Mouthwatering face-offs

2012-03-10 00:00

THE first two weeks of Sanzar`s endless Super 15 left me wondering how much longer this competition can survive in its present form.

Do rugby supporters really want to watch all these home and away local derbies rather than one-off matches against all the teams in the competition?

Apart from some of the matches in New Zealand the rugby has been average. Two of our own local derbies produced matches without any tries and another game yielded just one. Errors and the referees’ whistle have dominated much of the rugby

The more the administrators strive to make it more exciting the duller rugby appears to become.

A classic example of unnecessary interference is this year’s Varsity Cup in which converted tries are worth eight points whereas penalties and drop goals are worth only two each. Once again the law of unintended consequences has operated to confound the intentions of the lawmakers.

It should have been obvious from the start that if tries were increased in value and penalties reduced, all that would happen is that coaches would instruct their teams to concede penalties by whatever means rather than run the risk of their opponents scoring eight points. The problem is compounded when teams choose to run penalties rather than kick for goal.

The result is that when matches are played between evenly matched teams the Varsity Cup produces a number of messy games full of cynical infringements.

These matches should have seen many more yellow cards than were actually given, but referees are understandably reluctant to send players off the field.

If anything, more tries would be scored if the value of tries were decreased and that of penalties increased. Players would then be told to avoid infringements at all costs.

The temptation is to believe that rugby union is in trouble, but the Six Nations matches have been exciting and full of incident. Properly refereed rugby remains a fascinating game when played by skilful players at a high level of intensity. Let us hope that the Super 15 recovers from a disappointing start to its season.

Fortunately for those whose love of sport is not confined to the oval ball, there was much to enjoy last weekend and much to which we can look forward after two of sports’ most enduring icons gave notice that that they are far from finished in the sports they once dominated.

In Dubai Roger Federer won his 72nd ATP title with a peerless display in the final against the fancied Andrew Murray. A few years ago Federer lost his way against the best players in tennis. His game became too defensive and he was unable to outlast the likes of Nadal, Djokovic and Murray, whose games are more suited to longer rallies. Even some of the big-hitting second-rankers got the better of him in crucial grand slam encounters.

Last year, however, he took on a coach, Paul Annacone, who had looked after Pete Sampras. Annacone was able to remind Federer that he did not dominate world tennis for seven years by playing defensively and that with his astonishing array of strokes he was still the finest attacking player the world had ever seen.

With Federer’s commitment and fitness never in doubt, Annacone has been able to lure him into a much more attacking game. Consequently, Federer is back to near his best and has a chance of adding to his record tally of grand slam titles.

It will not be easy for Federer as Nadal seems to have the wood on him on all outdoor surfaces with the possible exception of Wimbledon. Yet last year Federer beat Djokovic in the French Open and came within two match points of beating him in the U.S. Open. Nadal lost all six of his 2011 matches against Djokovic. Murray on the other hand has never won a five-set match against Federer.

Federer`s chances of another grand slam title may depend on the kind of draws he gets as well as the possibility that some one else beats Nadal in an earlier round. Men’s tennis is headed for an enthralling year.

On the other side of the Atlantic in the same tournament that Rory McIlroy won and secured the number one spot in the world, Tiger Woods gave notice that he is far from a spent force in golf.

The received wisdom among club golfers was that Woods was finished. His driving, they said, was too erratic. He was no longer the deadly putter of his glory years. His aura was gone. The younger golfers were not afraid of him. Woods might win again, some felt, but Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 Major titles was secure.

Despite the rise of Rory McIlroy, I wonder if Woods’s critics still feel the same? His 62 in the final round of the Honda Classic was quite brilliant. As in the days before his denouement, he tamed the par fives with some extraordinary shot making. His putting, while not deadly, was very good. More importantly, his confidence has returned and golf is played as much between the ears as it is on the course.

Like Federer, Woods will not find it easy to win another Major title. He is no longer the best golfer in the world. That title rightly belongs to the outrageously talented McIlroy, who is capable of hanging on to the top spot for a long time as well as quickly adding more to his single major title.

The looming duels between Woods and McIlroy are a mouth-watering prospect.

McIlroy, of course, already has his hands on the most desirable trophy in sport.

One hopes that he and Miss Wozniacki are both aware that too much attention to each other may not be good for either of their careers.

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