David Leggat: How ugly acting kills a beautiful game


In case you hadn't noticed, the All Blacks played a test in Hamilton over the weekend.

That's the All Blacks who are the flagship for the country's national game.

They've been rather quiet of late. They have been submerged by a certain event which has dominated global television screens and news pages, in this neck of the woods in large part on the back of the notable achievements of the unbeaten All Whites in South Africa.

The All Blacks eased past Wales by 19 points on Saturday night, but it all seemed a bit ho-hum.

Every now and then the camera would pan across the All Black coaches' box. Graham Henry and Wayne Smith were doing what you might expect. But the third musketeer, Steve Hansen, seemed forever muttering into his microphone.

With whom was he conversing? Presumably one of the many sideline gophers or maybe ...

"Make that two large meatlovers and a super supreme, thanks mate," perhaps. No, stop it. This is a serious business.

Serious yes, but Saturday's contest would never be described as scintillating. Wales lost again. Plucky Wales.

First five-eighths Stephen Jones suffered his 10th defeat in as many games for his country against the All Blacks. Life goes on. For the Welsh it's 67 years and counting.

You can only guess at Jones' state of mind as he trots out knowing with absolute certainty - or near as dammit - that another duffing is coming his way.

* The first All Whites arrived home in Auckland yesterday. They'll watch the rest of the World Cup like the rest of us.

And as they do, they might wonder what the next few months hold for them.

Will they quietly slide back to the position in the national psyche from whence they came, somewhere below rugby and league in the male winter sports pecking order? Or will this be the spark for the game to take off and go toe to toe with its rivals for the national affection?

I have a colleague who has only a passing interest in the World Cup.

As New Zealand Football begin figuring how to capitalise on the surge of interest on the back of the All Whites' performances in South Africa, they could do worse than ask people like him what they made of it all.

His beef - and the one thing which puts him right off the game - is the play-acting which has blighted the cup.

The sight of players rolling about faking injury, aiming to get opponents in hot water, seeking to crib an unfair advantage, and assisted by pliable, weak referees, is a turnoff. A load of Jabulanis if you like.

Kevin Locke wrapping his kidneys around an upright as he bravely slid in for his third, match-winning try for the Warriors yesterday? Now that's real pain, not the roly-poly, scrunched-up eyes routines of the vast majority of soccer teams.

Sorting out the Hollywoods is not NZF's problem. It can't do a thing about that.

This is the domain of the world governing body Fifa. And if you expect that giant political beast to do a thing about the ugly part of the game, don't hold your breath.

Yet herein lies a problem for those trying to attract new participants. The turnoff factor is strong in Kiwi-land.

* By the time you are reading this, the result of England's match with Germany will be known. I was tempted to call it a skirmish, but best not.

Regardless of who wins to advance into the World Cup quarter-finals, one thing is absolutely cast-iron guaranteed: Britain's national daily newspapers will be re-loading their World War II references.

It ended 65 years ago, but any chance to clear the throats and give it another airing is too good to miss.

Some years ago, when Boris Becker and Steffi Graf were making their way relentlessly towards the Wimbledon finals, one paper cheerfully referred to the German pair "jackbooting their way across SW19 [the post code of Wimbledon]".

Germans find the British media obsession with events so long ago bemusing. As they're inclined to point out, "imagine if they'd lost the war".

One Brit successfully sued a travel company when he found his holiday destination was packed with Germans.

And as any regular holidaying Brit will tell you, have one guess who spreads their towels on all the deck chairs around the pool before breakfast.

Weekend Winner:

Ghana, whose 2-1 extra time win over the United States yesterday kept the African flag fluttering at the World Cup.

One to Watch:

The latest chapter in the Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal story. There's a few forehands to zip over the net at Wimbledon before next weekend's final. But put your shirt on a Swiss-Spanish showdown - and guarantee it won't be a straight-set denouement either.

- NZ Herald

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