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Full-colour commentary

Submitted by on Saturday, 30 August 2008No Comment
Full-colour commentary

All Black legend, MD of the International Rugby Academy of New Zealand, commentator, surfer and outspoken, itinerant rugby player Murray Mexted.

You have become famous or infamous, for making sexually charged bloopers in your TV rugby commentaries; how many are done on purpose?

Only one was; where I mentioned a ‘Brazilian’ during my commentary.

That doesn’t sound particularly sexually charged?

The night before the match, I popped into a bar where I bumped into some girls I knew. When I joined them they were having a discussion about shaving their pubic areas. Apparently it’s almost a fashion thing and there are various ‘styles’, one of which is a ‘Brazilian’. Anyway, the girls dared me to get the word Brazilian into my commentary the next day. Well the game was only minutes old before Jo Rocococo dived over for a try and I said, “So slick, and so smooth almost a Brazilian…” As I said it, I looked at Nisbo (Grant Nisbett), my commentary partner to see if he got it, but he was just blank. To get some reaction and tone down the remark, I added “Shades of Maradonna, Nisbo…” Confused, he said, “But Murray, Maradonna is Argentinean?”

How did that go down, (…so to speak) in New Zealand?

By people with a sense of humour – quite well; but the serious people and the conservative folk take offence. I know because Sky TV told me they get more complaints about my commentary than that of all the other commentators put together. So I said “Is that good or bad?” And they said “Well we’ve debated that actually and decided it is provocative television, but tone it down.” Then this year they censored me. They said no more sexual innuendo and no more criticism of referees. But you can’t take it too seriously. When I commentate I try to ignore I am on television and treat it as if I’m having a yarn to a mate about a game of footy.

Why do you criticise referees so often?

My problem with referees is that they are not accountable to anyone. I think they should be treated the same way as players and coaches. If a player has a shocker he gets dropped. If a coach has a shocker he gets fired, but if a referee has a shocker he is there next week doing another game. So all I’m trying to do is make them accountable. I’m trying to expose them and make people think, “Is this guy doing a good job?”

You seriously injured your knee early on in your rugby career, but managed through exercise to strengthen it sufficiently to play international rugby. How did you protect it during your long career?

It was funny. Everyone knew I had a serious knee problem, so although my right one was the crook knee, I used to tape my left leg. The opposition then used to target my taped leg. So my good leg took a real hammering… (laughs).

You played rugby in France for Agen. In those days apparently French rugby was so rough you made sure you only won home games and lost away games to avoid trouble. Is that true?

Oh it was worse than that. There was no doubt about it, when you played away from home; you lost. If you didn’t, the referee got attacked as you finished the game. At one match as soon as the ref blew the final whistle all our players ran and surrounded him, because we had won the game. At that time I couldn’t speak French, so I didn’t know what was going on. But I joined them anyway; we then had to fight our way off the field. It’s interesting but in France they don’t punch. They kick, they bite and they try ripping your eyes out and grabbing your balls; but they don’t punch. In my experience of playing rugby around the world, South Africa is the most physical, New Zealand is the most aggressive and France is the most malicious.

You scored a try on your debut as an All Black against Scotland. Talk me through it.

That’s the great thing about rugby; because of the emotion and excitement when things happen, they are indelibly imprinted on your mind. In a year’s time I’ll forget I ever did this interview with you, but some of my rugby moments I will never forget. In that particular game, we weren’t getting much ball in the lineout. At half time Graham Mourie decided we would resort to a short lineout. In one of them, I faked backwards and took my marker with me; then I moved forward and Andy Dalton threw the ball perfectly to me. I took off at pace and beat the half back quite easily, to score a try. I never scored a try as easily in the rest of my career… (laughs).

Did the fact that your dad was an All Black contribute to you becoming an All Black?

I’m not sure. As a young boy growing up, I was aware of course, that my father was an All Black. But in my early days he never came and watched me play, because he didn’t want to create any additional pressure. He did watch the odd game from behind a bush to see how I was doing, but not often. So not sure how much his being an All Black contributed to me being one…

When you played your rugby in NZ, the forwards all came from the country and the backs from the city. But you were a forward coming from the city; did that hinder your progress in any way and did you feel you were ever unfairly prejudiced?

