June 27, 2005

Paid sports propagandist.: Tony Blair's former spin-meister Alistair Campbell -- the man who "sexes up" dodgy dossiers, is now on the payroll of the British Lions rugby team, where it appears he's getting rewarded handsomely for his expertise. On Saturday, in the biggest rugby game since the last World Cup, the New Zealand All Blacks humiliated the Lions in the First Test 21-3, so Alistair goes into full swing deflecting criticism of coach Clive Woodward and re-directing it with multiple midnight press conferences accusing the All Blacks of being thugs. British fans are becoming unglued, but ex-Lions aren't buying it.

posted by the red terror to other at 03:09 PM - 15 comments

I watched the game in a bar here in Apia, Samoa. Given there were about 8 Samoans in the All Black side, there was no question about where the loyalties were going to be. We even had a bet before the game about whether Wilkinson would go for a drop goal in the first 5 minutes - we knew the Lions were going to be negative. They just never had the possession to play ugly and win. The 'spear' tackle on O'Driscoll looked pretty ugly, considering the ball had gone, and the pity is that he is probably the best player to watch on the Lions side. But the worrying thing for Woodward is that the All Blacks will only get better.

posted by owlhouse at 06:36 PM on June 27, 2005

Samoa? Vacation? Having fun?

posted by billsaysthis at 11:05 PM on June 27, 2005

Samoa. Work. But yes, it's fun. Big game this Saturday when Manu Samoa takes on Tonga in a RWC 2007 qualifier at Apia Park. I have tickets.

posted by owlhouse at 11:09 PM on June 27, 2005

At last, our first posting on the Lions - it's been a long time coming. Excellent selection of articles. I watched the match in a Copenhagen pub(unfortunately amongst a group of triumphant Kiwis) and felt much of the performance was a question of chickens coming home to roost and pre-tour predictions coming right. Everybody seemed to know what was going to happen apart from the coach - too many over the hill English players, not enough of the talented Celtic players, reliance on size and set pieces rather than skill, too much emphasis on the size of the touring party and their much vaunted preparation rather than the quality of warm-up opposition and team-building and also the presence of both Alastair Campbell and Prince William (or is it the other one, the ginger one?) in the touring party. Either he's arrogant or hopelessly out of touch (of course, if they go on to smash the Kiwis in the next two tests feel free to rub my face in it!). Still, as things stand at the moment, I doubt Southampton are feeling as smug about their new director of football as they were a couple of weeks ago.

posted by Pete at 08:43 AM on June 28, 2005

Hey owlhouse..my son-in-law is from American Samoa. Came to the US to play football and also played some college volleyball but says of all his sports Rugby is his favorite.

posted by scottypup at 11:02 AM on June 28, 2005

I don't like to get into genetics, but certainly from a phsyical and cultural perspective, Polynesians seem to be preternaturally gifted at hard-assed physical rugby. I have no doubt that had contemporary Samoan players like Jerry Collins, Mose Tuiali'i, Simone Luaki and Rodney So'oialo been raised playing American football, they would all be starting linebackers in the NFL. Junior Seau seems to think so as well.

posted by the red terror at 12:47 PM on June 28, 2005

I'm not sure if it is so much genetics as culture. They are brought up to be much more physical. On the genetics size, at least those who are athletes, tend to be bigger. Most Samoans tend to be linemen or at least linebackers in football. In volleyball they are almost always hitters as opposed to setters. This is not 100% but very high percentager are just flat bigger.

posted by scottypup at 01:37 PM on June 28, 2005

Scottypup - your son in law must have family connections in independent Samoa if he likes rugby. As far as I know, they don't play it on the American side. As for here, it doesn't take much to work out why Samoans are over-represented in world rugby. Every afternoon the malae is crowded with numerous games of touch, and the proper fields are full of organised teams at training. This means the women's soccer team that I coach is relegated to the margins. The simple explanation is that more people here play the game and it is the major sport - after all it is still a minority sport in most other parts of the world. Now that we have professionalism, it is also a way to earn quite a bit of money by Samoan standards if you're good enough. And the talented players are picked up early by NZ schools and junior development...

