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Peter Thomson’s Blog

Frustrated Wallaby fans need “Link” era to have a silver lining

Given his limited lead time in the job, it’s probably asking a lot to expect Ewen McKenzie to hit the ground running when he launches his Wallaby coaching career in Sydney tonight.

But the reality is he’s unlikely to have too many better opportunities to nail the All Blacks as the post-Robbie Deans era unfolds.

He’s a smart cookie, McKenzie, and he’s already made some bold calls as he plots to ambush an All Black side that, from an underdone Richie McCaw down, could be there for the taking.

Mind you, he’s also smart enough to know that a one-off Bledisloe Cup Test victory against the Wallabies’ trans-Tasman nemesis won’t be enough to cut it with the Australian rugby public if, ultimately, he fails to kick on.

Just ask Robbie Deans.

Let’s not forget that Deans’ Wallabies claimed the All Blacks’ scalp at his first attempt, in Sydney, back in 2008 – but it was to be one of only three victories against New Zealand (from 18 attempts) during his chequered tenure.

Success tonight would certainly be something for Australian fans to savour – not least with the Wallabies coming off that sorry third Test capitulation against the British and Irish Lions.

But, win, lose or draw, there’s still the small matter of silverware.

No pressure, “Link”.

— Peter Thomson

‘Cheats’ story dismissed — but could some be that dumb?

If we didn’t suspect it from the start, cricket’s latest DRS controversy has seemingly, by now, been exposed as a total beat-up.

Otherwise, if there was a skerrick of truth in claims that some batsmen had been using silicon tape on their bats to hoodwink Hot Spot, you’d surely have to conclude that their respective IQ’s aren’t much further north than their Test batting averages.

I don’t know about you, but I certainly didn’t need Kevin Pietersen  to highlight the obvious absurdity of any such practice.

“How stupid would I be to try and  hide a nick when it could save me on an LBW appeal,” Pietersen was quoted as saying in response to the initial furore. Which, of course, it did in England’s first innings at Old Trafford.

No one would dispute the fact that cricket has a major problem with the current DRS system – and I, for one, certainly haven’t found myself sitting bolt upright in bed in the middle of the night with any sort of quick-fix solution.

But I reckon about the only good this latest nonsense achieved was to bump some of the more puerile election stories off the front page of our tabloids for a day or so.

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If ever we needed a reminder of the incredible risks jockeys face every time they saddle up, that was certainly a heart-wrenching one that came out of the Northern Territory last weekend.

As it happens, the death of premier Darwin rider Simone Montgomerie in a shocking race fall at Sunday’s Darwin Cup meeting was all the more poignant for my Sportsword colleague, David White.

Host of a regular Saturday sports show on Darwin radio, YT had interviewed the popular 26-year-old mother of two on air barely 24 hours before her fatal fall.

– Peter Thomson

Committing to rugby tipping comp not such a super idea

Anyone bold enough to back Australia to turn this Ashes campaign around at Old Trafford would probably be on reasonable terms with themselves as I write this.

On another level – as we’ve highlighted elsewhere – AFL followers who use our intrepid tipster, YT, as their go-to man would almost certainly have bragging rights in their respective tipping competitions.

So how are you travelling on the punt – or in your tipping comp?

For rugby union buffs, of course, it’s crunch time as far as the Super Rugby Championship is concerned. And I don’t mind admitting I’ll be relieved when it’s done and dusted.

It’s not, I hasten to add, that I haven’t enjoyed the 2013 edition. It’s just that I haven’t exactly covered myself in glory in the one and only tipping comp I took up an invitation to join this year.

On reflection, I should have gone with my initial gut feeling and opted out when I realised it was one of those tipping comps where you have to predict not only the winner of each match, but also the winning margin.

Now I don’t mind that 12 and under/13 plus caper, but a precise margin for all matches? Pulease!

To me, it’s a bit like selecting the winner of a two-horse race and then having to nominate the winning margin — in increments of noses! (OK, necks, heads, whatever).

Don’t get me wrong, though.  I accept that everyone in our modest little group (seven) has had to contend with the very same challenges each week and I take my hat off to the two guys tied for the lead going into the Chiefs-Brumbies title showdown.

It’s just a tad humbling when you’ve been left vying for the booby prize.

For the record, I’ve tipped the Chiefs by 8.

— Peter Thomson

Has wayward Warner really done enough to warrant Test recall?

