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

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Something for the Christmas stocking

Matt Te Pou is one of the most successful coaches of rugby ever and I have often said so. Matt gave up coaching after his New Zealand Maori defeated the touring British and Irish Lions in Hamilton. This year Matt McIlraith put together an (auto)biography with Te Pou called Against The Odds and I was lucky enough to be given a copy.
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
I have to admit I was expecting the usual sports book: we played this game, then we played that game etc etc then I retired. Instead the book is more like a dissection of Maori culture in sport and discovery of roots. The more I read the more I was reminded of the movie Ali (a film that was ironically criticised for focussing too much on the sport).

Te Pou had the players embrace their Maori culture introducing kaumatua (elders) to lead the team spiritually and even had the players sing waiata and practice kapa haka (once this took the place of doing a training run). This style of coaching galvanised the players but also took them on a journey.

Many of the players interviewed for the book had little or no knowledge of their whakapapa (genealogy). Many said that once they started digging their families were extremely supportive and often extremely proud of their heritage. Often these players are the ones that were derided by outsiders for not looking “Maori enough”; Glenn Jackson, Tony Brown, Paul Tito.

But it is still a sports book and it is jam packed with sporting anecdotes and such. But what I love are the stats! Wooooweeee there’s some good stats in this book. And considering the NZRU’s still keeping to it’s “nobody wants to see stats” line, this is a godsend.

Finally I have a personal connection to this book. In 2005 I was contracted by Te Puni Kokiri (The Ministry of Maori Affairs) to do a series of factsheets looking at various aspects. Often these were topical issues for example I wrote one about Maori in Contemporary Music (pdf) for New Zealand Music Week. Just before the Lions tour started I got a call saying that I was to create a factsheet about Maori in Rugby and have it ready before the NZ Maori played the Lions. This gave me two weeks to do a 5 week job. Late nights and phone calls to the NZRU finally produced a document (pdf) that I’m still very proud of. And now I’m even prouder as my work was cited in Against the Odds (page 27 for those of you who want to have a look).

Also as a thank you for my work on the sheet the Minister of Maori Affairs, Hon Parekura Horomia, (who wrote the foreword to the book) had me join his group that held a dinner for the New Zealand Maori team a few days out from their game against the Lions. I spent the night talking with Matt and his staff long after the players had left. I wrote about it here.

Against the Odds is available through all good booksellers.

No comments: