Translating Nick Cummins

I wrote this a while ago but never got around to publishing, so here it is:

It’s funny, how the majority of us can be enthralled by people who throw, run, catch or kick a ball. Leather or pigskin, it doesn’t matter. We love it.

We marvel at the athleticism, the freakish skills, an ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and vice versa. We love it when it goes right and we love it just as much when it goes wrong because then we become that exalted oracle of all that is good and true, otherwise known as the armchair critic.

We love the on field entertainment. But every now and then an elite sports person comes along who can be as entertaining just by opening their mouth and saying a few words. One of those people is an Australian rugby player called Nick Cummins.

To know Nick Cummins is to love him. But the hard part is the getting to know him especially if you don’t come from Australia. Nick Cummins speaks English but not as you know it. To follow what he is saying requires an understanding of the peculiar, eccentricities of Australian English. If you don’t have a grasp then you won’t know what the hell he is talking about.

Let me just lay a couple of Nick Cummins-isms on you so you’ll get what I mean.

Nick Cummins has a nickname. He is known as the Honey Badger. He was being interviewed after a rugby match and was asked how he came by the nickname and this is what he said:

“One of the stories that inspires me is that it is documented that a honey badger killed a lion in a one-on-one. What happened was that he clawed the canastas off the big fella. He just went one-two on the ball bag and the big fella has walked around the corner and fell over… that to me is outstanding.”

If you read that paragraph two or three times you might get what he is eluding to. Sort of. Possibly. The Japanese don’t. Nick Cummins is currently playing as a professional in Tokyo and the Japanese called him the Honey Budger, which is kind of cute.

But really, Nick Cummins needs to be accompanied at all times by a professional translator. Lucky for you, I speak perfect Australian and I am happy to translate his best quotes and turn them into something resembling English.

Quote: “I just saw the line, pinned me ears back and ended up bagging a bit of meat in the corner which was tops.”

Translation: I caught sight of the try-line, accelerated to the very limit of my abilities and managed to score, which was pleasing.

Quote: “Yeah mate I bloody was like a rat up a drain pipe in one of them runs there.”

Translation: I ran particularly fast in one instance.

Quote: “He was huffin’ and puffin’ and, mate he did well, he always does, he’s a tough rooster.”

Translation: My teammate was breathing heavily but he persevered. He always does. He is very hardy.

Quote: “I’m gonna have a truckload of pudding and uh, old mum’s good on the cook too so, Dad’s got the tucker ready over there and mum and dad are gonna work together and form a massive feed and I’m going to come in and dominate it.”

Translation: I intend to eat a large volume of pudding. My Mother is more than competent at the culinary arts as well. My Father is getting the food ready over there. The two of them will combine their talents to create a meal of sufficiently large proportions. Then I intend to devour all of it.

Quote: “I was busier than a one-legged man in a bum kicking contest.”

Translation: I was under extraordinary pressure because of the workload I was given during the match.

Of course when people hear Nick Cummins come out with this stuff they are a bit shocked but in a good way. To borrow an Australianism, the Honey Badger is a fair dinkum character and sadly there are too few of them.

But it would be too easy and unfair to describe Nick Cummins as a one trick pony when it comes to producing actions that we can laugh at and admire both on and off the sports field.

He is also a very devoted and loving son to his parents and his brothers and sisters. As a rugby player, Nick Cummins is at the very top of his game. He plays test match rugby for Australia. But very recently he turned his back on the game in Australia to play professional rugby in Japan but not for the reasons that you might think.

Yes he did it for the money. But not for himself, it was for his family. Nick Cummins’ father has incurable prostate cancer which has made him unable to work and that has been a considerable drain on the family finances. Nick Cummins has seven siblings, two of whom have cystic fibrosis, an incurable lung disease. So Nick has stepped in and stepped up. He accepted a lucrative contract but it will go to help the family during some very tough times.

Cummins has 40 thousand followers on Instagram, 34 thousand on Twitter and his match videos have millions of views on YouTube.

He is one of the few people who can win over an entire host nation on an Australian rugby tour with a few choice words said in a post match television interview.

