Last night Worcester Warriors drew 30-30 to win rugby’s Championship (59-58 on aggregate over two matches, home and away) and gain promotion to the Premiership. I have only read reports of the game, in which Bristol led 30-16 with ten minutes to go to the final whistle, but by all accounts it was yet another thumping all-out contest between the only two Premiership-quality sides in the second tier. Without doubt it was one of those sporting occasions when neither side deserved to lose and one can only feel sorry for Bristol, who have come so close to winning promotion in each of the last three seasons and yet failed every time.
Less than a week ago I had watched Worcester’s 29-28 victory ‘live’ on Sky Sports, one of the best games of rugby I have seen in the past twelve months.
Bristol had won both league games between the two sides by small margins and, in the ‘play off’ structure by which the Championship is decided, success (in the form of promotion) came down to this two-match, death-or-glory, experience. There had been barely a cigarette-paper between the protagonists all year and so it proved again in the final.
At the end of the day, that’s the magic of sport.
You can go back to Jim Peter’s epic collapse at the 1954 Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, when he led the field by 17 minutes as he entered the stadium but then collapsed repeatedly – covering just 200 metres in eleven minutes before being stretchered away, never to race again.
Or the umpteen boxing contests down the years where a boxer, well behind on points, gets tagged as the bell goes for the start of the last round with the damning commentator’s curse “He’s going to need a knockout to win …” and then somehow, from somewhere, summons the courage, good fortune or sheer determination to produce one.
Or the times in soccer when a lowly team of complete underdogs, facing one of the giant clubs, somehow pulls off a stunning victory in the FA Cup Final against all the odds.
Or so nearly does so, perhaps after holding a narrow lead until the last fifteen minutes, before succumbing to the inevitable.
Joy and heartbreak. The extraordinary feelings of triumph and euphoria of winning, especially when against all expectations … against those of utter dejection when – as heavy favourites – the whale is bested by the minnow, or indeed the minnow is thwarted within yards of the finishing line after a superhuman and potentially victorious effort.
Years later, of course, all these outcomes are mere memories – for those who took part and for those who watched and/or can remember exactly where they were when upon that famous (or infamous) occasion.
After last night I can only wish Worcester better fortune in rugby’s Premiership next season than befell their hapless predecessors London Welsh.
And as for Bristol, well I suppose there’s always next time … though I doubt it feels much like it at the moment.