Hard News by Russell Brown


Proper rugby fans will understand that while the All Blacks scored almost all their points against England in a furious first half, it was the second half of Saturday's test match which provided the greater sense of reassurance.

For years now, the All Blacks have flattered to deceive; producing dazzling, open play, then inflicting a reality check on themselves and their followers. That reality check might not have arrived immediately - months passed between the record defeat of the Wallabies and that irksome World Cup semi-final loss - but when it did, it was accompanied by the sense that our team lacked a Plan B.

Saturday was a bit different: on the instructions of the coach, the All Blacks went out after half time to tighten up the game and defend a lead, which they did remarkably well. They only scored six points, but that was six more than England, constantly sent back to muddle about in their own half, could muster.

Although the All Blacks' three tries were all achieved with a width of play that the English couldn't match, the key to the victory was a radical improvement in the technical quality of the All Blacks' forward play. Yes, in the set pieces, but more than anything at the breakdown, where the likes of Keith Robinson spent the evening hurling English bodies out of the way.

There has been some muttering about Robinson turning up so frequently in the backline: I suspect he was there because (this being a Graham Henry side) he was told to be - not so he could take endless, predictable crash balls a la Jerry Collins last year, but so that there was a man who would brook no nonsense primed to arrive at the tackle. Robinson's early dispatch of Lawrence Dallaglio - he flung the lurking English captain away from a maul like a rag doll - was simply heartwarming. And anyone who would still prefer Reuben Thorne's ghosting around in cover to the athleticism and involvement of Jonno Gibbes is just plain in denial.

I'm inclined to reserve talk of a new dawn until at least this week's return match at Eden Park, but to say that the Henry All Blacks' first outing was encouraging is to put it mildly. Anyway, Tracey Nelson is back with her game stats - missing, unfortunately, her innovative first-three-to-the-breakdown counts. Perhaps if you ask her, she'll bring it back. Most interesting point: the ABs didn't concede a single penalty in their own 22. Nice one, Ben Cohen!

No points at all to the Star Times' Welsh wanker Stephen Jones, who, having hailed Northern hemisphere forward play as immutably superior to the Super 12-inflected rubbish served up by the Sanzar sides, could barely bring himself to acknowledge that England had been humiliated up front. And one, final question: how come England can bring 19 management staff on a three-match tour - but not one genuine openside flanker?

Anyway, a kicking for Tony Blair's Labour Party in the European elections has followed a kicking in the British local body elections - but it seems there's something more going on than a simple Iraq War backlash. After all, the ruling parties in France and Germany both got a towelling too. The big news in Britain today will likely be the unheralded success of an anti-Europe party (frankly, the Brits would be mad to withdraw from Europe) and the low turnout (which only just topped that reliable low-water mark for democratic participation, the US mid-term elections). Europe looks a bit messy.

Meanwhile, 26 former senior members of America's military and diplomatic elites - Republican and Democrat - will this week call for a vote to unseat George W. Bush from the White House.

On their minds will doubtless be the steadily unfolding story of what really happened at Abu Ghraib. The Washington Post is the latest to add to the tail, with a story showing that General Ricardo Sanchez, the senior US officer in Iraq, explicitly approved the use of torture techniques. The same paper noted that such "coercive interrogation methods" have been in the CIA handbook since Vietnam. Does anybody really believe this was all the work of a half dozen hick reservists? Alarmingly, this report of a speech by Sy Hersh suggests that the scandal will get far worse yet: "You haven't begun to see evil ... horrible things done to children of women prisoners, as the cameras run."

Christiaan Briggs notes filmmaker Michael Moore's establishment of a "war room" to combat any claims about the factual basis or ethical backdrop to his new film Fahrenheit 9/11. Actually, I think Moore might have learned his lesson this time: apart from the Saudi red herring, the cluster of Moore rebuttal sites appear to have come up with virtually nothing to say about the movie. On the other hand, most of them haven't seen it yet.

Congratulations to Rodney Hide, named Act's new leader after what appears to have been a rather tense few rounds of voting. Franks lost and Muriel Newman was named deputy in what appears to have been a naked bid for the space alien vote …

And, finally, belated fifth birthday wishes to Scoop.co.nz and all who sail with her. Alastair Thompson is a prince among men, and I'm very, very proud to have been involved in his remarkable effort in bringing our democracy online. Go Al.