Category Archives: Australia

Australia taking a big risk by playing Cummins

AUSTRALIA is likely to regret pushing Patrick Cummins into Test cricket before he has had a chance to play at least one season of matches in the Sheffield Shield to test out his body.

That Australia is not good at monitoring its players is evident from Mitchell Starc’s breaking down in India. Starc was ruled out of the India series after two Tests, with a stress fracture in his right foot.

As the cricket website espncricinfo has detailed, Starc is no stranger to injuries: he has been suffering from a spate of them right from December 2012.

If the Australian team doctors and physiotherapist could not monitor him enough to prevent his breaking down in what is billed as a series that is even more important than the Ashes, then what hope for Cummins?

Cummins made a spectacular debut in South Africa in 2011, but thereafter he has been hit by injuries one after the other. He made a good showing in the recent Big Bash League, but one has to bowl just four overs per game in that league.

He also played in the one-dayers against Pakistan, but again that is a matter of bowling a maximum of 10 overs.

And one must bear in mind that Cummins’ outings in T20 and ODIs have both been on Australian pitches which are firm and provide good support for fast bowlers as they pound their way up to the crease.

Indian pitches are a different kettle of fish. The soil is loose, and additionally the curators are dishing up spinning surfaces that will help the home team. Nothing wrong with that, every country does it.

But what needs to be noted is that loose soil does not give a fast bowler a good grip as he storms up to the crease. Sawdust does not help much either unless there is a firm foundation.

Cummins has looked good for some time now. But pitching him into the cauldron that is the Australia-India series, especially at this stage, does not seem to be a very sensible thing to do.

Cricket Australia may well like to retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy but should it take a risk with Cummins who is an excellent long-term prospect?

Fingers crossed that one of the faster of today’s bowlers gets through the two remaining Tests in India without anything going wrong. But one has serious doubts on that score.

Steve Smith cheated. Admit it, and move on, mate

ONE of the big problems that people from Western countries have is that they are unable to admit to any wrongdoing when they are caught out in a confrontation with someone from the East.

They are never wrong even when they are caught red-handed. Remember Lance Armstrong?

It is this mentality that prevents Steven Smith, the captain of Australia’s cricket team, from pretending that he was not trying to consult members of his team in the pavilion before deciding whether to have an LBW decision reviewed during the final innings of the second Test against India in Bangalore on Tuesday (March 7).

By the rules of the game, either team has 15 seconds to ask for a review of a decision. While the fielding team can consult among itself, the batsman in question can only ask his batting partner. He cannot look to the pavilion for help.

But this is exactly what Smith did on Tuesday, the fourth day of the Test, when Australia was chasing 188 for a win on a crumbling wicket in Bangalore. He was fourth out at 74, plumb LBW to Umesh Yadav. The ball kept very low and would have hit both middle- and off-stumps.

As he meandered around near the midway point of the pitch, Smith could be seen on TV glancing towards the pavilion. This was so obvious that one of the umpires, Nigel Llong, came over and cautioned him about what he was doing.

Further, former Australian captain Michael Clarke, who was commentating on television, also pointed out what Smith seemed to be doing and said it was not kosher. Former Indian batsman Sanjay Manjrekar and Indian legend Sunil Gavaskar also mentioned it on TV.

Indian captain Virat Kohli did not mince words when he held his post-match press conference.

Now we have James Sutherland, the chief executive of Cricket Australia, sitting in Sydney, about 12 hours flying time from Bangalore, claiming that Smith is the next thing to a boy scout!

This is not the first time Australian batsmen have done this during the Bangalore Test. Others in the team have been caught looking towards the pavilion too, but not so blatantly as Smith did.

Smith is pretending that it was a brain fade. Well, if it was, the whole Australian team better visit a good brain surgeon pretty soon for many of them seem to suffer from these “brain fades”. It could turn out to be something serious.

And the Australians had better bear one thing in mind: the colonial era, when brown men simply saluted and accepted what the white man told them to do, is well and truly over. Virat Kohli and his team belong to a generation that believes it is equal to, or better than, the Australian players.

They are constantly in the face of the Australians; the team from Down Under loves dishing it out, but are prone to start whinging when the chips are down.

Get used to it, mate. ‘Fess up and move on.

‘The terrorist has got another wicket’

Dean Jones is one of those many former Australian cricketers who now earns big bucks as a commentator on the sport. Like many others, he has little of import to say, but takes up 700 or 800 words to do so.

