snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in such spectacular fashion.

Having shown my true colours in a recent blog, I have no trouble acknowledging the achievement of Team USA (albeit an Aussie-studded team of Cup mercenaries, with one solitary American on board) as one of the genuinely great sporting comebacks.

What I can’t cop, though, is the suggestion that the Kiwis produced one of sport’s great chokes – fit to rate right up there with the likes of Jana Novotna, Jean Van de Velde and, yes, Greg Norman.

Sure, losing 9-8 after at one stage enjoying a whopping 8-1 lead strongly suggests the sort of mental disintegration that characterised those horrendous collapses by Novotna (Wimbledon, 1993), Van de Velde (British Open, 1999) and Norman (US Masters, 1996).

But if you’d followed Fox Sport’s live America’s Cup action from the get-go – not, thanks to such scant Australian print media coverage, discovered the event was on only when it was virtually over — you’d appreciate that was far from being the case.

As the more serious, sober observers noted in their America’s Cup critiques, the Kiwis – twice denied by the weather gods, and once by the clock, when in a position to clinch that last, elusive victory – simply found themselves ground down by an America boat, off the pace in the early exchanges, that found a few more gears the longer the event wore on.

Jimmy Spithill and co obviously deserve every bit of praise that’s flowed their way in the America’s Cup wash-up but, by the same token, Dean Barker’s Kiwi outfit don’t deserve to be labelled a bunch of chokers.

To me, that not only demeans New Zealand’s contribution to a classic David/Goliath contest, but, just as unfairly, diminishes Team USA’s stunning achievement.

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Hawthorn’s hard-earned grand final victory has capped a memorable AFL season for our intrepid form analyst/tipster David White.

YT, who outpointed the top media “experts” in the land during the home-and-away season, had tipped the Hawks way back before a ball was kicked in anger — topping his predicted final eight which included six of the ultimate September contenders.

YT’s hot form also extended to last week’s Brownlow Medal. In doing a favour for a Melbourne mate, involved in a competition to tip the top vote earners from every club, he came up with 15 of the 18 (including, of course, now dual gong winner Gary Ablett).

— Peter Thomson

It’s time to back myself in battle of survival in new media world

For fully 15 seconds last weekend, I thought I’d settled on a solution to my dilemma as, like many colleagues in a changing media landscape, I wrestle with the prospect of having to reinvent myself.

That’s about how long – bathing in the reflected glory of Sportsword guru David White’s multi-code tipping clean sweep —  I flirted with the idea of launching into a career as a professional punter (well, hey, I haven’t done the maths, but, as an all-upper, the Rabbitohs/Cats/Swans/Sharks/All Blacks/Roosters/Wallabies/Knights would have returned a nice tidy sum to bankroll such a venture).

Then reality kicked in.

Having already dismissed medicine, law and a plumbing apprenticeship, I was back where I started the weekend – preparing to join my other half in a bold new public relations consultancy venture.

What’s that? Oh, thanks for asking. It’s Thomson Media (www.thomsonmedia.net.au … “website under construction”).

I’m wondering if it’s worth sounding out Essendon, the Sharks – perhaps James O’Connor – to see if they could use some help.

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I sincerely trust it’s now clear to sports crossword tragics why I’ve been a bit slack in that department in recent weeks.

But, rest assured, when Thomson Media’s bedded down, we’ll have a solution to that dilemma, too.

— Peter Thomson

 

Where there’s no Will there may still be a way for Wallabies

It may be unfair to call Will Genia a one-trick pony, but there’s no doubt that without his potent running game he’s a mere shadow of the player long touted as world rugby’s premier halfback.

That’s a massive call Ewen McKenzie has made, dropping Genia to the bench for the must-win Rugby Championship match against Argentina in Perth. But, in the bigger picture, it should stand the Wallabies in good stead.

It’s not only a timely – some might suggest overdue — wake-up call for Genia; it’s also a chance for Nick White to show he’s the real deal in a critical position crying out for quality back-up.

Probably the only real surprise is that, in opting for White in the run-on side, McKenzie didn’t make his baptism a little easier by slotting his Brumbies team-mate Matt Toomua back in at five-eighth and returning Quade Cooper, found seriously wanting against the Springboks, to the bench.

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It takes a lot to get me out of bed at 6 o’clock of a morning, but I must admit I’ve found Fox Sport’s live coverage of America’s Cup yachting off San Francisco compulsive viewing this past week.

