Tuesday, June 30, 2009

South Africa's shame

We may have decided that it is time for a change in the All Black coaching panel, but at least the NZRU doesn't have to deal with foot in mouth disease. That, of course, is in marked contrast to the current situation in South Africa.

The Herald reports that South African Rugby Union chief Oregon Hoskins is trying to distance SARU from the comments of Springbok coach Peter de Villiers. de Villiers has come out swinging after Springbok flanker Schalk Burger was suspended for eight weeks for eye-gouging during the 2nd test match against the Lions on Saturday. The Herald story quotes de Villiers thus:

"I don't believe it was a card at all," said De Villiers at the time. "In the first minute already there had been a lot of needle and if you watch the whole game you will see how many yellow cards they were let off.

"This is sport, this is what it's about. If things were clear-cut then we shouldn't even bother preparing for a game. Everyone is entitled to their opinion."

de Villiers is wrong. It was an act of thuggery by Burger, deserving of both a red card and a far lengthier suspension than the eight weeks he received. But don't take our word for it - watch it for yourself. The incident is replayed towards the end of the clip:

We reckon that Burger was saved from a red card only because of possible communication difficulties between Kiwi assistant referee Bryce Lawrence and the French referee Christophe Berdos. The referee asks Lawrence "Yellow card?", to which Lawrence clearly replies "I think it's AT LEAST a yellow card". That, to us, would be a prompt that the referee should be seriously considering the ultimate sanction - a red card - even though the match was only seconds old. At the very least, we would have expected Berdos to quiz Lawrence further.

But that's not the point of this post. By his words, de Villiers clearly condones Burger's act of thuggery, and gives the finger to the IRB and its disciplinary process. Now ordinarily, we wouldn't bag someone for bagging the IRB, but de Villiers has gone too far. Combine this with his bizarre race-based comment last week, and it is not unreasonable to suggest that SARU may already be looking for a new coach.

Mushroom Syndrome

The Herald has an interesting education story this morning. The Principals' Federation is threatening to withhold students' results from national standards tests. The federation wants an assurance from Education Minister Anne Tolley that information collected won't be given to the public, or used to rank schools against one another. And surprise, surprise - our old mate Trevor Mallard is going in to bat for the federation, proposing a law change to enable the information to be kept secret.

What bollocks! For a start, Mallard is not only in cahoots with the principals, but also with the NZEI, the primary teachers' union. And has the Principals' Federation polled all its members on this issue, or is this simply the view of its executive or its president, Ernie Buutveld? But the biggest question is this one - what do they have to fear?

It's yet another example of Mushroom Syndrome from Mallard and his cronies - keep us in the dark, and feed us bullshit. But that's not good enough in education, in our humble and considered opinion. Children get one shot at an education, and parents need to be able to make informed decisions as to which schools, especially primary schools, are going to provide their children with the best possible foundation for their learning journey.

And interestingly, Mallard is copping a fair bit of criticism in the blogosphere from both sides of the political divide. Over at Kiwiblog, DPF says:

I’m appalled at the attitude from the principals’ union that they may not report results from national standard tests, because shock horror they might be made public.

Even worse Labour is advocating a law change, so that the public can be blocked from being able to obtain this information under the Oficial Information Act.

We (the taxpaying public) spend almost $6 billion a year on the school system. They are meant to be accountable to parents and the community/public. And instead they are demanding a law change to hide what their performance might be, backed by Labour.

And Idiot/Savant is equally critical at No Right Turn - he says:

The fact that information might be "misused" (in the eyes of those seeking unaccountability), misinterpreted, or misunderstood has never been a good reason for denying access under the law. And if the government or anyone else is concerned about those possibilities, then the correct response is for them to stand up and explain properly, not hide behind secrecy. More information, not less.

We find it very hard to disagree with either opinion. But if Trevor Mallard wants to continue on Labour's Nanny-State path, where we can't be trusted to make good decisions for ourselves, who are we to stop him? One day it will dawn on our Trev - Labour actually LOST the election last year!

Irish Netball!

This weekend was the "Rivalry Round" in the ANZ Championship, with all matches between New Zealand and Australian teams, and a trophy at stake. New Zealand teams won three of the five matches; Australian teams won two. But Australia won the trophy, because they scored more goals than the New Zealand teams!

Does that make any more sense to you than it does to us? Then again, netball was the first sport in New Zealand) to stop keeping scores at school level so that no-one knew (and cared - not!) who won or lost, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. No wonder the Aussies have our measure at the international level.

Bad? Or mad?

No, this is NOT another Michael Jackson post!!!

We're simply commenting on news on the teely just now that our favourite French rugby player Mathieu Bastareaud has apparently been checked in to a French psychiatric clinic with what his club describes as "psychological problems".

Would it be cruel for us to speculate that young Mathieu has a pathological aversion to telling the truth? Or perhaps he has a deep-seated phobia over facing the consequences of NOT telling the truth. Whatever, this becomes more of a French farce by the day.

UPDATE: The Herald has more to add to this story

Lock up your children!

We'll say it again - lock up your children, if you live in Rotorua. "Why?" you ask. Because Stuff reports that Oriwa Kemp, one of those convicted and imprisoned for the horrific abuse against Nia Glassie is being freed from prison. Kemp has served two years of her three year, four month sentence, even though it is only five months since she was sentenced.

Some will argue that Kemp herself is a victim of this dreadful case, unable to stop the Curtis brothers from inflicting Nia's fatal injuries. So just so you know, none of us, neither me, myself, nor I takes that view. Kemp is as guilty as anyone involved. At any point she could have walked away, or even better, called the Police. She didn't. Her loyalty to her mates overrode any sense of right or wrong she may have had.

And it seems as though there are those in Rotorua who are not comfortable about Kemp's early return to their community. The story quotes Rotorua's Mayor:

Rotorua Mayor Kevin Winters said the decision to free Kemp was appalling.

"I'm saddened by this day. I think we've got to have a justice system that has some courage to send a message that domestic family violence won't be tolerated. But the message coming out today is ... a mixed message.

"It's not a deterrent at all."

The Parole Board granted Kemp freedom on condition she be placed under electronic monitoring, completes an anger-management course, completes any other treatment or counselling deemed necessary, does not drink alcohol or use drugs, and does not have contact with anyone under 16 unless an approved adult is present.

She will be allowed to leave her parole address to travel to and from work.

Those are pretty rigorous parole conditions, and may indicate that the Parole Board has a degree of unease about Kemp's return to the community. If that is the case, why is she being released at all, and what has she learned from this experience?