Jones was sacked by Ten Sports in 2006 for making a racist comment about South Africa’s Hashim Amla. But he has slowly crept back, with the Melbourne newspaper The Age helping in his rehabilitation by giving him a weekly column.

One would think that a man who goes around referring to Muslim players as terrorists would be shunned by publications that claim to have standards.

But racism is part of the Australian national fabric and The Age is part of that fabric. Not the overt type of racism, no, the covert type that operates undercover and helps keep white people in positions of authority.

Jones most recent column is typical; he meanders all over the place. It looks like the whole piece is suffering from multiple attacks of schizophrenia. But he fills the space and The Age also gets a “name” to write. That he has nothing of any value to say does not seem to strike the owners of The Age, Fairfax Media. Perhaps this is one reason why The Age is rapidly going downhill.

Back in 2006, Jones was heard live on air calling South Africa’s Hashim Amla, one of the better batsmen in the world, a terrorist, during a Test between Sri Lanka and South Africa in Colombo. Amla took a catch to dismiss Kumar Sangakkara only to provoke this comment from Jones: “The terrorist has got another wicket.”

Jones was sacked by Ten Sports. But he has wheedled his way back.

This kind of racial vilification by Australian cricketers is not unusual. Darren Lehmann, now the coach of the national team, called the Sri Lankan team “Cunts, cunts, fucking black cunts,” when he was run out during a one-day match in Brisbane in 2003.

Exactly what Lehmann thinks of Sri Lankans these days is unknown.

And David Warner, now the vice-captain, played the colonial to the hilt in 2015 during a one-day match against India, when he confronted Rohit Sharma and demanded that the Indian batsman “speak English”.

Not that Warner’s English is top-grade. He is your average Bogan, who is crude, rude and lacks any refinement. But still he feels he can lay down the law to the non-whites.

Exactly why media organisations take in retired cricketers as commentators and writers is unknown. It is an entirely different skill to be able to write or talk in an intelligible and educative manner about any sport. But then many journalists, themselves, are fairly crippled in this regard.

Take the case of Aakash Chopra who was crapping on during the ongoing Test series between India and Australia. Chopra suffers from verbal diarrhoea. Yet, he is there to provide expert comment for Australian listeners. The Indian commentator Prakash Wakankar is, by contrast, very good at his job.

And then there is Simon Katich, a man who has a very limited vocabulary and seems stuck in cliches all the time.

Add to that Adam Collins, who must surely be the most biased of callers, and Gerard Whateley, no slouch in the patriotism stakes, and you have all the makings of another Botany Bay invasion all over again.

Does Steve Smith believe that spin can win matches?

As Australia mentally prepares for a gruelling tour of India, one curious characteristic of captain Stephen Smith is being ignored. This is Smith’s attitude towards spin and spinners when it comes to any form of cricket.

In India, any international team that wants to win a Test series must have a decent spin attack. This has become the case in recent years; the last time a team won in India was when England did so in 2012. They had Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann in their ranks.

During the three-Test series against Pakistan that concluded recently, Smith showed a curious reluctance to give the side’s only spinner, Nathan Lyon, a lengthy stint. He mostly depended on the medium-pacers and since Australia won all three Tests there were no questions raised.

His attitude towards spin was underlined in the second one-day game against Pakistan — in which the visitors registered a win at the MCG after 32 years — where he allowed Travis Head, one of two players who was expected to comprise the spin contingent, just three overs, one of them being the last of the match.

Pakistan bowled first, and 24 of the 50 overs were sent down by spinners. Some of these spin bowlers were part-timers: Mohammad Hafeez, the captain, is also the opening batsman, and Shoaib Malik bats at number five. They managed to contain Australia to 220, on a wicket that had uncertain bounce, but no great degree of turn.

Thus, Smith’s refusal to use spin is rather perplexing, even more so when one considers the fact that Head had bowled 10 overs against Pakistan in the first one-day game and given away just 28 runs.

Head’s first over went for 11 and after that he was kept away from the bowling crease until the 46th over, when it was all over bar the shouting. Pakistan’s winning run came from a wide bowled by Head.

So how will Smith adjust to the reality of spin in India? The Australian squad named for the tour has four spinners in its ranks: Lyon, Steve O’Keefe, Mitchell Swepson and Ashton Agar. How will Smith utilise these resources? He has only three recognised medium-pacers in the team: Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Jackson Bird.

