Who has got the cure for the sit-at-home blues? Ask Dr Grabthar. Now with bigger, easier to read font!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Tokyo Rocks!

Today is our last day in the big city. Tomorrow we leave for London, and with sorrow. We have come to enjoy Tokyo for all of her charming eccentricities and smells; she has been good to us.

The sounds of Tokyo are also interesting. While in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building #1’s viewing deck (from which you can most of Tokyo and even Fuji-san on a clear day) we heard “On Top of the World” by the Carpenters. Later in a department store in Shinjuku we heard the theme from Rocky. But the best music comes from the street, literally. Harajuku on a Sunday is shit hot as all of the bands who have recorded CDs and want to peddle their wares play to crowds of passersby. The bands are only metres away from each other and so they have to out-loud the band next to them or just out-flash them.

I had to decide on which EP I was going to buy: Baby Joe’s or Hop Coaster’s. Hop Coaster sounded like the Chili Peppers and played up to the camera, but I liked Baby Joe. They reminded me of (kiwi band) The Checks. Unfortunately their awesome live sound didn’t carry across to the cd but it was worth the $10 or so I paid for it. When I went to purchase the cd (which the band signed) they all looked so shocked I burst out laughing. They looked like, “you actually want to buy one?!”

We had some time to kill and decided to go to a maid café today. I thought it was going to be a horrible sleazy place filled with chain-smoking geeks glistening with sweat leering at the poor girls, and so I had dismissed the idea out of hand. But then I noticed that our official guide to Tokyo (issued by the local council) had an ad for one on it. The place was called @Home and was three levels of restaurant, café and lobby. To be honest it was lovely. The food was some of the best we have had in Tokyo and the service was, naturally, excellent. It was more of a modern take on the traditional tea house. The “maids” tottered around on wooden sandals and in kimono and would serve people tea and make chit-chat. There was one corner that had tatami and you could get and honest to goodness tea ceremony. The only weirdness was that you could get your photo taken with your favourite maid and that they kept calling you “master”. There were also quite a few female patrons, both the tittering school girl kind and the hipster ironic kind. There was a show in the middle that seemed to be some kind of comedy sketch but upstairs in the lobby you could purchase merchandise, including a cd they had made. Still ranks as weird, but it was a cool Japanese experience.

We have loved Tokyo and I highly recommend it to anyone thinking of coming.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Experimenting with YouTube

This should hopefully be a video of the Electric Light Parade in Tokyo Disneyland. If it's a video of teenage girls lipsynching to pop music*, I apologise

*isn't that what YouTube is for?

More Photos!!!

I know you just love these photo posts

The Apple store in Ginza. A good place for free internet.

Onitsua Tiger store in Ginza where I got my flash new shoes.
Onitsuka Tiger store in Roppongi Hills where I got my flash new tshirt and Amy got her flash new bag. Seriously Asics, you owe us.

Art in Roppongi Hills. The numbers change or disappear at random. Very pretty.
A small alleyway in Shinjuku that is lined with skewer places. Great eats.
Godzilla!!! (Statue in Hibiya, I thought he'd be taller in person)
Sign outside a Freshness Burger. New! Zealand Smoothies. The flavours are cofee, berry, tropical and chocolate. Very kiwi.
Fugu. The deadliest food of all. Outside of a Fugu (pufferfish) store in Asakusa.
Yokohama bust pudding. ::Cough:: We didn't buy one.


The Japanese seem to be fascinated with two other cultures: France and America. American icons abound: 7-Eleven, Kinkos, even the microwave popcorn I was given today was an American brand (I forget the name now though). And in the fashionable areas of Ginza and Roppongi, if the words weren't Japanese they were French. I don't speak French either.

I am still having trouble finding free wi-fi and have resorted to roaming Akihabara with my laptop in my hand desperately trying to make a connection. This may be a metaphor, who's to say.

The humidity has dropped right off meaning that the 32 degree days are quite bearable.

