Long, rewarding day of rugby
Saturday was definitely rugby-overload day. It started at Marlborough Boys' College front field where the MBC first XV hosted reigning Press Cup champions St Bede's.
What started promisingly for the home side soon turned pear-shaped.
A series of missed tackles allowed the Christchurch side, who appeared bigger, faster and stronger, to quickly build a handy lead. Like so many of the very best Press Cup sides in recent times, St Bede's were ruthless at exploiting tryscoring opportunities, a harsh lesson for MBC who are still very much in the running for a semifinal spot.
Next stop was Lansdowne Park for back-to-back premier club semifinals. The first match was a cracker, Waitohi edging Central by a point. The Blues played catchup most of the match, but could have sneaked a win. Poor execution and ball control at crucial stages let them down. The Tohis will gladly take the win, but must know they can play a lot better.
Their opponents in Saturday's grand final will be Harlequins, who accounted for a gutsy Awatere outfit. Again, the beaten team had chances to take control but errors and lack of composure under pressure let their opponents off the hook. The Quins have had an up and down season, starting superbly but falling away badly during the Tasman Trophy.
Either finalist will make a worthy champion and possess a number of X-factor players, the guys who can produce moments of magic that can turn a game. How they are dealt with may dictate the destination of the premier trophy for 2012.
Then it was onto the couch for the Super Rugby preliminary semifinals. I was going to get a ticket for the game in Christchurch, but I don't like empty spaces!
Despite the Crusaders fans' inability to fill the stands, their team again did them proud, almost totally dominating a Bulls side who may as well have stayed in Pretoria. The "Bully Boys" base their game on patterned, robust and disciplined forwards, guided around the field by the metronomic Morne Steyn. A combination of suffocating Crusaders defence and poor execution meant they were rarely able to establish their pattern and the result was apparent from a fair way out. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Richie McCaw was superb - his utter fearlessness an inspiration to those who follow him.
I'm not sure if the result of the second semi between the Reds and Sharks is good or bad news for the Crusaders. Thanks to the Sharks' comprehensive victory the Crusaders now travel north to play the Chiefs instead of heading for a meeting with the Stormers in Capetown.
While the travel factor is avoided, the rested Chiefs will present a formidable challenge, especially if they can produce a competitive scrum and lineout this time.
All in all, a long, rewarding rugby day.
Aussies are traditionally adept at stirring the pot but Alan Eskander, boss of Aussie bookmakers Betstar, has taken it to a new level, declaring Olympic war on New Zealand.
Last week he announced the opening of a number of markets allowing punters to bet on what he feels will be New Zealand's "inevitable disappointing performance at the 2012 Games".
With tongue firmly in cheek, I hope, Eskander claimed to be speaking slowly and with the aid of a translator in case any Kiwis were actually in the room. He pointed to other similarly-sized nations with far more realistic expectations of decent medal hauls.
“Look at Laos, Papua New Guinea [for other options],” he said. “Djibouti have timed their run perfectly, the Cook Islands have great training systems in place and nobody can doubt the credentials of the Chipolopolo from Zambia.”
He noted New Zealand failed to pick up a single medal the last time the Olympics were in London, in 1948, "despite sending half the population of Dunedin within their seven-man team".
Eskander went on to quote (with translation for Aussie readers) Betstar's supposed New Zealand spokesman, Wretched (Richard) Binjumun (Benjamin) who blamed his country's recent over-performance in a number of other sports for Betstar's temporarily abandonment of the Anzac alliance.
“In 2012, the Nu Zullenders [New Zealanders] will be shooting for tin  straight Blidisloe [Bledisloe] Cup wins,” Binjumun (Benjamin) said. “We hev [have] the Rugby League World Cup as well, thanks to Bunji [Benji].
"Our crucket [cricket] team, despite being bloody shut [s...], even managed to livil [level] the tist [test] series in Tezzy (Tassie) last crust mess [Christmas]."
Punters can bet on the number of Kiwi golds (five or more pays $13), or the total number of Kiwi medals (0-3 pays $7). They can even back Liechtenstein ($41) or Moldova ($13) to pick up more medals in a head-to-head battle.
Given Eskander originally hails from Egypt, a country that has won just seven golds - in either weightlifting or wrestling - it is unlikely he has a clue what he's talking about, so a lazy fiver on the "Nu Zullenders" may be opportune.
- The Marlborough Express