The last time Australia toured India in 2013, it was an unmitigated disaster ending in a 4-0 brownwash. But Lyon did take seven wickets in the final Test in Delhi in a relatively low-scoring game. Glenn Maxwell had 4-127 in the second Test which Australia lost by an innings. Xavier Doherty, the other spinner in the ranks, did nothing to set the Yarra on fire.

Will Smith treat the spinners the same way that he has so far in his career? Will he display the same reluctance to bowl Lyon and the others? This is his first tour of India as captain and while he did play in two Tests on the losing 2013 tour, his experience of the country is very limited.

One aspect of the squad which defies explanation is the selection of a leg-spinner. No leggie, not even Shane Warne, has done well in Indian conditions. (Indeed, Warne has never done well against Indian batsmen, no matter the venue.) Then why take a leggie along, especially an uncapped one? Will he be thrown into the cauldron (and in India the use of the word cauldron is apt) and asked to take five wickets in order to keep his place in the side? Will it be another case of a youngster going along for one tour and then being discarded?

We should have answers to these questions by the end of March.

Big Bash League set for expansion and mediocrity

Cricket Australia is all set to expand the number of Big Bash teams next year – and in the process slowly begin killing the goose that has so far laid many 22-carat eggs.

In its sixth year, the BBL has been an overwhelming success until last year but there are signs that people would prefer that things remain as they are.

For example, the biggest crowd last year was for the clash between the two Melbourne teams, the Renegades and the Stars. A total of 80,883 turned up for the first clash between these two teams in 2015-16.

This year, 2016-17, the crowd for the corresponding game was nearly 10,000 less. Should Cricket Australia not take a hint from occurrences like this? Crowds in 2016-17 have, on the whole, been less than in 2015-16.

As of today, 22 matches have been played; there are another 10 to go before the semi-finals and final. Only in two games, have teams been asked to chase 200 or over. That means only two teams, the Brisbane Heat and the Melbourne Stars, have managed to make 200 or over.

Most of the games have been one-sided. Just two games have gone down to the last ball. Not a single century has been scored.

Overall many of the players seem to be jaded. That is not surprising for there are now so many Twenty20 leagues around the world — Pakistan (played in the UAE), the West Indies, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, India, and Bangladesh all have their own leagues — that many players who are now literally T20 mercenaries come to the BBL after having played in at least a few of these competitions.

If they are mentally tired at the end of the year, who can blame them? They are playing as much as they can for it is their livelihood. They have only a few years in which they can earn money from this form of the game.

The TV commentators make the game unwatchable. There are a host of former Australian players who form the commentary team and to say they are mediocre would be paying them a compliment. T20 cricket itself sees heightened action but these ex-players keep trying to hype up everything. They have limited vocabularies and dumb down things to an incredible level.

Damien Fleming and Adam Gilchrist are horrible at the mike and it is clear that they are there for the money. They were both competent cricketers but have reached their level of incompetence as commentators. Gilchrist makes one cringe, he cannot speak a sentence without acting as an arse-licker of a very high order.

Some of the other commentators have clear conflicts of interest: Mark Waugh is a national selector and it is unethical for him to sit in the commentary box making comments about players whose futures he could well decide. But then one would recall that he is the same person who took money from a bookmaker when he was a player. The same goes for Ricky Ponting who is now an assistant coach for the national T20 team.

But hey, who gives a flying f*** these days? There’s good money available to these poor-quality commentators so they take it and run. Not that they need it. They lack the integrity to act in an ethical way.

Back to Cricket Australia and its expansion plans. One doubts that its chief executive James Sutherland will bother much about whether crowds grow or whether people watch; after all, CA will make its money before a single ball is bowled. The TV contract will increase, the TV channel in question, Channel 10, will welcome the additional games, and all will be right with the world.

This year there are 32 games; each team will play the others and the two Melbourne teams, the two Sydney teams, Adelaide and Hobart, and Brisbane and Perth, will play each other twice. Once the expansion is complete, that number of games will increase. Do people want to see more and more ordinary games that are won by big margins or do they want to see better games that go down to the wire?

AFL has plenty going for it, apart from the commentators

Australian rules football is an acquired taste. Only someone who has grown up with it can get used to a game that is played in an oval field, one which appears to have few, if any, rules, and one which allows players from one side to obstruct their opponents and not incur any penalty.

But even an outsider can appreciate the degree of physical effort required to last 80 minutes of actual playing time; this means that a game takes about two hours to be completed.

What spoils the game to a large extent is the hyper-ventilating commentators who tend to exaggerate everything when there is often no need to do so; the action on the field speaks for itself.

This was illustrated well in the finale of the 2016 season as the Western Bulldogs recorded just their second cup win in the AFL championship in a frenetic game against the much more fancied Sydney Swans.

So tight was the contest that no points were scored in the first 7½ minutes of the first quarter – but then Bruce Macavaney, a commentator who is prone to verbal diarrhoea, had to stretch that out and claim that there had been no score for half of that quarter.

Australian commentators are always trying to improve on things that are best left alone.

The one decent commentator in the game, Dennis Commetti, is leaving after this final. The rest of the pack is made up mostly of ex-players who have poor vocabularies; while they have knowledge about the game, they lack the verbal verve and panache needed to excel in commentating.

A game like this final could well have done with a few better commentators to aid Commetti. The lead changed hands often: Sydney got the first points and led 8-0 but then by the end of the first 20 minutes were trailing 8-12. The Bulldogs stretched this lead out to 31-15 before Sydney came back to lead 33-31 and hold on to lead 45-43 at the main break.

In the third quarter, the Dogs were ahead again after three minutes, 49-46; Sydney went ahead 53-51 after 11 minutes, before the Bulldogs moved ahead at 57-53 at the 13½-minute mark and held on to lead 61-53 at the last break.

The Dogs never surrendered the lead thereafter, even though Sydney closed to 60-61 after 6½ minutes of the final quarter and again to 66-67 nine minutes into the term. When the score leapt to 88-67 with 2½ minutes left, even the Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge came down from his coaching box to the perimeter of the field as he knew it was all over bar the shouting.

Rarely was there any let-up as the Bulldogs, a group of mostly young, inexperienced players were not overawed by their more hardened opponents who have figured in three finals in the last five years. Sydney also boasts the highest-paid player in the AFL, forward Lance Franklin, who joined them three years ago on a $9 million nine-year deal.

Franklin was treated roughly by the Dogs and an ankle injury in the first five minutes did not help him in any way; he kicked just one goal and had limited impact on the game. The Bulldogs played well to a man; they have no big names in their ranks but some who excelled in this game are sure to become household names in seasons to come.

The Bulldogs last won a cup in 1954. They have played in only three finals, including this year’s game. And they are the first team to win after finishing seventh in the regular home-and-away season; the top eight of the 18 teams in the league play finals and the bottom four have to win four games over consecutive games to finish on top.

If only there had been a few more commentators to make the game that much more memorable – or simply stay silent.

True to form, Wallabies whinge after defeat

In the end, what was expected eventuated. New Zealand won the second Test against Australia convincingly and retained the Bledisloe Cup for another year.

Australia? They played better than in the first Test, but could only convert three penalties. No tries, just two line-breaks, and a lot of whinging were what they brought to the table.

Quade Cooper wore the No 10 jersey but did not play the role that a five-eighth is supposed to. He stayed well back, shovelled the ball along and had his regular quota of mistakes, kicking the ball to a spot he never intended to once, and failing to collect a high ball in competition with Israel Dagg; the latter action led to an All Black try a few passes later. For the most part, he was a passenger.

Why was he played at all if his prowess as a playmaker was not going to be utilised? That question should be asked of the Australian coach Michael Cheika – but Cheika is too busy whinging and questioning everything about the game apart from the woeful standards of his team, so he may not have time to reply.

Cheika is up in arms about the refereeing. Now everyone and his dog who has been watching rugby knows that Frenchman Romain Poite is a pedantic referee. He wants everything done exactly as he says and and he explains everything he does twice over to make sure that the players have no room to complain.

It makes him the central figure in any match that he officiates, exactly the opposite of what a referee should be. The better referees stamp their authority on the game early on, make sure the players know who is boss, and then melt into the shadows and let the game flow, unless there is a crying need for them to intervene.

Not so Poite. He does not like it when players try to lecture him about this, that and the other and the Australian captain Stephen Moore should have been aware of that trait. Moore has played more than 100 Tests and there is no way he would be unaware of the quirks of every single referee in international rugby.

Yet, a day after the game, there was Cheika whinging that Poite had been rude to Moore, not listening to the captain’s request to have a word with him. Surprise, surprise. Poite has been doing this for years and years. If Cheika was unaware of it, then he should blame himself. New Zealand captain Kieran Read was wiser; whenever Poite told him something, he just nodded in agreement and got on with the game.

Australian scrum-half Will Genia made one line break in the second half but found himself with no support. He looked around wildly for a teammate and found none. The move then broke down. Full-back Israel Folau, who would have much better chances to show his amazing talents as a centre, made the other break after getting an inside pass from Cooper. He almost made it to the line, but the doughty New Zealand defence caught him in time.

