Archive for New Zealand

R.I.P. Jonah Lomu

Posted in Biographical, Rugby with tags , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2015 by telescoper

At the end of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, I wrote a post recalling the World Cup of 1995, which was held in South Africa while I was visiting there. I had the privilege of seeing the great Jonah Lomu demolishing the England defence that day. Today I learned with greant sadness that he has passed away, aged just 40. Since Jonah Lomu played such a central role in one of the most amazing sporting experiences of my life, which lives in my memory as if it happened yesterday, I wanted to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the awesome sportsman that he was by sharing that memory again.

In 1995 was visiting George Ellis at the University of Cape Town to work on a book, which was published in 1997. The book is now rather out of date, but I think it turned out rather well and it was certainly a lot of fun working on it. Of course it was a complete coincidence that I timed my trip to Cape Town exactly to cover the period of the Rugby Word Cup. Well, perhaps not a complete coincidence. In fact I was lucky enough to get a ticket for the semi-final of that tournament between England and New Zealand at Newlands, in Cape Town. I was in the stand at one end of the ground, and saw New Zealand – spearheaded by the incredible Jonah Lomu – score try after try in the distance at the far end during the first half. Here is the first, very soon after the kickoff when Andrew Mehrtens wrong-footed England by kicking to the other side of the field than where the forwards were lined up. The scrambling defence conceded a scrum which led to a ruck, from which this happened:

Jonah Lomu was unstoppable that day. One of the All Blacks later quipped that “Rugby is a team game. Fourteen players all know that their job is to give the ball to Jonah”.

It was one-way traffic in the first half but England played much better in the second, with the result that all the action was again at the far end of the pitch. However, right at the end of the match Jonah Lomu scored another try, this time at the end I was standing. I’ll never forget the sight of that enormous man sprinting towards me and am glad it wasn’t my job to try to stop him, especially have seen what happened to Underwood, Catt and Carling when they tried to bring him down. Lomu scored four tries in that game, in one of the most memorable performances by any sportsman in any sport. It’s so sad that he has gone. It’s especially hard to believe that such a phenomenal athlete could be taken at such a young age. My thoughts are with his family and friends.

Rest in Peace, Jonah Lomu (1975-2015)

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1995 World Cup Memories

Posted in Biographical, Rugby with tags , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2015 by telescoper

So, the 2015 Rugby World Cup final takes place this weekend. It’s been an interesting tournament with some memorable games (and some notable disappointments). Anyway, I suddenly remembered that in 1995 I was in South Africa during the Rugby World Cup. In fact I was visiting George Ellis at the University of Cape Town to work on a book, which was published in 1997. The book is now rather out of date, but I think it turned out rather well and it was certainly a lot of fun working on it!

Was that really twenty years ago?

Of course it was a complete coincidence that I timed my trip to Cape Town exactly to cover the period of the Rugby Word Cup. Well, perhaps not a complete coincidence. In fact I was lucky enough to get a ticket for the semi-final of that tournament between England and New Zealand at Newlands, in Cape Town. I was in the stand at one end of the ground, and saw New Zealand – spearheaded by the incredible Jonah Lomu – score try after try in the distance at the far end during the first half. Here is the first, very soon after the kickoff when Andrew Mehrtens wrong-footed England by kicking to the other side of the field than where the forwards were lined up. The scrambling defence conceded a scrum which led to a ruck, from which this happened:

Even more impressively I had a very good view when Zinzan Brooke scored at the same end with a drop-goal off the back of a scrum. Not many No. 8 forwards have the skill to do that!

It was one-way traffic in the first half but in the second half England played much better, with the result that all the action was again at the far end of the pitch. However, right at the end of the match Jonah Lomu scored another try, this time at the end I was standing. I’ll never forget the sight of that enormous man sprinting towards me and am glad it wasn’t my job to try to stop him, especially have seen what happened to Underwood, Catt and Carling when they tried to bring him down.

Anyway, I hope it’s a good final on Saturday. For what it’s worth, I did pick the two finalists correctly before the tournament. I’m expecting the All Blacks to beat Australia comfortably, but am not going to bet on the result!