While he’s been in Japan he shot some television commercials. You should check them out. Just like the old spice guy but way more funnier IMO.

So he is gone but not forgotten. Hopefully, he will be back soon to entertain us again. The world needs guys like Nick Cummins and not just because we like to watch a skilled athlete. He makes us laugh and that, is the best kind of medicine there is.

 

Sneaky Kiwis Win America’s Cup Again

An extraordinary sporting event just happened in the last 24 hours. It’s not what you call mainstream sport. Not rugby, basketball, soccer, baseball or cricket but that doesn’t make what happened any the less extraordinary.

It was a yachting race. Although the yachts in this race are not like anything you’ve ever seen before. They fly like the wind or with the wind. They certainly fly across the water.

In case you missed it, New Zealand won the America’s Cup. In sailing terms it’s the equivalent of being the first to climb Mount Everest. Hang on a minute the Kiwis did that as well.

It’s the biggest sailing trophy there is. The Kiwis won it once before sailing in a more conventional looking sailboat. A lot has changed since then. These days the America’s Cup is sailed on super fast catamarans that spend more time on top of the water than actually in it.

So what? You might say. If you did say that you’d be making a big mistake. Many things make this victory extraordinary. For instance, there is the David and Goliath nature of the battle. New Zealand, a small country with limited budgets versus United States Team Oracle with a seemingly unlimited money chest. But to quote another life metaphor it’s not how big it is it’s how you use it.

The America’s Cup is all about technology. Really, really smart technology. And that’s another thing that makes this victory extraordinary. But to appreciate the technology you have to understand it. And understanding the technology in the New Zealand boat is a bit of a challenge. The best way to describe it, think high tech pedal powered boat. Let me explain.

If you look at the New Zealand and American boats they are both catamarans with an aircraft wing for a sail, which is balanced on the top of two canoes that are balanced on top of two or four vertical surfboards. The crews must trim the boat as it flies through the air. The wind provides lift and rudders and foils in the water allow it to manoeuvre. To win, the Kiwis had to be faster, stronger and more manoeuvrable. And that superiority was very evident, very early in the regatta.The New Zealand boat became the first to achieve 100 percent fly time. In other words it was able to complete a race without either of the two hulls touching the water at any time. Flying through the air literally and, depending on the wind, achieving speeds of up to 50 knots or 90 kilometers per hour.

The America’s Cup rules say all teams must sail boats of similar dimension and design, but that still leaves plenty of wriggle room for experimenting with the daggerboards and the hydraulic system for moving the foils and the sail.

And that is where those sneaky Kiwis had it all over Team Oracle. Normally the sails are trimmed by hand powered winches or grinders. It’s hard physical work and it needs to be done quickly to maintain boat speed. But New Zealand produced a stunning innovation. They switched from winch to pedal power. In others words they designed and installed bike like pedal bays in the boat. So spectators were treated to the spectacle of Team New Zealand crew members pedalling furiously to control the carbon fibre wing sail, rudders and the dagger boards. The genius of this innovation meant that unlike Oracle the crew could use their hands for fine-tuning. In a high stakes game like the America’s Cup every little bit counts and can be the difference between winning and losing. The Kiwis were smart enough to realise it was basic physics. Legs produce more power than arms and that power means the team can make necessary adjustments more quickly. And that is exactly what happened. The Americans were simply outsmarted by good old-fashioned Kiwi ingenuity.

Winning the America’s Cup again is huge for New Zealand. It will showcase their innovation and technology as well as their spectacular country and that, in turn, will attract investment. I was living in Auckland when New Zealand was defending the Cup so I know what a big deal it will be. The Auckland harbour will be transformed yet again.

So I take my hat off to New Zealand. The little country, with the very big ideas, that punches above its weight and does it so well. Only this time they delivered a stunning knockout blow and America’s Cup racing will never be the same.

Cobar Camels- Rugby In The Desert

Cobar is a tiny town in far north-western New South Wales. As the crow flies, it is more than 700 kilometres from Sydney.

The locals like to think that their town is part of rugby’s heartland, grassroots style – but there is barely a blade of green to be seen anywhere in Cobar.

