The All Blacks’ magic and myth

The All Blacks’ Bledisloe Cup victory over Australia on Saturday was not the summer solstice, a holy day or the dawn of the age of enlightenment.

It was a poor performance over fatally flawed opposition, aided and abetted by a South African referee who has clearly not yet come to terms with the principle of equality.

Let’s start with Tom Taylor, because in some ways the young man stands as a metaphor for the relentless publicity that is part of the All Blacks genius.

Reading about Taylor before and after the game, I was nearly fooled into thinking I had just seen the reincarnation of Barry John. The reality was nearer to Monty Python’s Life of Brian and the line, ”He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy”.

Taylor has a great deal of ability, but Steve Hansen’s foolhardy gamble of playing the kid at first-five with almost no football in that position this season could have cost New Zealand the game.

Taylor was out of his depth defensively, not sure whether to stay or go. He frequently dog-legged, and his flimsiness in the tackle made it hard for Ma’a Nonu and Richie McCaw to decide whether to press or hold back.

Taylor was the passive tackler when Stephen Moore offloaded to Christian Leali’ifano in the first half and he was brushed aside by Israel Folau in the second. On both occasions Australia would have scored but for deliberate New Zealand infringements.

They were far from the only times that the Wallabies exploited his channel. Taylor’s restarts did not offer the chance to win back possession and his kicking out of hand was mediocre.

But because of a couple of lovely passes near to the gain line and a half-break at the start of the match (from which he was turned over by Michael Hooper), the lad was anointed.

Taylor may well turn out to be a fine player, but as yet he is nowhere near an international first-five. But the All Blacks are the Muhammad Ali of international rugby; a team where excellence and myth merge to the point where the stigmata become invisible.

McCaw has been another good example during the opening games of the Rugby Championship. The master has been clearly outplayed by Hooper, Australia’s outstanding player, but no-one will admit it.

Well, McCaw might, because you don’t become one of the all-time greats without knowing when you are not match-sharp and a yard off the pace.

In Saturday’s game, McCaw was frequently beaten to the breakdown, he was a yard off covering Taylor’s inside shoulder and he knocked on a couple of balls he would normally haul in, blowing good attacking opportunities.

That’s fair enough. Even McCaw can’t come back from a sabbatical and play like Michael Jones. But Hansen would have you believe he has done just that. The man and the myth is an important part of the All Blacks psychology.

It is even more extreme in the case of Nonu. The guy who struggles in Super Rugby becomes a different player when he pulls on an All Blacks jersey, we are told. It’s the Frank Bunce story, or is it George Bernard Shaw – Man and Superman?

Horsefeathers.

On Saturday, Nonu should have been sin-binned – at least – for a dangerous shoulder charge into the head of James Slipper. He turned over ball twice. He scrambled a poor kick out of defence with an overlap outside. He kicked another ball out on the full. And he threw the intercept pass for Folau’s try.

These are exactly the sort of blunders that have cost the Blues and the Highlanders in recent seasons. But because the All Blacks were good enough to win despite Nonu’s howlers, they are airbrushed out of history.

The All Blacks don’t admit the big mistakes in public unless the unthinkable happens and they lose. Then confession is called for. There were others in this New Zealand team who under-performed on Saturday.

Israel Dagg kicked out on the full, missed a tackle, put his wing under pressure with a daft throw-in, but one good break and the country looks the other way. The hooker position is an ongoing problem, and Aaron Smith did not kick well from the base. But the myth must be perpetuated.

It intimidates other teams, although Australia look quite capable of intimidating themselves at the moment. Some of their tackling is feeble and they are quite hopeless at fielding short, high kicks in midfield.

More importantly, the myth intimidates refs. This millennium, New Zealand have received 46 cards in 166 tests. South Africa have copped 77 in 164 games. Are the Boks really nearly twice as evil?

The Aussie coach was right to be apoplectic on Saturday evening. Why was Moore’s ”try” not referred? Why was Kieran Read not yellow-carded for a professional foul? Why was Nonu not yellow-carded for a dangerous tackle? Why were the All Blacks’ tacklers and defenders repeatedly allowed to take so long getting back that they blocked Will Genia’s blindside channel?