I'm sitting in a "French cafe" in Akihabara writing this, sitting next to me is a pair of girls (late teens) who are waving a glowing Mickey Mouse wand. This is the other culture that enthralls Japan: the cult of Disney. We went to Disneyland and had a great time, but we are not as clinically obsessed as the Japanese are. At the park, even the cool hipsters were wearing Mickey ears (or in one case Minnie ears) without a shred of irony. And everyone was carrying souvenirs popcorn buckets, or light up wands, or just anything with Disney branding on it. At the end of the day before the park closed the stores were full of people just grabbing things off the shelves and throwing fistfuls of cash at the attendants, who piled it all in a big sack with a dollar sign on it (the money is later burned in front of Walt Disney's "blood throne" just before the virgin sacrifice).

I had a strange experience on the subway yesterday. I know this is supposed to be commonplace in Tokyo but it was still weird. A businessman, possibly in his late 40s, sat down between me and an old lady. He pulled out a manga (comic) and began to read. I glanced over and noticed that it was extremely explicit. He didn’t even care that he was sitting in a public place next to a woman who was old enough to be his mother! Weird, but that’s the fun of other cultures, being weirded out.

Finally, for now, I have noticed that it is really hard to tell what age Japanese people are. This is obviously some kind of anthropological thing, but it’s still strange. I asked Amy, “can you tell who is our age here?” She said, “it was the people in the Apple store”. Touche.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Tokyo Photos

A dodgy costume shop in Akihabara

San-ai Building in Ginza

Coffee Shop
The coffee shop in Ragtag in Ginza, we paid $10 for coffee here. That's $10 per coffee.


Tokyo, and I'm a marked man. Kirk Penney's three point shooting has meant New Zealand (or Nyu Jirando) is a swear word. Having knocked the host nation out of the Basketball World Cup karma was looking for revenge against kiwis. Therefore it should have come as no surprise when an ATM swallowed our card. Bastards!

The game against Argentina is here in Tokyo so I'm gonna try to find a bar full of kiwis and organise some kind of "haka"

Tokyo is a city of smells. Some nice, some not so nice. As such breathing through ones nose becomes a sport, with extravagent highs and bottomless lows.

I have become addicted to Onitsuka Tigers (photos to follow). I have the shoes (from Ginza), and now the t-shirt (from Roppongi Hills) and soon may have a bag as well.

For those of you keeping score, this is the first post from a wifi hotspot! For traveling wifiers I reccommend Tully's Coffee shops. (Tully's, for cold coffee and cool internet).

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Alright you little photophiles here is some images of Japan taken on our little trip around the place.

Touganeya Hotel
This is our hotel, right near Ueno Station but enough out of the way that it is loverly and quiet.

Bug of death
A bug that managed to crawl into my bag and scare the crap out of me! It's the size of an old fifty cent piece. Maybe larger. And with LARGE teeth.

Big Blue
Life-size Blue Whale outside the Tokyo National Science Museum

Yep, that's what it looks like, Pickled tentacles

Kimono Girls outside the art museum

Stone lanterns outside Toshugu Shrine in Ueno Park. Old and cool!

Roof detail of the Toshugu Shrine

retty Lights
Akihabara, Electric City, Home of the Otaku!

More to come later (it's hard to load them all at once)

All in a line

The Japanese' life (or at least those in Tokyo) is based entirely around waiting. Or to be more specific, queueing. They queue for everything, happily and for hours on end. As such they make crazy electronics built solely to relieve the boredom of waiting in line. It's an entire industry.

This was pressed home to us yesterday at Tokyo Disneyland*. I saw a kid with a Nintendo DS. "What kind of kid takes a video game to Disneyland?", I thought. A very smart one it turns out. With lines reaching over 70mins, the people who brought portable consumer electronics were kings.

*yeah I sold out and went to Disneyland, what of it?

Naturally, as they queue all the time, the Japanese tend to be experts at queueing. There is ususally someone telling you where to queue and when. At Disneyland this was definitely the case. They also ensured that every quese was the same length and that NO ONE COULD CUT
IN! I loved that. We were waiting for a parade and space next to us came free, the attendant asked how many of us there were, and then shuffled us across while another person shooed away line-cutters. Hooray for oppressive regimes!