Barren wasteland and desert is more like it. And in the middle of that barren wasteland, stretching almost as far as the eye can see, is the huge, underground Endeavor mine.

It’s the zinc, lead and silver that the mine produces that sustains the town of roughly 3,800. However, on winter weekends, 99.9 per cent of the town’s inhabitants can be found supporting their local heroes, the Cobar Camels rugby team.

In fact, one of the few places where you can find patches of green (with a lot of brown trampled through) is at the Ailsa Fitzsimmons Memorial Oval, the Camels’ home field and training ground.

The Cobar Camels, who play in the Western Plains zone, would have to be the most unique rugby club in Australia, if not the world.

Firstly, there is the team itself. As you would expect, it is comprised entirely of miners. The coaches have no choice but to juggle their team selection around the mine’s work roster: Seven days on, seven days off.

Then there is the travel required just to play an eighty-minute match.

Cobar is geographically challenged, and that is an understatement. The nearest away ground is 130 kilometres by road. The farthest is 480.

A Camels player might finish his shift at seven on a Saturday morning, jump in a bus, travel three or four hours on the road, play two halves of rugby, and then travel another four hours back to Cobar. Dedication is the only way to describe it.

And with mine work being a transitory profession, the Camels get creative in recruiting new players.

In 2008, the club was facing a major crisis as they struggled to find enough players to field a team. Thankfully for the Camels, fate intervened when a former Fijian international rugby player, Netava Tagi, answered the call. A job was found for Tagi at the mine and he took up the roles of player and coach with the team.

The crisis passed and the club soon began taking on members from different sporting codes, with players from rugby league, AFL and soccer beginning to turn out for the Camels. At one point they even recruited a former Canadian Ice hockey player as a prop forward.

Fast-forward to 2016 and the Camels are doing their best to embrace the modern way of playing the game. There is a new head coach, John ‘The Outlaw’ Barnes, suitably named for a town in the state’s ‘wild’ west. An experienced sportsman, Barnes also doubles as the team’s strength and conditioning coach.

The Outlaw originates from a strong rugby pedigree, having spent 30 years playing the game in South Africa. More than half those years were in first grade, and five years  playing provincial rugby. He moved to Australia to become strength and conditioning coach for the Western Force in Perth, who won the international Super Rugby competition in 2014.

Barnes also has a Master’s degree in personal training. He was a trainer for the South African Army’s special forces and, at one time, wrestled professionally under the name his Camels would come to know him by: ‘Outlaw’. They like to do things a little differently in Cobar.

The Camels only had one win last season. They’ve only ever won two first grade premierships in their history, in 1976 and 1996. The Outlaw is determined turn this record around, and this year could be the year.

If you’re sceptical, just ask anyone from Cobar and they’ll put you right.

But even if the Camels don’t end up being the best side in the competition, they are certainly going to be the fittest with the ‘Outlaw’ laying down the law.

You might think that travelling vast distances just to play a game would become a bit of an ordeal for a team, but it doesn’t seem to worry the Camels one little bit. The travel isn’t a problem but the cost of doing so is. At one point, the club was spending close to $20,000 a year just to play games of rugby.

The Camels needed a cost effective solution so they did what any other club might do in their situation. They bought themselves a bus. It’s not the fastest or flashiest piece of machinery but it gets the job done, and the club does its best to make each away trip a special event.

How do you go about entertaining a group of hard nut rugby players for four hours? No worries, the Camels have that sorted: You get everyone to sing songs. Plenty of songs. You sing them loud and out of tune, but it won’t bother anyone. When you’re with your mates and doing something you love no one’s going to be bothered if you don’t get the tune quite right.

The team is named after an animal that is a ship of the desert, built for endurance and the long haul. There really is no better way to sum up this bush rugby club.

The Sportsman Who Touched A Nation

Australia is a sad place to be today.

The whole country is in mourning. I kid you not.

Flags are flying at half-mast right across this tiny, little continent of ours. Sports people, both professional and amateur, plan to observe a minute’s silence tomorrow and wear black armbands as a sign of remembrance.

Talkback radio is full of callers openly weeping on air.

Now you might be gagging to know what would prompt such a public outpouring of grief?

Was it the death of someone famous or notable? Well that depends on your point of view.