So Australian cricket’s wild child has tamed a second-string South African attack in a nondescript match in Pretoria and all of sudden he’s a potential Ashes saviour.

Yeah, right.

Surely that says a hell of a lot more about the sheer desperation in the Australian camp than it does about David Warner’s readiness for a return to Test action at Old Trafford next week.

Yes,  of course that rousing 193, for Australia A against South Africa A, was a timely reminder of what Warner, at his  imperious best, is capable of – and God knows he needed it to restore some much-needed confidence after an appalling recent run that (IPL matches aside) read: 2, 0, 8, 0, 0, 9, 6, 11.

Yes, you could also suggest it more than justified, if belatedly, the decision to pack the controversy-dogged New South Welshman off to the republic to get his act together.

But, seriously, what has it really achieved?  How on earth do you line up that 193, in a match of that sort, in faraway Pretoria, against a quality innings by one of his top-six rivals back in England?

That’s the dilemma Darren Lehmann and tour selectors now face as a hotchpotch, Ed Cowan-led outfit attempt to revive their flagging fortunes in a three-day match against Sussex at Hove.

Cricket Australia obviously couldn’t have it both ways with Warner, but it’s just a pity he won’t be at Hove to stake a more meaningful Test claim – in English conditions and, unlike South Africa, with a Duke ball in use.

— Peter Thomson



Streaks, ‘Mickeyleaks’ revive memories of sports headline gem

Having spent much of my working life writing sports headlines, amongst other things, to keep baked beans on the table, I can’t help but admire the occasional gem these days.

What with State of Origin streaks and cricket’s “Mickeyleaks”,  headline writers all around the country have had a field day lately — which had me thinking about some of the better sports headlines I’ve seen down through the years.

Coincidentally, given that we’ve got a British Open golf championship being played out this weekend, one of the oldies but goodies featured an Aussie British Open champion – Kel Nagle (winner of the Centenary Open at St Andrews way back in 1960).

From memory, the headline in question appeared somewhere in the late Sixties when Nagle, no stranger to streaks himself, was en route to one of his record seven NZ Opens – at the Shirley Golf Club in Christchurch.

What I do remember quite clearly is that it was published in Wellington’s Evening Post – around the same time as a certain young sports nut was embarking on a career in journalism on that very same newspaper.

Bearing in mind that it was an afternoon publication, and the NZ Open’s leading players were still out on the course when the edition went to press, the headline appeared above a story restricted to a report on a Nagle birdie blitz on Shirley’s front nine.

It read …


Anyone got a sports headline favourite?

— Peter Thomson



Perfect place for kid to hit that ‘bridge too far’ notion for six

How appropriate – well, in my simple mind, anyway — that the Ashton Agar fairytale should unfold at a place called Trent Bridge.

Having had the British and Irish Lions make a nonsense of my suggestion that that Sydney Test could be a “bridge too far”, along comes this gangly kid to turn cricket’s version of Mission Impossible into one of the most improbable personal triumphs, of any sporting era.

Of course it remains to be seen how this remarkable Nottingham Ashes series opener plays out from here. And, thanks in part to a certain party pooper by the name of Halfpenny, I don’t intend throwing in my two bobs’ worth now.

But if you can come up with a sporting debut story to top the Agar spectacular, we’d love to hear it.

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So now that sanity’s prevailed and we have Robbie Deans out and Ewen McKenzie in, we can apparently expect to see Quade Cooper back in the Wallabies’ No 10 jumper.

I’m not so sure that that intriguing prospect, viewed in isolation, will have the All Blacks quaking in their lairy adidas boots.

I tend to think they’d be much more concerned if, somehow, McKenzie can find a way to allow Cooper to cut a few capers behind a pack that can compete, consistently, at scrum time.

Or is THAT a bridge too far?

— Peter Thomson

Mouth-watering Sydney decider may be a bridge too far for Brits

Who’d have thought, after the injury carnage of the first Test – not to mention the cloud that hung for so long over skipper James Horwill — it would come down to this? The Wallabies, boasting by far the more settled side, solid favourites to complete a remarkable series victory against the pride of British and Irish rugby.

That’s not to say, of course, we won’t have to suffer yet another nerve-jangling cliffhanger. But if this Sydney decider represents a bridge too far for one or other team, you’d be inclined to suggest it’s the Brits.

Not only is it a massive assignment for a group of northern hemisphere players who have been “up” for almost 12 months; you also have to wonder about a side top heavy with Welshmen carrying so many mental scars from losing battles against Australia in recent years.

