There is just occasionally something beautiful about Sport
by Derek Wyatt
My son and I have a sporting bucket list which we drew up a few years ago when he was twenty one and I was a little older. At the time, we were both living in the UK but now he works in New York and so the list has taken on new meaning. New meaning because so much quality sport happens in America where sport is part of its culture not apart from it as it is back in Blighty.
For those of you unfamiliar with a bucket list – it is rather an odd phase – it comes from “kick the bucket” and was made more popular by the film: The Bucket List in 2007. You make up a list of things you want to do before you pass away.
Back to America: America has a world series every year. You may have heard about in the margins of your enthusiasm for sports across the Atlantic. The World Series occurs in Baseball and is a best of seven between the winners of the two leagues – the National (NL) and the American League (AL). It’s called the World Series because it became as most things in American do (air conditioner/air con) the shortened version of the World Championship Series and not because of an alleged sponsorship by the New York World newspaper.
Anyway Jack and I have (in America) three events we wish to see: an NFL “Superbowl” final, the Masters Golf championship in Augusta and a World Series. If, I exclude the air fares and hotels, the cost is not much short of $20,000! So, I must extend my working life for another decade, if we are to manage our expectations.
There were two sporting events not on my bucket list but on my must-see list if Jack was not about. The first was to see Lionel Messi, the diminutive, Argentinean left footed genius, who plays for Barcelona. The second was to see England win a Grand Slam by beating Scotland, Ireland, France or Wales in the last game of the season away from home. Lady Luck has been good to me because I managed to see both Messi play against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium and an England win in Paris. I have already booked Dublin for next year.
First Messi: he is a goal scoring machine. In 340 appearances for Barcelona he has scored an astonishing 308 goals and for Argentina in 105 appearances he has netted 49 times. I try and watch every Barcelona game on television when he is playing. And when I saw him play in February I was hoping he would score. Of course he scored both goals.
I have always been really interested in left sided players – McEnroe at tennis, Wilkinson at rugby, Mickelson at Golf and now Messi. They are rarer beasts and see angles and the flight of a ball very differently from those of us who are right-sided. I have lost count at the number of times Messi picks up a ball on the right hand side of the penalty area and dummies with his right shoulder and moves left effortlessly as he marches on goal or selflessly puts another player into space to score. It happens time and time again and that is despite the fact that every defender in the world watches endless video highlights before they come out to play against the maestro. He - and he alone - is the special one.
The Grand Slam away from home was my other bucket list want. And it arrived generously in Paris on Saturday 19th March 2016 at about 2255 when England - who were at one time hanging on 25-21 - produced a final ten minute flourish to secure a truly great win by 31-21.
The question everyone was asking was how does a different coach – Eddie Jones – with virtually the same playing squad as Stuart Lancaster, his predecessor at England Rugby,
win a Grand Slam so soon after a dreadful world cup? What a difference a coach makes – could it be that simple?
There are huge differences between Lancaster and Jones. Lancaster was a school master in the old tradition scoring highly on duty, integrity, honesty, diligence - you name it he had it in buckets at a time when the England team did not. That is why Jonny Wilkinson stood down from playing for his country. He felt that his standards were not shared by other players. But Lancaster had not coached at the highest levels or at a world cup. This was not his fault this was the mistake of the selection panel at England Rugby.
Eddie Jones is a completely different kettle of fish. His mother and wife were Japanese though he was brought up in Sydney. Interestingly, he too had a teaching background.
He has been coaching rugby at a senior level since 1994. He just has more experience in the playing contact side – in communicating and in HR and in-depth understanding of the psyche. You learn most of that on the job.
Whatever, it was glorious to be in Paris to see a Grand Slam and though the match was not as exciting as the England v Wales game the previous week it set me up for a bucket wish. Two down, fourteen to go.