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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Rugby's cup of madcap ideas runneth over, again and again

The Abstain campaign seemed ready to become the most counterproductive sports promotion ever. Photo / Supplied
The Abstain campaign seemed ready to become the most counterproductive sports promotion ever. Photo / Supplied

The Rugby World Cup's starting to grow on me. Nobody ever said it was going to be such fun. Here we are still 21 days from official kick-off and already the support circus has been amusing us with a pratfall a day. Everywhere you look, there's a practitioner of the dark arts of PR, wandering around with custard pie stuck to their face. If they're not careful, our bellies are going to be so sore from all the guffawing, fans will have nothing in reserve when the teams finally run on to the field for the tournament proper.

First came the embarrassed squirming after All Blacks sponsor adidas was unmasked for price-gouging local jersey-buying fans.

Before that had died down, out came the madcap scheme to run 1000 sheep down Queen St to demonstrate our rural roots.

That was canned after objections from the SPCA and most Aucklanders.

The organisers spin for cancelling was: "We do not believe it is healthy nor conducive to showcasing New Zealand to play out this controversy in front of the world's media and international guests."

Lucky for them that controversy was swept aside by Telecom's "no sex please, we're Kiwis" campaign.

A day after it appeared in the Herald, it joined the sheep in the knackers' yard of aborted "good ideas".

Then yesterday, the International Rugby Board was trying to save the Webb Ellis Cup that's been touring the heartland from ending up in on the same rubbish pile.

Faced with the suggestion that the real cup was in Ireland being repaired, and the touring one was a fake, the rugby bosses claimed there were indeed identical twin cups, both the original item and "equal in stature".

And anyone who doubts this, is a soccer-loving sheep shagger. Of which more later.

Watching former All Black captain Sean Fitzpatrick, scudding across the television screen on a giant pink fist demanding that we do our duty for the All Blacks and "Abstain for the Game," brought to mind the truly evil BlackHeart campaign launched in 2002 by a team of admen in support of Team New Zealand's America's Cup campaign.

The Abstain campaign seemed ready to knock the BlackHeart offensive off its pedestal as the most counterproductive sports promotion ever. Then up popped veteran adman David Walden, the Svengali behind BlackHeart, to rip the Abstain campaign to shreds.

He told Close Up's Mark Sainsbury: "This is crass, it's not funny and if anything, it makes the team embarrassed." In case we didn't get the message, it was also "rubbish," "unfortunate," "a bad joke," and "a flop".

As Walden is the reigning master of the genre, who could disagree.

Of course the BlackHeart campaign claimed to be "fun" and "cheeky" as well, but things quickly got out of hand, after Mr Walden labelled defectors like Russell Coutts and Brad Butterworth "traitors"and "mercenaries," and his followers responded by sending letters threatening violence against the children of rival Swiss team Alinghi.

With Abstain, Mr Walden's former Saatchi & Saatchi classmates decided to concentrate on self-flagellation. Supporters were to engage in self-denial for the good, somehow unexplained, of the team.

True, this threatened the safety or equilibrium of no one but the idiot making the sacrifice.

But it did make the All Blacks, and every New Zealander, sitting ducks for every jokester across the Ditch and further afield.

As for the Webb Ellis Cup, by my count there's not just two floating round the world, but at least 1002. The RWC2011 website has 1000 of them for sale for $225 a pop.

As for there being more than one genuine original item, the World Rugby Museum records that "following England's success in 2003 the original trophy [note the singular] was displayed in the museum". It now displays a slightly smaller replica, presented to the English rugby football union by the IRB in 2006, made in 2003.

Until yesterday's revelation of tweedledee and a tweedledum cups, the official line has been that in 1986, rugby bosses visited Garrard, the crown jeweller in Regent St, London, and said we need a cup, what have you got?

Garrard's searched the attic and produced a gold cup, sitting around unloved since 1906. The rugby bosses grabbed it, christened it the Webb Ellis Cup, and that was that. Now miraculously, it's begun reproducing itself.

Who said the Rugby World Cup wasn't fun.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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