For the Wallabies’ part, as much as the Melbourne Test failed to scale anything like the heights of that Brisbane epic, it was a case of mission accomplished – the series alive and with that all-important  momentum to take to Sydney.

If Robbie Deans’ calculated gambles – notably, in persisting with James O’Connor at 10 and bringing George Smith into the loose-forward mix – pay off, he may yet survive for a while longer.

Mind you, with that Brisbane backline injuries debacle still fresh in the mind, that’s assuming, too, that his decision to go for a 6/2 forwards/backs split on the bench doesn’t come back to bite him.

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Win, lose or – dare we suggest it – draw, I’d sincerely hope Wallaby supporters will be able to show their true colours when they kick on at their favourite Sydney watering holes after the match.

As odd as that might sound, I’ve been left wondering after a bizarre post-match experience in Melbourne last Saturday night.

Having arranged to hook up with a few mates at a pub in one of Melbourne’s more salubrious suburbs, we were staggered to learn, on arrival, that they’d been required to “take off your colours” (Wallaby beanies, jackets etc) before being allowed entry.

No matter that there were already dozens of red-shirted Lions supporters firmly ensconced in the bar.

Go figure.

— Peter Thomson


Lot to like about Lehmann as new man in the coaching hot seat

Top player. Top coach. Top bloke. That, I think it’s fair to say, would pretty much sum up any assessment of the man now entrusted with the daunting task of plotting Australia’s Ashes cricket campaign — Darren Lehmann.

For what it’s worth, though I’ve only met “Boof” the once, I can categorically vouch for the latter.

As some of you would be aware, I’m heavily involved in a grassroots development program known as Revolver Cricket, which last year we were keen to get under the noses of as many coaches as possible.

Being Queensland-based, who better, we thought, than the former South Australian run machine who by then was already staking his claims for higher coaching honours through his stellar deeds as coach of the Queensland Bulls and Brisbane Heat.

The challenge at the time was to nail Lehmann down at the business end of a hectic 2011-12 domestic season – and before he flew out to resume coaching duties in the Indian Premier League.

Despite an encouraging response to our initial overtures, we had all but given up hope of getting to see him as Queensland’s Sheffield Shield final showdown against Tasmania loomed. But, as it transpired, we should never have doubted his capacity to deliver.

Just three days out from the start of that Gabba final  – no doubt up to his ears in the Bulls’ preparations and due to leave for India almost immediately after the final – a colleague fielded a phone call from Lehmann, inviting us around to his Brisbane home to “tell me what this Revolver Cricket’s all about”.

However Lehmann’s career might play out from here, I suspect I’ll forever regard that gesture as a measure of the man.

See “Lehmann inspiration behind Revolver Stumps’’,

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That treacherous Suncorp Stadium surface that had both State of Origin teams concerned ahead of Game 2 was certainly a major factor in the Wallabies’ drama-charged first Test loss against the British and Irish Lions … just as I predicted.

Except, of course, I was cruel enough to suggest that the oft-maligned Wallaby pack (mighty on the night) could get creamed by the Lions at scrum time.

In the event, I doubt that anyone could have come up with a script quite like the one that unfolded.

And, given the “Kurtley Calamity” at the death, I can’t resist the urge to remind you that a few weeks ago I suggested Bad Boy Beale was on skid row.

— Peter Thomson  

Rain raises fears that Wallabies could cop Lions scrum mauling

At the risk of giving the impression I have an unhealthy fixation with scrums, I fear that’s where the Wallabies could come unstuck, big time, in Saturday night’s Test series opener against the British and Irish Lions in Brisbane.

Having hammered on recently about the amount of playing time lost through scrum resets, I now find myself joining those pondering the unnerving prospect of a “scrumathon” — on a greasy, shifting Suncorp Stadium surface.

And, most worrying of all, the knock-on effect for the team finishing second in that critical set-piece battle.

One thing’s for sure. If conditions dictate that both teams have to severely rein in their attacking ambitions, we’re in for an even more energy-sapping, error-strewn war of attrition than we might previously have anticipated.

If that’s the case, given the Wallabies’ chequered  history at scrum time – and, in stark contrast to the Lions, their disturbing lack of quality scrummaging back-up — I seriously suspect we’ll be heading to Melbourne for the second Test with the tourists up 1-zip.

Simplistic? We’ll see.

