Hoeft helps put scrum on a firm footing

Could an answer to the game’s most problematic area, the scrum, be on the horizon?

Just maybe, says former All Blacks loose-head prop Carl Hoeft. And it involves fewer collapses, easier decisions for referees and, crucially, rewards for superior technique.

Hoeft’s voice is important for three reasons. First, he is not long out of his playing career. Second, after winning 30 All Blacks caps he spent six and half seasons in France and understands and respects the scrum mentalities in both hemispheres. And third, he’s at the coal face.

In his job as scrum coach for the Chiefs’ development side he has been working under an IRB trial that reduces the impact of the scrum “hit”.

Hoeft likes what his sees, and his feedback will go directly to the governing body.

“There is a lot less impact in the hit, so in that regard it’s a lot more stable and you’re not finding as many collapses, and it gets the game started quicker,” Hoeft says. “It will take props back to really having to use technique rather than sheer momentum on the hit.”

Hoeft has been mentoring his props in the Pacific Rugby Cup, an IRB competition involving emerging talent from the Australian and New Zealand franchises against development sides from Japan, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.

In an attempt to clean up the scrum, which has increasingly left players, coaches and fans confused and exasperated, the IRB has been trying out a new engagement process that requires the props to “pre-bind” – effectively engage – rather than charging at each other like crazed bulls.

“The difference is that you’re a lot closer,” Hoeft says. “On the ‘touch’ [call] you get a pre-bind, so your head is almost half in already.”

The result is simple. The impact of the “hit” has been reduced – significantly. In fact, All Blacks scrum guru Mike Cron recently said 25 per cent of its impact had disappeared, along with all the instability that brought.

Has the new process removed some of the guesswork from officials if a scrum does go down?

“I think so,” Hoeft says. “If you get a bad hit, the way the rules are currently, there’s actually an opportunity for props to take the scrum down. This way it becomes a lot more obvious if you take the scrum down when you’re setting up bound-up already.”

Of course, there will always be suspicions, especially from the northern hemisphere, that any attempt to change the scrum is a sneaky ploy from the south to depower it. But Hoeft, with his respect of French scrummaging fresh in his mind, makes it very clear that he would not endorse anything that would take away the contest.

“At the beginning … any change is a bit hard to take, and you wonder what it’s all about, whether they are trying to depower the scrum, are we trying to make it like a league scrum,” Hoeft says.

“[But] if you are a prop that knows your technique, knows how to work angles, within the boundaries of the law of course, there’s still scope to work there.”

In fact, the new process might even play to northern hemisphere strengths.

“After playing in France for six and half seasons, a lot of work [there] is done after the hit,” Hoeft says.

“They rely on working angles, body positions, after the hit … the same with the English props and Irish and Scottish and Welsh, they have got pretty good technique.

“Over there, scrums probably last a bit longer. In the southern hemisphere they are working on speed of hit, quick feed and gone, where over in the northern hemisphere you’ll find there will be double shunts, triple shunts, holding the ball in. It’s become a bit of a lost art here.

“I can’t see it [the new process] detracting from what the northern hemisphere sides do already, because they are good at working angles.”

Any change to the rules at elite level take time. Often, change occurs at what seems a glacial pace. But Hoeft says it might not be too far away: “From what I’ve heard they may be trialling it at the end of year tour.”

He believes it is an overdue step in the right direction.

“It makes the props become more technical, rather than just working on size and smashing against a brick wall,” he says.

The vast majority of supporters would say amen to that.

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Untimely Logies are letting down the players and the public

Smile for the cameras (but no audience) … Asher Keddie wins the ultimate prize, the Gold Logie. Photo: Malcolm Fairclough Complicating the schedule … The Voice

When iconic music journalist Molly Meldrum walked onto the stage at the 55th annual TV Week Logie Awards at a quarter to ten last Sunday night, 1.463 million people were tuned.

Appropriately enough, perhaps, it was the peak audience of the telecast.

When the curtain came down almost three hours later, after Bert Newton had handed Asher Keddie the night’s top award, the Gold Logie, roughly a quarter of that audience was still watching: a paltry 387,311 people.

In some respects those numbers, and the almost absurd notion that the night’s most important moment is, by default, watched by the smallest audience, illustrates the heart of the many challenges the Logies now face.

2013’s awards, the 55th held annually since the awards were created by TV Week magazine, have become the watershed in the history of Australian television’s night of nights.

For the second year running, News Ltd has leaked the winner online before the telecast had concluded.

Technical glitches are to blame, but in the new media world of less manpower and more automation, such mistakes are a frustrating reality. In the future, such mistakes will only become more likely.