That was coached cheating again, by the way. Why was Ben Smith allowed to stand offside in front of the tryline to make a crucial defensive tackle? Why was Tony Woodcock allowed to angle in, but not Australia?

The penalty count should have favoured Australia in the first 50 minutes, but New Zealand led it 12-5.

Sir Graham Henry would have suspected perfidy or a betting scandal in such circumstances. The rest of the world just thinks, ”Same old”.

The magic and the myth.

– © Fairfax NZ News

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American Idol is, a reality show with Dr Luke

This is the end result of a culture based on fame. Which too many people equate with fortune. My favorite story about this took place at a restaurant where patrons were stunned to see a cast member of the “Real World” waiting tables. They asked him, “What are you doing here?”

I ask Dr. Luke the same question.

The “Real World” star was earning a living. Everyone knew his name but MTV pays poorly, and if Martha Quinn couldn’t convert her fame into further riches, good luck to the evanescent stars of reality shows.

That’s what “American Idol” is, a reality show. And a decade plus of intense competition has taught us it’s never about talent and always about drama. Whether it be the shenanigans on the “Real World” or the competitors on “Survivor,” we don’t care about the game but the interactions, we want to see real life played out on the screen. At least until the producers hired writers and scripted interactions to the point that we know in many cases it’s just entertainment.

So what we have with “American Idol” is a dying franchise. Hell, even Simon Cowell can no longer succeed, his “X Factor” is a bust, even Britney Spears couldn’t prop it up. We’re more interested in Simon’s sexual peccadilloes than both his show and his artists, we’ve seen that reveal, where he’s been putting his unit and the results thereof are much more interesting, along with the moral questions involved.

So the ratings for “Idol” are never going back up. We see faux criticism and snark and a bunch of half-talented wannabes competing to be molded by a Svengali and overpromoted to little success. What’s so interesting about that? Especially in a world where Miley Cyrus left TV and has been remaking herself more bizarrely every week. As did Amanda Bynes. But at least they had fame previously, the contestants on “Idol” have no history, no track record, and if you think we can relate and believe in someone over the course of a TV season you can list all the competitors on the “Amazing Race.” No, you need multiple seasons to get people to truly care. So no one cares about these contestants, not really.

And they don’t care about the judges. Because there’s a revolving door of people doing it for the money and exposure. Keith Urban is an amazing guitar player, but he’s got about as much personality as the cardboard inside your shirt that comes from the laundry. He grew up practicing his licks, not learning how to speak. He speaks with his guitar. As for J.Lo… Famous for her posterior, anybody who thinks J.Lo can sing has no ears. To make her the arbiter of a singing competition is to make Stephen Hawking a gymnastics judge. As for the vaunted sales bump… J.Lo had one single that moved and Aerosmith’s album tanked after Tyler’s appearance on “Idol,” where he actually displayed a personality. But once you’re fodder for the masses, your core shrugs you off, they figure you don’t need them anymore.

And unless I didn’t get a memo, Dr. Luke is not starting a performing career, he’s a behind the scenes guy. What advantage is he gaining here? Oh, he’s got a deal with Sony, he can find talent. I’m telling you now, Dr. Luke already has access to the world’s best wannabe talent, he doesn’t need to be on this show to find it. And we’ve learned from past seasons that all that exposure does not help the winners sell records. You’re better off building something from scratch.

And you punch up, not down. You attach yourself when something is growing, not failing. It’s the essence of business, it’s why Steve Ballmer had to walk, he was more attached to a dying past than a growing future. Ballmer said the iPhone wouldn’t get traction, suddenly not only are PCs cratering, so is the need for Microsoft’s cash cow Office. You don’t wait until it’s played out before you move on, if you’re smart you leave at the peak, or just thereafter, you get off the merry-go-round when public opinion is still positive, and then speak crap about what happened thereafter when you’re queried in the endless interviews as time goes by.