Yes, I acknowledge it’s the Kiwi coming out in me – even though I’ve now lived longer in Oz than I did in my birthplace – but, hell, that’s some thumping Team New Zealand are handing out to a US team (albeit headed by a Kiwi and skippered by an Aussie – go figure!) bankrolled for squillions by multi-billionaire Oracle CEO Larry Ellison.

Who knows, if the Kiwis do prevail and deliver on their promise to cap team budgets and introduce nationality regulations for future competition, we might just see a fair-dinkum Aussie boat back in the America’s Cup mix.

— Peter Thomson

It’s official (we reckon) … our YT’s the country’s top AFL tipster

Serious day job distractions have prevented me getting my act together on the blog/crossword front this week. However, I can’t place my apologies on record without at least saluting our Sportsword tipping guru David White.

Yes, I know I acknowledged last week YT’s monumental job, tipping across ALL football codes. But it’s now official (well, as “official” as anything to do with the ubiquitous footy tipping comp can be) … he’s the premier AFL media tipster in the country!

 — Peter Thomson

As sports nuts go, our tipping guru’s in a league of his own

I’ve known a few sports nuts in my time – and for a sizeable chunk of my life I could safely number myself amongst them. But I’ve got to say that at the end of the day none of them/us could hold a candle to a certain regular contributor to this website.

I refer, of course, to our resident footy form analyst/tipster “YT” (aka David White).

You’re hardly likely to see, elsewhere, any acknowledgment of his monumental  job – tipping across ALL football codes and backing it up with forthright, in-depth analysis via his weekly blogs – so permit me to do so here.

If you’ll accept that taking a line on our major media outlets’ expert tips panels is a reasonable way to judge YT’s “form”, I’d suggest that, whatever your preferred code, he’s at least kept you competitive if you’ve used him as your go-to man.

And nowhere more so than in the AFL as it heads into its final home-and-away round.

As we’ve trumpeted on our home page, YT would have bragging rights in ALL of those AFL tipping comps. Indeed, a more forensic review would seem to reveal that, regardless of how things play out this weekend,we already have a strong case to declare him the premier AFL media tipster in the country.

Big call? Well, let’s put it this way. The best we can see amongst our major newspapers  –and they  include Melbourne’s The Age and Herald Sun, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian and Brisbane’s Courier-Mail – is the Herald Sun leader’s progressive tally of 146. And given that YT (147) and the Herald Sun panel’s pacesetter have tipped the same nine teams this weekend, our man can’t be pipped at the post.

If rugby league’s your go, it’s also worth noting that YT (121) would probably have you well in the mix with just two NRL rounds remaining.

Considering YT, now Darwin based, is a former Courier-Mail staffer, responsible for producing its Friday footy liftout, I suspect he’s particularly chuffed to see he’s streeting its top AFL tipster by 10 – and is just one off the lead in its NRL tips panel.

Good stuff, YT.

— Peter Thomson

 

Intrigue on all fronts as coaches face assortment of challenges

You might consider it’s drawing a long bow to suggest Darren Lehmann and Ewen McKenzie have had similar challenges as they attempt to make their mark in their respective positions as national team coaches. But is it?

I’m inclined to think there are some  – and that they go a bit further than both having to overhaul team culture after taking over from foreign coaches in, admittedly contrasting, controversial circumstances.

For one thing, at least, both have been wrestling with jigsaw puzzles to come up with a winning combination against teams, if not at the very height of their powers, then certainly with a more confident, settled look about them.

And this at a time when – wider problems compounded by form and/or injury issues  – Australian cricket and rugby both find themselves with a genuine talent pool of limited depth at their disposal.

Yes, it’s fair to say that events at The Oval in the last couple of days – most notably, of course, those landmark centuries by Shane Watson and Steve Smith – will have Lehmann in a better frame of mind in terms of his batting order in the context of these twin Ashes series.

But, for now, we probably need to see how this final Test of the England leg plays out before we can assess whether Boof’s outfit have truly turned the corner.

As for McKenzie, his new-look Wallabies have barely hit the road, much less turned any corner.

That was a spluttering, stuttering start against the All Blacks in Sydney last Saturday night. And unless they can fire on all cylinders in Wellington tomorrow night, a change of fortunes on the Bledisloe Cup front will remain a dauntingly distant destination.

What with the AFL and NRL heading towards their finals under drugs/sackings clouds of varying proportions, there’s certainly no shortage of intrigue this weekend, whatever your sporting preferences.

 — Peter Thomson

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