OPINION: For about 100 kiwi dollars, anyone can invest in a set of SportsEars.
They enable you to listen to the referees bellowing during representative and international rugby matches in New Zealand and Australia.
Just plug in the earphones and listen to your heart's content, and to the TV commentary if you really want earache.
The microphone signals are fed from within the stadiums through the MatchCom Referee Talkback System, designed by one Murray Tregonning, a clever audio professional from Australia.
Sky TV shares only bits and pieces of referees' conversation with viewers and blocks other bits. SportsEars grabs the lot, including the captains' chats.
When Manawatu challenged Taranaki for the Ranfurly Shield we could clearly hear Turbos skipper Nick Crosswell.
At one stage he said to referee Mike Fraser, "they're local touchies, it's your call", after two very dodgy Taranaki lineout throws went unchecked by the local flag-bearers. And quite right too for the captain to speak up.
During last Saturday's win by Manawatu over Hawke's Bay in the big blow, we could hear referee Garratt Williamson incessantly picking on Manawatu loosehead prop Eric Fry.
Referees go into games with pre-conceived notions about props, such as those who put their arms down briefly when the scrums engage. Williamson either kept pinging the big American or coaching or schmoozing him in a way that should not be part of a referee's brief.
But referees do chin-wag about players and then pay undue attention to them come game day.
They can pin-prick to the level they become dangerous. Half an hour into the game on Saturday, Manawatu second five-eighth Shaun Curry made a desperate run and lunge into his dead-ball area to beat Hawke's Bay's halfback Isaac Paewai to the ball.
The video ref was asked to "check for a foul by green" when it seemed obvious both men had dived headlong and there was nothing like a rugby league flick of the ball out of play.
But when the action was slowed right down, the referee could easily have got it into the head of the video ref that the ball had been thrown out of play. And that might have resulted in one of those dreadful penalty tries and the locals would have raised the roof.
Almost certainly, referees don't go out of their way to saw off teams. But human nature is at work.
When Manawatu have been struggling over the past two decades, they often haven't got a fair suck of the saveloy when it comes to crucial decisions.
It's the same as test referees who would never dare to order off or even sinbin Richie McCaw because, well, he is Richie.
■ Spare a thought for the windblown Manawatu-Whanganui golfers who won the Shand Cup interprovincial at the Wanganui Golf Club over the weekend.
The winds at the rugby in Palmerston North on Saturday were estimated at up to 80kmh but at Belmont for the golf they were reported as being up to 100kmh. The players stayed out, even if at one stage a trundler was picked up and did a somersault and countless umbrellas were blown inside out.
It was almost unplayable, the rain coming through like bullets in 10-minute bursts.
Even then, the scoring was in the mid-to-high 70s.
■ Usain Bolt's fleeting visit to Auckland might have been a publicity stunt, even if it is the only way we can get world superstars to New Zealand these days.
It provoked the TV wallahs to assemble a panel decrying the effects of Gatorade and its sugar-loading on health. Poor old Usain had to defend the coloured stuff because he is paid the big bucks to knock it back and promote it.
But no-one seemed to mention that over-indulgence in sports drinks leads to your teeth falling out of your head, the acid eroding enamel. And in this age, probably only half of the population can afford to visit the dentist for a healthy dose of pain.
- © Fairfax NZ News