Another Lord’s Day

Posted in Cricket with tags , , , , , on May 24, 2015 by telescoper

Just time for a quick post to record the fact that yesterday I made my annual pilgrimage to Lord’s Cricket Ground to watch the third day’s play of the First  Test between England and New Zealand.  On previous occasions I’ve had to make the trip from Cardiff to Paddington and back to take in a day at the Test, so had to get up at the crack of dawn, but this time I was travelling from Brighton which is a significantly shorter trip, so I only had to get up at 7 or so. Anyway, I got to the ground in time to have a bacon sandwich and a coffee before play started, with the added pleasure of listening to the jazz band as I consumed both items.

England had batted first in this game, and were on the brink of disaster at 30 for 4 at one stage, but recovered well to finish on 389 all out. Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali all made valuable runs in the middle order. Their performance was put into perspective by New Zealand, however, who had reached 303 for 2 at the end of the first day. It’s hard to say whether it was New Zealand’s strength in batting or England’s lacklustre bowling that was primarily responsible. I suspect it was a bit of both. Talk around the ground was if and when New Zealand might declare. I didn’t think I would declare on a score less than 600, even if tempted to have a go at the England batsman for 30 minutes in the evening, but that speculation turned out to be irrelevant.

Anyway on a cool and overcast morning, New Zealand resumed with Taylor and Williamson at the crease and England desperately needing to take quick wickets. The first breakthrough came after about 40 minutes, with Taylor well caught by wicketkeeper Buttler off the bowling of Stuart Broad. That served to bring in dangerman Brendan McCullum, who promptly hit his first ball for four through the covers. He continued to play his shots but never looked really convincing, eventually getting out to a wild shot off England’s debutant bowler Mark Wood, but not before he’d scored 42 runs at a brisk pace while Williamson at the other end continued to his century in much more sedate fashion.

Light drizzle had started to fall early on in the morning and shortly after McCullum was out it became much heavier. The players took an early lunch and play did not resume until 2.45pm, meaning that over an hour was lost. During the extended lunch interval I took a stroll around the ground, bought an expensive burger, and noted the large number of representatives of the Brigade of Gurkhas, who were collecting money for the Nepal Earthquake Appeal. Here are some of them making use of their vouchers in the Food Village:

Lords_Ghurkas

When play resumed, England quickly took another wicket, that of Anderson, at which point New Zealand were 420 for 5. Wicketkeeper Watling (who had an injury from the first innings) came to the crease and look all at sea, frequently playing and missing and surviving two umpire reviews. He led a charmed life however and ended up 61 not out when the New Zealand innings closed at 523 all out.

One interesting fact about this innings was that “Extras” scored 67. Quite a lot of those were leg-byes, but the number of wides and byes was quite embarrassing. Wicket-keeper Buttler did take a couple of fine catches, but he wasn’t as tidy as one would expect at Test level. England also dropped three catches in the field. New Zealand only added 212 runs for their last 8 wickets, which wasn’t as bad as it could have been for England but it could have been better too. I wasn’t impressed with their bowling, either. Neither Anderson nor Broad looked particularly dangerous, although both took wickets. Wood was erratic too, straying down the legside far too often, but he did improve in his second spell and managed to take three wickets. I think Moeen was the steadiest and most impressive bowler, actually. He also took three, including that of Williamson whose excellent innings ended on  132.

I took this picture from my vantage point in the Warner Stand  just a few minutes before the last New Zealand wicket fell:

Lords_NZ

You can see it was still quite gloomy and dark.

Incidentally, the Warner Stand is to be knocked down at the end of this season (in September 2015) and rebuilt much bigger and snazzier. I’ve got used to watching cricket from there during my occasional trips to Lord’s so I feel a little bit sad about its impending demise. On the other hand, it does need a bit of modernisation so perhaps it’s all for the best. The first phase of the rebuild should be ready for next season so I look forward to seeing what the new stand looks like in a year or so’s time.

England came out to bat with play extended until 7.30 to make up for the time lost for rain. Lyth faced the first ball, which was short. He played a hook shot which he mistimed. It went uppishly past the fielder at short midwicket for four, but it was a very risky shot to play at the very start of the innings given England’s situation and it made me worry about his temperament. He hit another couple of boundaries and then departed for 12, caught behind. Ballance  came in, faced twelve deliveries and departed, clean bowled, without troubling the scorers. At that point England were in deep trouble at 25-2, still needing over a hundred runs to make New Zealand bat again. With the weather brightening up considerably, Bell and Cook steadied the ship a little and no more wickets were lost before the close of play. I had to leave before the close in order to get the train back to Brighton but the day ended with England on 75-2.