Akihabara was a mix of the beautiful and the bizarre as orgistic hordes of otaku descended on electronics. Shinjuku has glittering towers filled with sneering hipsters and the redlight district usuals. So today we tried Asakusa for a revered temple and shrine. It was filled with tourists.

Please excuse the fact that these posts have becomre more and more haphazard but that is the problem with running between internet cafes. Photos are coming, I swear! Tonight I hope to find a kiwi-friendly bar and watch the Tall Blacks play Japan.

Thank you to the anonymous tipster, I haven't tried Melon Soda and Calpis yet, but I will.

READERS: Any help with wifi hotspots around Ueno would also be greatly appreciated.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Skewers and Sweat

(Still having trouble with the photos, but they are coming)

We braved the perils of electric city (Akihabara) and came away with NOTHING. But only because we are heading back later to buy stuff. I was seriously considering going to a Maid Cafe. Then common sense and a severe case of insight prevailed.

We are in Shinjuku right now, blogging from a booth in GeraGera, a manga cafe. Technically this is Shinjuku's red light district but it is the tamest one you have ever seen. We just ate tamest one you have ever seen. We just ate in a you have ever seen. We just ate in a an alleyway that has been around since pre-war Japan. It is packed with tiny hole-in-the-wall eateries. What we didn't realise is that they are EXPENSIVE hole-in-the-wall eateries. I suggest figuring out the price before sitting (though I imagine it was mostly the Gaijin surcharge).

It is SAID that the eskimo have 100 words for snow; I have learned in the last few days that the Japanese have 100 words for please and thank you. A single Japanese person is more polite than any number of mothers who drilled manners into you as a child. On the first night I accidentally set off a bowing frenzy from the taxi driver when I bent down for my bag.

Another thing I have noticed is that, although Japan is packed to bursting with computers and technology and robots, the number of wifi networks is very very small. So small in fact that we are constantly on the look out for internet cafes like GeraGera.

Lastly, we met a very nice American couple today, Colin and Chris. They went to the Ghibli with us and were very nice travelling companions. (the Ghilbli museum was amazing but more on that later)

It is still averaging 30 degrees and we are still sweating buckets!


Sunday, August 20, 2006

Welcome to Tokyo!

The first stop on our trip is the world's largest city (I'm not sure how they measured it). It is hot over here.

We left Auckland on the 28th and it was a bright sunny winter's day, it was 5 degrees C. Here in Tokyo it is 38 degrees C. It was 31 degrees by 10am! At night it drops to a minimum of 28. So the thing we have done the most in Tokyo is sweat. I know you are all sympathising.

The vending machines are my friends, however, and we have been giving them ¥150 a pop for Pocari Sweat )the world's best "ion drink".

Yesterday we toured Ueno park. It is massive and full of awesome statues and crows. For the crows imagine magpies but bigger, blacker and with sharper beaks. All of the wildlife is bigger here (photos to come). I got freaked out by a giant beetle that got stuck in my bag (about the size of the old 50 cent piece.

We also saw the National Art Museum and Toshuga shrine. Both very cool.

Lunch and dinner were in tiny little restaurants in the markets by the Ueno station. The markets sold everything from "designer inspired" clothes to pickled octopus (photos to come). We had lunch in a tiny little noodle place in an alleyway. Bloody hot though.

The language has been the hardest part. We order food by pointing at it and saying Kudasai (please). We run away if they try to speak any Japanese to us. (that's a joke btw).

Today we are in Ginza. I have never seen so many diamond stores! de Beers, Bulgari, Tiffanys! We are in the Apple Store using their free internet cafe. Yay Apple! I have never seen so many white pieces of eletronics! Mike, you would love it!

We are off to blow our budget on electronics tonight in Akihabara.

I'll try to get photos up soon as.


