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Posts Tagged ‘New Zealand’

Tomorrow morning (Disunited Kingdom and Namibian time) the British & Irish Lions will play the 1st Test of their 2017 tour against New Zealand’s All Blacks. It is a much anticipated match, one of the most important in which most of the players will take part. 

My first rugby memory is of the 1971 Lions tour of NZ, the only time that the Lions have won a Test series there. Of course, as a 7-year old I did not realise that the 1971 tour was, and would remain, so historic. 

I didn’t say that I was witnessing history, as live TV of sporting events occurring on the other side of the world did not exist in 1971. At least, not for rugby. So we listened live on the radio, at 4am (as matches were played mid-afternoon local time). Later in the day, highlights would be shown on TV, which we also watched even though we knew the score. 

The “we” were myself, my two sisters and my parents. My father gave us no choice in whether we were woken up to listen to the Test matches in 1971; refusal was not an option. 

The 1971 tour remains burned in the minds of so many rugby fans, and not just supportes of the Lions but those of the All Blacks too. Many Kiwis of my age will tell you that their rugby heroes were Barry John, Gareth Edwards, Gerald Davies or J.P.R. Williams, not the men who represented New Zealand at that time. 

This 2017 tour is not only a chance to get that second series win, It is also a chance for Kiwi Warren Gatland to put one over on his native country and put himself at the head of the list to succeed Steve Hansen as the next All Blacks’ coach. Here is the team chosen for the 1st Test. 


To many people’s surprise, Leigh Halfpenny and George North have not been included. Gatland and his coaching team have, instead, gone with a far more attacking back three. The other major talking point is Allan Wyn Jones’ inclusion ahead of Maro Itoje, but I’m not surprised by this. Although Itoje has been in great form, Alun Wyn is one of the most experienced and best locks in World rugby. Tour captain Sam Warburton had pretty much declared himself out of contention to start the 1st Test, feeling that he’s not yet fit enough. 

If the Lions can win the 1st Test then it will be a huge result. Not only will it make winning the 3-Test series a real possibility, but it will also be the first time that the All Blacks have lost at Eden Park since 1994! A loss by the All Blacks would send shockwaves through New Zealand rugby. The Lions need no greater motivation to play the game of their lives. 

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Tomorrow (Friday 25 November) I am boarding a plane which will eventually get me to Brisbane (Australia), via Seoul. Yes, I’m aware that Brisbane is not New Zealand, but in Brisbane I am joining a cruise which is going around New Zealand. The cruise will last for 14 nights, and I will give about 6 talks during the two weeks.

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The Princess Cruise leaves Brisbane on 27 November and returns on 11 December. I will be giving astronomy talks on the 14-night cruise.

This will be the 5th cruise which I’ve done with Princess, and the 6th in total. The last time I did a cruise in the southern hemisphere was in February, when I cruised from Buenos Aires to Santiago around Cape Horn. Unfortunately, during that 14-night cruise, we had only one clear night! I am hoping for better weather this time, as in addition to my talks I run star parties to show the guests what is visible in the night-time sky. 

Many of the guests will probably be from Europe or the United States, and so will be very keen to see the Southern Cross. I will also show them the Magellanic Clouds if weather permits. The New Moon is on the 29 November, so the first week of the cruise will be ideal to see the Magellanic Clouds if the skies are clear. After that, the brightening moon will render them all by invisible. So, fingers crossed we get some clear skies during the first week!

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I vaguely remember writing a similar title a few months ago, but with “England” instead of “Ireland” in the title. Well, this time it is our Celtic cousins who have impressed me, and Wales who have continued to disappoint and frustrate. On Saturday (5 November), we played Australia in the first of our 4-match autumn test series. I blogged about the series here. To say that we got off to a bad start would be an understatement, Wales were woeful and lost the match 32-8. We were 20-3 down at half time, totally outplayed in the first half by a better, faster, more creative Australia. Things improved very slightly in the second half, but not by much really. It is one of the worst performances by Wales of the last 5-6 years.

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Wales slumped to a 32-8 defeat to Australia in the first of their 4-match autumn test series. We were woeful in the first half, but not really that much better in the second.

Later on Saturday, Ireland played world champions New Zealand in the first test of their autumn series. But, not in Dublin as one might have expected, but instead in Chicago! As part of the International Rugby Board’s attempts to broaden the interest in rugby, the match was played at Solider Field, home of the Chicago Bears. When I worked at the University of Chicago I drove past Soldier Field on dozens of occasions. I wonder what odds I would have got on a bet that it would be where Ireland would get their first ever victory over the mighty All Blacks! I am thrilled for Ireland, and as they play New Zealand a second time, in Dublin, in a few weeks’ time I hope that they can repeat it in front of their home fans.