New Zealand found the going a little more difficult this week. The Australians were in their faces a lot more – but no-one had told newcomer Adam Coleman where to draw the line or explained to him that he had to back up his aggression with decent play. As a result, the big man flailed around a while and then earned his first yellow card shortly before half-time when he hit full-back Ben Smith with a late tackle, no arms to boot.

The gap between the teams is frightening. New Zealand’s quick passing, offloading in the tackle, supporting teammates and reading the flow of the game is far superior to the lumbering Wallabies. Newcomer Anton Lienert-Brown showed the confidence present in New Zealand ranks with an impressive debut, running the ball fluently and being a great asset. He had come in to replace Ryan Crotty who was injured in the first Test.

As usual, the rugby media, mainstream or otherwise, won’t notice things like these. Why, Planet Rugby is still convinced that Scott Fardy, and not Coleman, received a yellow card! This is a site dedicated to the game, mind you.

No yellow card

Beauden Barrett played a sterling role in the New Zealand win as usual. This man will be the next Dan Carter. He only has to get his place-kicking sorted out a bit, and he will be talked about in more glowing terms in the years to come. The way he reads the game and reacts is simply amazing.

And finally, a word about Sam Cane. He has plugged one of the biggest holes left in the team after the last World Cup, taking over from Richie McCaw. He does a more than adequate job on most occasions, but played out of his skin in this game and was deservedly the man of the match.

Picking Quade Cooper for Bledisloe II not the wisest decision

Australia’s rugby coach Michael Cheika does not appear to be one who learns from history. Or maybe he is ignorant of what has happened in the past when Australia included Quade Cooper in its team to play New Zealand.

Else, he may not have picked Cooper to play against New Zealand in tonight’s second Bledisloe Cup match in Wellington, a crucial game as far as Australia is concerned. If they lose or draw, then the Cup stays in New Zealand for another year. The last time Australia won the Cup was in 2002.

Let’s take a look back in time. Cooper was chosen to play in the 2011 World Cup semi-final against Australia. The match was played in New Zealand.

A few months before that game, during the annual internationals, Cooper had made the mistake of trying to take on New Zealand captain Richie McCaw and get in his face. It did not go down well with New Zealanders.

Let me quote from what I wrote at the time, on 17 October 2011: “For some reason, Cooper decided to start a running battle with the New Zealand captain Richie McCaw some months ago. It developed into physical confrontation at times and Cooper, without realising what he was biting off, kept portraying himself as New Zealand public enemy No 1.

“It was a wrong decision. Cooper is an infant in international rugby while McCaw has been around for eight years and is quite easily the best in his position in the world. The New Zealand rugby captain is more important to the 4 million citizens of that country than even their own prime minister; Cooper has no such status or anything even remotely like it in Australia.

“Cooper built up a lot of pressure on himself and clearly could not handle it in front of the hostile New Zealand crowds. Every time he made a mistake on the field during the tournament, the crowds cheered. They booed whenever he got the ball.”

Back to tonight’s game. Has Cheika taken these factors into account when picking Cooper? I doubt he has. Will the pressure be any less on Cooper? No, because New Zealand dominates the world in just one sport and the crowds there are unlikely to forget Cooper’s actions in the past.

Cooper was picked for the 2015 World Cup but played second fiddle to Bernard Foley. He only played against Uruguay, a minor team as far as world rugby is concerned.

He should have been eased into Australia’s side by playing in internationals against other countries. Once he was functioning well — and he does have a tendency to screw up badly at times — then he should have been picked to play against New Zealand, first in Australia where he has the home crowd’s support, and then in New Zealand.

Rugby coaches need to look beyond a player’s ability when picking them. Cheika appears to have erred on this selection.

Old is gold, but not when it involves rugby backs

It’s funny that none of the rugby scribes around wrote a single word about the selection of 34-year-old Matt Giteau, 32-year-old Adam Ashley-Cooper and 28-year-old Will Genia in the Australian side to face New Zealand in the first of the annual internationals.

In the normal course of things, one would assume that the coach of any team that has a chance of winning the World Cup would like to start aiming for that target right at the start of the four-year cycle. Australia made it to the last World Cup final and have won the Cup twice, so they are one of the nations that can reasonably entertain hopes of winning again.