And to tell you the truth, my aged brain is having a hard time locking on to the name of that songwriter… Oh yeah, Kara DioGuardi? Did she die or something? Because we haven’t heard from her since. What did “Idol” do for Kara’s career other than reveal her to be a narcissistic, fame-hungry person who clawed her way to the top? Like they all are…you don’t make it by being nice, by being unwilling to edge out others. Hell, isn’t that the secret of Madonna’s success? But at least Madonna knew how to leverage what she had. And to get in early on trends and then abandon them. Give Bowie props, he tried to stay ahead of the game. Now both he and Madge are flummoxed as to what to do next.

But that’s a different issue. A TV performer is different from a musician. A musician is cerebral, he writes his own material, a TV performer reads off the prompter, plays to everybody or his show gets canceled whereas a musical performer can appeal to a tiny sliver of the audience and do quite well.

But today everybody wants to appeal to everybody. Which is why art loses its edge. If you’re not willing to write some of the audience off, you’ve got no core. We’re addicted to edge. If you smooth yours off, you’re done.

And that new Katy Perry song… It was cowritten by Max Martin, the unknown Swede responsible for Britney Spears’s “…Baby One More Time,” one of the greatest tracks of the nineties, there, I said it, as well as the Backstreet Boys hits and Kelly Clarkson’s and…

Martin’s had a longer career than the acts he’s worked with, longer than most of those appearing on the VMAs last night, because he knows his place, he knows that pop acts need fodder, and he’s a master. He’s worked at his craft and knows that fame has got nothing to do with it. Hell, all those famous people prepubescent kids adore come and go, and Max remains, he’s nobody’s punch line.

But here we’ve got Dr. Luke saying yes in an era where almost nobody knows the word “no.” They can’t say no to the corporations, to anybody. And since the handlers get a percentage and everybody says to do it everybody does. Not realizing there’s a cost. That playing to everybody on national TV erodes your core and makes you a laughingstock. Yes, we watch TV to snark, not to glorify. This is where the money culture has brought us. If you get paid, no one can criticize. But I am.

Hell, if I were Luke, if the ink weren’t dry, I’d pull out. I’d publicly say no. He’s got enough money. Other than getting paid, all I can see is downsides.

Each and every TV star who joined a show after its peak… Adam Arkin still hasn’t recovered from trying to resuscitate “Northern Exposure.” He’s actually a talented actor, but he looked desperate by taking that gig, he appeared second-rate.

You want to be someone’s first choice. If you’re not in on the ground floor, forget it. If Dr. Luke wants to create a TV show, I’m much more interested. Then again, what does TV have to do with music?

The bold and brave new era of All Blacks rugby continues with promotion of an uncapped 24-year-old

The bold and brave new era of All Blacks rugby continues apace with today’s dramatic promotion of uncapped 24-year-old Canterbury son-of-a-gun Tom Taylor to his first test start.

The theory that coach Steve Hansen is rewriting the once conservative book on All Black selection gained further credence when Taylor was named to start at No 10 for Saturday’s second Bledisloe, and Rugby Championship, test against the Wallabies at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium.

With Dan Carter (torn calf), Aaron Cruden (knee) and Beauden Barrett (calf strain) all ruled out for Saturday, the All Blacks were down to the fourth and fifth rung on their depth chart when they called up Canterbury team-mates Taylor, son of 1987 World Cup-winning midfielder Warwick Taylor, and 10-test international Colin Slade to bolster their first five-eighths stock.

The conservative pick – the one the All Blacks would probably have gone for under any number of previous coaches – would have been Slade. He has test experience, and that normally counts for a lot. He was even part of the 2011 World Cup-winning campaign, before limping off in the quarter-final with a groin tear.

But Hansen has shown he is a more progressive and more willing to take risks to achieve results than his grounded southern persona perhaps reflects.

Taylor is the risky selection, but also the exciting one. This is a young man who looks like he could be something special, with a steely goalkicking nerve – he slotted them at 90 per cent for the Crusaders this year – and a natural feel for the game that is clearly in his genes.