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Ireland beat New Zealand for the first time in 111 years of trying. The game was played at Soldier Field in Chicago, part of the attempt to increase the popularity of rugby in the USA.

But, back to Wales. Where on earth do we go from ┬áhere after such an abject performance? It is just because it is the first match of the series, and we will get better as the series progresses? Is it because interim coach Rob Howley needs to get his players to buy into his way of doing things? It is because Australia are a very very good side, and we just were outclassed? Our next match is against Argentina, who thrashed Ireland in the quarter finals of last year’s world cup. I await to see how we get on against them, Japan and South Africa before I come to any conclusions, but we could not have had a worse start to the series ­čśŽ

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After the heartbreak of the Brexit vote yesterday, at least I can look forward to some exciting sport today. It is not often that, with a big rugby match on the same day as a football match, that I would choose to blog more about the football, but today is  not an ordinary day. Later today, at 17:00 BST (16:00 GMT), Wales take on Northern Ireland in the round  of 16 of the 2016 Euros. As I have mentioned in previous blogposts, Wales have never been in the Euros before, so getting to the Quarter Finals would be a wonderful achievement.

Before then, in rugby Wales take on New Zealand in the final test of their three test tour. I really don’t have too much to say about that match; we are expected to lose and the main aim will be to stay within 15-20 points of New Zealand. Such is the gulf between the standard of the two teams. If we can give New Zealand a good match, we can come home thinking the tour has been a qualified success.

More interestingly, at 11am BST Australia v England kicks off in the third test of England’s tour down under. England are 2-0 up in the series, and are going for a white wash. It would be a remarkable achievement should they do it. Not only will they humiliate Australia, but it will really set down a marker that England are on their way back to being as good as anyone else in world rugby, a position they have not enjoyed since 2003. I am going to be watching that match with more interest than the NZ v Wales match earlier.

But, the real highlight for most Welsh sporting fans today is our 2016 Euros match against Northern Ireland. After our incredible display against Russia, the Welsh team must be full of confidence. We tore Russia apart in a 3-0 victory, not only ensuring our advancement to the knock-out rounds, but also we finished top of Group B after England failed to beat Slovakia.

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Wales take on Northern Ireland later today in the 2016 Euros. Kick off is at 17:00 BST (16:00 GMT). Neither team has been this far in the Euros before, for Wales it is our first time ever in the Euros.

Certainly expectation is higher of our beating Northern Ireland in the football than it is of beating New Zealand in the rugby. The Welsh football team are playing full of confidence, and if we can play anything like as well as we did against Russia I cannot see us not advancing to the Quarter Finals. Fingers crossed.

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Not surprisingly, Wales went down to another defeat against New Zealand in the 2nd Test of their summer tour. This time the score was 36-22. Not only have Wales not beaten New Zealand since 1953, but we have never won against them in New Zealand. This defeat by 14 points is actually our best result against them in New Zealand!

Unfortunately I did not see or hear the match. I travelled overnight from Dakar (Senegal) to Istanbul, and although I was in my hotel before kick-off time, I was not able to find the match on any of the many cable channels on the TV in my hotel room. The BBC Radio coverage via the internet was blocked (which sporting events often are abroad), so the most I could do was follow the score on the BBC webpage. But, having not slept on the aeroplane from Dakar, in fact I fell asleep!

Unlike the 1st Test, when Wales were ahead with 15-minutes to go, it seems that New Zealand opened up a good lead in the 2nd half of this match. But, Wales finished the stronger, running in two tries to bring the score back to one which implies that we were not thrashed. Whether these two late tries were because New Zealand had taken their foot off the gas, or because Wales finished the stronger, I do not know.

All I do know is that Wales will go to Dunedin next Saturday for the 3rd Test, and it is difficult to see anything but a third defeat. Do Wales gain anything from going to New Zealand and losing 3-0 in a test series? I believe that we do; it is important to play the best and to see where we are deficient.

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Wales lost the 2nd Test against New Zealand 36-22. The points difference was less than in the first Test, which we lost 39-21. Is this progress?

I was still asleep when the 2nd Test between Australia and England kicked off, but I caught the end of that match. England won 23-7, and so claim their first ever series win in Australia, with one match to spare. England are 8 from 8 since Eddie Jones took over, and have now moved to second in the world rankings. 