Maybe it’s a celebrity or a well-known politician? Not even close.

Australia is mourning the death of a sportsman.

Of course there are many sports that involve risking life and limb, motor racing, speed boat racing, stunt flying to name a few.

But what this guy died doing wasn’t one of them or anything like it.

He died playing a game of cricket.

To anyone not familiar with the game of cricket, I won’t even try explaining it. Ok, maybe a little.

Think baseball.

Actually, it’s nothing like it.

Ok, sort of. Think of the game of cricket, as the bastard cousin of baseball twice removed.

Cricket, like baseball, has a batter. Actually there are two batters who alternate hitting the ball

But instead of a guy pitching a ball at the batter from a mound, the whole thing is played out on a closely mowed, flat strip of turf, 22 yards long.

The batter stands at one end, the pitcher or bowler at the other.

The bowler then kind of hurls the ball overarm, which lands about three quarters of the way down the pitch bounces up and the batter is supposed to hit it for a score.

There are 10 other players in the outfield, who are there to catch the ball so that they can to retire the batter.

As in baseball, the ball is pitched or bowled extremely quickly, travelling between 80 to 100 miles an hour, so like baseball you need fast reflexes to play the game at this level.

Ok. At this point I’m jumping ahead and assuming that you understand what I am saying. If you can’t, don’t worry. Understanding the game of cricket is not the focus here.

The name of the sportsman is Phillip Hughes and he died two days short of his 26th birthday.

He died doing what he really loved most in the world. I think it’s called living the dream.

He was an extremely talented, extremely humble country boy who loved his family and his mates.

And everyone he met loved him. He had the kind of attributes people admire, open and genuinely friendly, considerate and unselfish. He gave a lot of free time helping and encouraging young cricketers especially those who had the same dream as him to become a professional sportsman playing for Australia.

Phillip Hughes was also very unlucky. He was often a victim of the capriciousness of Australian cricket team selectors.

…..To put it bluntly, he was an in demand rooster one minute, a feather duster the next.

But he never gave up, never gave in. Always working to improve his game, improve his technique to give himself every chance to climb back to the top.

And that’s what he was doing when he died.

Things were going well for Phillip Hughes in a match at one of Australia’s premier sporting arenas, the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Then fate intervened as she does without warning. Phillip Hughes was wearing a helmet for protection. Unfortunately for him, on this occasion it was next to useless. A ball travelling around 85 miles an hour struck Hughes just below his left ear. It immediately compressed one of the main arteries that supply blood to the brain. The artery ruptured causing a massive bleed. Hughes collapsed, was rushed to hospital only a kilometer away. He underwent an immediate operation to relieve the pressure on his brain but died 48 hours later without every regaining consciousness.

Only 100 people in the world have died this way. And up until now no one has ever died this way playing the game of cricket.

His death has made just about every Australian incredibly sad. His passing was acknowledged by all of the major political parties in Federal Parliament. Even the Australian Prime Minister recorded a message of public condolence. A special, Government initiated, memorial service will be held for Phillip Hughes.

The intriguing question for me is why?

I don’t think it’s unfair, or churlish, to say Phillip Hughes achieved far greater fame in death than he ever enjoyed in life.

So why are we taking this so personally? Here’s my take on why?

Phillip Hughes represents the quintessential Aussie battler. The diminutive guy from humble origins, with the God given talent, forced to fight every step of the way for recognition. He gets knocked down. He gets up again. He dies a hero’s death at one of Australia’s most famous sporting arenas, having given it his all in the same way that thousands of Australians heroically died on the beaches of Gallipoli, during World War I. Not the same, I know, but you get the idea.

What I am saying here could be complete baloney.

But whatever the reason, there is no doubting or denying the grief and sadness, over the death of Phillip Hughes. It is real and palpable and has brought all of us together. And, not only in Australia but also in several other countries as well. Phillip Hughes managed to touch and reach out to a lot of people. It’s such a shame and a waste that he is not here to appreciate it.

Is It Time To Ban The Sport Of Kings?