– Peter Thomson

Great to have Wallaby legend on side in scrum resets controversy

Having recently aired a pet rugby beef of mine – that fans are being seriously shortchanged because of  the amount of playing time lost during scrum resets – I’m delighted to see Andrew Slack happens to share my view.

Far be it for me, of course, to suggest the Brisbane-based former Grand Slam-winning Wallaby captain might have read my blog before tackling the issue in his latest newspaper column. But, given the mixed response I received when said blog was published on a popular online sports forum (, it was  gratifying to have one of the most respected figures in the game echo my appeal for referees to call “time off” for those incessant scrum resets.

“The reality is that too often … the fan is being ripped off by a lack of action,” Slack wrote in Queensland’s Sunday Mail. “Compare the amount of downtime in 80 minutes of rugby against that in the other codes and we win that unwanted trophy hands down.”

To illustrate the point, Slack produced some damning statistics from two recent Super 15 matches.

In a clash between the Crusaders and the Waratahs, Slack wrote, “the last pass of the match was thrown 74 minutes and seven seconds into the match. The ball did not move between one set of hands to another in the final six minutes.

“In that time, it was a series of scrum reset after scrum reset, and not once was the game clock stopped while the referee and the packs tried to get themselves in synch.”

On the same weekend, Slack wrote, “in the Reds-Rebels match, the clock in the first half read 29 minutes and 26 seconds. The most recent pass had been thrown at the 22 minutes and 32 second mark. You guessed it – a series of scrum resets.”

Like most of us, Slack is “all for ensuring safety and getting scrums right”.

“But why,” he wrote, “can’t rugby be like AFL and when the ball is not in play, stop the clock. The ball is definitely not in play while referees are debating with props whose elbow should be where and when.

“ Give the fans 80 minutes of action, not 40.”

Good stuff, Slacky.

NOTE: Having been given the heady title of “Sports Guru”, my follow-up blog (this one) has scored a spot on The Roar website today:

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My apologies to crossword buffs, who — due to a death in the Sportsword family (my long-ailing computer) — have been denied their regular “fix”.

Unable to salvage the whiz-bang program which enables me to convert my “hard-copy” compilations into an interactive form, I’m now having to chase up a replacement.

Bear with me.

— Peter Thomson   



There’s little value dwelling on ifs and buts of Origin I, but …

 I know it’s a futile exercise comparing certain laws – and their application – in the two rugby codes. There’s also little value, in the wash-up of Origin I, in dwelling for too long on the ifs and buts.

 Nevertheless, if you’re prepared to suspend reality for a moment, it’s interesting to imagine how things might have played out had there been a rugby union whistleblower in charge of proceedings in Sydney on Wednesday night.

 For a start, I’d suggest NSW skipper Paul Gallen’s night would have been over as soon as he finished doing a number on Nate Myles.

 And, secondly, Queensland captain Cameron Smith’s double-movement “no try” would have been ruled a perfectly fair one.

 Would have changed the complexion of the game just a tad, don’t you think?

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No matter where you might stand in the Robbie Deans debate, you’ve got to feel for the bloke as injuries continue to play havoc with preparations for the Wallabies’ three-Test series against the British and Irish Lions.

 Frankly, to put the loss of Scott Higginbotham into perspective, I reckon that leaves Deans just one more key injury away from disaster — before the series has even kicked off. Will Genia? James Horwill? Doesn’t really bear thinking about.

 — Peter Thomson




Q: “Do you think that, deep down, Eddie McGuire’s really a racist?”

A: “No mate. Look how quickly he stepped in to say all the right things when that girl labelled Adam Goodes ‘an ape’. And look at all the good work he’s been doing in that area over a lot of years.”

 Q: “So what the hell are we supposed to make of those ‘King Kong’ comments he made the other morning on his radio show?”

 A: “I reckon anyone working those crazy hours, on those early-morning radio shows, has to be on something to keep them ‘up’”.

 Q:  “On something? Geez, that’s a big call.”

 A: “Sorry mate … slip of the tongue.”  

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How silly of me to think commonsense might kick in to change the way referees handle rugby’s time-consuming scrum resets.

 Sadly, it seems, any attempt by whistleblowers to free up more playing time by calling “time off” while both packs re-form will be nipped in the bud.  

 That’s the only conclusion that can be drawn after South African referee Lourens van der Merwe’s apparent about-face on the issue during last weekend’s round of Super rugby action.

