Notes from a small island

2012-06-23 00:00

LAST weekend the local rugby team played an away match against some nasty foreigners and lost, again. In one newspaper the play of the victorious team were variously described as bullying, brutish, arrogant, smug and silly. In contrast, the inexperienced away team had shown great pluck in standing up to their vile opponents and, despite the tremendous odds stacked against them, had almost brought off a sensational victory that would have been long remembered by all who were there.

Defeat in the end was attributed to the difficulties of playing at altitude and some shocking refereeing which gifted a couple of undeserving tries to the offspring of the dreadful fascists. The brilliant coach of the local team was praised again for moulding his team of untried youngsters into a brave group of warriors who were able to take away any number of “positives” from their heroic stand.

The ugly adjectives used to describe the performance of the Springboks reveal a deep resentment of a style of rugby that owes much to sheer “physicality” as opposed to the intelligence and bulldog spirit of the England team. The gap, however, is closing and it is now only a matter of time, some say, before all those positives from these defeats start to transform Stuart Lancaster’s young men into a world cup-winning rugby team.

Such is the thinking of most of those rugby writers who appear to be oblivious to the poverty of the rugby played by England on their tour of South Africa. Having backed Lancaster to take the job in the face of Nick Mallett’s more impressive credentials, these fellows are stretching their own credibility to the limit. The question now is whether their support for the England coach will survive another defeat in Port Elizabeth and a further mauling in the autumn internationals when each of the dreaded southern hemisphere teams must be confronted again.

Those who are not one-eyed about the England team are those writers of The Times, most notably Stuart Barnes, who had backed Mallett for the England job. Having watched England skate through some lucky wins in the Six Nations, Barnes is in no mood to be forgiving in South Africa. Consequently he has not been reluctant to acknowledge that Heyneke Meyer has at his disposal a team who are both short of some very heavy hitters and still learning to play together. That the Springboks have achieved much in such a short time has not surprised him. Of the two teams he believes that the Boks have more to come.

One of the more bizarre moments in sport occurred at the Queen’s tennis club when David Nalbandian was disqualified from the final of the men’s singles when he kicked an advertising board and in so doing inflicted a minor wound on the shin of a linesman.

The ATP can talk as much as they like about the need to protect those officiating at their matches but the real hurt at Queen’s was felt by the many punters who had paid over R1 000 a head to watch the men’s final. They were deprived of a denouement to an enthralling match and were presented instead with a wasted afternoon on rare day of summer weather.

That Nalbandian did not intend any harm to the unfortunate linesman was evident to everyone who saw the incident. It was also obvious that the linesman’s box, if it can be called that, was awfully close to the area of play. It took only one step for Nalbandian’s foot to collide with it after his missed forehand.

The linesman, it must be said, produced a display of mortal injury that would have done credit to any professional footballer. He seemed disinclined to accept any apologetic offering from Nalbandian as the medical men rushed to attend to a damaged shin that, in truth, was no more than the kind of injury to which the mothers of healthy young boys are daily exposed.

The ATP official on duty looked ridiculous on two counts. Firstly he trotted out the “rules are rules” cliché that is the refuge of the dull and dim-witted and then he described the linesman’s minor scrape as a “serious injury”.

It would have been better by far if he had come to the conclusion that Nalbandian had intended no harm in which case the rule, whatever it said, should have been disregarded in favour of continuing the match to everyone’s satisfaction. Even the wounded man could have been extricated from the ambulance to continue his adjudicating.

Nalbandian could have been fined a couple of points, if not an entire game, and had sufficient money docked from his purse to make it relatively painful. As it was, he lost his entire purse, all his ATP ranking points as well as copping a fine of €10 000 (R105 650), a punishment that seems anything but condign. The ATP would have had the pleasure of dealing with a tricky matter to everyone’s satisfaction.

The ATP knows that tennis players are prone to explode and that spectators are happy to witness the passion and loss of control that cause such displays of temper. Overt instances of bullying or intimidation of officials must clearly be severely dealt with but the overriding principle should be to avoid short changing the paying public.

After all, golfers are not punished for the errant shots that strike spectators often causing more pain than that suffered by our friend at Queen’s. Where the intention has been innocent, disqualification from a tournament should be avoided in all cases except those involving extreme negligence.

Meanwhile at the U.S. Open, Tiger Woods failed by some margin to withstand the pressures of a major tournament. Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major titles looks to be increasingly elusive for the troubled star.

On the other side of the course, Ernie Els blew another chance to add to his collection of Majors. The more things change …

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