Hard News by Russell Brown


Last week's opening Super 12 round seemed to confirm everyone's worst fears about New Zealand rugby: poorly drilled and ineffectual forwards, slack defence and a general air of scattiness. What next?

I was not, I hasten to add, one of the doom-mongers after last year's World Cup failure. After all, the Blues and the Crusaders were a cut above the rest of the 2003 Super 12, and didn't the All Blacks win every forward statistic against England in Wellington, albeit while losing the game?

But last weekend? Ugly. The Crusaders were so lame that it was impossible to really tell how good the Warratahs were. The Brumbies were just like the Brumbies always are - strong, formulaic, predictable - but that was enough to earn a victory over the Blues. Sure, the Highlanders whupped the Queensland Reds, but you'd damn well hope they would, playing in Invercargill. The Chiefs looked quite organised against the 'Canes, but probably no more than that.

So the Blues and the Crusaders replay last year's final at Jade Stadium tonight, and I think the Blues ought to be good enough to take it, but who knows?

One thing you can count on is a sharp technical assessment from Tracey Nelson, our favourite insect pathologist, who, thanks to her work last year on Haka! and the publicity from this blog, has been hired to provide rolling game analysis to the Newstalk ZB radio commentary team. Cool! I'm picking her biggest challenge will be suppressing the urge to exclaim loudly and offer useful advice to the referee.

Jonathan Marshall and his new pals have been shopping around their new private detective service, Teen Tracker, to community organisations. They say you might need their help if you suspect your own teenager might be "mixing with the wrong crowd".

Um, one doesn't like to be picky, but is this the same Jonathan Marshall who has recently been having teenagers over to rowdy, boozy parties featuring "sexy strippers" - at a warehouse owned by one of his partners in Teen Tracker? Parties which appear to have something to do with the breaking of stained-glass windows at the church next door? Crikey! Are they trying to drum up business or something?

Hey! Don Brash has a blog! Apparently.

Iraq continues to poison Tony Blair's government, no matter how hard he tries to move on. Experienced readers of spin will note that he did not actually deny Clare Short's claim that British spooks bugged UN secretary general Kofi Annan. He just declared her "irresponsible" (a bit rich, one would think) and indicated that it would be equally irresponsible of him to deny this foul allegation. Pardon? Precisely what element of national security would be damaged by the statement "No. It never happened."?

Actually, they can hardly claim they wouldn't do that sort of thing, because thanks to GCHQ whistleblower Katharine Gunn, we know that they very clearly do do that sort of thing, at the bidding of the White House.

Gunn and her lawyers called the British government's bluff on this one - making it clear that if she was prosecuted over leaking the information that Britain helped the US spy on foreign diplomats in the run-up to the UN security council vote on Iraq, they would seek discovery of government advice on the legality of the war. Oddly enough, the prosecution was sensationally abandoned this week.

Meanwhile, more unintended consequences in the War on Terror. Remember how the good people of Iran were supposed to respond to the invasion of Iraq by rising up, overthrowing the mullahs and demanding their own liberal, west-facing democracy? Y'know, the grand neocon plan for the Middle East?

It appears that there must have been some mistake. The Iranian public has swung in behind the mullahs, leaving reformist MPs profoundly isolated. Bugger!

There may have been some response to reformists' calls to boycott a clearly skewed election - the turnout of 50.57% was a record low for elections in Iran. But President Bush (who declared himself "very disappointed" by the result) can hardly play on that. The turnout in the 2000 election that put him in office was 51%, and for the 2002 mid-terms (which, like the Iranian election, took political conservatives to a dominant position in the national assembly) it was only 39.9% of eligible voters and 36.4% of the voting age population. Bugger again!