Over the last week or so, we’ve been blessed to see some terrific sport played around the world. It reinforces what a tremendous force for good sport can be. As you know, I’m passionate about good, honest competition that is played well, competed fiercely and won or lost honourably and some of it this week has even revolved around Australian success, which for me, makes it all the sweeter.
I could blast away with Aussie fervour straight away, but I won’t because there was one game involving two nations which encapsulated sport’s magnificence in one, 80 minute stretch. It came in Dublin last weekend, where New Zealand’s All Blacks maintained a perfect record for 2013 with their 14th consecutive victory. Just.
The Irish played magnificently throughout and were within seconds of their first ever win over the All Blacks in 109 years. After just 18 minutes, they led 19-0 and despite a grinding All Black comeback, Ireland still led by 5 points going into the final minute. They tried manfully to run down the clock, but the All Blacks scored in injury time try to tie it up at 22-all – and then missed the conversion that would’ve won the game. That wasn’t the end of it. The miss should have been the last act in the match but the referee ordered the kick to be re-taken because Ireland had charged the kicker pre-maturely. Second time lucky and New Zealand had their perfect year and Irish players, staff and fans were left completely shattered. Ecstasy for New Zealand, agony beyond repair for Ireland and pure adrenalin scorched drama for the rest of us.
Remarkably, the day before, New Zealand’s Rugby League players achieved an identical turnaround to beat England 20-18 with a last minute try in the semi-final of the World Cup and in the same weekend The New England Patriots turned a half-time 24-0 deficit into a 34-31 overtime win against the Denver Broncos in the NFL and the Tennessee Titans beat the Oakland Raiders 23-19 thanks to a touchdown pass in the last seconds.
Seb Vettel won his 9th straight grand prix in Interlagos Brazil, equalling Alberto Ascari’s record which has stood for over 60 years. Nine in a row – dare I say it, unheard of. This guy is a freak with 4 World Championships at the age of 26.
If somebody sat down and wrote the scripts we’d all laugh, but when the tension and magnificence simply unfolds in front of you, there’s not a spectacle or a J.K. Rowling storyline to touch it. It’s moments exactly like these that make sport what it is.
Personally, it’s been a great week to be an Australian. For a start, we’re in our rightful place beating the Poms in an Ashes cricket series. Our Rugby League team is about to wipe the smile off those happy New Zealand faces in the final of the Rugby League World Cup later today and after that trophy is lifted, we can all switch over to watch the Rugby Union boys end their year by walloping Wales (we hope).
We Aussies haven’t had much to crow about on the international stage for quite some time, but here we are crashing into December with a first real opportunity for a sporting chest puff and the fact I can reflect it alongside multi-national splendour on a global scale genuinely makes it much, much sweeter.
Regular readers will know I’ve trumpeted fair, competitive sport on many an occasion in the past and these examples are exactly why. It’s been genuine combat with no quarter asked or given, followed by mutual handshakes of respect between the exuberant victors and the shattered losers. I accept that some of those handshakes in the Brisbane test might have been through gritted teeth after an abrasive first Ashes Test, but there clearly is – and always has been – an underlying, if barely mentioned level of respect between England and Australia that makes the whole theatrical process even more worthwhile.
Having said that, it would be nice if the Aussie cricketers can draw the line between witty, funny, clever banter and downright threats and abuse. It can go too far, and did last weekend.
So as a fan, it’s been a great week that has delivered spectacles of joy, tension and thrilling entertainment. Even for the defeated, there has been the knowledge that they played their part in something that was really special – even if it didn’t feel like it at the time.
Now THAT’s what sport is all about.