Sunday, 27 March 2011

Super show for Twickenham, Pharoahs knocked off their pyramid. Just what global sports fans needed

STUART BARNES, the often cynical former England fly-half and Sky rugby analyst could hardly believe what he was seeing.

As the wonder of the Crusaders 44-28 victory over the Sharks unfolded in front of 35,094 ex-pats and bemused Londoners at Twickenham last night, Barnesie enthused: “This may be the first Super rugby clash in the northern hemisphere, but after this, let’s hope it’s not the last.”

Barnes, usually so caustic on rugby matters, is not alone. Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder agrees. He said: "If the powers that be decide they would like to see other Super 15 games here that would be good for our sport."

And how. We saw 80 minutes of scintillating rugby between the Christchurch side denied a home venue by last month’s earthquake and Durban’s never-say-die Sharks. An epic first half dominated by the Kiwis, a wonderful comeback from the South Africans... and a final, victory clinching try for the land of the long white cloud.

And of course, we witnessed the perfect boot of Dan Carter, the greatest kicker in the century-long history of the great All Black tradition. He scored 22 perfect points, including one of the nine tries, in 62 minutes before limping off, his heart no doubt filled with memories of that earthquake, which he felt shudder the walls of the changing room at Rugby Park in Christchurch on 22 February.

Over 160 people died that day. Yesterday’s match was as much as a sporting contest can do to pay tribute to those unfortunates. Sounds trite, but you can’t deny the gut-wrenching feeling was there for all to see at Twickenham yesterday.

Wonderful stuff. And every one of the tickets sold will see £5 go to the Red Cross Earthquake Emergency Fund.

And all that after seeing South Africa’s footballers clinch an historic 1-0 victory over Egypt the night before, ironically at Ellis Park, the home of South African rugby.

Just what global sports fans needed really, after witnessing South Africa choke against New Zealand on Friday and England fail by a mere 10 wickets against Sri Lanka in the final cricket World Cup quarter-final on Saturday.

World champion Sebastian Vettel’s start-to-finish victory in the opening Grand Prix of the season in Melbourne, with Lewis Hamilton second, was hardly epic. England’s 2-0 Euro 2012 victory over Wales on Saturday was predictable, as was Brazil’s triumph over Scotland by the same score on Sunday.

But for me, this was a weekend dominated by two great moments. The manic screech of the commentator as Katlego “Killer” Mphela’s 93rd minute goal hit the back of the net to end the six year reign of the Pharoahs, seven-time African champions.

And the roar of “Beast” in West London every time the Zimbabwean-born Springbok prop Tendai Mtawarira got involved at Twickenham.

Fine moments. And I full expect Wednesday’s first World Cup cricket semi-final between India and Pakistan to add a few more.

Who the hell is Neal Collins (nealcol on Twitter)? See

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