The fallout from the leaks has pushed TV Week to the point that it will no longer provide print media outlets with the winners list in advance, the so-called “embargoed list”.

The magazine’s publisher, Jayne Ferguson, said she was “extremely disappointed”, particularly because News Ltd had given a guarantee the error would not be repeated.

“In light of this, moving forward, all media outlets will find out [the winners] in line with the telecast,” she said, in a statement issued this week by TV Week’s publishers, Bauer Media Group.

But there is a bigger problem facing the Logies than the battle of print embargoes and the flattering glow of front-page coverage in the nation’s papers the following morning.

The broadcaster of the awards, Channel Nine, no longer uses them as a single program in its schedule for the first Sunday after the Easter non-ratings break. For the last two years the telecast has been bundled with the premiere of The Voice.

There are a number of reasons for that, notably that the audience overall for the Logies, like most TV award telecasts such as the Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes, has softened over the years.

But the knock-on effect is that the Logies telecast has been pushed later into the night. Previously they kicked off around 7pm. This year it was closer to 9pm once The Voice and the red carpet package were played.

In the past it look a serious overrun to push the Gold Logie winner announcement past midnight. Now, with a fairly lean telecast – that is, the awards and speeches interrupted only for several musical performances and the In Memoriam segment – the winner’s announcement falling past midnight is the norm.

The pressure will now be on TV Week to make the Logies “live”, rather than the hour (roughly) delay that currently exists, though in real terms that will not solve the major issues, nor deal with the challenge of print coverage, or the warped reality that using social media during the telecast is actually discouraged in an era where it should serve as the engine to the night’s marketing.

In truth, any change to the structure of the night needs to be led by the broadcaster. Nine, whose contract to broadcast the awards runs for at least one more year, needs to start the Logies earlier, air them on a different night, or air them on a different channel.

The government, when not handing the commercial networks back (most of) the money they pay for their licences, has also handed them a wad of free spectrum to launch digital channels. Perhaps among Nine’s suite of sweet little earners, a channel can be found for the Logies?

In truth, however, the whole event needs to be turned on its head.

It needs to start in the late afternoon, and live, like the Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes do. The red carpet, which draws a larger audience overall than the telecast itself, needs to be blown out from a paltry package of highlights to a proper multi-hour telecast.

Television is hungry for that kind of content, so why not feed it?

The awards need to start earlier. Some of the awards, such as children’s TV, should be hived off to a pre-Logie night event, to trim some runtime. Think about it this way: the idea of announcing the best children’s TV show at 11pm on a school night – long after the kiddies’ bedtime – is plainly strange.

And the Gold Logie needs to given out when more than a fraction of the audience is still watching. People like to make jokes about the Logies, and the Gold Logie, but if you sift through the nonsense and take an honest look, there is more that is good than bad about them.

The history books record Gold Logies for Graham Kennedy, Bert Newton, Ray Martin and Jana Wendt. Hector Crawford and Reg Grundy, Playschool and Four Corners are in the Logie Hall of Fame. There were Logie Awards for Blue Murder, Sunday, Frontline, Foreign Correspondent, Sigrid Thornton and Maxine McKew.

From this year’s awards alone we can add to that list: Redfern Now, Deb Mailman and Bonita Mabo, Lateline, Brian Henderson and Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War.

That’s a glorious legacy. It’s time to get them right.


8:42pm Bruno Mars sings Locked Out of Heaven 1.33m

8:46pm Hamish and Andy opening proceedings 1.35m

9:02pm Julia Morris delivers the night’s best speech 1.46m

9:15pm Joel Madden collects his Logie 1.34m

9:45pm Molly Meldrum appears on stage 1.463m

10:18pm Mike Munro introduces Brian Henderson 1.24m

10:59pm The award for children’s TV is presented 846,834

11:57pm Deborah Mailman and Bonita Mabo on stage 584,000

12:21am Asher Keddie wins the Gold Logie 548,561

12:27am The closing credits roll 387,311

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Dead mother’s cut wrists ‘not significant’, son tells inquest

Jerry Schwartz: signed his mother’s death certificate. Photo: Supplied Eve Schwartz, left, with her best friend Magda Wales. Photo: Supplied

The Sydney cosmetic surgeon who signed his mother’s death certificate has told an inquest he omitted reporting that she had cuts on her wrists because he “did not think they were significant”.

But the inquiry has heard that photos were taken on the day Dr Jerry Schwartz allegedly discovered the body of his mother, Eve Schwartz, showing him displaying her injured wrists to the camera.