Of course no sentence will change one key point - Nia Glassie is dead, and Oriwa Kemp is one of those responsible.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Dunne - Mallard's lying again

Peter Dunne is putting the boot into Trevor Mallard on Facebook this morning, and we like it!! Have a read of this:

Trevor Mallard reckons I am about to be offered the post of Ambassador to the United States, to get me off the political before the next election, something I have no interest in. The claim is no more than a lie, dripping with malice. If this is the sort of thing is the best Labour can come up with in a time of international economic recession, then it's no wonder they are 20% behind in the polls.

Well, it wouldn't be the first time that Mallard has made a false accusation - let's see, just off the top of our collective heads we can remember Julian Robertson (National's American bag-man), Melissa Lee (inappropriate use of NZ On Air money) and Paula Bennett (giving the bird in the House) - none of which has ever been able to be substantiated. Doubtless there are more false allegations by Mallard, and you're welcvome to add to our knowledge base in the comments section.

Meanwhile, a big ups to Peter Dunne for calling the MP for Hutt South out on his lie, and reminding us just why we should never, EVER contemplate having a Labour government!

Time for a change

We've pondered this for a while, but we reckon that the time has come for a change in the All Black coaching ranks. It may now in fact be long overdue, but we've cut the Three Wise Men a bit of slack up to this point. However two inept All Black performances in the last three weeks have helped us make our minds up.

What hurts the most is not that the All Blacks lost to France and played poorly against Italy. It's the fact the the All Blacks played without passion. They were out-muscled by France at Dunedin; beaten up; bullied; call it what you will. That doesn't happen to All Black teams very often, and we don't like it. They were better at Wellington, but the standard dropped again on Saturday night.

This is a young and inexperienced All Black team. But that shouldn't be an excuse for a lack of passion and commitment. If anything, you'd think that newbies coming into the All Black environment would be champing at the bit; that they would be prepared, as our old mate Mark Donaldson said way back to "crawl over broken glass" for the black jersey. We haven't seen a lot of that, except perhaps for Tanerau Latimer's performance at Wellington and Isaac Ross' at Christchurch, and that's really disappointing. And we reckon that a good deal of that comes from the players' preparation.

The coaching trio indicated on Saturday night that the players hadn't followed the game-plan. OK, you could argue that once the players get out on the park, the impact that the coaches have is minimal, but that seems to us to be a lame excuse. Henry and Co should have enough mana that the players do what they are coached to do without question. Perhaps "player power" is rearing its ugly head here, which suggests that the coaching team doesn't enjoy the confidence of the squad.

We weren't too upset when Henry, Hansen and Smith were reappointed after the 2007 RWC. In hindsight, we were wrong, so we now seek forgiveness for those we have wronged by our suggestions that the NZRU made the right decision at the time. We now call upon the NZRU not to take any steps to renew the contracts of Messrs Henry, Hansen and Smith until after the Tri-Nations. Even then, we are going to need to see a huge improvement both in performance and attitude from this All Black team before we could even contemplate their retention.

Let's turn the clock back six years to Henry's All Blacks' first game, when they thrashed a strong England team at Carisbrrok. Has the All Black side improved six years on? Sadly, we think not, and we now reckon that it's time for a change. The biggest problem however is who do we replace them with, given that the best option is no longer available?

UPDATE: We've done it! We've followed Paul Henry's immortal advice and started a group - The All Black Coaches - Time for a Change Facebook group to be precise - just follow the link ...

Suicide by cop?

It certainly seems that way, from news reports of the shooting of a paraplegic man in Christchurch last night, just a few streets from where we spent the weekend. The Press reports:

Police shot and killed a Christchurch paraplegic gunman late last night who had terrorised neighbours in an armed siege lasting several hours.

A quiet Christchurch winter's evening near Jellie Park in Burnside was broken shortly before 8pm by the repeated sound of gunfire in the streets and the smell of cordite wafting through the area.

Police evacuated about 40 residents, some in their pyjamas, from Wadhurst Place and Guildford Street to the Aurora Centre at the nearby Burnside High School.

Ambulances rushed two people to Christchurch Hospital's emergency department with moderate injuries. The two were a bystander and an Armed Offenders officer. They were both discharged from hospital this morning.

Police northern area commander Inspector Dave Lawry said the dead man was a 40-year-old paraplegic who had also suffered from head injuries.

His name was not being released at this stage.

''He fired in excess of 100 rounds of both shotgun (pellets) and .308 (rifle cartridges) into houses in the cul-de-sac where he lived.

"He contacted family yesterday saying he was suicidal and also made threats to police when they contacted him.''

It is believed the man had been drinking.

We guess that the bottom line is that when you shoot at armed police, there are going to be consequences, and even a man in a wheelchair is dangerous when armed with a shotgun and a rifle. Doubtless the civil libertarians will go to town over this one, but it seems that this victim of a police shooting got just what he wanted.

The Monday Quote - 29/6/2009

Today's quote is a little longer than usual; then again, Michael Jackson can't be dealt with in one paragraph! Grant Smithies comments on the complex paradox which was Jackson:

MICHAEL JACKSON was just a few weeks away from launching his first tour in more than a decade. As a rabid fan of his early music, I felt a peculiar mix of emotions on hearing the news that he died at the age of 50, in Los Angeles. His death seemed all the more poignant given the profound strangeness of his life. Here was a man who both delighted and perplexed the world, an eccentric loner whose music was frequently sublime, but whose private life seemed truly tragic.

Jackson was complex, damaged, gifted a former victimised child who may in turn have victimised other children. Some believed he was, quite literally, driven mad by fame.

In the past few decades the media has focused more on the man than the music and it's easy to see why. Jackson made such good copy. There was the botched surgery, that helium man-child voice, the delusional "pop messiah" TV appearances with arms outstretched in flowing robes, the child molestation cases followed by the "I'm a normal guy, honest" smokescreen marriages, the pet chimp and personal oxygen tent, his rehab for painkiller addiction, his financial woes, his inability to find his other glove, his habit of cloaking his kids in blankets or dangling one off a high balcony.

He became the pop world's resident alien, the most high-profile freak in a circus with no shortage of freaks. The media had found a readymade tabloid caricature, "Wacko Jacko", while the general public many of whom had grown up moonwalking around their kitchens to huge 80s' hits such as "Billie Jean" began to view him as a basket case, a lost soul whose harsh childhood and early fame had left him so removed from everyday reality that he had no idea how to behave.

But, lest we forget, this man changed popular music, profoundly and forever.

