All Blacks, all class: World Cup finalists anything but losers

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Bring it in tight, you Kiwis. Yes, your mighty All Blacks lost by a point.

But what class they showed. Despite being a man down for 60 minutes, they still nearly pulled it off.

Despite some tough decisions going against them, they never whinged.

Despite playing the match of their lives and coming up just short, their first instinct was to sincerely congratulate the victors.

I say again, they were pure class, from first to last.

We dips our lids.

Cup almost runneth over … with puke

So there it was again. The Webb Ellis Cup, being held aloft by a superb black South African captain, Siya Kolisi, at Stade de France. Lights, camera, action, heavy security!

Ah, the memories. For I have told the story before of speaking at a rugby dinner in Hobart in 1992 where the Cup was the most honoured guest of all, and being asked by the Tasmanian Rugby Union CEO to take it back to the ARU offices in Kensington on my return home. Sure.

But things were so relaxed, I kept it for a couple of days for fun. And I even had it with me in the back of the car while squiring the famous aged English dipsomaniac and writer Jeffrey Bernard – of Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell fame – across the Bridge, to lunch at Bathers, when he had a sudden violent urge to throw up.

The Cup was the obvious receptacle but we just made it in time to the grassy verge on the left when you are taking the exit to Kurraba Road. Only later did I realise the rugby anecdote of a lifetime had disappeared before my eyes!

South Africa captain Siya Kolisi kisses the Webb Ellis Cup after leading his team to their second consecutive Rugby World Cup final victory.Credit: Getty

But here’s the thing about that Cup. Is it really the right thing to give after such a brutal, physical contest?

A friend points out the incongruity of this dainty little trophy. Shouldn’t it be gigantic like the Bledisloe Cup, or the Emperor’s Cup given for sumo wrestling, the Borg-Warner Trophy awarded to the winner of the Indy 500; the Stanley Cup for ice hockey, and even the Champions League trophy? Something gigantic, for the winner of such a titanic struggle!

60,000 rabid fans can’t be wrong!

I told yers, but you wouldn’t listen.

The Matildas, I said. They have changed the entire sporting paradigm in Australia, I said!

No, you said. They’re a flash in the pan, you said. Entertaining for the duration of the World Cup, you said, but things will soon return to normal, you said.

But now the truth is all too easy to see. Against the Philippines on Sunday afternoon last in Perth, they drew – count ’em – 60,000 supporters! What other sport in the country could have managed that right now? In Perth. In November. 60,000!

But what was so special about this match for the Matildas?

Was it against a traditional rival? Nuh? Taking on, at least, a world soccer powerhouse? Nuh. A qualifying match for the World Cup? Nuh.

It was just a minor qualifying game for the Olympics, against the Philippines, in a match our women were always expected to win – and did.

And yet they got 60,000 paying customers to it, none of them munching a Big Mac in one hand, and their free ticket in another, as some sports have been reduced to over the years.

You get the drift. They aren’t up there with the absolute elite of Australia sports, they’re up there on their PATRICIA MALONES!

In the face of it, I am reminded of Whoopi Goldberg’s remarks when the first black man in American history, Barack Obama, got to the White House.

“Put your bags down, honey chil’” I remember her saying in a faux southern accent, “we have arrived!

Agreeing to disagree

The news this week that the disgraceful Saudi Arabia was the sole bidder for the 2034 World Cup inevitably came up when I interviewed Tracey Holmes for my Sunday column, on her life and times, and decision to leave the ABC. You can see the full interview then, but we came to the Saudis, via the 2022 World Cup hosts.

Fitz: You have raved about Qatar’s hosting of a FIFA World Cup, despite their own atrocities?

TH: The 2022 World Cup in Qatar was fantastically run and organised, and it was the first time I had been at an event where it felt like it wasn’t just an event for white people. But the spotlight that was put on Qatar for 12 years, for things like their workers’ rights records, actually brought about real change in that country.

Fitz: Well, as I was one of those publicly and bitterly criticising their record and the horror of Qatar hosting it, based on their human rights abuses, surely I was proven right?

