Through complete happenstance I found myself last night talking with Steve Martin and Bruce Carvell, the Otago head coach and forwards coach.
I have found that coaches tend to be more fun to talk to (although not during press conferences when they tend to clam up). They like to talk and joke around and tend to have interesting a much more interesting view on the system in which they sit, than players or management.
So we talked about various things.
Stadiums: I wanted to know if Bluechip in Tauranga was any good. Apparently it is. The coches were happy that it was a warm place to play and the ground was always dry and fast. And while the stock car track wasn't the nicest look the low slope on the stands meant a lot of light. Staying at Mount Maunganui was good except it was hard to keep the players minds in the right frame when all they wanted to do was surf.
Statistics: After Amy and I mentioned how we analyse data for a living, Bruce told us of a baseball manager who came to speak to the Academy of Sport. This guy was one of the first managers to use sabermetrics to select new players (analysing statistical attributes outside of straight hits or strikes etc). This style of player selection appeals to a team like Otago that doesn't have the money of the bigger teams and needs to make "smarter" player choices.
The Shield: we didn't talk about this too much as it seemed to be too much "work talk" but they sure are happy to have Adam Thompson available.
They also alerted me to, league convert, Michael Witt's new blog. I had a look today, he's no Ian O'Brian. Witt's not playing this weekend either, that isn't on the blog.
Hands down though the funnest thing (and a little surreal as I reflect on it) last night was talking to two Air New Zealand Cup coaches about mascots. Did you know Otago's mascot is Shaq the Cat? And that he was stolen from the Otago Nuggets basketball team? Crazy.
Speaking of the Air New Zealand Cup, OMG it starts tonight!
Don't give me any of that bullshit about it starting on a Thursday night with the marquee match-up of Taranaki v Tasman. No one in their right mind would open a tournament like that, when there's a Ranfurly Shield match between two teams who could be quite evenly matched. Or a match between former goliath Auckland and battling underdog Hawkes Bay.
No, it's best all round if we forget that Thursday match happened (not that I imagine anyone watched it).
Here are a few things you may not know about this weekend's Tri-Nations test match between South Africa and New Zealand.
Firstly we have a chance to win back the Raeburn Shield that we lost to them last week. No I hadn't heard of it either until I was emailed the website by Randall Munro this week.
It works like this: the first test match ever was played between England and Scotland in 1871. Scotland won the game and the Shield, since then it's been a bit like the World Heavyweight boxing title, if you beat the holder, you get the Shield.
This means the Raeburn Shield has been through some interesting sets of hands, like Samoa in 99 when they beat Wales, and Romania in 1984 when they beat Scotland. Naturally the Shield tends to stay in the clutches of the Tri-Nations and Six Nations teams (though never Italy), but it has moved 166 times.
The best defender is New Zealand. We've had the Shield 33 times and defended it 129 times, including an 18 game streak. But South Africa has held it for a longer time 20,213 days.
Yeah, of course it's not a real Shield, yet, but the creators want to get it officially recognised by the IRB. Until then it's just an interesting thing to track. Oh and the name comes from Raeburn Place, the venue of that first test in 1871.
Second interesting piece of information from Caleb Borchers (a fellow uniform freak and new Dropkick):
The political world of South Africa is typically a baffling mess to most people not living within the shores of the republic (and to many who do). This was particularly evident in the recent fiasco that occurred over what symbols would appear on the Springbok jersey.
Basically the SARU was required to add the Protea by the governing authorities. After much haggling it was decided that the Springbok could remain, but had to switch sides of the jersey and it needed to be smaller than the Protea.
Turning away from the political infighting for a moment, the new jersey looks little different than the old. The Sprinbok logo does look nicer now that it is no longer crowded by the old Protea/ball logo (and the attendant, multiple copyright symbols). The overall look, however, is more cluttered. This will be even truer when the next RWC comes around, and Canterbury will need to find space for its own logo, the Sprinbok, the Protea, and the RWC patch. Australia, another team that commonly wears two logos, has to opt to remove one to make room for the IRB logo.
One can safely bet that the battle over which South African symbol to remove will be hot and heavy, and likely end with all four appearing on the jersey in one jumbled mess.
The whole issue strikes at the pettiness of many parties involved. One could argue that the Springbok loyalists are fighting for a time that has passed. They are holding to a symbol that too often was tied to hatred and prejudice.
On the other side, Nelson Mandela embraced the Springbok as a symbol for all of South Africa in the much publicized ceremonies that occurred after the 1995 RWC. He also was personally involved in making sure the Springbok did not disappear from the national rugby team during the fall of apartheid.
Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, the architect of the apartheid system, thought highly of both symbols (the Protea and the Springbok) and desired for both to appear on the national flag. Trying to claim moral or historical priority seems to simplify a complex history. The Springbok is the historic symbol of the rugby team (and all the baggage that includes), so removing it would take away memories of many painful times, but also many glorious moments in the team's history.
The eventual choice to include both symbols mimics the general approach of the SARU to selecting anything. Avoid controversy at all costs. In that way the new Protea/Bok look fits South Africa well. Its inclusiveness and indecisiveness represents the constant pressures that South Africa still faces to please everyone, and the eventuality that they please no one.
And due to popular demand when I get Offlode's prediction this week I'll put it in the comments.
Finally, next Wednesday I'll be interviewing someone from Canterbury NZ about their uniforms. If you want to ask them anything now's your chance.