Rob Houwing

Marshall gives bias the boot

2012-06-22 08:25
Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing (File)
Justin Marshall, yet another prominent former rugby international to go the TV pundit route when the curtain came down on his playing days, probably sounds like a breath of fresh air in the match-day booth to many South Africans.

I believe it remains true to say that New Zealand’s commentators are collectively a less biased bunch than most of their Australian counterparts - perhaps “Kafe” tries best not to be? - but they do still call All Black games with a bit of a slant, just as SuperSport’s arsenal are also largely SA-leaning, with at least some element of logic.

But this is where Marshall is disarmingly different.

With the now 38-year-old, 81-cap scrumhalf legend (I believe we can brand him that) having taken up microphone duties for Sky Sports NZ, has come a new voice in moderation and impartiality, if you like.

So much so, in fact, that on Kiwi soil itself many people have been muttering about whether the ex-Crusaders No 9 favourite has some kind of axe to grind with the current All Black set-up!
I noticed this week that there’s a fairly well-subscribed Facebook campaign titled “Get Justin Marshall off Sky Sports commentary”.

And in the blogosphere are others saying things like: “The man is one of my favourite All Blacks ever. I’d just prefer him to be feeding a scrum than commenting on a scrum.”

So Marshall doesn’t have a unanimous TV fan club in New Zealand, that’s for sure.

To my neutral mind, though, he comes across admirably well for fair judgement, and it has surprised me a bit because in his playing career I always viewed him as a dyed-in-the-wool New Zealander who was never afraid to wind up, for instance, fans in South African stadiums - but then aren’t scrumhalves universally like that?

During the nail-biting second Test between the All Blacks and Ireland last Saturday, he spotted an instance of sneaky, cynical obstruction by a home player.

“It doesn’t matter if you are black or green, rugby doesn’t need that kind of thing,” he submitted, or words to that effect.

And from my very distant hotel telly in Johannesburg, I couldn’t find significant cause to disagree, myself ...

Rob’s Awesome Foursome

1. South Africa v England, third rugby Test
Port Elizabeth, Saturday 17:00, M-Net, SS1 & SHD (delayed e.tv 22:00)


The trend over the course of the first two Tests has been for the Springboks to produce 20 or 30 really enthralling minutes of blow-‘em-away supremacy ... certainly enough to basically close the deal, regardless of English claw-back qualities. No doubt Heyneke Meyer seeks a more complete showing in PE, despite fatigue possibly creeping onto the radar and dead-rubber syndrome not something to disregard. England, for their part, will delight in being back at coastal level and probably (no, certainly!) a less hostile environment than Coca-Cola Park. But they are much-changed and I reckon ripe for a 3-0 sweep by the hosts. Boks by 10 ...

2. Spain v France, Euro 2012 quarter-final soccer
Donetsk, Saturday 20:45, SS3 & SH3


It’s QFs every day between Thursday and Sunday, but on paper you have to say that Spain-France on Saturday night looks the most attractive of the lot. The Spaniards, of course, remain top of the FIFA rankings and are defending champions not only of the World Cup but also this tournament – they’re gunning for a commendable hat-trick of major titles here. France may lie only 14th on the global ladder, but they are considered to be at least stirring again after their horrendous World Cup in South Africa. Mind you, that loss to Sweden in the last group game was hardly a vintage French effort, but they may just have been sparing some fuel, as they say. Spain to take it, though?
 
3. South Africa v New Zealand, IRB Junior World Championship rugby final
Cape Town, Friday 18:45, SS1, CSN & SHD


The Baby Boks seemed a million miles from the final after that gormless first-up loss to Ireland, didn’t they? But it’s been all northward since then, and here they are with a golden opportunity to pinch the silverware from New Zealand clutches for the first time in five years. It’s an ideal match-up of the planet’s greatest rugby foes and, despite suggestions of dodgy Western Cape weather, it seems a heart-warming crowd around the 30 000 mark will be present at Newlands. I suggested on Thursday that Wiaan Liebenberg and company probably do warrant “favourites” mantle, but that any overly cocksure feeling could prove fatal.

4. Zimbabwe v South Africa, unofficial T20 international cricket
Harare, Saturday 13:00, SS2


I know plenty of people are pretty cynical about this little triangular, also featuring Bangladesh, but the intensity levels have been good - especially from two minnows thus far - and it has given certain Proteas players an early chance to dust off cobwebs ahead of more pressing engagements looming in England. It’s a game-a-day format, with the final on Sunday, but I’ve chosen Saturday’s Zimbabwe v South Africa rematch for prime billing: it’s the Proteas opportunity (some would bellow “need!”) to get revenge for that first-round humbling from their neighbours and you would expect that any complacency has now been dismantled.

Read more on:    rob houwing  |  justin marshall  |  rugby
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