Monday, August 14, 2006

Trip Counter

On Friday I’m off overseas with my lovely lady. In order to keep you abreast and up-to-date on all of our exploits I will be posting here.

So expect photos from exotic locales (like London, OOOoooooo) and tales of New Zealand being brought into disrepute (drunken nights in Roppongi). The trick is to say you’re from Australia.

We also have this nifty trip planner tool from Yahoo Travel. So once I get the photos up on Flickr I’ll link them to the trip planner.

This week I am a blur of activity. Today is buying money. Tonight is dinner with 20 of our friends. Tomorrow is my last podcast for a month. Wednesday is packing and settling in our house-sitter. Thursday is putting the cats in the cattery and finalising the packing and getting ready for…Friday, flying out at a ludicrous time of the morning.

I’m sure that the writing won’t just be: “this is a temple, here are some Japanese people”, I’m sure it will be insightful and deep. Of course that depends on the jetlag.

Sons of Bitches

As some of you may know, my partner and I are off on an overseas trip at the end of the week. We’ll be taking in the sights of Tokyo, London and Paris. That right old London town is in there! That means SECURITY RESTRICTIONS. Or, if you will, NO FUN HERE.

Thankfully at the moment it’s just my 12 hour flight from London to Osaka. Still that’s 12 hours with no iPod, no laptop, nobody to talk to. It’ll be like travelling in the 80’s.

But at least airlines are being vague about what the rules are. Last week my airline put out a release saying I would only have to “plastic bag” my “essentials” on flights leaving Heathrow. I rang my travel agent to check.

I’m flying Auckland to Tokyo, are there any restrictions or delays I need to know about?

Just make sure you pack you cabin luggage light

What do you mean by light?

Just, light. Only things you need.

Well I was going to take my iPod and laptop. I wanted to do some work on the plane.

Oh, no. We suggest you do not take these.

Even on a flight to Tokyo?

Well, the restrictions are for LA and London. But we recommend you check with your airline.

So no help there. At anytime the rules could change and I end up having to hand my electronics over to “the man”. Still no worries, insurance will cover it if anything bad happens. Won’t it?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Ravings of a madman

Certain things in life are important. Family, whānau, friends…FOOTBALL!

And not any prissy fall-over-clutching-your-face-if-some-one-comes-near-you round-ball football (also called soccer). This is smash-mouth American Football! A sport so tough they were forced to wear helmets by the President of the USA because PEOPLE WERE DYING! That’s how hardcore it is.

Well the Hall of Fame inductions are out of the way and we are now into the preseason. This means we’ve got five months of hits, interceptions, touchdowns, blitzes, first downs, 5 step drops, celebrations and hype. (But with roughly 30 secs between each play so you’ve got time to talk and drink beer).

The first football that kiwis get to see on live TV is:

Date: Tue 15 Aug 2006 12:00PM
Duration: 180 Minutes
Channel: ESPN
Genre: Sports
Censorship: G
Synopsis: NFL Pre-Season Football:
Minnesota Vikings v Oakland Raiders, LIVE from Hubert H Humphrey Metrodome,
Minneapolis, MN, USA.
The Raider Nation is already psyched up after a meaningless preseason win over the Eagles in the Hall of Fame game, so this could be another big one. Especially as it sees WR Randy Moss facing his old team.

Those regular readers amongst you know that I support two teams: The Eagles and the NY Jets (mainly the Jets). The Jets will start their pre-season in the stinking heat of Florida where they take on the Buccaneers, but I’ll have to watch highlights of that one on the net as New Zealand only gets (at most) two games a week.

For those of you are keen as beans Microsoft has a bunch of excel templates for your fantasy leagues as well as a pivot table for last year that can be easily altered to be current.

But what kind of preseason blog post would this be without a fistful of crazy predictions, so here we go, by division…

NFC North: Yeah, I’m starting with, perhaps, the crappiest division. Brett Favre said that this year’s Green Bay Packers are the greatest team he has played with. He can say this with certainty because he is high on some crazy-ass smack. The Bears win this division on defence alone while the other fight for the first pick in next year’s draft.