Dr Schwartz was giving evidence to the ongoing coronial inquest into the August 2005 death of his mother, the co-founder of the Schwartz Hotel Group, which owns more than a dozen luxury hotels and resorts across the country.

The inquest is also examining the death of Magda Wales, Ms Schwartz’s best friend, who died approximately three weeks later.

The inquest has previously heard that 79-year-old Ms Schwartz was suffering from advanced lung cancer, but that her death occurred in “unusual circumstances”, with “slash” injuries to her wrists not reported by Dr Schwartz when he filled out her death certificate, and a certificate for her cremation.

But Dr Schwartz told the Glebe Coroner’s Court on Thursday that when he discovered his mother’s dead body early on the morning of August 21, 2005, the injuries he saw were mere “scratches”, and he did not think they had contributed in any way to her death.

“I did not think they were significant on that Sunday morning,” he said.

The inquest then heard that there were a series of photos of Dr Schwartz holding his mother’s hands with her injured wrists and forearm seemingly displayed to the camera.

There were small stains on the bed sheet in the background which resembled blood.

But Dr Schwartz said he had not requested that photos be taken of his mother’s injuries.

He said that his de facto partner at the time, Liliane Viselle, had instructed him to hold his mother’s hands in this way, but he didn’t ask why.

“I did not arrange for the photos to be taken of my mother’s wrists,” Dr Schwartz said. “I just thought I was having a picture holding my mother’s hands.”

He said that the photos had been among a number of images taken after the discovery of his mother’s body “so that we could have a lasting memory of my mother”.

Among these images, the inquest heard, were pictures of Dr Schwartz and his relatives with Ms Schwartz’s dead body.

In a written statement tendered in the hearing, Dr Schwartz said that photos of his dead mother’s wrists, which showed a series of slash marks, did not accurately depict the injuries.

“If there had been serious [wrist] injuries I would not only have recalled this, but I would have conducted a thorough exam to determine whether or not such injuries were related to her death.”

Dr Schwartz’s barrister has previously asserted that the pictures – which are crucial evidence in the hearing – were digitally altered in a bid to incriminate his client.

The inquest has previously heard that Dr Schwartz, who works as a cosmetic surgeon in addition to leading the hotel group, also signed the death certificate for Ms Wales.

He told the inquest on Thursday that he had been “one of Ms Wales’ treating doctors”. However, he did not believe there were any records of their consultations because his surgery destroyed all records after seven years.

The inquest continues.

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Drug giant to probe deal with CSIRO spin-off

Global drug giant Novartis has confirmed it has begun an “internal investigation” into a five-year deal it signed with a CSIRO spin-off company to buy an anti-counterfeit technology which the CSIRO and its partner knew could be compromised.

Novartis purchased what it was told was a custom-designed invisible “tracer” which would protect millions of ampoules of injectible Voltaren, widely sold overseas but not in Australia, from the threat of the booming blackmarket trade in counterfeit medicines.

But a Fairfax investigation on Thursday revealed that DataTrace DNA Pty Ltd, a joint venture between the CSIRO and public company DataDot Technology Ltd, instead issued Novartis with widely available tracer material it had bought from China and which it was warned was insufficient for a pharmaceutical application.

Alexandra Suvajac, a Novartis Australia spokeswoman, said the company had a number of measures to ensure the safe use of its drugs which were “not compromised by the allegations around the use of this technology”.

“I can confirm we are undertaking an internal investigation of the matter,” she said. “Novartis is aware of the story reported today and cannot comment further on the ongoing investigation.”

The CSIRO has tweeted that “the allegations raised by Fairfax this morning are new to CSIRO. We’re making enquiries to establish the facts.”

Shares in DataDot Technology have been put into a trading halt until Monday.

The company’s company secretary Graham Loughlin requested the halt as a result of “press coverage today of allegations regarding DataTrace DNA Pty Ltd, a subsidiary company”. DataTrace was half-owned by the CSIRO when it sold the anti-counterfeit technology to Novartis, which had sought a method to protect its injectable drugs, manufactured in Egypt, Slovakia and Switzerland.

In a series of assurances to Novartis, DataTrace had assured the drugs giant that the tracer was manufactured under secure conditions in a CSIRO laboratory in Melbourne.

In fact, the company issued it with phosphor-based tracer it had previously purchased from a lighting supplier in China which was considered sufficient only for low-security applications, such as batch and stock control or sorting industrial commodities.

Organised crime gangs have been dumping bootleg medicines in poor economies around the world at enormous profits in recent years. Last year an Interpol task force arrested 80 people after an international taskforce seized 3.75 million units of fake drugs worth $US10.5 million.