Good housing policy

The Herald editorial this morning is fulsome in its praise of the government for its state house buy-back policy. It begins:

Tenants of state houses will shortly be given an opportunity to buy them. Housing Minister Phil Heatley has announced that houses will be offered to tenants at market valuations from September and Housing New Zealand will use the money to build new houses.

This news has been greeted with predictable disapproval from Labour, the Green Party and various advocacy groups who claim to be concerned for people in urgent need of a state house. Their preferred solution seems to be to spend whatever it takes to house everyone who cannot afford to buy a home. But since that would be an open-ended liability it is plainly impractical. So what else would the opponents of state house sales suggest?

We find it interesting that Labour opposes this policy. "Why?" you ask. Well, there's the small matter that this is exactly what Phil Goff advocated a number of years ago when he was Labour's Housing spokesperson! Which makes Moana Mackey's opposition as witnessed in the video that follows somewhat hollow we reckon. Watch this:

Meanwhile, we'll leave the last word to the Herald:

The sale of state houses could be a form of pepperpotting for older, public rental estates. Ownership makes all the difference to the care of property and if a critical mass of established tenants can be encouraged to buy, the care they take can be contagious.

The policy looks to be good for the tenants, good for their neighbourhood, good for those waiting for a state house, good for the taxpayer, the building industry and the economy. Good for everyone, in fact, except those who live on constituencies of state dependence.

At last!

Well done to the Central Pulse in the ANZ Netball Championship. After nearly two seasons of floggings and the occasional near miss, the girls have finally put a win on the board. And what a win it was too - knocking over last season's champions, the NSW Swifts, a team which includes Australian star Catherine Cox.

The Pulse is largely a team of no-names; promising junior players, who are benefitting from participating in the big league. They have had several heart-breaking losses this season, so it's great to see them finally put a win on the board. They've earned it.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Return of the Prawn

We are delighted to report that Busted Blonde and her entourage, the RoarPrawn team, are back in the blogging business. We were sad when the Blonde defected to the dark side and joined the public service, but she now reckons she can blog without conflict of interest as long as she and her cohorts stay away from health and Maori issues.

Welcome back BB!

Good stuff!

We've just seen on the Herald website that the Italian captain and No 8 Sergio Parisse has been banned for eight weeks for eye-gouging in the test match last night.

Whilst it's good news that Parisse has received a relatively lengthy ban for a blatant act of foul play, we reckon he's pretty lucky - the usual starting point for this is 12 weeks, but his previous good record saved him. It was a cynical act however; one that has no part in rugby - just ask Richard Loe!

Bang 'im up!

Meet Max Heslehurst, the 200kg fraudster. Heslehurst, also known as Mad Max or Fat Max (we wonder why??!!) was recently sentenced to three years and nine months imprisonment on 41 counts of fraud where he fleeced people out of $344,000. But as Stuff reports, he is trying to wriggle out of jail time using his health as the reason. Have a read of this:

His lawyer, Mike Meyrick, told the Appeal Court that bail should be granted not only because the appeal case was strong, but because of Heslehurst's ill-health and his difficulties obtaining medical treatment in confinement.

Heslehurst had been found guilty by a South Auckland jury of fleecing at least 30 victims across the North Island of $344,000.

It was reported at the time of his sentencing in May that his obesity meant other prisoners had to help with his personal hygiene when he used the toilet.

Meyrick told the Sunday Star-Times he would not appeal Heslehurst's failed bail application to the Supreme Court, but his client's condition meant he was "degraded" in the prison setting. He did not believe the Corrections Department was equipped to care for prisoners like Heslehurst who effectively had a disability.

Give us a break! You do the crime; you do the time. Heslehurst should have thought about that when he was bingeing himself. And the story carries some detail about what this oversized low-life did:

Heslehurst reportedly duped his victims including a solo mother, a dentist, a racedog trainer and a group of Hamilton bankers by offering to sell them cars or televisions for bargain prices.

He told one of his victims he could get seven wide-screen televisions cheaply because they had belonged to failed finance company Bridgecorp and were to be auctioned the next day. But there were no televisions or cars.

Let's not beat around the bush here. This guy is a crook, and deserves to be behind bars. And his is grossly, grossly obese. We (me, myself and I) currently tip the scales at around 100kg, and we consider ourselves to be overweight due to combination of a sedentary lifestyle, insufficient exercise and poor food choices. We can't even begin to imagine what it would take to be twice that size! The story mentions that Heslehurst suffers from gout, diabetes and difficulty walking. None of those conditions are causes of his morbid obesity; all are consequences. There is no mention of any medical condition contributing to his obesity. Heslehurst has also made bad choices, but he's made a whole lot more than we have, and they include ones with consequences - again we say - you do the crime; you do the time. And it seems as though the Court is going to make sure that happens. Who knows, Heslehurst might even come out of clink a trimmer and improved person!

We keep hearing about the supposed "obesity epidemic". It's not an epidemic at all; we repeat, it's a choice thing, and we have made our share of bad ones. But how about these for the ultimate in weasel words?

Spokesperson for Fight the Obesity Epidemic, Dr Robyn Toomath, said institutions such as Corrections needed to take steps to ensure they could effectively care for obesity sufferers, as it was a growing problem. The stigma of obesity was something that was likely to be magnified in prison.

Give us strength!

Christian Music Sunday - 28/6/2009

Today we feature another of our favourite Christian bands - Delirious? - a band with a string of best-selling albums (several of which we have), and a couple of songs which have broken into the Top 50 on the UK commercial charts as well. The heart of the band is lead singer Martin Smith and guitarist Stu Garrard, both of whom are prolific songsmiths. We've seen Delirious? live twice at Parachute Festival, and they have a great stage presence to go with some awesome music.

Today's clip is from a Delirious? concert at the Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, Illinois, one of the USA's biggest churches, and it's a beautiful worship song ... it's called Miracle Maker - enjoy

The lyrics are here, on the Delirious? website. And sadly, from the website we have read that the band members will be going their separate ways after a series of farewell shows later in the year - that's a huge shame.

Target targetted

The Herald on Sunday reports that the owners of an Auckland cafe are on the verge of bankruptcy after being falsely accused by TV3's Target programme of serving contaminated chicken. The story says:

The owners of a Ponsonby cafe falsely accused by TV3's Target show of serving contaminated food say the blunder has left them on the brink of bankruptcy.

The June 16 edition of the consumer show featured a hidden camera segment assessing the hygiene standards of eight Auckland cafes, and claimed chicken from Cafe Cezanne contained high levels of faecal coliforms.

This week TV3 released a statement on behalf of production company Top Shelf Productions admitting food samples from the cafes were incorrectly coded and they were unable to confirm which one had produced the contaminated food.