Slade is also a gifted footballer, but he has struggled to regain his very best form since suffering a succession of injuries following the last World Cup. At 25 he has time still on his side, but he is a young man rebuilding his confidence, rather than revelling in it.

Taylor has been on the All Blacks radar for a while now, with his ability to play 10, 12 or 15 with equal assurance. In fact, his lack of game-time at No 10 further underlines the audacity of Hansen’s selection.

Taylor played one warmup game at first-five for the Crusaders before starting seven matches at second-five and a further three at fullback during their Super Rugby campaign.

But Hansen is happy to roll the dice with an opportunity that has come a little ahead of schedule, and maybe in a different position than he might have envisioned.

“He is mentally tough and plays the game with a lot of confidence and maturity,” said Hansen. “These factors, along with his assured goalkicking under pressure, has made this an easy selection.

“We have every faith that he will handle the occasion with aplomb.”

Taylor is one of two injury-enforced changes from the team that started last week’s impressive Bledisloe victory over the Wallabies in Sydney.

The other will raise less eyebrows, with well performed Chiefs lock Brodie Retallick coming in for Luke Romano who is out for the remainder of the Rugby Championship with a groin injury.

The test will also be the 100th cap for veteran loosehead prop Tony Woodcock who is part of an unchanged front row, deservedly retained after their superior scrummaging display in Sydney.

There is more movement in the reserves, where Wellington hooker Dane Coles comes back into the matchday 23 after proving his fitness at provincial level, as does fit-again prop Wyatt Crockett and Lions skipper Jeremy Thrush to cover lock.

In the backs, Slade makes is named in the All Blacks for the first time since 2011 and Taylor’s ability to cover second-five means Auckland’s Charles Piutau replaces Ryan Crotty as the outside back cover.

Hansen said it would be a special test for Woodcock as he became the All Blacks’ fourth test centurion, behind skipper Richie McCaw (117), Keven Mealamu (105) and Mils Muliaina (100).

Some had wondered whether Woodcock’s days were numbered after Crockett’s performances in the June tests, but last Saturday night provided a timely reminder of what the 32-year-old is still capable of.

“Woody is a hugely respected player within the group who always puts the team first,” said Hansen. “It has been business as usual for him and the team this week, but we will enjoy acknowledging his achievement with him after the game.”

Hansen also warned against any complacency following the 47-29 victory in Sydney that sees the All Blacks just one win away from retaining the Bledisloe Cup for another year.

“They will be hurting after that test and will throw everything at us,” he said. “They will be looking to play with more accuracy and intensity, so we will need to meet – or better – that with a higher level of execution right across the board.”

Meanwhile, Frank Halai (Counties Manukau), Joe Moody (Canterbury) and Brad Shields (Wellington) have been released to play in week two of the national provincial championship if required.

All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea, Tom Taylor, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (capt), Steven Luatua, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Jeremy Thrush, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Colin Slade, Charles Piutau.

– © Fairfax NZ News

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Could this be the Simple Minds set list for latter in the year in SA? -this set is from earlier this year

  1. Set One
  2. Broken Glass Park
  3. Waterfront
  4. Once Upon A Time
  5. Up On The Catwalk
  6. Let There Be Love
  7. All The Things She Said
  8. War Babies
  9. Glittering Prize
  10. I Travel
  11. Set Two
  12. Book Of Brilliant Things
  13. Neon Lights
    (Kraftwerk cover)
  14. Someone Somewhere (In Summertime)
  15. She’s A River
  16. This Is Your Land
  17. Blood Diamonds
  18. The American
  19. Love Song
  20. See The Lights
  21. Don’t You (Forget About Me)
  22. Promised You A Miracle
  23. Encore:
  24. New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)
  25. Sanctify Yourself
  26. Space
  27. Alive And Kicking

TALK – CAN MUSIC BE A VEHICLE TO ADVANCE THE CULTURE OF HUMAN RIGHTS? WED, 21 AUG, 14:15, SENATE ROOM

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