I remember my first and only club rugby final. I was playing for Takapuna in the North Harbour under-19 title match against Silverdale, a team we had beaten earlier in the season in a muddy and brutal affair during which adolescent tempers had flared and a fair bit of blood was spilled on the Silverdale fields.

On that occasion, a young Steve Walsh, who was running the sideline, had - at the behest of this writer's mother - put up a flag after a nasty rucking incident in which my back had been marked with Clan McLeod tartan.

It was an egregious crime, considering my links were, in fact, to Clan McDonald.

We had emerged victorious from the Silverdale swamp that day, knowing full well we would meet our vanquished foes again in that season's denouement. Sure enough, that date with destiny duly came and we ran out for a rare appearance on the main ground at Onewa Domain, in front of family and friends and club supporters.


I remember that the Silverdale side that day all had green hair, though whether this was from an intentional act of dyeing it, or from swimming in the local creek, none of us knew.

What we did know was that it was a big occasion and we felt like champions running out on to that field.

When the fulltime whistle blew we weren't champions. Silverdale kicked a dropped goal in the last minute and claimed a 9-6 victory. But what the hell, for 80 minutes we were the main attraction on the same field where the Harbour team had done hare-brained things every season, and we had played in a club final.

I remember the crowd making plenty of noise that day but, fortunately, we were mostly white guys so at least I wasn't called an "unfit chubby ******" as Fijian winger Nemani Nadolo was last season.

Better still, my family weren't on the sideline to listen to me being called a "black ****", like Peni Manumanuniliwa's family have had to. I've never been called a "monkey", or a "dumb fob", and I probably never will be.

I've never known what it is like for a professional player to be described only for his physical attributes - "explosive", "flamboyant", and "powerful" with "devastating defence" - while his midfield partner has a "sound brain", and "good anticipation" and "ability to read the game" and "leads by example".

The former is Ma'a Nonu, the latter, Conrad Smith. Those words are pulled from their official All Black biographies.

Smith's law degree is mentioned in his biography, but Victor Vito's law studies aren't worthy of a nod. He gets "strong work rate" and "solid showing in the loose" while Kieran Read's ability is "complemented by his leadership skills and professionalism". Sam Cane shows "good leadership in the team" while Liam Messam, former captain of the champion New Zealand sevens side, co-captain of the twice-champion Chiefs, and two-time final MVP, settles for the rather ambivalent "versatile".

Jerome Kaino? Well, he's "bullocking", "barnstorming" and "brutal". Remember Sitiveni Sivivatu? His former teammates will tell you he is one of the smartest players they have ever played with, but the best compliment he receives is "strike weapon".

This kind of distinction may be unintentional, but it is everywhere - on television and radio, in print, in the musings of talkback callers, around tables, bar leaners and car bonnets.

Auburn University professor John Carvalho, in an October 2014 article for Vice Sports, outlined four separate American studies that looked at the language of professional sports reporting. In short, the findings were all similar: white players have the intelligence, black players have the physical attributes.

Carvalho asserts that while this message is not overt, over time these stereotypes have been "constantly drilled into the American subconscious". Fact is, he could just as easily have been talking about New Zealand.

Unlike the 19-year old me, Sake Aca did not get to enjoy his club final last weekend. Instead, the Fijian winger was forced from the field after enduring racial abuse from the sideline. How shameful is that?

It's almost as shameful as pretending this kind of thing, overt or covert, doesn't happen all the time.