Yesterday the All Blacks finally played a test in the Pacific Islands, thanks largely to the efforts of one passionate man with a bug in his head. John Campbell campaigned endlessly on the irony of so many of our most glorious ABs having island ancestry, yet the side never having played a test there. And finally, last year, the NZRU gave in to his epic public shaming, and agreed to send a team up.
That’s amazing! When something annoys you or I, we’re mostly powerless to do anything about it. Don’t like the Port’s location? A couple of angry tweets should do it. Think we should be able to congestion charge to fund the CRL? Have a fight with your parents. Not Campbell. He’d agitate and cajole until he got his way – with government, with business. Even with the NZRU, probably the most insular and intimidating monolith in New Zealand society.
So the timing of All Blacks-to-Apia couldn’t have been more poignant, coming a matter of weeks after the programme which, truly alone, created this genuinely historic occasion was shut down for good. And shut down for precisely this kind of work. It was both masterful opportunism and natural justice that Sky swooped in and added JC to their commentary team for the event.
As befits an occasion with such a chaotic birth, it was a mixture of beautiful and banal, and as a game it was essentially horrible. But JC had a helluva time up in the islands – so here is the story of Sky’s coverage, in iPhone pictures of a TV.
The Many Moods of John
Cambo was either beaming his little butt off, or in full passionate flight, fighting like a caged animal to give us a sense of what it felt like to be in that ground on that day. Those were his only two modes. But they were all that was required.
John vs Jeff and Ken
John’s addition to the comments team was partly sentimental, and partly driven by classic media company schadenfreude – a chance for Sky to publicly goad a rival. But he was also very necessary. Jeff Wilson, Justin Marshall et al are good at analysing the game, but pretty ordinary at contextualising it. There was a lot of that required here. Which was where JC came in, determined to bring a sense of the day’s historic nature to a group with a very different skillset. Also: they wore tropical shirts and leis! That was cool.
JC will get his Story
The big, sad irony of this whole episode is that this should have been Campbell Live‘s big week – the whole team up there, basking in the reflected glory, at their power and how benignly they wield it. Instead it functioned as more of a wake, and another moment when it was difficult not to shake your damn head at MediaWorks’ blundering through a constructed dismissal of Campbell Live. The sight of John walking alongside the bus with his microphone was magical, and also tinged with sadness. I have very high hopes for Story, Campbell Live‘s replacement, driven by the excellent Duncan Garner and Heather DuPlessis-Allan. But whatever good and great things they do, campaigning advocacy journalism is not going to be one of them, given that it was what got Campbell Live dropped. And budget will likely make it more studio-based. So moments like this? There mightn’t be too many more.
How long have you been waiting?
John had been out recording stories all week, for Prime News and The Crowd Goes Wild. We saw an edited highlights package, which was probably the coverage’s lyrical peak. He basked in the heat of the emotion, no doubt spectacularly elevated through his own involvement in its engineering. Somehow he avoided yelling to all and sundry that he, King Campbell of Newstown, did all this, are you not entertained, etc. The best moment was a sweet exchange with the elderly organiser of a celebratory event. It started out coy, but became almost romantic, and felt like they might pash at one point. But they didn’t.
“87,” she replied. “What’s your name?” “John Campbell,” he said, delighted to be anonymous. “What’s your name?” “Maryanne,” she replied, smiling sweetly. MARVELLOUS.
Referee Style Through the Ages
Throughout there was excellent footage showing the narrative of island rugby, with particular emphasis on the ’91 World Cup. It also showed how cool referee uniforms once were. Bring the hoops back.
John Key – Never Not Negging
The camera found John Key at one point, chatting earnest with another old white chap. It also showed poor Andrew Little, alone in the world, wishing he’d bought a +1 and not 300 faulty rugby balls as company.
Shaggadelic Shirts All Round
Even Steve Hansen couldn’t resist getting amongst the island apparel for the pre-match interviews. That gesture aside, both he and McCaw kept resolutely to their usual script, refusing to acknowledge even for a moment that this day might be about more than rugby. I actually love how monomaniacal they are, it gives me great confidence for what’s coming in October. They just don’t have anything else in their lives.
The Plague of iPad Dads
There was a moment’s silence for recently lost Samoan–New Zealand giants Peter Fatiolofa and Jerry Collins, deeply affecting – at least until someone’s cellphone started up with that weird whistle text tone. The crowd also featured a classic ‘Dad using an IPad as a camera’, a reassuringly borderless trope at public events.
I thought the cop watching the boys come out onto the field was the coolest guy in the stadium – until the camera found Buncey, in the same shades, wearing the same tough expression. I was going to call it a tie, until Marshy cruelly popped Frank’s street cred balloon: “There is Señor Bunce Nisbo,” he said. “We shared a quiet ale with him last night…” Game, set and match to the policeman.
Cambo 2 Live for his Crew
It wasn’t all perfect for John, who is used to going live from a familiar studio. His eyes would periodically wander around the cameras before settling on the right one, and once he memorably decided to take in the scene instead of participate in a live cross. Jeff and Ken were not impressed, but you have to allow him a few mis-steps. Imagine if you’d made that crazy thing happen?!
Just prior to kickoff, after the anthems and a pair of exceptional haha, we inexplicably cut to some pretty stock video of good times in Samoa. Obviously someone had sold in Samoa as a tourist destination to the good people at Sky – no issue there: this site is brought to you thanks to the good people at Lightbox, TV. Online. Anytime, in case you didn’t already know. But you have to get your timing right with television. Unfortunately the game started prematurely, forcing them to cut back from toned bodies snorkelling to Apia Park, leaving Nisbo’s workmanlike v.o. hanging in the air like haze over a tropical ocean.
Rugby handshakes are a problem for the PM
Then the game played, and it was very, very bad. Nisbo and Marshy did what they could, but they really should have bunged Cambo up in the booth – or at least had him as sideline comments man – because we could’ve done with more reminders of what the game meant historically, when it was so persistently awful aesthetically. Afterwards we cut to Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi going for a handshake with his New Zealand counterpart. As is customary at important rugby moments, our PM totally pantsed it.
Then we were done. History made on a Wednesday afternoon in Apia, thanks to one man, who, despite being thoughtlessly betrayed by his corporation, nonetheless got to be there when it all went down, to tell us what it all really meant.