One of Australia’s most iconic sporting events was celebrated the other day. It was the running of the Melbourne Cup. This is a horse race, run over three miles, held on the first Tuesday in November each year that literally stops the nation. Although, calling this year’s race a celebration might be glib under the circumstances.

There was certainly nothing to celebrate after the race. The race favorite, a horse from Japan called Admire Rakti, ran last and later collapsed and died in his stall. Admire Rakti was a champion. He came to Melbourne for this year’s spring racing carnival winning the Caulfield Cup. But his trainers, vets and connections, as well as the Australian Jockey Club stewards, were not aware he was suffering from an extremely rare heart condition. The 3200 metre Melbourne Cup race was simply too much for him. Although I should point out he was observed to exhibit pre race signs that all was not well with him and it might have been better to scratch him. But even if that happened, would it have saved his life? The answer is probably not. I guess we can all look back with 20/20 hindsight after the event.

But we were still not done with race day tragedy. Another horse, Araldo placed seventh in the Cup, was returning to the stables, when he was spooked by a spectator waving a flag. Araldo lashed out and kicked a fence shattering his hind leg. He had to be destroyed on veterinary advice.

Of course this has caused understandable outrage. Two magnificent thoroughbred animals ending up dead after a horse race is not a good day for the sport of kings. Animal rights activists called for immediate changes in the racing industry to prevent what it described as “unnecessary deaths.”

A group calling itself the Coalition For The Protection Of Racehorses protested at the racecourse after the running of the Melbourne Cup and some of its supporters, video taped Admire Rakti’s collapse in his stall, which, in my view, was completely tasteless under the circumstances. But the position they took garnered massive support on social media with thousands of people taking to Twitter and Facebook, to express horror, outrage and sadness.

Here are some of the tweets that were posted: “ I heard next year the favorite will be “any horse to die”, probably paying $1.04.”

“What a debacle horse racing really is. I am horrified about the death and casualty of two horses. Hope it was worth it.”

“If only it was the nation that stopped the race.”

The Coalition For The Protection Of Racehorses paid for a huge billboard to be displayed in Melbourne with the slogan: Is the Party Worth It? Underneath the slogan there is a picture of a dead horse.

If this group was not taken seriously before they will be now. What they have to say will resonate over the coming days and weeks.

A coalition spokesman said he believed the death of the two Melbourne Cup horses would change people’s perspective on the treatment of racehorses. A total of 129 racehorses died on Australian racetracks between August last year and July this year. That equated to one racehorse every 2.9 days. The coalition has also called for a ban on two year old racing and jockeys being allowed to whip horses during the race.

There is no doubt the general public is starting to question the credibility of the racing industry when it comes to the health, welfare and safety of thoroughbred horses. Jumps racing is a classic case in point. Horses die during those races. The industry knows it but refuses to ban the practice.

Animal welfare group say they are planning to target races involving two-year- old horses. Racing them at such a young age when their muscles and joints have not been fully developed leads to problems down the track. More than half the horses that died last year were raced as two-year-olds.

But supporters of horse racing point to the fact that the racing industry in Australia is almost as old as the nation itself. It employs tens of thousands of people. Contributes more than a billion dollars to the Australian economy. In pure statistical terms there are 30 thousand thoroughbred horses in work. Twenty thousand horse races take place each year. So the death rate in a given year is about 0.4 percent or put another way, one racehorse dies every 160 races.

So are accidents and deaths part and parcel of the racing industry? Did Admire Rakti die because he was pushed beyond his physical limits? Or was it just a case of bad luck? I’m not sure I know the answer to any of those questions. The truth about whether the sport of kings is cruel, or not, probably lies somewhere in the middle. What I do know is my heart skips a beat every time I hear of a magnificent four legged elite athlete cut down in their prime.

The Lonely Pleasure Of Long Distance Running

For a long time I never quite understood long distance running. I never got the point of it. Why bother with something so time consuming, painful, exhausting and repetitive. I also never understood the cult like obsessive nature of it. Always spoken of in reverential tones and the desperate need to do it at least four times a week. To hear the way some people talk, it makes running sound like some kind of quasi-sexual experience. Which, it is not. In any case, I don’t mean it that way. No pleasure is derived from running ten kilometers unless you enjoy experiencing pain.  In fact, long distance running is a bit like taking a vow of celibacy. It’s about denial and sacrifice and spiritualism. Running shoes and heart monitors and pacing your self. That’s what I thought until I tried it.