Hundreds of people around the world have died from being administered fake medicines.

“If there is a serious counterfeiting threat to the Novartis ampoules, then this code risks being quickly and easily cracked,” the project’s chief scientist, Gerry Swiegers, warned months before the deal was announced to the market. Dr Swiegers had begun work on the project while still a CSIRO employee, and then after a bitter falling-out with the organisation, he had joined DataTrace full-time.

“Serious questions could then be raised, especially if the successful counterfeiting attack resulted in injury or death.”

Mr Loughlin told the market this morning that “these matters require a response from the parent company”, which is DataDot.

“In order for the facts to be assembled and the response to be prepared we request a trading halt in our shares until the market opens on Monday 15th April or until DataDot Technology Limited makes an announcement to the market on this subject, whichever is sooner.”

The CSIRO remains a minority shareholder in DataDot.

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Hacker currency bursts mainstream

With $US600 stuffed in one pocket and a smartphone tucked in the other, Patricio Fink recently struck the kind of deal that’s feeding the rise of a new kind of money – a virtual currency whose oscillations have pulled geeks and speculators alike through stomach-churning highs and lows.

The Argentine software developer was dealing in bitcoins – getting an injection of the cybercurrency in exchange for a wad of real greenbacks he handed to a pair of Australian tourists in a Buenos Aires Starbucks.

The visitors wanted spending money at black market rates without the risk of getting roughed up in one of the Argentine capital’s black market exchanges. Fink wanted to pad his electronic wallet.

In the safety of the coffee shop, the tourists transfered Fink their bitcoins through an app on their smartphone and walked away with the cash.

“It’s something that is new,” said Fink, 24, who described the deal to The Associated Press over Skype. “And it’s working.”

No borders, no change fees

It’s transactions like these – up to 70,000 of them each day over the past month – that have propelled bitcoins from the world of internet oddities to the cusp of mainstream use, a remarkable breakthrough for a currency which made its online debut only four years ago. When they first began pinging across the internet, bitcoins could buy you almost nothing.

Now, there’s almost nothing bitcoins can’t buy. From hard drugs to hard currency, songs to survival gear, cars to consumer goods, retailers are rushing to welcome the virtual currency whose unofficial symbol is a dollar-like, double-barred B.

Advocates describe Bitcoin as the foundation stone of a Utopian economy: no borders, no change fees, no closing hours, and no one to tell you what you can and can’t do with your money. Just days ago the total value of bitcoins in circulation hit $US2 billion, up from a tiny fraction of that just last year.

But late Wednesday, Bitcoin crashed, shedding more than 60 per cent of its value in the space of a few hours before recouping some its losses. Critics say the roller coaster currency movements are just another sign that Bitcoin is a bubble waiting to burst.

Mysterious background

Amid all the hype, Bitcoin’s origins are a question mark.

The mechanics of the virtual currency were first outlined in a research paper signed Satoshi Nakamoto – likely a pseudonym – and the coins made their online debut in 2009. How coins are created, how transactions are authenticated and how the whole system manages to power forward with no central bank, no financial regulator and a user base of wily hackers all comes down computing power and savoir faire.

Or, as Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist for the ConvergEx Group, describes it: “genius on so many levels.”

The lynchpin of the system is a network of “miners” – high-end computer users who supply the Bitcoin network with processing power needed to maintain a transparent, running tally of all transactions. The tally is one of the most important ways in which the system prevents fraud, and the miners are rewarded for supporting the system with an occasional helping of brand-new bitcoins.

Those bitcoins have become a dangerously hot commodity in the past few days.

Rising from roughly $US13 at the beginning of the year, the price of a single bitcoin blasted through the $US100 barrier last week, according to Mt. Gox, a site where users can swap bitcoins for more traditional currencies.

On Tuesday, the price of a single bitcoin had topped $US200. On Wednesday, it hit $US266 before a flash crash dragged it back down to just over $US100. By early Thursday, bitcoins were trading for $US160.

The rebel currency may seem unstable, but then so do some of its more traditional counterparts. Some say Bitcoin got new momentum after the banking crisis in Cyprus pushed depositors there to find creative ways to move money.

Fink, the Argentine, favours bitcoins because he believes they will insulate him from his country’s high inflation. Others – from Iranian musicians to American auto dealers – use the currency to dodge international sanctions or reach new markets.

Internet’s dark side

But the anything-goes nature of Bitcoin has also made it attractive to denizens of the internet’s dark side.

One of the most prominent destinations for bitcoins remains Silk Road, a black market website where drug dealers advertise their wares in a consumer-friendly atmosphere redolent of Amazon or eBay – complete with a shopping cart icon, a five-point rating system and voluminous user reviews.

