Monday, 20 December 2010

I’m often accused of living in the past, so today I want to look to the future. Could this possibly be my column on Friday, October 28, 2011?

Sunday’s Rugby World Cup final at Eden Park was never going to be easy for Steve Hansen’s All Blacks. Following his nasty car park altercation with arch-nemesis Robbie Deans, the scene was set for the most dramatic final since South Africa 1995.

Favoritism sat easily with the red-hot Wallabies who’d enjoyed an unbeaten Tri-Nations campaign, amassed 367 unanswered points in the RWC round robin games, walloped Ireland 67-18 in the quarter-final and were even more impressive mauling France 51-3 in the semis, with James O’Connor repeating his heroics from Paris last year.

By contrast the All Blacks had been hamstrung in their build up to the tournament final. Following a rollicking 2010, where 13 of 14 test matches were won impressively, 2011 provided an agonizing run in to the biggest prize in world rugby.

Graham Henry’s shock resignation following a disastrous, injury-ravaged Tri-Nation’s campaign did little for a team already rocked by Dan Carter’s season-ending knee injury. To make matters worse, talisman Richie McCaw had only played a limited role, due to a recurring concussion problem from the sickening Bakkies Botha late tackle in Wellington.

With no Carter, McCaw effectively all but invalided out of the tournament and Sonny Bill Williams defecting to the Dallas Cowboys, it was left to some of the lesser lights to lead the way at Eden Park. Southland’s surprise package Jamie Mackintosh was admirable replacing the irreplaceable Tony Woodcock, while fellow Highlander Colin Slade continued his commendable 2011, proving life does exist post-Carter.

Without doubt though, the All Blacks owed their epic 13-12 World Cup victory to the most maligned man of 2010, Waikato’s Stephen Donald. Initially unwanted by Hansen, Donald was only thrown a lifeline with the injuries to Carter and Auckland’s Gareth Anscombe.

With fulltime showing following Matt Todd’s injury-time try, Donald, who’d only been on the park for three minutes as a result of Slade’s chronic cramping, was asked to kick the winning sideline conversion.

A nation held its anguished, collective breath, remembering the horrors of 2010. Atonement awaited. Donald duly obliged. Rugby immortality and a Jockey contract were now surely his.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Halberg nominations

The Halberg nominations are out. Here’s how I saw 2010:

Sportsman of the Year: Will most probably be Ryan Nelsen. Benji Marshall had a great year but I’d like to see Richie McCaw become the first All Black, since Wilson Whineray in 1965, to win the overall Halberg Award.

Sportswoman of the Year: Valerie Adams was always going to win gold at the Commonwealth Games but she blotted her copybook with some issues out of the circle. Nikki Hamblin was sensational in winning two silver medals on the track but for me the deserving winner is the delightful Ali Shanks who broke our gold medal drought in Delhi.

Sports Team of the Year: An honourable mention goes to the Stags, rowers Eric Murray and Hamish Bond, the Silver Ferns in Delhi, the Kiwis for winning the Four Nations (which in all reality is the Two Nations), the All Blacks for 13 wins from 14 outings but you can’t go past the All Whites’ undefeated run in South Africa.

The Halberg Award: Will go to the All Whites.

Sporting Bouquet of the Year: The FIFA World Cup was fun to follow. Not only for the All Whites’ excellent effort and England’s totally predictable four-yearly capitulation but also for the extra sensory perception shown by Paul the Octopus. Born in England but raised in a tank in Germany, this curious collection of calamari was able to pick the World Cup results like a dirty nose. Paul died in October. RIP.

Best E-mail of the Year: Goes to Paul the Octopus and David Bain. Say no more.

End of Year Brickbat # 1: Air New Zealand for bowing to political correctness and axing the in-flight safety video featuring the “camp as a row of tents” flight attendant wanting a peck on the cheek from Richard Kahui.

End of year Brickbat # 2: Goes to the NZRU for bending over like Beckham and literally taking one for England over the Sonny Bill Williams boxing fiasco. It’s bad enough that he’s taking to the ring pre-Super 15 but talk of SBW fighting again later in the year, pre-RWC is surely lunacy. It’s the tail wagging the dog. If SBW wants to be a circus sideshow, let him. Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith will do me with Robbie Fruean and Kahui as backups.

Catch you on Christmas Eve with my Sporting Santa Wish List for 2011