Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man (of the Match)

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This came to us via our friends at the Royal Blackheath Golf Club and whilst unsure of its author, we felt it worth sharing….

Saracens played Harlequins on Saturday evening. They won – somewhat unsurprisingly, despite being away from home – but it was no runaway affair. The final score was 25-20. Of considerably more interest than the eventual outcome, however, was the award of man-of-the-match.


Early in the new year, The Times newspaper published a piece setting out first its predictions, and then its hopes, for rugby in 2108. There followed a third, smaller list entitled: “Nice idea, won’t happen.” At the top of this list was the following wish: “Someone, somewhere to be honest in the act of failing to score a try cleanly – to say to the referee, ‘No try, sir’ rather than wasting everyone’s time and going to the TMO. It’s like walking in cricket. Come clean. It’s not hard.” 


Nice idea, won’t happen. Well, on Saturday evening at The Stoop, it did happen. The score at the time, barely into the second quarter, was tight: 3-3. Saracens, in possession, were camped on the Harlequins try line. Their No 8, Billy Vunipola, rather than going around the ruck as convention rather dictates, saw a gap over the top. He dived, stretched and grounded the ball. A try, surely? The referee, Luke Pearce, signalled to go to the Third Match Official in order to review the video evidence. Vunipola told him not to bother, confessing that he had dropped it. “Thank you 8,” said Pearce and we simply moved on.


At the conclusion of the match, Vunipola received the man-of-the-match award. It could have been given to him before half-time.


Referees get decisions wrong. They get them wrong even when those decisions are aided by all the multi-angle video available to the TMO. The technology is good but not perfect. Every now again, the officials – collectively – get it wrong. The players know that. Vunipola knew that.


Cricketers don’t walk. Footballers dive. Tennis players appeal when balls are clearly in … or out. Even golf has experienced the occasional, rare transgression. We have become inured to these ubiquitous manifestations of grubby gamesmanship, resigning ourselves despondently to the inevitable conclusion that a genuinely honourable piece of on-field gentlemanly conduct – those of you with long memories will recall that we used to call it ‘sportsmanship’ – simply won’t happen.


Except on Saturday evening – at a rainy, windswept, south-west London rugby ground – it did happen.


Tim Brindle

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