Spectator sport

This looks like the greatest rugby side ever

15 September 2016

1:00 PM

15 September 2016

1:00 PM

British Lions fans of anervous disposition should avoid the telly of a Saturday morning. Live before your very eyes, as the southern hemisphere Rugby Championship unfolds, is the rebirth of an extraordinary new All Blacks side, now without Carter, McCaw, Ma’a Nonu and all. And, scarily, evenbetter than that World Cup-winning side. Warren Gatland, be very afraid.

Our own Maro Itoje, the Saracens and England lock, wins every game he plays. The All Blacks win every game they play. How many players eligible for the Lions would get into the current Kiwi starting XV? Probably just Itoje. And how many from the rest of the world would get in? Again, probably just Itoje.

It’s a thrilling prospect: the cream of British rugby taking on the world champions at the end of the season. But these All Blacks aren’t just the champions — they are beginning to feel like the greatest side ever. A New Zealand 2nd XV would probably win the Six Nations. The Lions might win only a couple of games on the tour, particularly now that the All Blacks have been released to turn out for their Super Rugby franchises.

So far in the championship, New Zealand have brushed aside Australia twice, and last weekend they were held for 50 minutes by a brave Argentine side. Then in 25 minutes or so Dan Carter’s replacement, the magnificent Beauden Barrett, was the inspiration behind five brilliant tries that swamped the punch-drunk Pumas. He might look like a chorister, Barrett, but he’s as deadly as a cheetah with a sidestep. He scored the winning try in the World Cup final and has been a joy to watch for years. He’s a better all-round player than Carter, though not as prolific off the tee. But these Kiwis win by scoring breathtaking tries, not walloping over endless penalties. I’m booking my tickets for New Zealand now.

There’s an interesting triangular T20 tournament at Edgbaston today, with an Archbishop of Canterbury’s Xl taking on a Vatican side and a squad of Yorkshire imams. (Some good spinners there, I suspect.) In the ABC team is a young priest, the Revd Pat Allerton, a very tidy all-rounder who I played cricket with the other day. He could hit the ball with biblical power. It’s all in a good cause too.

Give poor Eoin Morgan a break. If he doesn’t want to go to Bangladesh, why should he? I believe passionately that countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe should get as much cricket as possible, and high-profile players dropping out doesn’t help. But a very good English Test side will be touring anyway, along with a white-ball team that is up with the best in the world and led by the exciting Jos Buttler. So Bangladesh will be getting their money’s worth, and if Morgan loses the captaincy then so be it. He’s done his job and made England a pin-sharp limited-overs side. But players miss games now for all sorts of reasons: the birth of their kids for one thing. And didn’t Denis Compton skip the odd tour, preferring to skedaddle up and down the wing for Arsenal?

Good to see that someone has bought Formula 1. But what John Malone’s Liberty Media has actually bought is the major shareholding in the organisation that can exploit the commercial rights: doesn’t sound quite so sexy, but what’s a little detail? It says a huge amount about F1 that it can attract a buyer spending billions when no one has had a good word to say about it for years. That’s the genius of Bernie Ecclestone. Look at MotoGP: eight different winners in the past eight races, sell-out crowds, three of the greatest riders of all time (including Valentino Rossi) competing against each other, amazing TV coverage and it can’t buy a paragraph in a UK newspaper. If ever a sport needed a Bernie…

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