I think New Zealand will win this game, for the simple reason that their bowling, fielding and batting are all better than England’s.  The biggest worry for England is their batting at the top of the order, which is far too fragile, but the bowling lacks penetration and the fielding is sloppy.  It doesn’t bode well for the forthcoming Ashes series but more immediately it doesn’t bode well for Alastair Cook’s position as England captain. But who could replace him?

UPDATE, 7pm Sunday. Contrary to my pessimistic assessment, England played very well on Day 4. Cook batted all day, ending on 153 not out but the star of the show was Ben Stokes who scored the fastest century ever in a test at Lord’s (85 balls). With England on 429 for 6, a lead of 295, any result is possible. England need to bat until about lunch to make the game safe, and only then think about winning it.

UPDATE, 5.38pm Monday. The morning didn’t go entirely England’s way. They only reached 478 all out, a lead of 344. However, New Zealand were in deep trouble straight away, losing both openers without a run on the board. They were in even deeper trouble a bit later when they slumped to 12-3 but then staged a mini-recovery only for two quick wickets to fall taking them to 61-5. There then followed an excellent partnership of 107 between Anderson and Watling who at one point looked like wresting the initiative away from England. Then both fell in quick succession and were soon followed by Craig and Southee. As I write this, New Zealand are 200 for 9. England need one more wicket and have 15 overs left to get it, with two tailenders at the crease.

UPDATE, 6.03pm Monday. It seemed to take forever to come, but Moeen has just caught last man Boult off the bowling of Broad. New Zealand all out for 220 and England win by 124 runs, a victory I simply could not have imagined when I left Lord’s on Saturday. I’ve never been happier to be proved wrong!

This has been one of the great Test matches and I’m really happy I was there for part of it – even if it was only one day! Well played both teams for making such an excellent game of it. Long live Test cricket. There’s nothing like it!

Rolling Boulders…

Posted in Bad Statistics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2012 by telescoper

I’m a bit slow to get started this morning, since I didn’t get home until the wee small hours after a trip to the Royal Astronomical Society yesterday, followed by a pleasantly tipsy dinner at the Athenaeum with the RAS Club. Anyhow, one of the highlights of the meeting was a presentation by Prof. Gerald Roberts from Birkbeck on Marsquakes: evidence from rolled boulder populations, Cerberus Fossae, Mars.  The talk was based on a recent paper of his (unfortunately behind a paywall), which is about trying to reconstruct the origin and behaviour of “Marsquakes” using evidence from the trails made by rolling boulders, dislodged by seismic activity or vulcanism.  Here is a sample picture showing the kind of trails he’s using – the resolution is such that one pixel is only 20cm!

There are enough trails to allow a statistical analysis of their distribution in space and in terms of size (which can be inferred from the width of the trail). I had some questions about the analysis, but I haven’t been able to read the paper in detail yet so I won’t comment on that until I’ve done so, but the thing I remember most from the talk were these remarkable pictures of what a rolling boulder can do on Earth. They were taken after the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2011.

A large boulder was dislodged from the top of the hill behind the house in the second picture. It didn’t just roll, but bounced down the slope (see the large furrow in the first picture; similar bouncing trajectories can be seen in the picture from Mars), smashed straight through the house, exited the other side and came to rest on a road. Yikes.

SKA Site Duel ends in Dual Site for SKA

Posted in Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on May 26, 2012 by telescoper

I wasn’t going to post about this but then I realised nobody seemed to have used the obvious headline so thought I might as well knock out a quickie.

Yesterday, after much to-ing and fro-ing an announcement was finally made  concerning the site of the Square Kilometre Array.  The two contenders for the honour of hosting this superb project were South Africa and Australasia (both Australia and New Zealand get a bit, actually).

So who won?

Well, formally the decision was to split the project between both. At first sight this looks like a political compromise, but wiser heads than me disagree and say that this an excellent outcome on science grounds. I’d be interested to hear  opinions on that, in fact.

In any case, a quick skim through the STFC announcement makes it clear that South Africa actually gets the lion’s share of the actual dishes, which will be operated alongside the  Meerkat facility, and will do what I think is the more exciting science.  Having been to Cape Town just recently I know how much the SKA project means for astronomy in South Africa so I’m delighted for them that the outcome is so positive.

It does, however, remain to be seen what the implications of this decision are for the overall cost and scientific value-for-money, but for the time being the thing I’m most pleased about is that a decision has been reached.  I think the SKA project is by far the most exciting ground-based astronomy project around, and it will be very exciting to watch it grow.