The statement said the employee in charge of labelling the samples had been sacked.

Cafe Cezanne owners Rod Williams and Jackie Wilkinson said the "unbelievable" mistake had ruined their once-thriving business and they had taken legal advice on their next step.

Personally, we hope they sue TV3 and the production company. Target has apologised to he owners, but the damage has been done, and the old maxim of "no smoke without fire" will apply. And while we're talking about TV3, perhaps they could commission Top Shelf to do a Target show on the integrity of TV political journalists, including the ever-expanding Duncan Garner. That would indeed be interesting!

Rugby reflections

We're glad we didn't expend vast sums of dosh to go and watch the All Blacks beat Italy last night. It was a very poor quality match played in bitterly cold conditions. We checked the MetService website after the match and the temperature in Christchurch at 9pm was 0*, with wind-chill making it feel like -2*. The ground was wet, the stadium was half-empty and the match was lacking in atmosphere.

Add to the mix a nervous All Black team, and Italian team which had come to not lose by too much and a pedantic Irish referee, and this match was no spectacle. Apart from an excellent first test try by Isaac Ross (and doesn't he look like a young Ian Jones when he runs?), the most memorable feature of the match was a shameful eye-gouge by the Italian captain Sergio Parisse on Ross. Doubtless he will have a date with the judiciary tomorrow.

Luke McAlister still looks very, very rusty, but with the Tri-Nations just three weeks away, there are few options. The All Black backline play was pretty stilted last night, although that was not helped by George Clancy's definition of the offside line bordering on non-existant. We hate banging on about referees, but it would be remiss not to comment on Clancy's ineptness, which was even more marked than his Dunedin performance of two weeks ago.

We're not ready to write the 2009 All Blacks off quite yet, but we are not optimistic about the Tri-Nations. The All Blacks face a huge task to get up to speed before taking on the Wallabies in Auckland in three weeks time.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Press on Jackson

Given that we are in Christchurch for the weekend, it's fitting that we note what's in this morning's Press. Predictably, the paper leads with Michael Jackson's death, and a stunning revelation that none of us would ever have suspected:

OK, excuse us for a moment while we extract our tongue from our cheek!

Armstrong on Goff

John Armstrong writes rather wistfully about Phil Goff's attack on John Key this week over the Jobs Summit and unemployment - he begins:

How on Earth did that happen? If they haven't already conducted a post-mortem, National's strategists might well ask themselves how Labour managed to set the political agenda so easily this week on the crucial question of how to preserve jobs in the recession.

The Government insists it wasn't caught napping. If that is the case, it still gave a pretty good impression of being caught off-guard by Phil Goff's long-planned offensive.

The Government also insists it is relaxed about the Labour leader focusing on the jobs question. If so, why was there such a scramble to gather information showing it is still full steam ahead when it comes to finding initiatives to help people keep their job or find a new one if they need to?

Perhaps for the first time since becoming Labour's leader, Goff finally used all his skills as a politician of long experience on something of real substance, rather than getting sidetracked by the comparatively trivial.

Goff needed to get back on track after his less-than-glorious role in the messy Richard Worth affair. Still flush with Labour's triumph in Mt Albert, he stayed relentlessly on message this week as he sought to expose the widening gap between the rising tide of jobless and the seemingly diminishing returns in the way of credible job-saving initiatives in the aftermath of February's Job Summit.

We're wondering whether Armstrong wtached and listened to a different iteration of Parliament this week. Sure, Goff questioned John Key over unemployment, but Key gave as good as he got, and Goff's credibility took a hit on Thursday when Phil Heatley dredged up comments Goff had made in the past directly supporting National's state house buy-back proposals.

As we saw this week, the target was not John Key but Lockwood Smith. Trevor Mallard had a very public dummy-spit on Tuesday, and Question Time for the rest of the week was loaded with snide comments from the likes of David Parker, David Cunliffe, Darren Hughes and Mallard himself about the Speaker's even-handedness. If it was Labour's plan to single-handely attack John Key, we would suggest that they made a spectacular mess of it with all the "white noise" around Mr Speaker. And surely Labour is the last party which should be moaning about the neutrality of the Speaker - how quickly they forget!

Night rugby

Speaking of last week's incident in Wellington, we wonder if this kind of thing is another consequence of night rugby, and another reason for the NZRU to be looking at its scheduling.

We know that matches in New Zealand and Australia now are predominantly nocturnal, due to the wishes of the TV rights-holders. But we reckon it's time for the NZRU, and perhaps the ARU to tell the northerners to pull their heads in.

The biggest problem at the moment as we see it is the quality of the product. It's absolutely farcical to be playing night games at this time of year, especially in New Zealand. It's cold, the dew falls, or perhaps the fog (and it was somewhat smoggy in central Christchurch last night), and the matches lose much of their spectacle. Therefore the European TV market is actually seeing an inferior product. The again, such is the state of NH rugby, that that's what they are used to! All this achieves is to satisfy the sleep habits of northern viewers.

The NZRU needs to tell the rights-holders that it is our games, and that we and the Australians will play them at a time that suits the southern hemisphere audience in the first instance. It was a lovely afternoon in Christchurch yesterday, and would have been ideal for a game of rugby which would have been played on a firm, dry surface with the sun on the players' backs.

Although we are in Christchurch for the weekend, we've decided not to go to AMI stadium tonight, much as we would love to. Had it been a day game, we would have been there with bells on. Christchurch is the only major NZ city in which we have yet to watch a test match. Before berating Christchurch for not selling out the ground tonight, the NZRU should be considering several facts; this is a "minor" test match - the Italians are not of the same stature as the French who have preceeded them; AMI Stadium is a construction zone, and until the new grandstand is completed it is cold and exposed; this is the coldest time of the year, in a winter which already threatens to be our coldest for many a year.

It would seem that the NZ rugby public is now voting with its feet. The NZRU would be foolish in the extreme to discard that sentiment for commercial considerations.

PS - feel free to post your thoughts on tonight's test match on this thread, as well as comment on the above content.

UPDATE: 9.30am, and the temperature is barely above freezing, whilst the fog has rolled in - hmmmm ...

Lying Bastareaud

The Dom-Post suggests that French centre Mathieu Bastareaud has still not told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth with regard to what happened to him last weekend.

His latest version is that he fell in his room and cut his cheek on a table. However, Police reckon no blood was found in his room, and it took him 25 minutes to get there, after entering the hotel with two other players (including his captain) and two women.