 Having last week welcomed van der Merwe’s decision to call “time off” on several occasions after scrum collapses in the Hurricanes-Chiefs match in Wellington on May 17, it was disappointing, and revealing, that there wasn’t a peep out of him in that department when he had charge of the Blues-Brumbies clash in Auckland last Friday night.

 Clearly, someone in authority – presumably, referees boss Lyndon Bray — had taken him to task.

 For what?

 Rugby already stands condemned in terms of ball-in-play statistics and it would be interesting to know just how much time is lost during the whole tedious scrum reset exercise.  

 Surely any attempt to prevent the clock being wound down unnecessarily should be applauded – and encouraged.  

 — Peter Thomson

Is Wallabies’ 10 really the issue – or is it who wears 1 to 5?

Quade Cooper. Robbie Deans. World Cup meltdown. Toxic environment.

 OK. Now we’ve got that out of the way, how about we do as Deans himself is so often inclined to say … play what’s in front of us.

 The Australian selectors have shown their hand – at least the “core” of it – so let’s get on with it. There’s no value in dwelling on history, and its ramifications, while time ticks away in the countdown to such a monumental Test series.

 Let’s face it, too. Do we really believe it’s who wears 10 that’s going to ultimately decide the Wallabies’ fortunes against Warren Gatland’s British and Irish Lions?

 Or, in a series that looms as a genuine battle of attrition, is it who wears 1 to 5?

 Somehow, as much as I can understand the polarisation and passion the Cooper-Deans imbroglio has generated, I think it’s that front-five confrontation – and, more specifically, the Wallabies’ ability, or otherwise, to measure up in that area – that should be the focus of speculation right now.

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 If we have to live with rugby’s tedious scrum resets, I wish more referees would take a leaf out of Lourens van der Merwe’s book — even if, strictly speaking, the South African whistleblower may be overstepping the mark.

 I’m not big on stats, but no doubt there are boffins out there with some pretty damning figures showing just how much this blight on the game can eat into its playing time.

 How interesting then to see van der Merwe, in charge of last Friday night’s Hurricanes-Chiefs match in Wellington, call “time off” after several scrum collapses — until both packs had regained their footing and were ready to re-engage.

 Fox Sports’ Kiwi commentators were quick to question whether a referee is actually entitled to stop the clock in such circumstances – and I, like them, haven’t been able to find the definitive answer. But they were just as quick to commend van der Merwe’s refreshingly commonsense approach.

 What a shame, whatever the reason, it’s not the norm.

 — Peter Thomson



Ugly sideshow highlights what a mug’s game racing really is

So what have we learnt from this grubby Gai-Singo saga? Not a lot, I would have thought – particularly if  you already subscribe to the view that, as a sport/industry, horse racing’s in terminal decline.

For me — admittedly, having pretty much tuned out from the moment I saw John Singleton jibbering away on TV – about all it’s done is underscored what an absolute mug’s game betting on four-legged conveyances really is*.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a punt – and, yes, we even encourage it on this very website. But I mean having an “educated” sports bet; not buying a ticket in some shady racetrack lottery.

(* With due respect to our fearless tipster/punter YT).

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Whether you like a flutter on the footy or prefer to restrict yourself to one of those ubiquitous tipping comps, you’d be travelling pretty well at the moment if AFL’s your go … and you’ve been religiously following YT’s tips.

 Claiming a clean sweep (9/9) last week may not have been such a big deal considering the match-ups, but our man also jagged two multi-pronged multis — with margins. And, at 45/54 for the season to date, we reckon he’d take some topping.

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You might not have agreed with my left-field suggestion that Israel Folau could be Wallaby outside centre material, but, after his consummate display against the hapless Southern Kings, you’d have to at least concede he’s looking more and more a shoo-in for a Test role somewhere against the British and Irish Lions.

Meanwhile, sadly, the enigma that’s Kurtley Beale is beginning to look more and more a shoo-in for the scrapheap.

— Peter Thomson

Could midfield role for Folau yet be the biggest call of them all?

Wallabies coach Robbie Deans has a few big calls to make ahead of what’s shaping as a monumental make-or-break campaign against the British and Irish Lions.

Five-eighth, back row, front row, midfield … at this stage, and despite the impressive Super rugby form of a host of leading candidates, there are still arguably more questions than answers.

That’s largely because Deans’s decidedly chequered track record in the selections/strategy department – think 2011 World Cup – has us all still wondering just how he intends to play it.