I wouldn’t say it was an epiphany. Let’s just say I got it. I got what they were talking about. I understood the serenity and the solitude and the understanding. Listening and talking to your body. Challenging yourself to go faster and longer. In my fog of negativity I forgot. When you hit the wall of pain something miraculous happens. A small hit of happiness called Endorphins that flood over you. It’s the most natural form of pain relief there is. It refreshes and revitalizes the mind, the spirit and the body. You can keep going even when you think you can’t.
So what have I learned from this? For a start, I have a greater appreciation of the athletic efforts of competitive runners. I’m talking about the men and women, like you, who do this in serious competition. It isn’t just the sheer physicality of the task. There is a strong mental requirement. And here I am drawing on the philosophies of a man who took an ordinary but gifted runner and turned him into an Olympic champion. It applies in a race over a shorter distance as much as it would in a marathon. This is what he said. You must plan carefully. Build training around the concept of winning. Build stamina by setting time trial goals in the middle of a run. You must work out what he called your strategic race point.  That is the point where you make your move and dictate terms rather than the other way around. Train for the worst possible scenario. Such as, a competition field made up of sprinters rather than stayers. If you put in the necessary hard work and the mileage into you legs it will become your advantage especially when you are going down to the wire.. But above all enjoy the experience. There is freedom and joy to be had as well as enormous satisfaction. But if, during the race, you get asked the question there is only one place to look to find the answer and that is inside your own self. The toughest competitor to overcome in any race is you. But when you do it is the greatest victory of all.

The Golden State Warriors’ New Golden Throne

Sometimes you just gotta laugh. There is a professional basketball team in the United States called the Golden State Warriors. And anything with the name ‘golden’, on the balance of probabilities, would refer to San Francisco, home of that golden piece of architecture. The Golden Gate Bridge.

You might be interested to know there is another piece of architecture being planned for San Francisco that is anything but golden, although some of these structures have been made out of gold. And it’s a structure that has everything to do with the Golden State Warriors basketball team.

You see architectural drawings have been released showing the new basketball stadium for this proud team. But somehow, somewhere, someone badly miscued the shot at its design. The new stadium is shaped like a lavatory. Yes a toilet. Not all of it, just some it. I’m talking about the seat and the lid. Someone else with a sense of humor suggested the 18-thousand-seat arena would be better suited to another basketball team called the Sacramento Kings because it looks like a throne.

The design release sent social media into meltdown as you might expect.

Even two of the star players with the Golden State Warriors got in on the act. Guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, are known as the Splash Brothers because of their three point shooting ability. They tweeted: What’s wrong with the Warriors arena design? Sure, it looks like a toilet bowl but they do have the Splash Brothers. Ha Ha.

Now you will note that I have avoided making any references to being flushed with success, or this is a load of crap or the design needs to be canned. Those are clichés for people with no imagination.

The Warriors management, were quick to reassure everyone that the drawings would not be the final product. A team spokesman said the club was confident that when the design is further refined and really comes together, people will not only see what the Golden State Warriors are trying to accomplish they will see a more beautiful rendering. They would say that wouldn’t they. Loosely translated what he is saying is we have slam dunked the architects and told them they need to come up with something way better in the design department instead of a stadium that looks like a toilet.

Quite frankly I don’t buy any of this. I mean have these people not got eyes? You would have to be legally blind not to see what the proposed new stadium design resembles the very second you saw the drawing. It is shaped like a toilet. End of story. I mean you wouldn’t release the designs for public comment just so you could be ridiculed would you? I guess the really worrying aspect to this is the fact that it was only after people began pointing out the blindingly obvious that the Golden State Warriors management decided to respond in the way that they did by trying to put a positive spin on it. Of course ‘trying’ is the operative word.

But if you thought this was way too funny for words spare a thought for the sports authorities in Qatar in the Middle East. They are building the Al-Wakrah sports stadium for the 2022 World Cup in soccer. It looks like a giant vagina.