This week, our heroic sports journalist Joshua Jayde flies to Japan on tickets from fan donations* to cover the world’s biggest sporting event since August.
It’s the Big One
It is the moment we’ve all been waiting for, the pinnacle of rugby and the most important event in New Zealand’s national calendar. That’s right: it’s the Farah Palmer Cup 2019!
If you somehow haven’t been following, a quick recap: the reigning champions Canterbury, who sit atop the table, cemented their favourites tag by trolloping Auckland 45-12 at Eden Park last week. However, they face a strong challenge from Counties Manukau, who fell to Wellington in a tight battle. The season has already been lit up by some fantastic tries, including an incredible solo effort by Emily Kitson for Counties against the Manawatu Cyclones.
This is undoubtedly the most important rugby event happening right now.
In Other News…
The papers say that this year’s Rugby World Cup is the most even in years, and they might be right. Not since at least as far back as 2015 has any team even had the chance to wrest the Webb Ellis Trophy from the hands of the mighty All Blacks. This year, though, the New Zealand outfit look vulnerable and strong challengers have risen from the ashes to stake their claim. Wales and Ireland have taken turns to wrest the top World Rugby ranking from us, while South Africa, England and even Australia have shown their strength.
In fact, although the top tier looks more balanced than it has in a decade, the divide between them and the rest of the teams has never looked so starkly defined. New Zealand entered the tournament having broken Tonga so much they could take a man off, unreplaced, for the last fifteen minutes and still dominate completely. The buildup to the World Cup has been coloured by arguments over the treatment of second-tier nations, particularly the Islands, and it is almost inconceivable that anyone outside of the Rugby Championship or the Six Nations could even make the quarter-finals, let alone have a shot at the Cup.
But these teams are what make rugby great. In just the last World Cup, one such team stood up and the resulting match is widely agreed to be one of the greatest moments in the sport. At the same time the All Blacks were busy preparing to crush all before them, their great rivals South Africa played lowly Japan, a team the top tier annihilate regularly and with all the inevitability of the United States winning a Basketball World Cup.
But this day was different. On a cool, cloudy afternoon in Brighton, Japan refused to die. Every time the Springboks pulled ahead, the plucky, totally-not-made-up-of-New-Zealanders Rose Blossoms fought their way back. Even when in the dying minutes the inevitable happened and the Japanese conceded a converted penalty to separate the teams, they fought harder. As the clock ticked over, great waves of red and white pushed against the frail green bastion. They crossed the line but were held up. There was no way through, but the defence gave away a penalty and gave a chance for the Japanese to do the impossible and tie the game forever.
They decided, bravely but nonsensically, to attempt the impossible and push for the win. They battled left. No way through. They pulled the South Africans right. No way through. They passed it out to Karne Hesketh on the wing. He ran to the corner and somehow, somehow slid below the despairing tackler.
This wasn’t a bad South African team. They would go on to be the only side to come within touching distance of perhaps the greatest team rugby has ever produced, falling by two points in the semi-finals to the All Blacks at Twickenham. It felt like a sign that maybe, just maybe, the second tier could catch up and make rugby a truly global game.
But now, that dream feels further away than ever.
England lost the Ashes. Serves them right.
To the Basketball:
So when I said the United States winning the Basketball World Cup was inevitable, I may have declined to mention how they lost twice and can at best finish seventh. That may have been because none of their actual stars decided to play, so the best I can say is serves them right.
As well as this, the Australians were knocked out by Spain after some awful officiating. One of the players, Andrew Bogut, accused FIBA of cheating, by suggesting we “Google where headquarters of f***ing FIBA is”. I did, by the way. It’s in Switzerland.
*Disclaimer: Joshua doesn’t actually have any fans. Or tickets. Or money, for that matter. Poor guy.