In a  way, of course, that may not be such a bad thing. Lions coach Warren Gatland and his tour brains trust could be left wondering precisely the same thing as they wrestle with their own, unique, selection challenges in the run-up to the first Test in Brisbane on June 22.

Which brings us back to possibly Deans’s biggest call of all.

No, I’m not talking Quade Cooper. I’m talking Israel Folau. Though, granted, the selection of Cooper in the playmaking role could well influence Deans’s thinking on where/how he might best utilise the outrageously talented multi-code hopper.

Until last weekend, I’ve got to say I’d have argued that, for all that Folau has been a revelation strutting his stuff at fullback for the Waratahs,  he’s still too raw — naive even — to consider throwing into frontline action in such a critical Test series. Until, that is, that try.

If ever Deans wanted more evidence of the X-factor Folau can bring to the table, it was surely there for all to see in that try he scored, with such contemptuous ease, against the Bulls in Pretoria last Saturday.

Wing with a roving commission? Utility weapon off the bench?

Or — think about it — outside centre?

 — Peter Thomson










Sorry about the dummy, but now that I’ve got your attention …

I may have sold a few Sportsword subscribers a dummy this week – by inadvertently including them in a group email carrying a link to my “latest blog” … when, in fact, I hadn’t written a line.

In truth, my intended targets were non-subscribers – yes, you guys on my “personal’’ mailing list who’ve found yourselves on the receiving end of regular email blog alerts, whether you’d requested them or not.

Anyway, now that I’ve, hopefully, got your attention – and, critically, on our website — here’s the deal.

From here on in, no more unsolicited Sportsword emails. Promise.

Just allow me, though, to invite those of you who’d like to continue receiving my blog (and/or other content alerts) to become a subscriber (See button top right).

Come to think of it, that also goes for all you regular visitors – thanks to Google Stats, we know you’re out there – who haven’t as yet signed up for regular updates.

If that can prompt us to get our act together, too, who knows, it might just help me overcome a disconcerting case of writer’s block.

 — Peter Thomson


Comes a time when you don’t really know who/what to believe

I don’t know if Mickey Arthur’s a Neil Young fan, but his monumental “line in the sand” stand this week somehow reminded me of one of the legendary singer-songwriter’s greatest hits … “Comes A Time”.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. I was really trying to find some way of segueing into a story about a near/possible brush with fame while on holiday these past couple of weeks.

Anything, frankly, to bump that old blog that’s been sitting here for far too long in my absence – and give me time to get my head around all the turbulent happenings on the sporting front while I’ve been swanning around Western Australia (and wending my way back on the Indian-Pacific).

OK, I’ll keep it brief …  It seems that, unbeknowns to us, while we were roughing it in “Red Class”, Young and his entourage – between gigs at Perth and Adelaide festivals – were ensconced up front in some sort of super-duper VIP set-up.

Now I can’t vouch for this. We certainly didn’t score an invitation to any jam sessions across the Nullabor; nor, obviously, did we sight the veteran Canadian tunesmith during any of our stopovers (no, you’re right, we weren’t exactly looking out for him).

But those gig dates seemed to square with the Indian-Pacific’s schedule and the line trotted out by our “insider’ – that Young likes to avoid air travel when he can – seemed to add a little credence to his after-the-event claims.

It’s just so hard to know who/what to believe these days, though, isn’t it?

 — Peter Thomson





Time to come clean on role in ‘midgets’ match-fix conspiracy

I’ve got a confession to make. Yes, I know I’ve recently related how I dined out for years on my “greatest sporting conquest” – beating an Australian Open tennis men’s singles finalist … on a golf course. But this is serious.

I’ve been a willing participant in match fixing.

Let me explain … This is going back a few years (OK, my second season of junior rugby in Lower Hutt, New Zealand – I’ll leave it to you to do the rough maths but, yes, comfortably outside the statute of limitations).

As I remember it, my best mate (a fellow member of Marist’s then “mighty midgets”) had developed quite an interest in boxing at the time and an uncle of his had promised to buy him a set of boxing gloves — if he scored the team’s first try that coming Saturday morning.

I’ll spare you the sordid details of the conspiracy that unfolded. But suffice to say, we engineered it brilliantly and my mate, and his uncle, duly delivered.

It helped, it must be said, that my mate was probably the outstanding player in the side (certainly our most prolific try scorer). But, anyway, there you have it.

Given the current sporting “climate”, I’ve got to say it’s nice to get that off my chest.