NFC East: From the worst to, possibly, the hardest division. This division fuels itself on hatred. PURE HATRED. The Giants took LaVar Arrington from the Redskins. T.O. went from the Eagles to the team that hates him so much that they injured him two seasons ago. I predict the Giants to win this one with the Eagles taking a wildcard slot. I know, you’re thinking “now, who’s on smack?” T.O. will not be able to stand Drew Bledsoe’s inability to get him the ball and will throw a tanty that will get him kicked off the team by Bill Parcells. And in Washington, they will suffer a QB injury that even the amazing Clinton Portis can’t get them out of.

(You know, I thought if I wrote it down it might sound like the truth. It didn’t. The Eagles are my first “crazy prediction”)

NFC West: Only a coked-up gambling fool wouldn’t bet on the Seahawks ruling this division. So I’m picking the Cardinals. I expect Seattle to go through a “Superbowl slump” on the scale of the Oakland Raiders (13 wins in three years since losing to Tampa in SBXXXVII). The Cards have got a new stadium, one of the best running backs in the game, and a great WR crew. People keep forgetting, the Cards were the only team in the top ten for offence AND defence last season. At best I give the Seahawks the other wildcard (a better prediction is Seahawks=Divisional winner, Cards=wildcard). The 49ers will beat all of the teams in the NFC North in the race for next year’s #1 pick.

NFC South: Usually this is a tightly contested division. That normally coughs up a wild card. Not this season. The Panthers will win. They are a strong team with good depth at most positions (as long as they don’t lose all their RBs again). Their opposition will come from the Buccaneers. But the Buccs aren’t strong enough this season to compete for the top spot. The Falcons are a team in the edge of a precipice. It’s a bad sign when your offence and defence brawl on the field not once but twice at a practice. It’s an even worse one when the players don’t realise that they are all wearing pads and helmets so the punches are useless. The Saints are only playing hard enough to get selected to be moved to LA.

AFC North: I like Chad Johnson of the Bengals. He might be my favourite WR. But the Bengals won’t win this division. I like Willie McGinest of the Browns (especially now he’s not a Patriot). The Browns also have their tight end back in service. But they won’t win (not even close). The Ravens have got a new QB. They’re still full of criminals. They won’t win. The Steelers will win.

AFC East: This hurts to say. The Dolphins will win this division. It will be a tight division but not because the teams will win a lot of games. The Bills suck. The Jets suck but will get better. The Pats are always a threat but the Dolphins should do it.

AFC West: My mate Jase likes the Raiders. His sad devotion to that ancient religion will not let him celebrate this season. I just can’t see the Raiders getting better with ex-Saints QB Aaron Brooks. The Raiders are a mean team though and you need to be in the AFC West. This is the division that rivals the NFC East for hatred. This division will contain a wildcard team. At the moment I believe that the Chargers will be that team, just edging out the Chiefs. The Broncos new, undrafted, unheard-of running back will get 2000yds (so what else is new) and they will win the division (and suck in the play-offs).

AFC South: Colts. Jaguars get the wildcard. Houston’s #1 pick, Mario Williams, gets injured early in the season. The Titans suck but not as bad as people think they will, even after Vince Young does something stupid. By the way, if the Colts do not make the play-offs they may find themselves moving to LA.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Newsflash: Posting comments can be fun!


Currently I post a comment about once a fortnight usually on one of Hadyn’s posts and more often than not, about a week too late. But today I discovered a new game I can play when posting that could see my posting frequency nearly double.

Okay, you know how whenever you write a comment blogger asks you to enter in a combination of letters that can often make up a funny word. You know like Yvvqjux, wukpimm or vtiacz (that last one is actually Polish (I looked it up) and translates roughly to be “scary clown”). The challenge is to insert this new word or Ljibwad© ,as I call it (after the combination I had when I thought of this game). So put on your mnwierz and get Ljibwadding ©!

© Copyright Dom Gibbs 2006

By Grabthar's Salary!