But you can’t do that with a 38-year-old centre which is what Giteau will be in 2019 when the next rugby World Cup rolls around. And you wouldn’t want a 32-year-old scrum-half either. Neither would you want a 36-year-old winger for the 2019 team – and that is what Ashley-Cooper will be in four years’ time.

Is one to believe that Nick Phipps, who performed the job at the base of the scrum adequately in the last World Cup, was not good enough for the Australian coach Michael Cheika? Indeed, Phipps showed his prowess by coming on and playing on the right wing after Australia lost three backs, including Giteau, to injury and also scoring the lone try that the home team got as it suffered a big defeat against New Zealand.

Is one to also believe that among the five teams that do duty in the Super Rugby tournament there is not one individual who can fit in as a centre and that Cheika’s only option was to call in a 34-year-old with injury issues to face up to what is arguably the fittest and strongest rugby team in the world? Or that Australia does not have a single decent wing three-quarter in its five Super Rugby teams?

From the moment that Cheika announced these selections, it was obvious that he was more interested in pleasing his masters at the Australian Rugby Union than building a team for the next World Cup. New Zealand has held the Bledisloe Cup since 2003 when Reuben Thorne’s side won it back from Australia, and winning that trophy would have pleased the local big-wigs.

Of course, Cheika is not the only one who is looking to the past when trying to fill the ranks. His South African counterpart Allister Coetzee displayed similar thinking by playing Bryan Habana on the wing against Argentina on the same weekend. Habana is 33 and I am yet to see a 37-year-old winger play in a team in the World Cup. South Africa is also a team that would be in contention in any World Cup, having won the Cup twice, once admittedly under rather dubious circumstances. So why Habana? South Africa has one of the largest pools of players to pick from and someone like Courtnall Skosan would have benefitted from the exposure.

On the other hand, Steve Hansen, the coach of New Zealand, has brought in new players instead of depending on any old hands. He lost much more experience compared to the others because Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith, and Keven Mealamu all ended their international careers after the last World Cup.

Hansen has retained two older players in Kieran Read and Jerome Kaino; the latter will be 37 when the next World Cup comes around but is one of the fittest and strongest players in world rugby and is unlikely to be a liability in the team. Remember, he is a forward and does not have to be a strong runner – even though he does a fair bit of scoring in internationals.

New Zealand rugby has something going for it

NEXT weekend, teams from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa will begin battling it out in the knockout phase of the 2016 Super Rugby tournament.

From 12 teams in 1996, the tournament now has 18 teams: six from South Africa, five each from Australia and New Zealand, and one apiece from Argentina and Japan.

New Zealand’s overall population is just a shade over four million. Yet half the teams in the playoffs who play for honours will be from those two islands they call the shaky isles.

It is a remarkable phenomenon.

South Africa, with a population of 54 million, has three teams in the fray while Australia, with a touch over 24 million in its borders, has just one team in the running.

Last year, the final was an all-New Zealand affair, with the Otago Highlanders defeating the Wellington Hurricanes to take the trophy. It has been that way five times.

For the first five years of the tournament, teams from New Zealand topped; only then, did an Australian team win. It took until 2007 for a South African team, the Bulls from Pretoria, to win the tournament.

In the 20 years of Super Rugby, South African teams have taken the trophy home just thrice while Australian teams have won four times. The other 13 times, teams from tiny New Zealand have been triumphant.

Seven of those Kiwi wins have been by the Canterbury Crusaders, and three by the Auckland Blues, with the Waikato Chiefs winning twice and the Highlanders once.

How is it that this tiny nation can dominate in this sport, and not for a year or two, but over decades and decades?

There is a book titled Legacy: 15 lessons in leadership which tells part of the story, detailing the culture of the All Blacks, the New Zealand national rugby team. All the national players are drawn from the super rugby teams; nobody who plays outside the country qualifies.

This book tells of the influence of Maori culture on the team and the players. It is a wonderful example of a nation of white people where the lessons of the first peoples still remain. This is the only case of a team from a white nation in any sport that does a war dance before the game inspired by its first peoples. It is the only white country that sings its national anthem in the language of its first peoples before it sings the same verses in English.

Legacy tells the story of how the New Zealand team learns to lead, how it stays ahead and how it cultivates the spirit of winning. It is a spirit that is followed in the five New Zealand franchises where the coaches are more often than not former national players.

As former All Blacks coach Graham Henry puts it in the book, the expectation is that the team will win every match, and if that expectation wasn’t there, then the team wouldn’t be half as successful.

Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from this little country that produces such magnificent teams year after year and plays the game as it should be played: with flamboyance and flair.