As for my mate (I don’t think his uncle ever did time for bribery), he went on to play in an All Black-studded University backline in the Wellington competition. And, as it happens, became a spectacularly ordinary golfer.

To this day, I reckon his 67 at a short, elevated par-three hole has to be some sort of record.

But, hey, that’s another story for another time.

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Now this is going to really date me … This Saturday marks the 30-year anniversary of my first Sportsword. It appeared in the Brisbane’s long-defunct Daily Sun newspaper on February 16, 1983.

If you’re interested, there’s a bit of a backgrounder on our ABOUT US page.

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Holiday update:  Yes, I reckon I’ve earned myself a bit of a break (currently enjoying WA’s south-west), but  you’ll find fresh new crosswords magically appearing on here at regular intervals during my absence. And, of course, there’s no rest for YT as all the football codes hit the ground running for 2013. Have a good one.

— Peter Thomson

Irish whiz leaves Ben, Billy, Quade and co with a hard act to follow

It may be only February, but if Irish rugby wizard Simon Zebo doesn’t feature in one of those end-of-year sports highlights packages, I reckon l might just give this caper away.

One thing is for sure. Showmen like rugby league’s Ben Barba and Billy Slater and union’s “Fighting” Quade Cooper have one hell of an act to follow.

If you haven’t already seen footage of Zebo’s outrageous backheel flick en routé to setting up one of Ireland’s three tries in their Six Nations opener against Wales, do yourself a favour and check out one of the myriad videos up on the net (try

Then try telling me it’s not one of the most audacious, freakishly executed acts you’ve seen on the international stage (bearing in mind, too, the bloke was actually making his Six Nations debut!).

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To many of us, I suspect, rugby sevens is a bit like cricket’s T20 – you either love it or hate it and there’s not a lot of middle ground.

With rugby hellbent on using sevens (now on the Olympics program) to take its game to the wider world, it could not have hoped for a better result than came out of the Wellington Sevens at the weekend.

I refer, of course, to Kenya’s (yes, for those not up with the play, Kenya’s) monumental semi-final victory against New Zealand  — before an excruciating extra-time loss to England in the decider.

Make no mistake. To those in the know, the Kenyans’ remarkable run in Wellington was no flash in the pan and only served to highlight the dramatic impact Olympic funding can have on a sport’s development.

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It’s interesting, not least in light of a fairly significant football event staged earlier this week, to revisit one of the quirkier Olympic trivia questions: Who are the reigning Olympic rugby union champions?

Answer: USA (Paris, 1924).

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I’m not sure we came up with enough quality entries to produce a Top 10 Sporting Quotes, so here’s my pick of them (courtesy of an old Kiwi schoolmate who, as it happens, has just taken over at the helm of New Zealand Golf):

The harder I practise, the luckier I get!” — Lee Trevino

— Peter Thomson












How often do A-League hopefuls really have to produce ‘A’ game?

Fair question? With three football codes cranking up for a new season, and one heading towards its finals, I’ve been reminded to revisit a Sportsword regular’s poser we’ve been remiss in not addressing.

“Wag”,  noting at the time how struggling defending champions Brisbane Roar were still a mathematical chance of making the A-League’s playoffs, wrote: “I can’t believe, that in the 10-team A-League comp, a team can qualify for the semis by coming 6th —  i.e. in the bottom half of the points table!”

“AFL and NRL are not much better,’’ “Wag” argued, “with a requirement to finish 8th in a 16-team comp.

“ Super Rugby is better —  a 5th place being required from a 15-team comp —  although it suffers from the fact that each province meets only 4 of the 5 teams in the overseas (conferences).’’

While “Wag” went on to set me some homework – “You might like to investigate the play-off requirements in sports OTHER than football” – I’m inclined to respond with a neat sidestep and throw the whole finals format debate open for discussion.

What d’ya reckon?

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 In the interests of bouncing a few other thoughts around, has anyone got any favourite sporting quotes they’d like to share?

I’ve been prompted to invite contributions after coming across one recently that took my fancy – attributed to former England and Arsenal soccer captain Tony Adams – which read: “”Play for the name on the front of the shirt and they’ll remember the name on the back.’’

And this one (though, presumably, offered more in a business context, by boorish US tycoon Donald Trump): “If winning was easy losers would do it.”

Sport’s littered with a lot of oldies but goodies in the quotes department. Maybe we can put together a top 10.

— Peter Thomson

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