However embarrassing this may be for young Mathieu, and for the French Rugby Federation, the truth needs to be told. And we suspect, given that three in to two doesn't go (unless you're a leaguie), there may have been a dispute over the said women.

Tell the truth Mathieu - confession is good for the soul!

More evidence

Here's some more photographic evidence of how quickly the phenomenon formerly known as Global Warming has enveloped Central Otago. Meanwhile we heard on the radio at 5pm yesterday that the MAXIMUM temperature in Alexandra yesterday was a balmy ZERO degrees!

Yes indeed, we think that we can state with confidence (and a Tui) that the theory of Global Warming has been well and truly proven - not!!!

Friday, June 26, 2009

The many faces ...

... of the late Michael Jackson are well covered in this photo montage from Stuff. His death has now been confirmed.

Michael Jackson dead?

Apparently so, according to media reports.

We guess that means that his comeback tour is now on the backburner, even though we suspect that it might not really have been the Strange One performing. He was once a creative genius, but in his latter years became stranger and stranger, and the allegations of child sexual abuse will forever hang over him.

Friday Forum 26/6/2009

Yay! It's Friday again, and the weekend has already begun for us. We're currently en route to Christchurch, but it's not what you think! We're catching up with family (including Inventory's Darling Daughter, who has just finished her first lot of exams), and have a couple of work things to do. There's no plans to go to the rugby on Saturday night, but if the weather's fine - well, you just never know!

But we digress! It's Friday Forum time, so come on in, make yourself at home, and share your thoughts with the blogosphere. We'll be checking in from time to time; at least we know we have internet access this time!

As always, the floor is yours!

Caption contest!

The above piccie of Corrections' boss Barry Matthews trying out a prison cell in a container just cries out for a caption contest, so here goes! Give it your best shot this winter Friday - we'll kick it off:

Judith! Where are you going with that key?

French farce

Quelle horreur! The Dom-Post is reporting that French rugby player Mathieu Bastareaud arrived back at the Holiday Inn uninjured on Sunday morning, but left injured. What should we conclude from that?

Was he the victim of "friendly fire"? Were the four or five men who attacked him lurking INSIDE the Holiday Inn and lying in wait? And why has he gone so coy on the matter, after besmirching Wellington's reputation?

This really has turned in to a classic French farce n'est ce pas?

Tell someone who cares...

Green MP's Sue Bradford and Catherine Delahunty professed faux outrage when the news broke this week that the SIS had been monitoring them since their respective schooldays. Today comes the news that Australia's spooks also had Bradford on their watchlist.

Neither, in our humble and considered opinion has any grounds for complaint. If you play with fire, sometimes you're going to get burned. Frankly, we would be outraged if Bradford in particular had NOT come to the notice of the SIS!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Flawed ideology"

We blogged earlier in the week about the staffing dilemma in Early Childhood Education, and the ideology which underpins it. And this morning Garth George has devoted his weekly column to the same subject - he writes:

The trouble with any bureaucracy is that it is wedded to the philosophy that one size fits all and, it seems to me, its practitioners are actively discouraged, from the moment they join it, from thinking outside the square.

This applies obviously to the bureaucrats of the Ministry of Education, who have decided that some of our most dedicated, committed and experienced early childhood educators will have to be laid off unless they achieve further academic qualifications.

Among them is a woman who, while not holding the specific qualification the powers that be consider necessary to teach in preschools, has a bachelor of education degree in primary teaching and has worked in early childhood centres for 16 years.

She has in that time gained a Playcentre Certificate and a diploma in music for early childhood education, done courses to keep her up to date with changes in the sector, and has raised a child.

Yet in the eyes of the bureaucracy she is not considered to be qualified under the Ministry of Education's funding rules.

This is bureaucracy gone mad, and it behoves Education Minister Anne Tolley to rein in this nonsense and force the education bureaucracy to make some exceptions, particularly since early childhood centres will be short of between 1500 and 2600 teachers next year.

We agree in part. It IS "bureaucracy gone mad", but in our opinion, the fault lies not with the Ministry of Education, but with the politicians who pushed the flawed ideology which George refers to. For the feminists who had such a strong presence in the Labour government when it was first elected in 1999, ECE was a key factor in pushing the feminist agenda. And accordingly, Labour poured voluminous resources in that diection. The result was the 2002 Strategic Plan for ECE. But in true Labour fashion, their vision is now in tatters due to Labour's failure to adequately resource its grand plan. Perhaps Michael Cullen was too busy acquiring his trainset!

There's one big irony here. The Minister of Education up to the 2002 election, during which time the Strategic Plan was developed was none other than our good friend Trevor Mallard, whose behaviour in the House on Tuesday was at a level that no good ECE service, especially ours would countenance! And indeed, Mallard himself signed off the plan, Pathways to the Future - Nga Huarahi Arataki, which can be viewed at the preceding link.

Ah well ....

Well, we're back blogging and working this morning, so obviously we didn't sneak down to Masterton and buy a Big Wednesday ticket at the Kuripuni Post and Lotto Shop. There will doubtless be much speculation in the Wairarapa as to who the lucky folk are; we simply wish them well, and hope that they get good, sound advice from a range of trustworthy people.

Meantime the Dom-Post has a story on the shop owners where the ticket was sold. They are former Zimbaweans who moved to New Zealand after being "kicked out" of their homeland eight years ago, leaving with nothing.

One day our boat will come in; just not this time - c'est la vie ....

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Judge for yourself

Ok, we've been banging on a bit about Trevor Mallard's disgraceful behaviour from yesterday. But before we let it go and move on, as Mallard's former leader was so fond of saying, here's the video of yesterday's events. If anything, it makes Mallard's behaviour look even worse, especially the outburst as he left the Debating Chamber. Judge for yourself whether Trevor Mallard overstepped the boundary yesterday.

Hat-tip for the video: Interest.co.nz

Free speech - Trevor Mallard style

We've referred in an earlier post to Trevor Mallard's attack on Lockwood Smith's integrity via the Labour Party blog, Red Alert. It seems that the heat in the kitchen might be getting a bit much for the MP for Hutt South, as a number of negative (and some very humourous) comments have disappeared into the black hole of cyberspace. They are accompanied by this comment from the man himself:

Trevor Mallard says:

A number of recent comments have been grossly inaccurate and offensive - rather than answer one by one have taken them out. Lets stick to the issue here guys - if you want to defame do it on Whaleoil here :- http://www.whaleoil.co.nz/content/lockwood-goes-duck-hunting

Now, having seen some of the comments, and having even made one of them, let me assure you that the only place where these comments were "grossly inaccurate and offensive" was in the deepest recesses of Trevor Mallard's conscience. Sometimes the truth hurts.

