Hard News by Russell Brown

Blowing up

What's it like to be so powerful that you're a threat to your own structural integrity? You could ask Rupeni Caucaunibuca. The Blues' Fijian winger has had mutually exclusive problems in the past: if he trained, he got injured; if he didn't train, he got fat.

Like that other legendary ball of fast-twitch muscle, Christian Cullen, Caucau beats tacklers at what seems like a glide (actually, I think Caucau has an extra gear that no one else has). Like Cullen, he's only half a player if injury or unfitness breaks that serene, scorching stride: then, he's just running, and maybe not even that fast. (The big Waikato NPC lock Dave Duley will be able to tell his children that in 2003 he chased down the fastest man to ever play international rugby.)

It seemed that Caucau was too prone to simply blowing himself to bits. The solution this year has apparently been to avoid having him run unless it's absolutely necessary - he spends most Blues training sessions on an exercise cycle - and it appears to be working. He scored three tries in a wild-assed replay of last year's Super 12 final on Friday night. No one could touch him.

But boy … we wonder why they hate Aucklanders down there in Canterbury. Carlos Spencer, country-boy-turned-ultimate-Aucklander, takes the ball behind his goal-line, two points up (after the Blues have recklessly declined to kick a penalty at the other end of the field) and one minute to play.

Does he kick the bloody thing out? No. He throws a huge, curling pass - that has to travel around his goalposts - to Joe Rockococo, who breaks a tackle, sparking a sweeping 100-metre movement that sees Spencer canter untouched over the Crusaders' line.

Does he touch the bloody thing down? No. In an apparent bid to run down the clock - or something, God knows, really - Spencer jogs away from the posts and over to the corner flag. His team-mates gather around him and finally he scores it, and then makes a defiant gesture to the crowd that's been bagging him all night. And then, because he can, he kicks his sideline conversion straight as an arrow, depriving the Crusaders of even the solace of a bonus point. Wow. It was crazy, irresponsible and really good to watch.

So the Black Caps, defying my predictions, have won a series against South Africa. For the first time. Yesterday's decider at Eden Park shaped up as a debacle. By rights, they shouldn't have got on the field, such was the nature of Auckland's weather on Saturday. But they did, in a shortened game, and it was mighty entertainment. Magic moment: Chris Harris returns, gets NZ out of a deep hole with an unbeaten 55 and then makes a catch at point for which there are no satisfactory adjectives. Then, needing an improbable 28 runs off the final over bowled by Kyle Mills, the Proteas' batsmen make (thanks to a no-ball that went for six) an improbable but insufficient 25. Woo-hoo! Let us hope our gone-mad weather comes rights for the test series …

Oh, real news, rather than sport? Labour Party overhauls National in new poll, all over, er, page 8 of the Sunday Star Times, halfway down a story on Brash and the unions. It's by the same company, BRC, whose "shock" front-page poll helped get the Brash ball rolling. Has the SST lost faith in its polling company or what? The story's not even online, although the poll gets a mention on Stuff this morning, along with a Marae Digipoll that should, but won't, stop Don Brash claiming that many Maori are backing him. (BTW, yesterday morning's Marae programme did a great job of getting the various voices on the Treaty argument into a room and making them talk.)

I really can't work out how the SST chooses which stories it allows online and which it doesn't. I'd like to point you to the two best pieces of opinion-writing in the paper - Rosemary McLeod on the Sri Lankan business and Finlay Macdonald speculating on Clark turning into Holyoake (that is, a master of consensus but signifying little beyond that) - but I can't. Oh well.

Neil Morrison took mighty exception to my mention of the Iranian elections on Friday, and Hard News reader Steve Parkes wasn't too happy either. Fair enough, actually: "swung in behind" was a poor choice of words on my part.

It would be more correct to say that, even with a record low turnout, the mullahs' support has held enough to allow them to pretend their highly compromised election delivered a mandate. Before the election, reformists, who were calling for a boycott, were hoping for a national turnout of less than 40%. They didn't get it. Some reformist candidates who weren't calling for a boycott - including the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament - failed calamitously in the vote.

The point is that another Middle Eastern country has failed to follow the script. Up until last year, the reformists had made halting progress in Iran, via a democratic process that was inadequate, but better than bloodshed. Now - and it really doesn't matter who you blame - the whole thing has gone into reverse. This is the exact opposite of what was, according to the neocon fantasy, supposed to happen in the wake of war in Iraq. It's not better, it's worse.

But back to the real issues: that picture of Rachel Hunter modelling for her new benefactor, Ultimo. Controversy has stirred overseas as various tabloid papers have pointed out that this is not exactly the real Rachel. Nonsense, say her people: the picture hasn't been touched at all. Pardon? That's one of the most exhaustively Photoshopped pictures I've ever seen in a newspaper - everything has been smoothed over, shaped and perked up. But celebrity means never having to grow old, even when you do.