TH: I thought a lot of the criticism was completely over the top. And stand by, because we’re going to have more, with Saudi Arabia likely hosting the 2034 World Cup. There are ways of criticising, but there also has to be recognition when change occurs. I think the criticism of Qatar was particularly mean spirited. All the way through.

Fitz: All right. It sounds to me like you’re going to be fronting the “Let’s go to Saudi Arabia camp” in 2034!

TH: [Hearty laughter.]

What they said

Eddie Jones, to TFF, just before the news of his resignation broke: “I gave it a run. Hopefully be the catalyst for change. Sometimes you have to eat shit for others to eat caviar further down the track.“ Whatever we might say about Eddie, he gave a good quote!

Rugby Australia chair Hamish McLennan: “Whether Eddie was the right call or not, I think that’s that’s almost irrelevant now because the system’s broken, and we need to fix it.”

Former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones.Credit: John Shakespeare

David Warner on proving the doubters wrong: “Nup. I just make everyone look stupid. Everyone keeps writing me off. At the end of the day, I’m doing as well as I can, I’m just trying to go out there and start as well as I can upfront.”

After their victory in Perth, the Matilda Steph Catley wanted the CEO of Football Australia, James Johnson, to share her dream and organise a home tie at the MCG, with 100,000 fans: “James, if you’re listening, MCG, get it done.”

Matildas star Steph Catley.Credit: Getty

Victor Wembanyama after playing in his first NBA win: “I really, really love winning. It’s what I love most in life, so of course it feels great.” We all do, Victor. The difference is, you don’t seem to do anything else, but win? Sigh.

Caster Semenya on what she had to deal with: “I had to sacrifice myself to be the best that I am. There were days when I lived in the dark. Days where I didn’t want to wake up. Those are the things that people don’t understand when World Athletics says: ‘Take this medication.’ F— them. Those motherf—–s must go take the medication themselves, then tell us how they feel.”

Semenya, on how she hung in there: “It’s life, at the end of the day. It’s life. I have to face it. I have to lift myself up and face that nonsense and negativity. When people try to take you down, you always rise up.”

Australian Formula 1 driver Oscar Piastri: “You have people like Lewis [Hamilton] or Fernando [Alonso] with 15, 20 years of experience and when you start racing against guys you grew up watching on TV it can be a little bit daunting. But at the same time it is pretty special to be able to race against those guys and to be able to fight against them is a nice reassurance that they are not alien.”

Ange Postecoglou to the Spurs supporters: “Let them dream. That’s what being a football supporter is all about. It’s fair.”

American golfer Michael Block on coming out to Australia to play: “And I don’t know how many Australians will know me by the end of the week. Hopefully, by Saturday and Sunday I’ve got all the Aussies on my side and they’re rooting for Block.” You tell him, I can’t.

Sam Cane on his World Cup final red card: “At the time I wasn’t even aware, it caught me off guard that he stepped back. I am not here to discuss whether it was the right or wrong decision. It can’t be changed. Unfortunately,it is something I am going to have to live with forever.”

South Africa captain Siya Kolisi on the win: “There is so much going wrong in our country – we are the last line of defence. So many people are helpless and there is so much division, but we show there is hope. Look what the sport did in 1995. Without that, I wouldn’t be here. There were people before that who fought for people that look like me to be in the jersey.”

Argentina head coach Michael Cheika: “I would like to thank all the Argentine media and apologise for my terrible Spanish.”

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on why he likes Bernardo Silva: ”He doesn’t wear earrings or have tattoos and has a normal car.”

Team of the week

Springboks. Got through the knockout rounds of the Rugby World Cup with three successive one-point wins. Could have lost any of those but instead they’re world champions.

Swans. Play Fremantle on Sunday with a spot in the AFLW finals on the line.

#NupToTheCup. It might be just me, and wishful thinking, but I think you’ll find that movement is getting stronger every year?

Raygun and J Attack. Booked their tickets to the breaking (breakdancing) competition at next year’s Olympics.

Sam Kerr. Second in the women’s Ballon d’Or won by Spain’s Aitana Bonmati. Meanwhile, Lionel Messi won the men’s award for a record eighth time.

Luis Rubiales. The one-time Spanish soccer supremo was banned from all soccer-related activities for three years by FIFA, closing the book on one of the most bizarre episodes in sport.

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