However in our considered opinion, Mallard's censorship is nowt more than an attempt to justify his behaviour yesterday, by having a blog post full of supportive comments. For the record, the only comments ever deleted at Keeping Stock have been ones where the poster has asked us to delete the comment.

Question Time this afternoon will be interesting, as will the General Debate. But it's a glorious day here and the golf course beckons, so MySky has already been set to capture the latest instalment in this Beltway soap-opera!

Big Wednesday II

With the "feeding frenzy" over tonight's Big Wednesday jackpot, now tipped to be $35 million, we thought that this cartoon from Guy Body in today's Herald was rather apt.

PS - Don't worry if you haven't got your ticket - we're just about to head out and buy the winning one, so you may as well save your pennies!!!

Bad boys

While we're talking about Labour "bad boys", there was some damning evidence in Taito Philip Field's corruption trial yesterday - the Herald reports:

A builder who oversaw construction on a Taito Phillip Field-owned house in Samoa says he was "pressured" by the former MP and his family into lying in statements taken during an investigation into Field.

Fa'atiga Sulusulu yesterday told a High Court jury sitting in Auckland that he signed a 2005 statement he made with the help of Field family members knowing it to be only "80 per cent true".

He also gave evidence of lying to investigating lawyer Gareth Kayes in a statement taken later that year.

Field is defending 35 charges of bribery, corruption and obstruction of justice after allegedly allowing Thai immigrants to work for him in exchange for help with immigration matters.

Mr Sulusulu yesterday told prosecutor David Johnstone he was contacted by Field family members - including Field himself - and told to make a statement for them.

Mr Sulusulu told Mr Johnston he now rejected 20 per cent of the statement "because they are not my words".

He said Field family members, including Field, again instructed him on "what to say, and what not to say" prior to his meeting with Mr Kayes.

He cited three reasons for lying, saying: he felt pressure from the Field family, he did not appreciate how far the investigation would go, and "because I was looking out for Taito".

Sheesh - and to think that Helen Clark reckoned Field was only looking after his constituents - before he outlived his uselfulness and was dispatched from the Labour Party for the biggest sin of all - upstaging the PM. We wonder what else Clark and Cullen REALLY knew about Field's unique way of helping constituents.

What REALLY happened yesterday...

Trevor Mallard seems to be intent on rewriting history on Labour's Red Alert blog, so being the good citizens that we are, here'e the full, unexpurgated version of what occurred in the House yesterday afternoon when Mallard insinuated that John Key had lied to the House - this from Hansard:

Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister for Food Safety) : On my instruction, to reduce business compliance costs the New Zealand Food Safety Authority has removed the requirement that all wine destined for the European Union must be sent to Auckland for testing, and now wine will be able to be tested closer to a winery’s own operations. [Interruption]

Hon John Key: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt the member, but the member Mr Mallard has been accusing me of being a liar, and I think that is inappropriate in this House.

Mr SPEAKER: On a couple of occasions during question time today I have heard the Hon Trevor Mallard interjecting exactly that. Offence has been taken on this occasion, and I ask the member to withdraw and apologise for it.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Before I do that, Mr Speaker, I make it clear—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Hon Trevor Mallard: I did not make the comment!

Mr SPEAKER: The member will leave the Chamber for the rest of the day.

Hon Trevor Mallard: For not making a comment? For goodness’ sake!

Mr SPEAKER: The member will not dispute the Speaker. [Interruption] And if he is not careful he will be named. [Interruption]

  • Hon Trevor Mallard withdrew from the Chamber.

Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I appreciate that we have to take this issue carefully. I think the issue was that Mr Mallard was trying to communicate to you that he had not used the phrase that the Prime Minister had accused him of making. Mr Mallard said he was happy to withdraw if he had breached parliamentary procedure by using an unparliamentary term, but Mr Mallard did not say the very word that the Prime Minister said he had used. I heard what Mr Mallard said; I am happy to repeat it for you, if that is of use to you. To eject a member and threaten him with being named, when you had directed him to withdraw and apologise for something that he had not said, and when you did not ask him to clarify what he had said, does seem like Mr Mallard has paid a very high penalty.

Mr SPEAKER: The matter is very simple. Today during question time I have listened to the Hon Trevor Mallard interjecting inappropriately on a number of occasions. I have pulled him up on a couple of occasions. The problem at the end was that when I asked him to withdraw and apologise for it because offence had been taken, he started to dispute with the Speaker. I will not tolerate that. The manner in which he did it was the problem; it was not that he had interjected. He could have withdrawn and apologised for that. It is not a difficult thing. The dignity of the House was totally destroyed by the way that the member behaved, and I will not tolerate that in the House. The honourable member will just have to learn to control his anger. It would have been perfectly within my right as the Speaker to have him called back into the House and have him named. I have not done that, because I do not want to do that, but the member will have to learn to behave with a little more decorum. He is a senior member. He has the authority from the Labour Party, it seems, to raise points of order on behalf of the party. The shadow Leader of the House appears to allow him to do that on a number of occasions. If he is going to do that, he has to respect the House and respect the dignity of the House, and not behave in the way that he did just now. He will be out for the rest of this day, and he will learn to behave in a manner befitting the dignity of this House. I did not make that decision lightly. Members will note that I resisted the temptation. In my time in the House, I have seen members named for that kind of behaviour as they left the Chamber. I did not want to do that, because I realised that the member had lost the plot for a moment and he was angry. That is the end of the matter. But I want all members, on all sides of the House, to realise that it does not matter about me as the Speaker; it is the treatment of this House. This House will be treated with its proper dignity.

Hon John Key: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Let me make it quite clear. On numerous occasions Mr Mallard yelled out at me: “Your nose is growing. Your nose is growing.” I think everyone understands what Mr Mallard meant by that. I took offence at it. The reason I took offence is that Mr Hodgson may not like the fact that I have not answered questions in the way that he would want, but I have not done so because I am a liar or have misled New Zealand in any way; I have done so because I do not believe that it is in the public interest to answer those questions in the way that he would want. That is a vastly different proposition. I recognise Opposition members’ dissatisfaction with that, and they are entitled to be dissatisfied, but I am also entitled to answer questions in the way that I perceive to be in the public interest. There was no ambiguity about the implications of the statements that Mr Mallard made. Members will know that I have been in this House for 7 years and I have virtually never asked members to apologise, but I will not put up with Mr Mallard implying very clearly that I am a liar. I am not.

