Hard News by Russell Brown


If a car can be driven glumly, then glumly were piloted the vehicles on Auckland's slick streets around midnight on Saturday night. I found myself imagining the moods of my countrymen as they wandered home from where they'd been: how did that happen?

Indeed, no fewer than three times on the trip home, I was seized with the thought that it hadn't. That it had all been a horrible dream, and the Rugby World Cup semi-final was yet to be played. But no. It had happened. And the All Blacks had lost.

Australia were magnificent. By a combination of a superior will to win and some fairly basic assumptions about the pattern of All Black play they shut the New Zealanders out of the game. By the same token, the All Blacks - and particularly the forward pack that went so well last week - failed to meet the challenge.

It's not at all to deny the result to wonder how things might have been different had Muliaina's try been given in the first few minutes, and, consequently, Stirling Mortlock not had the chance to intercept Spencer's pass and run 85 metres to score. The Wallabies weren't able to design a try of their own, but having been gifted one, they had the lead and the belief to hold it.

Taken over a whole season's form, there are still relatively few individual All Black players you'd swap for their Wallaby opposites. The Australians have been bullied all year, in the Super 12 and then the Tri-Nations. Yet on Saturday night, Justin Harrison outplayed Chris Jack and Elton Flatley - a backline plodder if ever there was - made Aaron Mauger look like a schoolboy. Phil Waugh was the best loose forward on the park, and the All Blacks, needing a blood-curdling Buck Shelford, had a Reuben Thorne.

Should the All Black coaching staff be dismissed? I'm undecided, but I can't help but feel that Mitchell and Deans placed so much emphasis on a strategy of shovelling the ball wide, whatever, and didn't have a Plan B. Compare it to the way the Blues won this year: not just through thrilling counter-attack, but through Spencer pinning back opposition teams with his kicking. Was that not an option on Saturday night?

Whoever is coaching them - and the next coach really has to be Graham Henry - the All Blacks will quite likely hold both the Tri-Nations and the Bledisloe Cup next year, and look sharp doing it. But - again - they'll have choked in the late stages of a World Cup. I'm a little over the great New Zealand tradition of heroic failure in this instance.

The loss is all the more bad because it will now be decried by a chorus of whingers as evidence of … well, something. "Take your pick of modern "isms" - populism, socialism, me too-ism, not fair-ism, free ride-ism - they all add up to mediocrity," bitched David Kirk. I'm sorry, but this is garbage: it's a sports team, they lost. The idea that creeping socialism has somehow undermined a team that is sponsored to the tune of $20 million annually by a global sports brand is bogus.

The Sunday Star Times' World Chumps lead story quoted Macquarie Equities investment director Arthur Lim as saying that the defeat was likely to dent the economy this, week as people would be spending less: "It's bound to have an impact because if people are feeling depressed about the result and down in the dumps they don't tend to do anything and just mope around."

Speak for yourself, chum. I got out yesterday and spent money on things that made me feel good: we took the kids up the Sky Tower for the hell of it, then to McDonald's. I popped into Seamart, and had a glass of wine - well, more than one - on the deck in the afternoon. It wasn't a bad day. And it is only a game.

The shame of it is that the 95bFM alternative commentary went really well on Saturday night. Thanks for all the emails and texts from everywhere: shame we won't get a chance to do even better. (And no, we won't be covering the third-fourth play-off. That game gives me the creeps.)

Anyway, the National Party might have had a chance of exploiting some public disillusionment this week had not been tying itself in knots again, fixing to fire the deputy leader it picked only three weeks ago. Sadly, Nick Smith is being challenged by his former ally Gerry Brownlee. Wadda party.

Still, the weekend wasn't a dead loss. On Friday night, Public Address won a NetGuide Web Award - Best Personal Blog. Almost better than winning was fact that the judge was Rob Malda - aka Cmdr Taco, the co-founder of Slashdot, and he had nice things to say about us. I was truly thrilled.

The bloggers named as finalists in the category seemed pretty happy too: Michelle at The JamJar was flabbergasted, Idiot/Savant at NoRightTurn was pleased and surprised and Lukas Svoboda (a very interesting geek, even if he is aligned to the Dark Side) thought it was pretty cool.

Anyway, thanks and cheers to NetGuide and to all the people who make Public Address what it is, especially our developers, CactusLab, who also had The Listener as a finalist in the Best New Site category. Appropriately enough, the award comes in the same week as we turn one year old. Onwards and upwards …

Key entertainment of the week is likely to be Bush's visit to London - the first full state visit by an American president. There are all kinds of theories as to why it was organised in the first place - from the Bush campaign team wanting pictures of their boy with The Queen to a set-up by antagonistic State Department officials - but almost everyone is predicting a media debacle.

The trick for the Bush spin team will be to keep the full horror of British perceptions of Bush from their domestic audience. The Sunday Times YouGov poll this weekend asked respondents which characteristics they most associated with him,: 60% said he was a danger to world peace, 37% said “stupid” and 33% said “incoherent”. Ouch.

A less prominent poll of South Americans released over the weekend was even worse. In Brazil, Latin America's largest country, 98% gave Bush a negative mark. In Mexico - a neighbour and key trading partner - only 5% of people had a positive view of him.

A new report from the Pew Surveys indicates that under Bush the US is becoming a more sharply divided country than it has ever been. The national unity of 2001 has been burned up by the same factors that sent America's image plummeting in the rest of the world.

And finally, thanks for the feedback on the spamming - just once - of our feedback form. Two items of interest: Jamil, who was a bFM news volunteer last year, is working in Shanghai as the editor of a magazine called China Economic Review. He reckons "there is a very high likelihood that they have hired someone to manually post spam to people. Apparently it is quite common here. Labour costs are not a concern in China." And this story about the rise of comment spam and how the blog world is trying to combat it.

Anyway, be happy, spend a little money to treat yourself, and look forward to summer. It's alright …