Spectator sport

Two perfect kicks from Johnny Sexton destroyed England’s rugby’s dream

24 March 2018

9:00 AM

24 March 2018

9:00 AM

Which would you least like to see coming towards you? An Uber driverless car, Ant McPartlin in his black Mini after a long lunch, or a Johnny Sexton up and under? Sexton is a rugby genius: two of his kicks won Ireland the VI Nations Grand Slam at the weekend (as predicted by this column, we should modestly note). The first was the miraculous drop goal from as far away as the Gare du Nord which beat France in the final seconds in Paris; and the second was the milli-metre-perfect kick to the England line which led to the first try. England never recovered.

Sexton’s penalty, incidentally, came after Owen Farrell had late- tackled the Irish fullback; something worth considering amid all the ballyhoo about the newly matured Farrell. I bow to no one in my admiration for the Saracens standoff, but he could start a fight on the moon, as we may have observed before. Now the autumn showdown with the All Blacks — the one we were told would be a rehearsal for the World Cup final next year — will be in Dublin, not Twickenham. And the Irish have several big players to come back from injury.

Sport is full of ultra-competitive types, but you don’t have to be an arse. (Or do you, José?) After one of the best tennis games we will see this year, the sleepy-eyed giant Juan del Potro managed to beat Roger Federer, who suffered some sort of mental collapse in a final set tie-break at Indian Wells. A brilliant match, and afterwards Delpo made the traditional scrawl on a TV camera. Not his signature but a heart with the name ‘Cesar’. This was his giant black Newfoundland dog, who had died a couple of weeks earlier. Delpo is a substantial unit himself, but his dog was the size of a small horse. No wonder they got on so well.

Del Potro has been out so much with injury, you forget how marvellous he is to watch. A massive serve, a blistering forehand and, at last, a real challenge to Roger in the slams, you think. But hang on, del Potro is nearly 30, and Federer pushing 37: the young bucks seem to be dropping further and further behind. But welcome back Delpo, and good luck with finding a new Cesar.

One man who didn’t take many a backward step when it came to competition was the ultra-hard former Aussie Test captain Ian Chappell. He has now popped up in the unlikely role of peacemaker in a fascinating article for Cricinfo where he muses on the deplorable behaviour in the current South Africa-Australia Test series. Chappell equates the continual on-field badgering from the Aussies to workplace bullying, which is rarely out of the news and roundly condem-ned wherever it takes place. But not so much on the cricket field; which is where the officials or the players should start to take control.

Before the series, says Chappell, the Aussies were reported to be planning to bait Kagiso Rabada, the brilliant and feisty young black South African currently rated the world’s no. 1 bowler. Well they did a pretty good job, because Rabada faced a ban after getting thoroughly into Steve Smith’s face during the second Test. Now he’s won his appeal and will play in the final two matches of this gripping series. Thank heavens, because the undernourished arena of Test cricket doesn’t need to shoot itself in the foot again by banning the world’s best players. It’s got enough problems already. As for Rabada, South Africa’s first black cricketing superstar should do wonders for the game there.

Interesting to see the owner of Greek club PAOK Salonika come on to the pitch with a holstered pistol after a late goal was disallowed. Not even Ken Bates thought of that.


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