Still without a decent name to his new column, Fearghal Kerin knows a team of champions when he sees them, though – as ever – he is hard to convince
We now, finally, have a better idea of Manchester City’s credentials for this season, after they almost snuck a massive result at Old Trafford last week. It’s certainly impressive to repeatedly come back from a goal down against the thrice-in-a-row Champions of England and back-to-back Champions League finalists – though as the euphoria and headiness of the closing stages slowly pass, it should be remembered that City were completely and comprehensively outplayed for the entire second half. If it were not for a sublime moment of inspiration for their second, and a mistake from Rio Ferdinand worthy of You’ve Been Framed for their third, United would have been long out of sight.
The manner of the defeat will certainly give them heart, and now that City have suffered their first defeat of the campaign, it will be interesting to see how they respond in the forthcoming league fixtures. As for Michael Owen, it was always likely to be the case when you allow one striker to leave for your city rivals for £30m and replace him with a freebie, that he would come up trumps on the biggest day of all. At Old Trafford at least, that invariably seems to be the case.
In addition, it was no surprise to see Craig Bellamy getting involved at the end in an unfortunate incident striking a pitch-invading United supporter, although this can largely be dismissed as a routine case of the sh*thead hitting the fan.
With another Tri Nations series drawing to a close, the fans that were committed enough to have perched themselves in front of Sky Sports at ungodly hours on Saturday mornings – to watch what largely results in the southern hemisphere’s trio of giants battering themselves stupid – will be happier with this year’s tournament than they were with last year’s protracted, inconsistent efforts.
While I’m aware that there’s very little arguing with South Africa’s place at the top of world rugby at the moment, off the back of a dominating Tri Nations performance, a Lions series victory and the World Cup less than two years ago – for some reason, I’m still somewhat unconvinced of the Springboks’ true quality.
Maybe it’s that their World Cup was won by beating only Argentina and England in the semi-final and final respectively, or that they barely beat yet another awfully managed Lions squad, that has me so mistrusting of their pedigree. Their domination of the set piece is, for me, an anomaly.
Because of the supposed impregnability of the ‘Bok lineout, opposition sides seem to panic and try fancier tactics rather than just playing their normal game, and hand the advantage to the ‘Boks in the process. The same can be said in the scrum.
John Smit is a poor, poor prop at international level, while Tendai Mtawarira managed to become a world superstar and forge a reputation as a formidable scrummager in the first Lions test by destroying Phil Vickery, before throwing it all away and returning to type in the second game against Adam Jones.
Of course, with the Springboks due in Croke Park in late November, we have a good opportunity to see the world champions first hand, and examine how the northern hemisphere’s de facto champions fare against them. In addition, we’ll get a prolonged viewing on Jean de Villiers – the so-called ‘Intercept King’ – when he lines out for Munster this year. Perhaps in a few months I’ll be forced to eat my words about the ‘Boks.
Showing perhaps that it takes strange qualities to impress this columnist, Australia played some of the best rugby of this year’s Tri Nations. In Matt Giteau, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Berrick Barnes, the Wallabies boasted some of the series’ standout backs, while the injuries carried into the tournament by Rocky Elsom, sustained during his time with Leinster, meant that the Australian behemoth missed the opening fixtures and failed to hit full throttle throughout the rest of it.
Lastly, the decision to finally add Argentina to the Tri Nations from 2012 onward should be welcomed. Ostensibly one of the world’s premier four teams (off the back of France 2007), they should be able to compete for the tournament, but in reality, it’s an opportunity for the Pumas to make the next step forward as a rugby playing nation.
What can be said about the Kerry footballers that hasn’t already been said about Kilkenny? The lingering doubt for the Kingdom in the build-up to the All-Ireland Final was that they hadn’t beaten any special team this year, with a very average Meath side disposed of in the semi-final comparing infavourably to the performance Cork put in to eliminate Tyrone. We probably should have known better. What more adequate way is there for a team to prepare for a clash with serial Croke Park bottlers Cork than with Dublin, a team who who fail to understand the concept of home advantage?
This Cork team will come again, however, as they contain an almost unique blend of power and youth that has been built over a succession of good (but not great) minor teams, each producing a couple of players that would go on to star on the Senior teams. Surely some time soon Cork will take the scalp of their equally irritating neighbours at Croke Park, with this side in particular looking to have the longevity to do it.