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Spectator sport

Spectator Sport: Winning dirty down under

29 October 2011

2:00 PM

29 October 2011

2:00 PM

So the All Blacks deserved it, didn’t they? Yes, yes and thrice yes. But after a brilliant World Cup, and a superb final, the best and the lowest scoring in the tournament’s history, just a few thoughts.

The All Blacks stretched the rules just this side of breaking point: one more high tackle or offside, and there would have been an almighty twang and the whole edifice of Eden Park would have been brought crashing down. The amount of tackling off the ball was extraordinary and the gap for the Kiwi try was created by the French jumper at the line-out being thrown out of the way. When Piri Weepu kicked the ball out for half-time, you could tell how rattled the All Blacks were. They are difficult to warm to once they resort to that low-risk, no-joy rugby of dubious legality.

Both McCaw and Graham Henry were oddly graceless after the game in not acknowledging how brilliant the French had been. The French all-white V-formation advancing like a spearhead on the haka was spine-tingling, and largely missed by New Zealand television (but not by the IRB, which has just fined them £2,500 for being disrespectful in what must be one of the most absurd pieces of sporting jobsworthery in history). If there was any justice, the French skipper Thierry Dusautoir, tireless in the tackle and bold in the break, would have his own Arc de Triomphe erected by a grateful nation.

In the end the wrong team lost, but the right team picked up the trophy, if only because if you want something that bad, you may as well have it. But this pulsating game showed once and for all that top-class rugby is the most intense sporting experience of all.


•••

On to more gentle if better rewarded matters: well done England’s Luke Donald for mashing golf’s US money list with well over $6.6 million, though it would be nice if he could slot in a Major some time. It’s an oddly unappealing title, though presumably not to Luke’s bank manager, so a Pringle sweater to anyone who knows who came second. Yes, it was Webb Simpson: a pleasantly dull lad from North Carolina who has risen without trace. He majored in religious studies and is a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. So the cocktail waitresses of Las Vegas can breathe easily again. Lovers of the small print might enjoy the fact that Simpson was denied the US money title because his ball was moved by wind in the Zurich Classic in New Orleans. It cost him a one-stroke penalty (a rule that the R&A has changed this week) and he went on to lose the title in a play-off with Bubba Watson. So the oscillating ball cost Simpson $460,000.

•••

The preposterous new punishment regime over use of the whip in horse-racing is threatening to drive great jump jockeys like Ruby Walsh away from England. That would be a shocking loss. The business end of the whip is a small piece of foam-based material. Jockeys are no longer allowed to raise their arm above shoulder height so the amount of leverage is limited. The days when these great beasts would be permanently scarred over their haunches are long gone. Now the racing authorities are trying to make racing palatable to some mythical wider audience by cutting back the use of the whip. They might be better off catering to the sport’s dedicated core audience and not driving away some of the great jockeys of our age.

•••

What a joy to see the Manchester United fans leaving early on Sunday. And Mario Balotelli, don’t we love him? When I was nine, there were lots of children like him at school.

Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.


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