Backin15 asked for an explanation of the Air New Zealand Cup’s salary cap situation, and who am I to deny him. For those of you, who have read my salary cap rants in the past, don’t worry. I will keep this strictly mostly factual.

The basic level of the salary cap is this: each of the 14 Air New Zealand Cup Provincial Unions will be allowed to spend up to $2 million on player salaries and other benefits in any given year. “Other benefits” is going to be the tough one. We’ll get on to that later.

Otago and Counties - two teams who won't anywhere near the capThat $2M cap is fairly large for most unions. I doubt if teams like the Magpies, the Turbos or the Makos get anywhere near it. Or even teams like Waikato or Otago for that matter. The height of the cap may have been dictated by living costs in centres like Wellington and Auckland. In fact only Auckland and Canterbury have farmed out expensive players to their Super 14 franchise partners (like Chris Jack going to the Tasman Makos).

As a quick aside unions haven’t seemed to have figured out that you can pretty much get your Super 14 players from anywhere, like Crusaders flanker Tanerau Latimer who plays for Bay of Plenty in the Air New Zealand Cup.

Here are the people the NZRU put in charge of the cap. Craig Neil, former Assistant Auditor-General for the Office of the Auditor-General, has been appointed Salary Cap Manager and former NZRU Player Management Advisor Cameron Good takes on the role of Salary Cap Advisor.

The cap’s final barrier was the Commerce Commission. This was done because the cap is technically anti-commerce. The Commerce Commission approved the cap, subject to the following conditions which were imposed to “increase the certainty of the salary cap delivering the benefits advanced by the Rugby Union” (i.e. making money).

  • The salary cap will last for six years.
  • The NZRU must monitor and enforce compliance with the salary cap framework. This will include putting in place anti-avoidance clauses and ensuring they are complied with.
  • The NZRU must ensure that no remuneration is excluded from salary cap calculations.
  • The NZRU must evaluate the effectiveness of the salary cap in a review after five years.

Man, that is the only time I would’ve wanted to work at the Commerce Commission.

Here is an interesting piece form the Commission’s ruling:

The Commission analysed four years of viewing figures and found that closely
contested games were not necessarily more popular with the public. However, the
Commission found that the quality of players in a match did affect the match’s

The whole thing is here if you want to read it (256 pages, pdf).

So let’s talk about those “other benefits”. First they DO include All Black and other NZRU salaries (NZ Maori, Sevens etc). They also MUST cover (according to the Commerce Commission) any payments from outside agencies.

So if local businesses get together and pay a player $6M to come and play for the team then that would have to count. If the major sponsor decides to give each player a car (Ford example), then the price of the car counts against the cap. If the club gives a player $5 to go and buy a pie from the tuck shop, that counts against the salary cap.

Interestingly, the NZRU also proposed a player transfer system at the same time as the cap. This was pulled until the end of the 2007 Super 14. In it a Heartland Division team that loses a player to the Air New Zealand Cup would receive between $10,000 and $20,000 in fees. For players transferred between Air NZ Cup teams there would be no fee. What would this mean? Smaller unions in the Air NZ Cup would get screwed, isn’t that what it always meant.

Where to from here? Smarter unions I hope. Places like Tasman immediately advertised themselves to Canterbury as a place to “hide” their expensive players which was kind of smart. The down side of this is that those expensive players won’t play that many games (this weekend may be one of the few times we see Chris Jack in a Makos uniform) while being a blackhole on your cap.

I hope we’ll see some NFL style contracts. I don’t mean multi-million dollar figures but rather pro-rated money. An example might help:

Let’s say Tasman decides it wants to get a decent player (one that it won’t have to give up to the All Blacks) but they do not want to lose him to another union in a couple of years. So (for example) it goes for Mose Tuiali’i. Tasman offers him a five year $2M contract. This amounts to an average salary of $400,000 per year. But to keep Mose around you offer him this: $100,000 in the first year, $250,000 in the second etc until his last year has a very large salary.

