Adam Hathaway, rugby correspondent of The People, says it is a waste of time spying on the All Blacks and says Harlequins have done the right thing by naming a gate after one of their great heroes.
Everyone loves a conspiracy, rugby fans are no different, and this week a pretty decent one exploded in the southern hemisphere when the All Blacks discovered a listening device, a bug to you and me, hidden in a chair in their team room in their InterContinental Hotel in Sydney.
This one is probably not up with the saga of the mysterious waitress Susie, who has been accused of nobbling the All Blacks before the 1995 World Cup final, or the different balls fiasco of the tournament 12 years later – but it will do for now. They are not exactly Watergate or George Orwell’s 1984 though and this one, if was intended to spy on the Kiwis, backfired with knobs on.
Accusations of spying on opposition teams have been going on for donkeys’ years but especially in the professional game. The Wallabies chased a photographer with a long lens camera away from their training pitch during the last World Cup, Clive Woodward always had England hotels swept for bugs and in 2013 the British & Lions thought they were being filmed whilst training in Australia.
It turned out the snapper in question was a wedding planner but was still forced to delete the pictures, not that they would have done the Aussies a fat lot of good. Scott Johnson the former Scotland coach, who also worked with Australia and Wales, admitted that he had pretended to be on the ground staff at one opposition pre-match work-out as he took notes.
During the 2005 Lions trip to New Zealand, Woodward, then head coach, was convinced that the All Blacks had cracked the touring team’s line-out calls. They changed them before the Test series and we all know what happened then.
The New Zealanders found the mechanical earhole last Monday but did not report it until the day before their Bledisloe Cup game against the Wallabies at ANZ Stadium on Saturday.
The Kiwi coach Steve Hansen said that was because they had been waiting for their CEO, Steve Tew, to arrive from the Olympics and once the chief suit of NZ Rugby got to Sydney he immediately alerted the Aussie Old Bill who are looking into it. The Wallaby plod also said that the delay in reporting the sinister finding will not help the investigation.
The New South Wales Premier Mike Baird had a different take on all the po-faced seriousness about the affair. “I think that’s awesome,” Baird said. “If that gives us a chance to beat the All Blacks I’m all for it.” He was away with the fairies on that one though but I don’t think Eddie Jones will be.
Who knows where the device came from anyway? One person we spoke to, who knows a bit about this stuff, reckons it was all a bit amateurish hiding something like that in a chair and hoping to get away with it. It may well not have been anything to do with the Aussies – there might have been some high-powered business conference there the day before and industrial espionage is worth a bit more than listening in on rugby chat. Whoever did it, it was not worth the effort.
And after watching a re-run of Saturday’s game when Australia were blitzed 42-8 by the world champions you have to wonder what anyone would gain from listening to an All Black team meeting.
I went into a New Zealand team room at a London hotel once, just ahead of a Twickenham Test against England, and it was the usual chaos of water bottles, shirts to be signed and white boards. One white board had something written on it like ‘We are the most dominant team in the world’. No horse manure Sherlock.
There is so much video data and analysis available now that it is very hard to keep secrets. It is not like the old days when teams turned up to play southern hemisphere opposition and barely recognised the blokes standing next to them for the anthems.
If the bug was functional, and someone had remembered to put the batteries in, they might have learned something like this in the discussions between the Kiwi coaches and their staff. New Zealand are good, very good, in fact they are brilliant and if they are not used to it now the rest of the world had better get used to it before the next World Cup.
They have lost a bucket load of double World Cup winners in the likes of Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Conrad Smith, Ma’ Nonu and Keven Mealamu and the thick end of 600 caps. But anyone who knows New Zealand rugby knows there are more behind them.
They have also reintegrated Israel Dagg at full-back, putting Ben Smith on the wing, Beauden Barrett is the form fly-half in the world and a re-jigged midfield is firing. They have two world class locks in Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock and McCaw’s replacement, Sam Cane, is no wet-behind-the-ears newcomer. He has more than 30 caps.
They also have Kieran Read. And he is Kieran Read, the best No.8 about on the planet for the past few years. You don’t need a spy in the camp to tell you that.
You also don’t need a spy in the camp to tell you that the All Blacks forwards handle like backs and are not scared of playing footy, they have a superb line-out, a back row to kill for and a couple of lethal finishers out wide. The guys on the bench are not bad either so there really is no need to call in Inspector Morse.
Opposition know what is coming when they play the All Blacks but it is bit like facing the West Indies quick bowlers in the 1980s. You know what is on the agenda – chin music, no half volleys to score off and the eventual clatter of your stumps or a nick to the keeper and you will be on your way – it is dealing with it that is the problem.
What you do need to beat the All Blacks is have a team who can play rugby at the same tempo whilst making a minimum number of mistakes when the heat is on. You have to beat them at rugby, not dirty tricks, something the rivals of the GB cycling team should consider, and which is something Jones will be mulling on over the next couple of years.
His England side are sitting pretty at number two in the world rankings and could well go the whole year with 13 wins from 13. But they are not scheduled to play the All Blacks again until 2018 and that is when their real credentials for the World Cup in Japan can be scrutinised. Any team that beats New Zealand will win the tournament. Jones knows that – he doesn’t need John le Carré to tell him.
Harlequins are celebrating their 150th anniversary this season and have marked the occasion by re-naming three gates at the Stoop.
Jason Leonard, got the nod in a supporters’ vote, so did Roger Looker a former player and chairman who died in 2014, and so did Bob Hiller.
Hiller, a school-teaching full-back back in the day, won 19 caps for England between 1968 and 1972 scoring 138 points, and was a good enough cricketer to win a Blue at Cambridge in that as well.
On two British Lions tours, to South Africa in 1968 and to New Zealand on the winning trip in 1971, Hiller played 19 games and scored 216 points without playing a single Test match. On his first Lions tour he was on dirt-tracker duty because the squad was captained by another full-back, Ireland’s Tom Kiernan, and in 1971 he played second fiddle to the great JPR Williams. Not that you would hear Hiller complaining about it but might just have been one of unluckiest Lions of all time.
Hiller scored 1,502 points for Harlequins, a mark that was only passed by Nick Evans in 2012, is currently the club’s president and has been involved with the side since 1963 on and off the field, rarely missing a match.
Quins have had some pretty good players over the years ranging from old Adrian Stoop himself and Ronnie Poulton-Palmer, through Wavell Wakefield, to the Will Carling crew and the current mob including Chris Robshaw and Mike Brown.
Stoop has the ground named after him and when the club celebrates its 200th anniversary there will be plenty of candidates for stands, bars and gates to be named after them. But if they have got any sense, or any sense of history, they will never change the name of the Bob Hiller Gates.