I heard Eddie Jones being interviewed on the BBC this morning, he said they were not satisfied with second and want to overhaul New Zealand. It’s certainly a challenge, but not impossible. England rugby has more resources than any other country, by a long way. If they get the right structures in place there is no reason why they can’t dominate world rugby. I believe that, in Eddie Jones, their first ever foreign coach, they may have found the person to do just that. 

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About an hour after this blog is posted, Wales will take on New Zealand in the 2nd Test of their summer tour. As I blogged about on Tuesday, we lost the 1st Test 39-21, after leading 21-18 with some 15-minutes to go. After the first test, I fully expected us to lose the 2nd and 3rd tests, but hoped that we could put up a good fight in each one.

But, in the middle of the week Wales were thrashed 40-7 by the Chiefs, one of the Super-rugby franchises. Admittedly it was Wales’ mid-week team, but such a thrashing has surely battered the moral of the Welsh camp. I fear that┬áthis tour may have turned into an exercise in damage limitation…..

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Wales take on New Zealand in Auckland in the 2nd Test of their summer tour, after losing the 1st Test 39-21 and being thrashed 40-7 mid-week by the Chiefs

Meanwhile, in Melbourne, England will be going for a historic series win against Australia. England soar, Wales sink…. It pains me to write it.

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On Saturday (11 June), Wales played New Zealand in the first test of their 3-test tour. Later the same morning, England played Australia in the first test of of their 3-test tour. Wales lost, England won. And therein lies the different trajectories the two teams seem to be on this last 6 months.

Wales were 18-15 up at half time, and even 21-18 ahead with 15 minutes to go. But, New Zealand overpowered Wales in the last 15 minutes, racking up 21 unanswered points in the last quarter of an hour. Wales were left thinking what could have been.

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Wales were 21-18 up with 15 minutes to go, but were then overpowered by New Zealand, who won 39-21.

Later the same morning, England took on Australia in the first test of their 3-test tour. The match was in Brisbane, a place where England have never beaten Australia. Australia got off to the better start, quickly scoring two tries, but England stayed calm and won a pulsating match 39-28. It sets them up to be on course for their first ever series win in Australia, something their Australian coach Eddie Jones would relish.

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England beat Australia to not only win the first test of their 3-test series, but it was also their first win ever in Brisbane.

The second tests are next Saturday (18 June). England could clinch the series, and Wales will try to narrow the gap between themselves and the All Blacks. But, to me, Saturday’s results just illustrate the different paths Wales and England have been on since that memorable game in the World Cup in October. Wales narrowly beat England in that match; partly by being fitter, partly by maybe wanting it more, and partly because of poor decision making by England in the last 15 minutes.

Since then, England have been transformed. Eddie Jones has been brought in as head coach, and they are now playing a style of rugby which is difficult to beat. They have won 7 from 7 under Jones, whereas Wales have gone backwards since their win over England in the World Cup. It was good to see Wales try to play some expansive rugby on Saturday, and maybe playing such rugby against almost anyone but New Zealand would have led to a victory. Two more tests, which i expect us to lose, at least gives the Welsh team and management a chance to play agains the best and to work on improving their game so that we can have a successful 6 Nations in 2017, and a successful Autumn test series in November.

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Tomorrow morning (Saturday 11 June), Wales have the rather daunting task of taking on World Champions New Zeland in the first of three test matches. Warburton was injured for the warm-up match against England a few weeks ago, a match in Wales looked very poor and jaded. It is never easy going on tour to New Zealand, be it the Lions or Wales, and nobody in their right minds expects anything but a 3-0 series win to the All Blacks. Realistically, the most that Welsh fans can hope for is to keep the scores respectable, and to show some progress compared to the form that Wales have shown the last few seasons.

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Wales’ captain Sam Warburton has been declared fit to face New Zealand in the 1st Test tomorrow in Eden Park, Auckland. Wales have not beaten New Zealand since 1953.

As I have said in other blogposts, since the thrashing of England 30-3 in Cardiff in March 2013, Wales have gone backwards. Yes we have won some important games, beating South Africa in the Autumn Tests in 2014 was a significant win, but Wales have not looked dangerous and creative in several seasons. Rugby moves on, and it seems to me that the Welsh management team need to develop the game plan. Warren-ball works well at times, but against good teams it often comes unstuck and Wales do not seem to have a Plan B.

England are a good example of a team which has made massive strides in just 6 months under new coach Eddie Jones. He is using essentially the same players as his predecessor, but they are playing with an inventiveness which Wales can only envy. I am not suggesting that Wales should ditch head coach Warren Gatland, but I do think it is high time that he and his team got their heads together and started thinking of ways for the Welsh team to play more creative rugby. We have just become far too predictable.

Even with New Zealand missing some nine players from the team that won the World Cup in October, due to retirement, they will still be far too good for Wales. I am not sure, without looking it up, how Wales got on during their last tour of New Zealand, but if we can improve on that then progress will at least appear to being made.

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Late last night, about 12:30, I heard the very sad news that All Black rugby player Jonah Lomu had died at only 40 years of age. Lomu burst onto the world-scene during the 1995 rugby world cup, and became the sport’s biggest star until his premature retirement in 2002. Few people knew it until later in his rugby career, but he was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease as early as 1995, and so spent his entire playing career hampered by this. He had a kidney transplant in 2004, and staged a comeback which saw him come to Wales to play for the Cardiff Blues in the 2005-06 season. He finally retired in 2007, forced to by health issues relating to his kidney problems. Lomu had just returned to New Zealand from being in England for the rugby world cup.



Jonah Lomu died today at the very young age of 40. He had a rare kidney disease, and had just arrived back from being in England for the rugby world cup.

Jonah Lomu died today at the very young age of 40. He had a rare kidney disease, and had just arrived back from being in England for the rugby world cup.

No one had seen a winger with Lomu’s pace and strength before, and it is fair to say that his size and pace changed the face of rugby. Now, with wingers like Wales’ George North, it is not uncommon to see wingers of his size playing the game, but he was the first of his kind, and some would say the greatest.

In the 1995 rugby world cup quarter-final against England he scored 4 tries, and as you can see from this clip for some of them he ran through several players who were just unable to stop him on his way to the try line. New Zealand went on to the final where they played hosts South Africa. The Springbok’s main game plan was to shut down Lomu, which they succeeded in doing and went on to win the game 15-12.

Here is the clip of Lomu annihilating the English defence in 1995.




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It was an agonising way to lose a match. With 80 minutes up on the clock, Ireland were 22-17 ahead and looking at their first victory over current World Champions New Zealand in 109 years of matches between them. Ireland had the ball, and were picking and driving to run down the clock, just as they should. Then, for some bizarre reason, one of the Ireland players (I think it was the scrum half) kicked possession away, and the nightmare scenario unfolded. New Zealand scored a try in the 82nd minute, to level the scores at 22-22. Then, stupidly, the Irish players charged the conversion before the kicker had started his run up, so having missed the kick the kicker got a second chance and slotted it through the uprights, to win the game 24-22. Agony for Ireland, and as a fellow Celt I felt their pain.



Ireland could have beaten New Zealand for the first time in their history, but lost to a try scored with 82 minutes on the clock

Ireland could have beaten New Zealand for the first time in their history, but lost to a try scored with 82 minutes on the clock



This really is a game that Ireland could have won. Not only could have, they should have. They were 19-0 up in the first half, with three tries to their credit with less than 20 minutes played. Even in the second half, when New Zealand started dominating, Ireland’s defence held firm. Ireland missed a very kickable penalty in the last 10 minutes which would have taken them into a 25-17 lead. But to be ahead with the 80 minutes up, to be in possession and to still lose the game is almost unforgivable. And, what I don’t understand is that the team who are most adept at running down the clock is the Irish region Munster. What on earth possessed Ireland to kick possession away when all they had to do was keep picking and driving and the game would have been theirs?

They say that teams learn more from defeat than from victory, but this will be a very very harsh lesson for Ireland. Not only could they have recorded their first ever victory over New Zealand, but they could have also denied New Zealand becoming the first country in the professional era to go a whole calendar year winning every game (14 of them).

Meanwhile, in Cardiff on Friday evening Wales put in a very mediocre display in beating Tonga 17-7. There were no scores in the second half, and I nearly fell asleep through boredom. Even the match commentators Eddie Butler and Jonathan Davies (both Welsh), referred to it as “dire”. Of course Wales’ big game is next Saturday against Australia, which I have said before could determine not only how Wales reflect on 2013 but also could determine how well we perform in the 2014 6 Nations. So I understand why Warren Gatland didn’t put out a full-strength team, he wanted to rest some players and also to give some players their first international experience.

But, even a half-strength Welsh team should play better than that. We should be putting 30-40 points on teams like Tonga if we have pretensions to challenge for the World Cup in 1015. And, a convincing victory by that kind of margin would have done so much to boost our confidence ahead of next Saturday’s game against Australia. Instead, after a clinical and dominant display against Argentina last week, we were dragged down to the level of a mediocre team and failed to excel. I just hope we can come out next Saturday and end a so-far very good season by finally claiming a long-overdue victory over Australia!

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