Thursday, 31 May 2012


The Irish are coming to play the World champion All Blacks (using the term world champion was redundant but I’m not going to apologise, it feels so good to write it). While it may have taken 24 years for the All Blacks to win back the World Cup, the Irish haven’t beaten the All Blacks in 107 years of trying; with a solitary 10 all draw in 1973 their best result. The last time an Irish side beat the All Blacks, (Munster in 1978), they wrote a play about it. If the Irish team wins a test this year, what will be the result of that, a blockbuster trilogy?

When the All Blacks meet the Irish, will it be

Paradoxical though it is, considering that the All Blacks are the World Champions and the Irish ranked a lowly eighth in the world, I would suggest that the Irish have a great chance of winning a test this time. The All Blacks may have only lost three home test series (a series of three games or more); to the 1937 Springboks, the 1971 Lions and the 1986 Wallabies (the year of the Baby Blacks and Cavaliers) but for all of their dominance at home, where their winning percentage touches 83%, they have only clean-swept 6 series out of 29. The Wallabies have only been whitewashed once at home in 10 attempts, when the Woeful Wallabies toured here in 1973. The All Blacks do seem to find it tough to win three tests in a row against the same opposition.

an All Black win and more of the same,
Saying that, none of the home nations (England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales) have even undertaken a three-test tour of New Zealand. The French have twice and twice they went home beaten 3-0.  The Lions have been clean-swept three times (in 1950, 1966 and on their most recent tour in 2005) and that takes the cream of the crop from the home nations. Ireland have played nine tests against the All Blacks in New Zealand, losing the lot obviously with an average score-line of 33-13. These are all stats that don’t suggest the Irish have a hope.

or something new, with an Irish win.

But if I was an Irishman, (and don’t we all have a little Irish in us), I’d still be hoping for an upset. The Irish have a sprinkling of world-class players- the likes of Heaslip, O’Driscoll and O’Brien- and on their day can compete with (and beat) the best teams in the world. If you don’t believe it, check out the result when Ireland played the Wallabies in the World Cup, which also shows they could win big tests away from home. Add in the fact that the Irish have had a couple of weeks together whereas the All Blacks will have less than a week together and it's less easy to write off the Irish. So, the All Blacks will have to guard against complacency and find an antidote to the World Cup hangover that seems to be bugging several of the players, to avoid getting the label of the first All Black team to lose to the Irish. Whatever happens though, should be good craic.

Sunday, 20 May 2012


I haven’t updated my blog for a while. Not because I have been too busy, mainly because if I have time to write, I feel that I should be reading or writing something related to my PhD proposal. My topic is about weta, the giant insects of New Zealand. My species of interest is known as Hemideina maori, the alpine weta and for the last two months, I went from knowing as much as you do to become a semi-expert. Saying that, I’ve never actually seen one in the flesh. But that day will come. I will have a lot of adventures, scurrying about the high regions of the central South Island, searching for my gargantuan insect quarry. I have been corresponding with some amateur naturalists, who told me of a population found at a reasonably accessible spot. I say reasonably as the spot is an island in the middle of Lake Wanaka.

The beasties I will be studying for the next three years.

After I received encouragement from the family, I decided to check out Ruby Island. Encouragement only goes so far though and this was to be a solo trip (not even my dear wife would consent to come with me). Nonetheless, it was one of the those beautiful crisp days where the lake surface looks just like a mirror, the newly-dusted mountains capping off the postcard appearance. It must be nice to live in a postcard. Ruby Island is only about a ten-minute paddle from the mainland. The waters in this part of the country are cold, the lakes carved out by recent glacial action filled by rivers comprised of snow melt, so this was no time to be practicing the Eskimo rolls (should that be Inuit rolls) I learnt to do at high school.  On reaching Ruby Island, I pulled the kayak up on the gravelly beach by Ruby Island’s one small pier and took off, more confident than hopeful on my weta quest.

Looking out over Lake Wanaka with Ruby Island in the background.
I spied some likely weta habitat-a bank of schist with inviting looking crevices. However, my futile first search would unfortunately set the standard. Hoping to glance a weta, if I came across anything living at all, I was eyeballed by a surprised spider or a scared looking gecko but never a weta. I looked all over this bank of schist, under likely looking rocks and in rotting logs. I looked all over this small island, only a 10-minute walk in diameter. Remembering the words of one of my sources, I searched in cabbage trees, the hardy palm tree lookalikes so iconic in Southern New Zealand. Turning my gaze upwards had no change on the outcome. I found only geckos (which on another day, I would have been more excited to find) and no sign of wetas. For the most part, the only noise apart from my muttered curses on the island came from birds, most commonly finches but also ducks and on one occasion, from an Australasian harrier hawk which I startled from its resting place on the biggest tree on the island, a pine.

One of the many geckos I found.
Later on, four yoofs turned up on a small powerboat. I can hear them joking about casting my kayak off into the deep blue. They weren’t there to just enjoy the scenery as much as get loaded; they had already polished off a few bottles of ready mixed bourbon and cokes. When I walked past them, greeting them as I passed by, my sudden presence pushed them into hysterics. A younger me would have questioned what they were laughing at but the older version let their laughter go. Following the words of Jay-Z, I brushed my shoulders off, their laughter flowing over me but not bothering me (at least, not too much). For a heart-stopping and maddening moment, I thought that they had hid my ride but I was a bit too hasty in my prognosis and it was lying where I had left it. I pushed my kayak off, getting my shoes wet for the third time that day, without even giving the troublesome teenagers the satisfaction of a backwards glance. Nonetheless, I could still hear them laughing at me as I set off across the lake. Luckily, the scenery serves as such a spectacular backdrop that it does a great job at quickly putting things into perspective. I lingered a bit, halfway back to the shore, just sitting in the kayak, enjoying the solitude, soaking in the tranquility (not something that was easy to find during our time in Korea).
So, my first field trip was a fail in the sense that I couldn’t even find any weta. If they were there or not, I can only find out through further inquires. But as a way to spend an afternoon, my expedition was a success. But it showed me that if nothing else, my project will give me the excuse to check out some of the more beautiful and untouched parts of the country.