Mismatches do sport no favours
New Zealand’s top sports teams have been sadly lacking in real competition lately.
A rather makeshift All Blacks side coasted past Japan 54-6 in Tokyo, the Silver Ferns trounced Malawi 3-0 in a home netball test series and the Kiwis have begun their World Cup rugby league defence with thrashings of Samoa 42-24 and France 48-0.
I’d like to include the New Zealand cricket team’s matches against Bangladesh, but New Zealand and Bangladesh are both cricket minnows, near the bottom of the international ladder.
Efforts by some sports officials and the media to talk up these lopsided contests have been laughable.
John Kirwan was interviewed before the Japan match, presumably because until 2011 he was the Japan coach.
Sir JK said the Japanese would try to combat the All Blacks’ power with speed, and noted that Japanese players had set about putting on weight so they could no longer be steamrolled.
Rugby journalists spoke of how the All Blacks didn’t want to be caught napping, and wanted to keep their focus. In fact, the test was a mismatch, played for commercial not competitive reasons.
Malawi arrived in New Zealand after being mauled by Australia, but Silver Ferns captain Casey Kopua described the scenario as ‘‘lose-lose’’ for her team.
Though coach Waimarama Taumaunu rested some of her leading players and played others out of position, the scores were embarrassingly lopsided – 70-32, 68-49, 72-39.
It made talk of the Taumaunu not being too happy with how the Silver Ferns had played seem ridiculous.
The Kiwis will have to beat Australia to retain their World Cup league title, and that’ll be a formidable challenge indeed.
But they beat Samoa 42-24 (after leading 36-4, then easing up) and France 48- 0 in their opening matches. Both games were one- sided bores with the result a formality as the teams ran on the field.
Top sport needs the element of competition to be engrossing.
The 2013 formula one championship race was decided with three races still to be staged.
German Sebastian Vettel, just 26, wrapped up his fourth consecutive title when he won the Indian grand prix.
Vettel had 322 points and his closest challenger, Fernando Alonso, 207. Vettel had won 10 races to Alonso’s two.
No doubt Vettel is a great driver, but clearly his Red Bull car is vastly superior. Given normal luck, Vettel is untouchable, as was Michael Schumacher a decade ago when he was driving for Ferrari and won five world crowns in succession.
There is a certain satisfaction in watching a sports great – Usain Bolt, Manchester United, or Tiger Woods and Roger Federer in their pomp – outclass all oppo- sition. But the best of sport is when the competition is close and players have to perform under the pressure of knowing that one false move could cost victory.
That’s why a tight Ashes series, a 9-8 America’s Cup result, or a football championship race that goes to the last Saturday of the season, are what true sports lovers dream about.
What our rugby players, netballers and league men have done lately might have seemed impressive on paper, but it didn’t count as top sport, at least not in my book.
Big Bird: Not surprisingly, the All Blacks were bigger, faster and stronger than Japan. Here New Zealand lock Dominic Bird wins a lineout from Michael Broadhurst of Japan.