posted by owlhouse at 02:30 PM on June 28, 2005

More realistically, most of the Samoans (and Tongans and slightly less so Fijians) that play representative rugby in NZ -- from schoolboy to national level -- have lived in NZ for quite some time. It's not like the NZRU is "poaching" these players from underneath cocoanut palms. (As ugly as that may sound an epithet, sadly, that's the way the British press has reported it for many years, saying the All Blacks have an unfair advantage because the kiwis steal island athletes. A few years back the canard was "New Zealand is raping the islands," a completely inaccurate, misdirected and ugly metaphor.) The truth is that NZ has an open visa policy that allows Polynesians to live and work in New Zealand. Most of the best Samoan rugby players in New Zealand are fluent in English, with thick Kiwi accents, having lived there since their parents immigrated when they were children. Except for a few exceptions -- like the Fijian Rupeni Caucaunebuca, who represented Auckland but never represented NZ (he plays club rugby now in France, and plays for Fiji at international level) -- nearly all the Pacific Islanders playing rugby in NZ have played their entire careers in NZ, having learned and developed their games there. (And it works the other way as well -- there have been many NZ-born rugby players with Samoan and Tongan parentage that have lived their entire lives in NZ but have represented the island nations of their blood heritage. This is typically done only after they determine that they are qualified to play international rugby, but perhaps not talented enough to make the All Blacks.)

posted by the red terror at 03:36 PM on June 28, 2005

My son-in-law has relatives in both Western Samoa and Australia. He also lived in Hawaii for his first three years of high school. I think he played Rugby mostly when he lived in Australia.

posted by scottypup at 04:10 PM on June 28, 2005

That explains the rugby connection. On red terror's point about open visas in NZ for Polynesian countries - unfortunately for people here the unrestricted visas went out a long time ago, however not before (as he said) many Samoans and Tongans had migrated. Currently there is a limited migration quota for Samoa due to it's former status as a colony, and some special arrangements for certain jobs. Most good Samoan rugby players will move, whether through school, family or whatever. The big problem that Samoa and Tonga have these days is that their eligible players have often signed contracts with overseas clubs and can't get released for games like this weekend's RWC qualifier. In fact, some British/European clubs wouldn't release their contracted players to represent Samoa at the last RWC in 2003. Bad sports, chaps.

posted by owlhouse at 05:10 PM on June 28, 2005

The question is, does anybody believe O'Driscoll was deliberately targetted? It seems a bit fishy, a tackle like that so early in the first game of the series.

posted by salmacis at 05:30 PM on June 28, 2005

I have only seen the tackle once and from a fairly wide angle, so I'm maybe not best placed to judge, but I think the reaction of the guys who made the tackle gives the game away a bit. If you wanted to be generous, you could say that it was the first minute of a test series, people were pumped up and it was a bit of an over-exuberant tackle. But I think the fact that neither of the tackling players apologised at the time or afterwards suggests something a bit darker in their intent. As BOD said afterwards, even if Umanga hadn't been involved in the tackle, as the captain of the other team, courtesy would suggest he should have said something as they carried the opposing captain off the pitch on a stretcher.

posted by JJ at 04:47 AM on June 29, 2005

It's worth noting, that NONE of the Lions players came over to show concern for their captain O'Driscoll either. They were all focused on the job at hand -- winning a Test match. That is as it should be. When O'Driscoll was prone on the ground and then stretchered off, his teammates -- every one of them -- ran to set a scrum and waited. The only player who came over to offer a condolence was All Black Justin Marshall. The best comment I have read today about this overblown charade comes from a Brit on usenet who quite obviously gets it. In it's entirety... ----------------------------------------------------------------------- What the hell has happened to us all that we're talking about so-and-so not being nice to so-and-so, Umaga not blowing BoD a kiss or making sure he was nice and comfy on his stretcher? I played in the exalted ranks of the Surrey 4th division, and I know that the first time my oppo' got the ball after the kick-off, my sole intention was to smash him 6 feet backwards and plough a furrow with him. In this instance we're talking Lions v AB's, 1st time in 12 years, at least a year's worth of hype, between two captains both vying for the "best in the world" status, right after the kick-off in the 1st test. OK, I agree the double tackle planted on BoD was dangerous and unfortunately ended his tour, but it wasn't a conspiracy, it wasn't "thuggish", and it doesn't deserve all this bitching. It warranted a penalty IMO, it wasn't given. Big deal. The Citing Commissioner was OK with it, and rightly so. He's not there to retrospectively issue penalties. Look at the other games this tour - this wasn't the first of this kind of tackle by a long shot. There have been spear-tackles, high tackles, body checks (Henson?) and they've barely raised an eyebrow. Enough of this Umaga/BoD crap. What the hell did we expect? This is NZ, FFS. Look at their record. You aren't going to casually walk away with a win, we're going to have to earn it and in the process you can expect to be smashed all over the park. If people have a problem with that, or expect the AB's to be "nice" to them, they need to fuck off home. We can still beat these bastards but it's going to take a lot more than hurt feelings. Richard Bridgman

posted by the red terror at 12:59 PM on June 29, 2005

Fair enough - if he had the ball. Which he didn't. Wonder why the poster never made it out of the 4th division...

posted by JJ at 03:57 AM on June 30, 2005

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