Hon Darren Hughes: I think what the Prime Minister has just offered the House goes directly to the point I have made to you. The Prime Minister took a point of order and accused Mr Mallard of calling him a particular word. Mr Speaker, it was that which made you get to your feet and reprimand Mr Mallard. As you rightly said, he had said that word earlier in question time and without hesitation withdrew it. But the Prime Minister, who brought the issue to your attention by way of a point of order, used a different word from what he has now admitted in his second point of order was actually said. The other point I would make is that you have given a long dissertation about your views on Mr Mallard, using your authority as Chair, in a way that I do not think we have ever seen; it was quite a detailed explanation given by somebody in the Chair. Mr Mallard has been penalised, in this case, for something that the Prime Minister himself, who was the person who complained, now admits was a false accusation about what Mr Mallard had said in the first—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Hon Bill English: Sit down!

Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. And there will be no interjections, even from the Deputy Prime Minister. I have let these points of order go on long enough, because I realise that the House is concerned about the actions I have taken. But I say to the Hon Darren Hughes that anyone who thinks that what the Hon Trevor Mallard said was not an insinuation of lying does not have half the intelligence that I attribute to the Hon Darren Hughes. To insinuate a member is lying is out of order. It has been well—please do not dispute me while I am in the Chair. I have not asked many members to leave this House. But I will not have the dignity of this House insulted by members behaving in the way that the Hon Trevor Mallard has behaved just now. I will not tolerate it. It is up to members to treat this House with dignity. That is the last thing I will say on this matter. We were on question No. 12. I think Colin King has a supplementary question.

The bottom line is this - Mallard threw a major tantrum, which he may now, in the cold hard light of morning be regretting. That's tough. As Lockwood Smith remarked - he needs to learn to control his anger, and he is a senior member of the House. And Hansard did not pick up Mallard's insult to the Speaker as he left the chamber - along the lines of "That's the worst decision you've ever made".

But worse for Mallard, and for the institution of Parliament, he hasn't left it there. He has blogged that "Smith did not allow me to say that I had not made the comments and tossed me out in probably the most blatantly biased decision of the year." - a clear criticism of the integrity of the Speaker. He has continued to pursue this line in the comments thread, and has indicated that Labour members are considering a vote of no confidence in Dr Lockwood Smith.

If Mallard and Labour go down that track they are, in our humble and considered opinion, bigger fools than we gave them credit for being. Mallard came perilously close to being named yesterday, and rather than attacking the Speaker, should apologise to him, and thank him for his patiemce, which must have been stretched to the limit yesterday.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More good news

Further to our post last week about alleged immigration fraudster Gerard Otimi, we are delighted to report that he has been arrested and charged with three charges of deception under the Crimes Act.

That's excellent news. In fact it would probably be the best news we'd heard all day, had Trevor Mallard not thrown a tanty this afternoon!

Red card for Trev

A couple of weeks ago, Trevor Mallard became the first MP to be red-carded by Dr Lockwood Smith. A few moments ago, he got his beans again, and another red card, after accusing John Key of being a liar.

We'll post the Hansard shortly, but one point stands out - Mr Speaker suggesting that Trevor Mallard needs to do something about his anger problem. Doubtless Tau Henare has a strong opinion on that as well!

Lockwood Smith has been patient to a fault with Mallard, and has bent over backwards not to single him out extra disciplinary treatment, despite Mallard's constant provocation. We commend him for standing up to the bully this afternoon, and note that Mallard is lucky not to have been "named" for his parting shot to Mr Speaker along the lines of "That is the worst decision you have ever made". In our considered opinion, Trevor Mallard got every ounce of what he deserved this afternoon.

UPDATE: Trevor Mallard doesn't do remorse! Check out his latest blog post. We will copy and paste it, as we reckon the link will suddenly die when he realises what a fool he is making of himself. But it will stay here on Keeping Stock for posterity. We hope that Lockwood Smith hauls him over the coals tomorrow. Have a read of this:

Key’s Growing Nose

Posted by Trevor Mallard on June 23rd, 2009

John Key tried to tell the House today that it was not in the public interest for him to reveal whether or not he had information not now in the public arena when he lost confidence in Richard Worth. Not what information, not the source but whether there was such information.

Revealing the fact that such information exists, or does not exist will assist the public in making a judgement as to whether Worth has been dealt with fairly or harshly and key has an obligation to reveal the specific information unless there is some security intelligence, defence or commercially sensitive reason for not doing so.

Political sensitivity is not a reason one can invoke the public interest.

I told Key I didn’t believe him, told him his nose was growing. He lied to the House and quoted me as calling him a liar. Speaker Smith required me to withdraw and apologise for saying something I did not say. To do so would have been to admit saying it. Smith did not allow me to say that I had not made the comments and tossed me out in probably the most blatantly biased decision of the year.

Flogging a dead horse

The list of Questions for Oral Answer for this afternoon has just been posted on Parliament's website, and for the fourth successive sitting day, Pete Hodgson is asking John Key:

Why did he lose confidence in Dr Richard Worth as a Minister?

Key has already said he's saying nothing more on Worth's resignation, and we respect that. And we reckon that Hodgson is wasting Parliament's time asking a question which the PM has already answered three times.

What we'd really like to see however is a supplementary question from some government MP along the lines of:

What reports has the Prime Minister seen suggesting that the Leader of the Opposition was involved in attempts to trap Dr Richard Worth?

Sheesh, the answers to THAT question would be REALLY interesting!

Container cells or private prisons?

That seems to be the choice that the Corrections Association, the jailers' trade union seems to be offering the government. Claire Trevett writes in this morning's Herald:

A stalemate over privatising prisons has put the government's plans to double-bunk more prisoners in jeopardy, forcing it to resort to other measures such as using shipping containers as cells instead.

National had planned to introduce double bunking of up to 1000 more prisoners to cater for the growth in prisoner numbers until a new prison was built. However, the prison officers' union has withheld its permission for the plan, saying it wants the government to provide an assurance it will not privatise prisons first.

Corrections Minister Judith Collins said that meant the Government had to look at alternatives, such as adding on converted shipping containers or prefabricated "concrete pods" to existing prisons.

"Obviously it's not our first choice, but we've got to be able to house these prisoners."

Ms Collins said allowing double-bunking to go ahead would have delayed the need to call on such alternatives. She said the union had initially agreed to provide a "virtual plan" of a prison using double bunking, but had not done so and was now deriding it as a "terrible idea".

Beven Hanlon, head of the Corrections Association of New Zealand, said the union would not agree unless the Government backed away from its plans to privatise prisons. He said the two main concerns were officers' safety and job security - which would be at risk under privatisation.