The site uses Tor, an online anonymity network, to mask the location of its servers, while bitcoin payments ensure there’s no paper trail.

One British user told AP he first got interested in Silk Road while he was working in China, where he used the site to order banned books. After moving to Japan, he turned to the site for the occasional high.

“Buying recreational drugs in Japan is difficult, especially if you don’t know people from growing up there,” said the user, who asked for anonymity because he did not his connection to Silk Road to be publicly known.

He warned that one of the site’s drawbacks is that the drugs can take weeks to arrive “so there’s no spontaneity.”

Drug dealers aren’t the only ones cashing in on Bitcoin. The hackers behind Lulz Security, whose campaign of online havoc drew worldwide attention back in 2011, received thousands of dollars’ worth of bitcoins after promising followers that the money would go toward launching attacks against the FBI.

A report apparently drawn up by the bureau and leaked to the internet last year said that “since Bitcoin does not have a centralised authority, detecting suspicious activity, identifying users and obtaining transaction records is problematic for law enforcement.”

It went on to warn that bitcoins might become “an increasingly useful tool for various illegal activities beyond the cyber realm” – including child pornography, trafficking, and terrorism.

The FBI did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Late last month, the US Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCen, announced it was extending its money-laundering rules to US bitcoin dealers and transfer services, meaning that companies that trade in the cybercurrency would have to keep more detailed records and report high-value transactions.

Growing e-commerce usage

Many in the Bitcoin community are frustrated at the attention paid to the shadier side of the virtual economy.

Atlanta-based entrepreneur Anthony Gallippi said the focus on drugs and hacking misses the “much bigger e-commerce use for this that’s growing and that’s growing rapidly.”

Very few businesses set their prices in bitcoins – the currency swings would be too jarring – but an increasing number are accepting it for payment. Gallippi’s company, BitPay, handles Bitcoin transactions for some 4,500 companies, taking payments in bitcoins and forwarding the cash equivalent to the vendor involved, which means that his clients are insulated from the cybercurrency’s volatility.

Gallippi said many of the businesses are e-commerce websites, but he said an increasing number of traditional retailers were looking to get into the game as well.

“We just had an auto dealership in Kansas City apply,” he said.

In March, BitPay said its vendors had done a record $US5.2 million in bitcoin sales – well ahead of the $US1.2 million’s worth of monthly revenue estimated to have coursed through Silk Road last year.

Even artists accept bitcoins. Tehran-based music producer Mohammad Rafigh said the currency had allowed him to sell his albums “all over the world and not only in Iran.”

Gallippi said the cybercurrency’s ease of access was its biggest selling point.

With Bitcoin, “I can access my money from any computing device at any time and do whatever the heck I want with it,” he said. “Once you move your money into the cloud why would you ever go back to putting your money in the bank?”

‘Trading tulips in real time’

Many Wall Street veterans are skeptical – and they may feel vindicated after Bitcoin’s latest tumble.

“Trading tulips in real time,” is how longtime UBS stockbroker Art Cashin described Bitcoin’s vertiginous rise, comparing it to the now-unfathomable craze that saw 18th century Dutch speculators trade spectacular sums of money for a single flower bulb.

“It is rare that we get to see a bubble-like phenomenon trade tick for tick in real time,” he said in a note to clients last week.

One Bitcoin supporter with a unique perspective on the boom might be Mike Caldwell, a 35-year-old software engineer based in suburban Utah. Caldwell is unusual insofar as he mints physical versions of bitcoins at his residence, cranking out thousands of homemade tokens with codes protected by tamper-proof holographic seals – a retro-futuristic kind of prepaid cash.

Caldwell acknowledges that the physical coins were intended as novelty items, minted for the benefit of people “who had a hard time grasping a virtual coin.”

But that hasn’t held back business. Caldwell said he’d minted between 16,000 and 17,000 coins in the year and a half that he’s been in business. Demand is so intense he recently announced he was accepting clients by invitation only.

Some may wonder whether Caldwell’s coins will one day be among the few physical reminders of an expensive fad that evaporated into the electronic ether – perhaps the result of a breakdown in its electronic architecture, or maybe after a crackdown by government regulators.

When asked, Caldwell acknowledged that Bitcoin might be in for a bumpy ride. But he drew the analogy between the peer-to-peer currency enthusiasts who hope to shake the finance world in the 2010s with the generation of peer-to-peer movie swappers who challenged the entertainment industry’s business model in the 2000s.

“Movie pirates always win the long game against Hollywood,” he said. “Bitcoin works the same way.”


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