Hard News by Russell Brown

Philosophy in a bad week

I'm philosophical. Clearly, losing to England is never good, but what we saw wasn't all bad either.

England had universally been expected to dominate the All Blacks up front, but that didn't happen. Our all-new lineout tactic - picking tall guys! - proved extremely effective. Most of the game was played in England's territory, we created several try-scoring chances and England didn't really create any. The first-game-of-the-season midfield combination was woeful and Umaga had possibly his worst game in a black jersey.

But the game at test level is about taking opportunities, which England did, to the tune of four penalty goals and a droppie from Jonny Wilkinson. Carlos Spencer, on the other hand, missed four from seven shots at goal, any one of which would have been the difference between losing and winning.

There was a degree of bad luck. Justin Marshall couldn't unload to a three-man overlap on the English line because his right hamstring went, and he couldn't prop off it to pass to his left. Rodney So'oialo did score that try so far as I could see. And if he didn't, then it was surely a penalty try - the players who prevented him scoring had not retired, and had they obeyed the laws of the game and left him alone, he would, without a shadow of a doubt, have scored a try under the posts. On the other hand, Doug Howlett's try shouldn't have been awarded, because he was at least a metre offside from the kick. That pretty much sums up the standard of refereeing.

If anything's irreversible about the All Black performance, I fear it might be leadership. When England (quite rightly) had two players sin-binned for repeated infringements, captain Martin Johnson stepped up and inspired by example. Reuben Thorne didn't seem to have that in him.

The worst thing about losing to the English is, of course, that they are even worse winners than they are losers, and that's saying something. From Steven Jones' snotty triumphalism in his Sunday Star Times guest column (sneering at the "hapless" All Black forwards) to Clive Woodward's whingeing about the independent judiciary's decision on Ali Williams (look - players who try and impede the ball at the bottom of a test match ruck do so at their own risk), there was a real lack of grace.

England were also, of course, somewhat cynical, slowing the game down whenever they could, and repeatedly feigning injury in the second half, with play being further held up when as many as six officials (of the 15 on the tour!) swarmed onto the field. They showed experience. But they remind me of the 1991 All Black side, similarly accomplished, which went to the World Cup, as arrogant as you like, and got seriously undone. Watch this space.

It's been a hell of a week already, with work piling up and difficult decisions to make - hence the lack of the usual array of links in this post. I'm feeling a bit battered. But I was cheered up today by visiting Dawn Raid Entertainment's HQ in South Auckland, to interview Mareko about his excellent new album, which features an array of American hip-hop stars, and talk to them about their business for another story I'm doing. Did you know that Dawn Raid turned over $1.3 million last year?

After hearing all the indignant noises about the government's rescue plan for TranzRail, I'm still convinced the government is basically doing the right thing. In getting the tracks back, it will finally free itself of the onerous ramifications of National's hopeless privatisation. As Alastair Thompson pointed out on The Wire on 95bFM today, the existing "use it or lose" it clause was useless. If TranzRail faced any threat on its monopoly, it could simply hint that it would just pull up the tracks on any route it lost.

I'm less impressed with Helen Clark's claim that Parekura Horomia had been "bullied" over the Te Mangai Paho debacle. He's a Minister of the Crown and, in more ways than one, a big boy. A minister who was really on top of his portfolio would have to worry less about bad information from officials and - as Clark herself did recently - would show extreme dispatch in getting back to the House and correcting his statements. Horomia just doesn't seem to take this stuff seriously enough. John Tamihere is quietly manoeuvring himself into position and, for all the consternation that an urban Maori would cause in the job, there is something immensely appealing about the prospect of a Maori Affairs minister who speaks in proper sentences.