That’s exactly the truth. When I made the All Black team I was the only forward who came from the city; every other forward in that team was a farmer. The year before in 1978 which was a Grand Slam tour I missed the tour of England, because I was a city boy, so there was prejudice. I also remember when I finally made the team, the All Black coach came up to me in the foyer of the hotel and flicked a speck of dust off my shoulder and adjusted my collar and tie and said, “I’ve met your type before Mexted, with your little collar and your narrow tie, you’re just a city boy. I like the real country boys, the tough forwards like Lester Rutledge.” And I said, “Fuck you Eric, you don’t know anything about me.” Gave him a fright, actually. But he didn’t know anything about me and had already formed an opinion of me…. what I think he was trying to do was say, “Mate I don’t know if you are tough enough.” However, I became good friends with him later.

In 1986 you came out on the unofficial tour with The Cavaliers and there was some controversy about the ref?

Yeah… he was a cheat – there was no doubt about that. He did all 4 tests and there was no option for us to choose another referee. After the first test we actually spoke to SARFU about it, and after the second test we even threatened not to continue the tour unless we had another referee option. But in the end we capitulated. He was a shocker. I’ll give you an example. One of the most significant parts of our strategy was to force a scrum close to the opposition goal line and create space for scrum moves. I scored a try from a five meter scrum against the Boks at Kings Park and that was the last five meter scrum he let finish for the rest of the test series. Go back and look at the tapes. Every time, he blew for foot up or not straight, but he never let one finish. I don’t want to be a whinger, and I’m not asking for any sympathy, but you asked me. We were beaten and we were beaten by a good Bok side.

Do you think you should have come?

In hindsight we probably shouldn’t have come, because it was a terrible way for half that team to end as All Blacks. I retired after that tour and there was no farewell, there was nothing and it was a very hollow way to finish my career. I had played every test match for the All Blacks for eight years – never missed a test match – and then they banned me for 2 tests. So I resigned on principal. And the following year was the first World Cup. I also don’t think the South African people appreciated what we sacrificed to come.

How did you feel about being so close but missing out on the World Cup, which New Zealand won without you?

From what I experienced as a spectator, I felt it would have been nice to play, but we had played all of those teams before. There were only about sixteen teams in that first World Cup. We had played and beaten all those sides – the World Cup wasn’t a big deal then – it is now.

How do you feel that despite expectations, NZ have only won one World Cup?

Rugby’s like that. When you have a knockout competition you can have a day off, or you can be badly treated, or the bounce of ball goes the wrong way and you can lose a game and you are out; that’s life.

What do you think of the new experimental laws?

I think they are good. They are good for the game; they will speed it up and make it more entertaining; it will be a better spectacle and that’s what we want. A couple of them are not right; but overall they speed up the game.

How do you feel about the fact that in rugby the ref almost coaches both sides during the game, he is not just the arbiter as in other games like football, hockey even tennis, where the ref or umpire never says a word?

Again it’s something we need to address, to remove the heavy influence of the ref on the game – I mean it’s not fair on the ref either. Some people might find this hard to believe, but I feel sorry for them and there are some very good referees. But it is a shame when in so many matches; the result is influenced by referees.

What brings you to South Africa because I believe you are not commentating on the Tri-nations this year?

We are looking at the possibility of setting up a rugby Academy here like the International Rugby Academy in New Zealand (IRANZ), which a lot of South Africans have attended including your Francois Steyn; and I’m having some meetings about that.

What is IRANZ?

IRANZ is the world’s first independent rugby academy which focuses on High Performance development for players and coaches. We bring together the highest level of rugby coaching specialists ever assembled, anywhere in the world, on a regular basis. We have coaches like John Eales, Nick Farr-Jones, Sir Brian Lochore, Wayne Shelford and Nick Mallett to name a few; you might have heard of some of them… (laughs), and we offer courses to players and coaches at all levels on all aspects of the game.

If you set up an academy here, who would the coaches be in SA?

Well that’s the point – it would have access to all our staff and expertise. Back to your earlier question – I love coming out to SA as you know, and I’ll be speaking at a couple of functions, doing some interviews for Supersport and hopefully getting in a quick surf… (laughs). Oh, and I love South African women…

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