Hard News by Russell Brown


It was one of the most electrifying things I have ever seen on a sports field. Two minutes into the match, the ball is cleared to Spencer from a ruck in his own half. He runs, makes the advantage line, then glides easily between tacklers. A desperate hand grabs him, he unloads to Howlett, running from fullback, who draws another tackle and feeds Caucaunibuca. History.

I've seen big wingers go fast before but I've never seen anyone accelerate like Caucau does. What a bugger he's already played for Fiji.

So anyway, the Blues remade the Super 12 orthodoxy on Saturday night, not merely ending the Crusaders' 15-game winning streak, but demolishing the team that provided most of last year's All Blacks, 39-5. This is why you pay money to see sport.

Fortunately, the game was good enough to make up for the less pleasant aspects of attending a game of rugby at North Harbour Stadium. Sightlines at the stadium are great, but it has several gross design flaws that make it unsuitable for running at capacity. Among them: mens' toilets with only one door, meaning an in-and-out crush at half time that is at best frustrating and at worst plain dangerous, especially for children.

But that wasn't the worst of it. A deafening PA system ran the length of our "premium" section of the stand, a few feet above our heads. I don't just mean annoyingly loud, I mean a genuine health and safety issue. I suggest that someone from OSH drops in on the next home game. My ears were still hurting the next day, and I imagine some older and younger punters were in greater distress than I was.

And it never let up. If it wasn't ear-splitting soundtracks from TV ads, it was some certifiable idiot conducting banal, badly rehearsed interviews with puzzled children, or boorishly encouraging the crowd to jeer the Crusaders as they took the field. (I clapped them sportingly - it's the Auckland way.)

So the opening whistle was a relief as much as anything. But, after that thrilling first try, the certifiable idiot turned on the music again - he played the same George Thorogood song all night - and appeared to be trying to sing or rap along with it, playing with the faders, while Carlos was lining up his first conversion. It was excruciating, wrong and insulting to the players and the crowd.

I wonder if the problem is that putting a PA system on the far side of the ground was part of the phase-two development that never took place because the stadium has been such a financial lemon - so they try and throw sound right across the ground.

Look, I don't mind music at games. It can create atmosphere, make it seem a real night out. But North Harbour administrators appear to have lost all common sense [NB: Looks like it's not North Harbour Rugby to blame here, but the stadium management and the Blues organisation - see update below]. They make the people who run Eden Park look like geniuses, and that's saying something.

Anyway, having grumped at the managing editor last week, I guess I ought to cast an eye over the revamped New Zealand Herald. The Herald, for all the moaning that people do about it, is the best and most substantial paper in the country. Its rise from the days of Peter Scherer's time-warped editorship (and any paper that could keep a ban on the word "lesbian" through to the 1990s was surely in a time warp) has not been smooth or uniform, but it has been impressive.

Last week's revamp amounted to a reshuffle of some key features - TV listings on a back page - and a what appears to be a conscious effort to modernise its design: they even bleed the text off strapheads like we used to do on Planet in 1992. It looks quite good.

Saturday was the debut of the Weekend Herald's new glossy magazine, Canvas, which seems curiously out of phase with the redesign of the rest of the paper: it should have looked like the Observer magazine but it looks like the Sunday Times magazine. And it's thin. The bean-counters aren't cutting any slack on page ratios here. (I talked to someone last week who's convinced there's a O'Reilly end-game on here - cut costs, fatten the bottom line and sell APN and the Herald with it. Who knows?)

In theory, Canvas, with its impressive editorial team, should wipe the floor with the Sunday Star Times' magazine (after all, we're talking Carroll du Chauteau versus Jo McCarroll here), launched last week as a pre-emptive strike and really little more than parts of the SST reformatted to tabloid. But it doesn't, and it appears that it won't until its sales team can wrench some ads away from the new Metro, or the management is prepared to give a little away now to build the brand.

UPDATE: A polite and prompt response from Doug Rollerson, CEO of North Harbour Rugby. Looks like it's down to the Blues and North Harbour Stadium management:

Hi Russell

Thankyou for your letter and indeed for attending that fantastic game of rugby at NH Stadium on Saturday night.

The speaker system you mentioned at NHS has had a lot of upgrade work done to it in recent months and the ground announcer is reputably one of NZ's best. However as the entertainment was controlled by the Blues management and the speaker system is under the control of the NHS I have forwarded your email to the appropriate people at the Blues and at the NHS for their attention.

I am sure that you will agree that NHS is as good as any other stadium in the World to watch rugby at and we look forward to seeing you back here in the near future

Kind regards

Doug Rollerson