One of the eternally-fascinating aspects of sport is its unpredictability – and I’m not saying that from a punter’s perspective because I’m not a betting girl.
Last Sunday Jensen Button began the last lap of the Montreal (Canadian) Grand Prix in 8th place and – through no intervention of his own – finished the race in 4th. What’s not to like about that?
Last week, in advance of the first rugby test between New Zealand and England in Auckland, the consensus of pundits and fans alike was that an All Blacks victory was a banker, not least because of the scheduling issues that had forced Stuart Lancaster to field a second, possibly third, strength XV. Adopting the astrologer’s defence – bending the obvious facts to explain how my ‘wrong’ prediction was in fact right – I did at least say that I would regard an England loss by less than 20 points as a moral victory. In that context, the ‘so near and yet so far’ 15-20 loss has potentially significant implications for next years’ Rugby Word Cup.
Inevitably, the journos from both countries, picking over the carcass, have found supporting evidence for any conclusion – and indeed for any prediction as to what might happen next (in the second test at Dunedin this Saturday 14th June) – that you might care to dream up.
From the England perspective, the All Blacks have been revealed as ordinary mortals. Their laudable emphasis upon universal aerobic fitness, suppleness, game awareness and ball-playing ability is all very well, but in the white heat of top international rugby their failure to select specialist ‘horses for courses’ in their pack is a weakness (at Eden Park England’s line-out and scrum performances were superior).
A perfect case in point was England’s ponderous tight-head prop, the barrel-like, near 20-stone, David Wilson. New Zealand might point out he was an embarrassment around the field in in the loose – on three separate occasions, finding himself erroneously in the attacking line, he spilled eminently-catchable passes – but at scrum-time, the day job if you like, he was rock-solid and on several occasions crushed his opposite number.
Accordingly, having contrived to snatch defeat from the jaws of an unlikely victory last time, this Saturday – with up to eight ‘first choice’ players now available for the first time on tour – England appear to have every chance of levelling the series.
In contrast, from the New Zealand viewpoint, it is well-known that the All Blacks, who have had comparatively little time in camp beforehand, tend to play an under-par first game of every international season.
This weekend, as night follows day, there will be a 20% all-round improvement. Apart from anything else, Number 8 Keiran Read, World Player of the Year in 2013, will probably return from an enforced concussion rest. Coach Steve Hanson is a past master of game analysis and will have identified both where the All Blacks need to improve and where England have potential weaknesses.
So there you have it.
Early this coming Saturday (UK time), having now got the All Blacks sussed, England, reinforced by their returning ‘first choice’ players, will surely press on and prevail … or, alternatively, the All Blacks, smarting from last weekend’s close run thing, will not make the same mistakes twice and will deliver the 20-point drubbing they should have done in Auckland.
If you’re a betting punter, you pays your money and you takes your choice.
Not being one, I shall nevertheless be sitting in front of my television, nervous with anticipation, fascinated to see how the match unfolds.