Also in favour of the unions, they, like any employer, can renegotiate the contract. So in Year 4 just before the big payout, Tasman might negotiate a new contract and Mose has to start again. (Most NFL players never get to their big payout year). Unions can then acquire multiple players of good talent by staggering a lot of these kinds of contacts.

But why would Mose join the Makos if he’s only going to get $100,000 in his first year and there’s a high likelihood he won’t get his big payout? Because Tasman is going to give him a whopping great $1M signing bonus, that’s why. This is paid to Mose in his first year in a lump sum (so he will earn $1.1M) but (and this is an important “but”) the $1M amount is spread out evenly across the 5 years of his contract (i.e. $200,000 per year). So in his first year with the Makos, Mose earns $1.1M but has a “cap hit” of $0.3M, in his second year he earns $0.25M but has a cap hit of $0.45M and so on.

If the player is traded (which should be able to happen in rugby but no one does it) the remaining amount of the bonus goes on the salary cap. So if Mose was traded to Wellington in his third year, Wellington would shoulder the remainder of his contract (except the bonus) but Tasman would incur a $1.6M hit on their cap that year. OUCH! This is an incentive not to drop your players too early.

Putting off your payments unfortunately does lead to the ominous “Cap Crash”. However, this can give the competition a cyclical feel.

I also feel unions like Bay of Plenty should be advertising to players (of sub-All Black talent) that their $400,000 contract will go further in places like Tauranga or the Mount than in Auckland or Wellington.

But that’s me, and I don’t run a union…yet.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Sports, Sports, Sports, Sports

Ah, rugby season! Time to sit down and watch muscular men grab each other’s sweaty bodies while they fight for possession of a slippery little white ball. Truly the most heterosexual, manly thing to do.

I actually do like to watch rugby. Some sports, like cricket, can bore the hell out of me, but not rugby. I didn’t always like it but things change. Maybe I’ll like even cricket when I get older (and more senile).

I love the ceremony of games, especially internationals. Lining up for the anthems, waiting for the haka, all of it building up to the kick off. And then the game itself…

Sitting, yelling at the TV (or the actual players if you are so lucky). Leaping out of your seat for a score or even for a close one. Complaining about the referee. The end result is important but mainly in that it can determine your mood for the hour or so following it.

The Air New Zealand Cup (ANZC) kicked off this weekend. It replaces the old National Provincial Competition (NPC). The new version s a little screwy but there is method in the madness.

First let’s get two things clear. One, it really is madness. Two the old competition was also mad when it started (like having a quota of South Island teams!). But that’s why we learn, to not repeat mistakes.

The competition’s new structure is the main centre of the craziness. The 14 teams are split into two pools of seven. Note: originally it was going to be 12 teams but the NZRU crumbled under pressure and I think it was a good idea. The first seven weeks are a round robin tournament within the pools. The next three weeks are where the real madness begins. And we’re talking “seen-the-edge-of-space-after-travelling-through-hell-in-a-wormhole” crazy. The top three teams from each pool are guaranteed to get into the knockout rounds and have a three week series of games against each other to determine rankings. The other eight teams play three weeks in two pools. The winner of each pool goes into each the knock out rounds. Then we work towards the finals.

So where’s that method then? It takes a little while to get your head around but this format is designed to keep the NZRU ticking over, at least for the next three years. The opening weekend of competition showed us why.

Canterbury 45 Hawke’s Bay 0
Auckland 40 Manawatu 10

In the second part of the new format the only games we will see are top teams versus top teams, no blow outs (hopefully). This system gives the newer teams (and older teams that aren’t so good, Northland) a chance to play top grade rugby against similar strength teams. After three years of the competition the smaller provinces should have enough playing experience and money for the format to change slightly.

Slightly. The salary cap won’t have evened things out until at least 2012 (assuming no radical change in NZRU policy). The big unions with their larger stadiums are going to be pulling in more money than the smaller provinces so even if Manawatu becomes awesome they won’t make great money and will haemorrhage players.

When they do change the format, I’ve got the perfect plan for them…I'll tell you all about it later.