"Getting our permission might be easier if they could ensure we didn't then get made redundant because prisons were sold off to McDonald's or the like. If they can give that assurance, we will talk with them to make this double-bunking work."

That sounds to us like a bit of good, old-fashioned union extortion. Of course the Corrections Association doesn't want private prisons. It is a union, first and foremost, and unions generally oppose private enterprise. And we can understand that there may be members of the ZCorrections Association that might feel threatened by having to work for a private provider who is going to demand greater levels of responsibility and accountability. Such is the nature of things.

But Beven Hanlon's pronouncement, as reported above, is nothing more than an overt threat to the government. The only problem for Hanlon is that the government makes the rules, and somehow, we don't reckon that Judith Collins takes too kindly to standover tactics.

Ideology or common sense?

There's a real dilemma developing in the Early Childhood Education sector just at the moment. New staffing and qualifications criteria are about to kick in with a vengeance, requiring ECE centres to have 80% of their staff as registered teachers by next year, and 100% by 2011.

In 2002, the Ministry of Education unveiled these requirements in its strategic plan for ECE. This plan was, of course, heavily influenced by the ideology of the government of the day - Helen Clark's Labour-led government. But as so often is the case, ideology won out over practicality, and in the six years of the Clark administration that followed, not enough ECE teachers were trained.

The Herald has picked up this issue over the last week or so, and today's editorial is devoted to it. The leader writer concludes that the former government's intentions were good, but not matched by action and opines:

Fundamentally, the ministry is right to demand qualified teachers. Children in care should be looked after and taught well, whatever the level of education. The highest of standards should be aspired to. But the ministry's plan has brushed up against several impediments. The biggest is a surge of enrolments in the early childhood sector. As intended by the previous Government, more women are going to work while, at the same time, parents are becoming more aware of the importance of starting a child's education early. The upswing in attendance numbers demanded a substantial response in terms of the number of teachers being trained. It has not occurred.

It is now apparent that insufficient resources have been pumped into teacher training to ensure the qualifications targets could be met. As well as a lack of incentives to retrain, there has been little notable encouragement for students to work in preschool education.

It seems now as though Anne Tolley will act to defer the imposition of the new targets. That would, in our considered opinion, by a very wise move.

As regular readers will be aware, Mrs Inventory and I own and operate an ECE service. In the sub-sector of ECE in which we operate, we are already required to employ 100% of qualified teachers, and have been for many years. The pool of candidates is already small enough when we recruit, and the availablility of qualified ECE teachers is unlikely to improve any time soon. In addition, we are one of the lowest-funded sectors of ECE, which makes offering competitive remuneration a challenge - but one that we have been able to meet - to date. In addition, the large "chain-store" ECE services such as KidiCorp and ABC offer "finders' fees" such as holidays in Fiji for existing staff who head-hunt new teachers.

Accordingly, we would welcome intervention by Mrs Tolley to give the sector some breathing space. It is not a problem of her making; the responsibility clearly lies with the former administration which was big on ideology and rhetoric, but short on action.

Monday, June 22, 2009

It's not OK

One thing we didn't blog about from Saturday night's rugby was a late-in-the-match pitch invasion by two rather bewildered looking (and fully clothed) women. As you will see in the pictures above, from a Stuff story, one of them was crash-tackled by a Red Badge Security guard.

We would be the first to agree that the women were breaking the law, and the stadium's conditions of entry by being on the field. However, we reckon the guard's physical response was over the top. As you can see from the first picture, the woman had effectively surrendered when the guard was still several metres away. But he wasn't stopping for anyone! We hope that he is disciplined by his employer for what we reckon was excessive force in the circumstances.

We reckon that this disproportionate response might have had its genesis in embarrasment. The showed up major deficiencies in security. There were guards stationed at roughly 15m intervals around the perimeter of the ground, supposedly watching the crowd for signs of trouble. No guards apparently saw these women wander down the aisle from their seats, down the steps, and onto the playing enclosure. The "chase" did not start until the tackled woman was climbing over the electronic advertising hoardings. Had this woman been a streaker, we would have said that the security guards were caught with their pants down!

The "pitch invasion" was a relatively innocent and innocuous incident. The reaction of the guard was anything but. We may be old-fashioned, but we reckon the TV adverts are dead right - men assaulting women is NOT OK - ever!

A great story

There was excellent news from Tokyo last night, with the New Zealand under-20 team winning its second successive IRB Junior World Championship. The New Zealanders beat England 44-28 in the final scoring seven tries to three.

That achievement itself is noteworthy. But the REALLY great story is the triumphant return of New Zealand captain, Aaron Cruden, who was also named IRB junior player of the year.

In September last year, Cruden withdrew from rugby after being diagnosed with testicular cancer. He was in his debut season with the Manawatu Turbos in the Air New Zealand Cup.

Cruden responded well to treatment, and seems to have made a full recovery. And as Stuff reports, he was the stand-out player in New Zealand's victory last night. We were not at all surprised by Aaron Cruden's return to the top level.

Having grown up in the Manawatu, and been active in rugby circles, we know the Cruden family well. His father Stu and uncle John Cruden were prominent players through the 1980's, and were tough, uncompromising men. The Cruden family name is synonomous with the Queen Elizabeth College Old Boys club, which Aaron now represents (despite being an old boy of our alma mater, Palmerston North Boys' High School). Rugby is deeply embedded in the Cruden DNA. From the photo above, we reckon that Aaron Cruden is the spitting image of his old man!

Importantly though, it shows that heartland New Zealand is still developing rugby talent in spades. Manawatu may be in the nether regions of the Air New Zealand Cup, but still contributed four players to the U-20's, and the side was coached by Manawatu coach, transplanted Wellingtonian Dave Rennie. And Palmerston North BHS is one of the great rugby "nurseries".

This presents challenges to the NZRU as it looks to restructure the Air NZ Cup competition. We appreciate the juggling act the Steve Tew and his colleagues face in trying to keep our premier domestic competition competitive AND financially viable. It's not an easy job that they face, and unions such as Manawatu and Northland are just as crucial to the future health of our rugby as are Auckland and Canterbury.

But one thing is for sure, in our considered opinion - given the dearth of quality first-fives we currently face, the NZRU must be proactive in protecting Cruden from the chequebooks of the Northern Hemisphere.

Well done Aaron Cruden and the Under-20's - you've done us proud!

UPDATE: We've just heard that Zac Guildford's father Rob died suddenly in the stands while watching his son playing in the final. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Guildford whanau at this terribly sad and bittersweet time. Kia kaha, kia toa, kia manawanui - Arohanui.