New Zealand is scrambling around, by some accounts, trying to save its reputation in preparation for the Rugby World Cup after the French centre Mathieu Bastareaud was allegedly attacked by a group of men in Wellington.

I say allegedly, because, at the time of writing this, events are unclear. Bastareaud, who suffered heavy facial bruising, cannot clearly remember what happened in the 3.30am attack and there are no known witnesses.

The police say the French and New Zealand unions did not lay a complaint and kept the matter quiet for a couple of days. That in itself makes you wonder if Bastareaud was an entirely innocent party.

The police are, quite rightly, annoyed at the delay. Crime detection is always helped through prompt investigation.

This being a free society, let's hope that the full story emerges. Leading the face saving charge is Prime Minister John Key.

"From time to time you will get isolated incidents that reflect badly on either the public or on New Zealand potentially," he claimed.

For argument's sake, we'll assume something untoward happened to Bastareaud.

The bad news, for the World-Cup-national-pride reputation conscious, is that we live in quite a violent society and this so-called attack wasn't at all isolated.

A note to rugby tourists: the 2011 World Cup is taking place on planet earth, and not on fantasy islands.

Unless there is a magic peace-inducing wand waved over the country between now and 2011, the visitors to New Zealand need to know the lie of this land.

In general, it is not a bad place to live or visit and has many pluses - but it ain't the happy-friendly cove of wonderfulness that the PR mob would have you believe either. There are wrong times and places in this country and it can be downright dangerous. A wrong look here, a dodgy remark here, and you might be up the proverbial without a paddle.

But by following certain rules, you should be okay. Most locals follow these rules most of the time, almost instinctively.

It is certainly not a good idea to wander certain streets alone at night, and even groups can be at risk. There will also be gangs of thieves rubbing their grubby little hands together, plotting to relieve the rugby tourists of their possessions.

We have violent hot spots, random violence, road rage, wanton murder, rape, plonkers who like to think they are living in American ghettos although they wouldn't like it if they lived in one, home invasions and theft. In other words, we have our fair share of scumbags who don't give a toss about you or anyone else.

In this we are just like every other country. Some of the violence against property, people and even a protected species has been committed by our famous sports people, including rugby players.

You could also throw in here that New Zealand isn't even as clean and green as it likes to make out, and tourists might notice that most Aucklanders regard public transport as an evil plot, and that many people who take the bus or train will confirm this is true.

The rugby visitors should also wash their store-bought fruit and vegetables really well, because it is not all grown in lovely organic loam and watered with sparkling drops that have wandered magically down a mountain for a million years through nature's filters. A lot of it isn't even grown here.

While we're at it, this isn't always the friendly isles. When you ask for directions, you may get all the help in the world and a lovely smile. And you may also get a grunt.

You will find acceptable or even friendly service in shops and restaurants, but might also find that you don't fit a shop assistant's idea of the ideal customer and that your plate has been dumped on your spotty table from a great height.

Enter a taxi at your own risk. The conversation can be interesting these days, even if it isn't often held in English as we know it, but the journey might take a bit longer and not only because of our obsession with road works. There are lovely cabbies out there, but you might not feel that way a few minutes into the journey. Put it this way: if a cabbie asks the way to your hotel, he isn't joking. Where does the need for reputation end, and the requirement for truth begin. More importantly, are we still trying to fool ourselves? Surely not.

It is certainly better, and fairer, to warn visitors, including the rugby hordes who will come here in 2011, that while they should have a great time, they need to take precautions.

Hanging around in the city on your own at 3.30 in the morning, especially when the memory cells are low on reserves, is still thankfully legal but not a great idea. It's a shame, and we'd all love to live in a different world. But that's the way it is.

The French assistant coach Emile Ntamack summed it up fairly well and not fairly well.

"It was just unlucky ... I don't want to see a problem between the French and the New Zealand people," he said, as if one assault could make us forget what the Dave Gallaher Cup is supposed to be all about.

"The same thing can happen in France, in Paris, different places in the world."

Yes, it can. Absolutely - which is an important point. But, as in rugby, when it comes to personal safety you can make your own luck.

As for New Zealand, it is a mishmash like everywhere else and not one that can be summed up by reputation. Finding out the difference between image and reality is one of the reasons many of us like to travel in the first place.

And finally dear rugby tourists, enjoy the World Cup. I'm sure you will.

* * *

A quick trip down memory lane. It is almost 20 years since one of the great nights in Auckland sport, when the city's league side beat Australia 26-24 on a magnificent occasion at Carlaw Park.

It was July 12, when Aussie's colours were lowered for the first time in yonks outside of a test match.

This column will be on holiday come the anniversary mark, and I couldn't resist an early mention of it. I still often think back to that night, one of surprise and extraordinary atmosphere. The only one to match it here, in my experience, was the controversial early-1980s World Cup qualifier at Mt Smart Stadium between the All Whites and Kuwait.

There were about 9000 people at Carlaw Park that night but it seemed a lot more. Cameron Bell fielded an Auckland team that looks pretty good in hindsight, although it included a couple of lesser known players. The Australians weren't at test strength, but still powerful. Auckland's tactics included rugby-type driving wedges from penalties.

The crescendo of noise was unbelievable as the game built to Kelly Shelford's match winning penalty, after Greg Alexander was penalised for throwing the ball away when caught in the last tackle.

I'll mark the occasion by listing the teams which played that night under the whistle of Billy Shrimpton, whose refereeing - surprise, surprise - got a bit of attention from Aussie coach Bob Fulton.


Carl Magatogia
Sam Panapa
Dave Watson
Mike Patton
Kevin Pulieata
Kelly Shelford (c)
Neville Ramsay
Mike Thomson
Peter Ropati
George Mann
Francis Leota
Tawera Nikau
Shane Hansen


Dale Shearer
Michael O'Connor
Peter Jackson
Tony Currie
Michael Hancock
Des Hasler
Greg Alexander
Sam Backo
David Trewhella
Martin Bella
Bruce McGuire
Dan Stains
Paul Vautin (c)

Auckland: Tea Ropati, Taime Tagaloa.
Australia: Gary Belcher, Bradley Clyde.

* * *

Tennis talks a good deal about screeching (mainly) women players, but it doesn't act on it. The time has come for it to get these menaces out of the sport before they completely ruin it. There is an easy way. Set clear rules and suspend and heavily fine offenders. If they reoffend too often, chuck them out of tennis for good. The problem is that bad - tennis bosses need their heads read allowing themselves to be held to ransom by these juvenile jokes.

* * *

The world swimming authority has tested 348 swimsuits and only rejected 10 as illegal for competition. Swimsuit manufacturers sure are an industrious lot. Swimming should let it all hang out so to speak and let the suits take swimming to a whole new level. All sports are technology assisted - from the use of high-tech running shoes through to sprinters' body-hugging suits and on to the knobbly jerseys the French rugby team wear. Bicycles don't look like bicycles anymore and cricket bats are undergoing a revolution. Soccer players are tracked by satellite. Tennis players wield rocket launchers. People who think that swimming must remain pure and almost naked have got a sparkling summer holiday lagoon on the brain. The masses want faster, faster, faster - and skimpy undies don't cut it on the speed front anymore. There's no point in aping Tarzan forever. Even FINA must know it can't swim upstream, that the sport can't afford to risk today's techno-obsessed kids viewing swimming as a drag.