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Tau Henare, Maiki Sherman and David Cunliffe – masters of the political sporting analogy (Image: Archi Banal)
Tau Henare, Maiki Sherman and David Cunliffe – masters of the political sporting analogy (Image: Archi Banal)

PoliticsSeptember 20, 2023

Every sporting analogy used to describe the first TVNZ leaders’ debate

Tau Henare, Maiki Sherman and David Cunliffe – masters of the political sporting analogy (Image: Archi Banal)
Tau Henare, Maiki Sherman and David Cunliffe – masters of the political sporting analogy (Image: Archi Banal)

How many sporting analogies can you fit into a half-hour analysis of a political debate? It’s a bit like if the All Blacks lost to Italy at the Rugby World Cup – you’d be surprised.

Think of the prime ministership of New Zealand as the Bledisloe Cup. Chris Hipkins is the All Blacks, in that he currently holds the title. Chris Luxon is the Wallabies, in that he’s trying to win it off him.

For 90 minutes (probably closer to 80 if you don’t include the ads aka stoppages), these two men went head-to-head in the first TVNZ leaders’ debate on Tuesday night, moderated by Jessica Mutch McKay (the ref). Then, for 30 minutes afterwards, a panel comprising former Labour leader David Cunliffe, former National MP Tau Henare and TVNZ’s deputy political editor Maiki Sherman, convened by Q+A host Jack Tame (Goldie, Kamo, JK and TJ), analysed the debate they’d just watched.

Like the cancelled Japanese reality show Terrace House, the panel’s analysis of the debate proved far more engaging than the debate itself – despite or perhaps because of the fact it was done almost entirely in sporting analogies. Mostly rugby, but a bit of boxing and the mandatory “Up the Wahs” too.

Here they all are, with some attempt at context. 

“If you use a Rugby World Cup analogy, Chris Hipkins needed to win this outright because he’s behind in the pool…”

David Cunliffe picks it up and runs with it from the first breakdown (first impressions of the debate). He then deems the debate “a draw”, meaning Chris Hipkins has unfortunately been knocked out of the Rugby World Cup.

“It really ankle-tapped Chris Hipkins…”

Maiki Sherman deploys a clever rugby metaphor to describe Chris Luxon’s tactic of repeatedly interrupting his opponent.

“There was no ‘Up the Wahs’ moment…”

Tau Henare’s main criticism of the debate is that it was boring and uninspiring. He evokes the wave of public support behind the New Zealand Warriors as an example of what this debate was lacking. A rolling maul of sporting analogies has formed. 

Up the Wahs (Photo: Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

“When the opposition’s got the ball, you’ve got to ankle-tap them and get it back. You need the turnover…”

Cunliffe extends Sherman’s metaphor in criticising Hipkins for failing to interrupt Luxon.

“If I hadn’t hit him around the shoulders I’d hit him around the thighs…”

Cunliffe again, on Hipkins’ missed opportunity to refute Luxon’s suggestion that Labour was in a coalition with the gangs, and what he’d have done in Hipkins’ position (tackle Luxon).

“It’s like a boxing match, you prep for it like a boxing match; it is a sport, but it’s a very important sport…”

Cunliffe appears to suggest that actual sport is “unimportant”.

“The Nats are like France in the opening game of the World Cup. Labour are like the All Blacks: they sort of made some mistakes. They looked alright in some parts, but mate, they’re going to have to go to the next one and get down and dirty, they’re going to have to unleash whatever they’ve got in the tank…”

Henare is openly and shamelessly auditioning for a guest spot on Sky Sport’s The Breakdown now.

“They will leave it all on the track…”

A surprise pivot away from rugby as Cunliffe uses an athletics metaphor to describe the nature of election campaigns.

“You can’t let the other side with the ball for five phases, you’ve just got to tackle…”

Back to rugby, and back to Hipkins’ failure to shut down Luxon’s debate lines. Cunliffe reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of rugby terminology here – a “phase” is the period of possession between tackles. The wheels are beginning to fall off.

“He has to kick it out of the park, he’s got nothing to lose…”

Cunliffe on Hipkins again. Another unforced error – if you’ve got nothing to lose, the last thing you want to do is kick it out of the park. Keep the ball in play! Has this man ever watched a game of rugby in his life?

“It’s a bit like Penrith vs Warriors. We all knew that the second-string Warriors team wasn’t going to win. But boy did they turn up against Newcastle. That’s that ‘Up the Wahs’ moment…”

Henare circles back to his “’Up the Wahs’ moment” comment earlier. What he means is that it didn’t matter that Hipkins lost this debate because it’s the next two that are really important, just like how it didn’t matter that the Warriors lost to the Panthers in their qualification final* because they got a second chance in the semi-final. (* He conflates this match with the final game of the regular season, in which the Warriors fielded a “second-string” side against the Dolphins and lost.)

“You won’t win it on technical points…”

A boxing analogy from Sherman to summarise why even though Hipkins may have won the debate on substance, he still lost because Luxon landed more “snappy lines”.

“In the boxing match, Chris Luxon won the first few rounds, Chris Hipkins won the back few. Chris Hipkins needed a knockout, and he didn’t get it…”

Cunliffe more or less repeats what Sherman just said but in a slightly different way.

And with that, Jack Tame blows full time on the post-debate analysis. The final sporting analogy count:

David Cunliffe: 7
Tau Henare: 3
Maiki Sherman: 2
Jack Tame: 0

Keep going!