[imagesource: Andy Lyons]
Each Monday, I’ll be putting together a wrap of the weekend’s sporting action, standout moments, and major talking points, with a focus on football, cricket, and rugby.
So, off we go…
How about we kick things off with a story that should make every South African sports fan grin from ear to ear, with a lump in the throat at the same time?
Cool, I’m in.
Those that follow golf closely will know that Branden Grace has long been spoken about as our next great, and the 32-year-old demonstrated why he is so highly thought of in the closing stages of the Puerto Rico Open.
Grace eagled the 17th, after chipping in from a greenside bunker, and then birdied the 18th, to claim a dramatic one-stroke victory over clubhouse leader Jhonattan Vegas, who would have thought he had done enough to claim the win at Rio Grande’s Grand Reserve Golf Club.
It was his second win on the PGA Tour, and 13th worldwide, but the kicker is that it comes little more than a month since losing his father to COVID-19.
Speaking after the win, he was understandably emotional:
Five weeks ago, @BrandenGrace lost his father.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 28, 2021
You bloody biscuit, Branden.
Here’s his shot on the 17th:
Just weeks after losing his father to COVID-19, Branden Grace finished eagle-birdie to win only his second PGA Tour event and first in five years. 👏
His eagle on 17 was spectacular: pic.twitter.com/93ndqqAph9
— BroBible (@BroBible) February 28, 2021
The winning putt, and a little pump of the fist:
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 28, 2021
That should put a pep in your step for the remainder of the day.
It was also touching to see so many of Tiger Woods’ fellow pros pay their love and respect to the man who has forever changed the sport.
The chances of Tiger returning to play competitive golf remain unclear at this stage, but there was plenty of red on show over the weekend:
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 1, 2021
Let’s leave the fairways and head to the UK, where the Six Nations resumed with Ireland giving the Italians a serious thumping.
The home side was beaten 10-48, and now sits winless after three matches with a points difference of -101.
The round’s second and final match (France’s clash with Scotland was postponed after 11 French players, as well as staff, tested positive for COVID-19 in the last week) saw Wales take on England, and it was a feisty affair with some controversial talking points.
The Welsh completed the Triple Crown (wins over Ireland, Scotland, and England) with a 40-24 victory, but the scoreline flattered the home side, with things tied at 24 apiece heading into the final 15 minutes.
Referee Pascal Gaüzère’s performance was widely panned, with Wales’ opening two tries coming as a direct result of his mistakes.
First, Gaüzère instructed Owen Farrell to speak to his teammates about ill-discipline, but then allowed play to restart whilst a number of English players were out of position.
Dan Biggar then nailed his crossfield kick to Josh Adams, who waltzed in for the score.
Soon after, there appeared to be a clear knock-on from Welsh player Louis Rees-Zammit, but after consultation with the TMO, Gaüzère awarded the try.
Some credit must go to Farrell and Eddie Jones, both of whom bit their tongues when questioned about Gaüzère’s performance, when it would have been easy to blame him for the loss.
Rugby returned to New Zealand with the first round of Super Rugby Aotearoa, and you can see highlights from the Highlanders’ clash with the Crusaders here.
The Hurricanes also took on the Blues – see those highlights here.
Here at home, rugby’s Cape Town Stadium era kicked off with the Stormers losing 33-34 to the Cheetahs, courtesy of a Frans Steyn penalty 10 minutes from time.
We should also mention former Blitzboks superstar Rosko Specman, who bust out some familiar moves to leave the Stormers defence in his wake:
Vintage Rosko Specman 🔥
We’ve seen him do it so many times at the Cape Town Stadium for the Blitzboks and now he’s stepping players for fun in the Cheetahs jersey.
— SuperSport 🏆 (@SuperSportTV) February 27, 2021
The loss aside, it’s hoped that Cape Town Stadium as a home base will revitalise a rugby union very much in the financial dumps.
The promotional material ahead of the clash with the Cheetahs certainly painted a picture of a new dawn:
Let’s switch to football, and it was an eventful weekend of English Premier League action, with plenty of referee and VAR controversy to rant about.
In West Brom’s 1-0 win over Brighton, the latter missed two penalties, but it was Lee Mason who stole the headlines.
He first disallowed a Lewis Dunk goal, then allowed it after Brighton protested, and then disallowed it once more after using VAR.
All in all, another horrid advert for VAR, and an indictment of the standard of referring in England’s top flight:
Free-kick Lewis Dunk awalnya disahkan wasit Lee Mason. Tapi keputusan berubah usai VAR checking, dan Lee Mason menganulir gol tersebut. Menurut kalian gol tersebut sah atau tidak?
— SuperSoccer TV (@my_supersoccer) February 28, 2021
In his post-match interview, Dunk didn’t hold back, questioning what logic, if any, Mason was using. You can watch that here.
Sunday’s tussle between Manchester United and Chelsea was also dominated by a VAR call, with the Blues’ Callum Hudson-Odoi fortunate not to give away a penalty in what was a very dour 0-0 draw.
You’ll see footage of the handball incident towards the start of this video:
After the match, Luke Shaw further heaped scorn on the decision, saying referee Stuart Atwell had told Harry Maguire that he feared giving the penalty because ‘people would talk afterwards’:
🗣 Luke Shaw on Callum Hudson-Odoi’s handball: “I even heard the referee say to H [Maguire] – ‘if I say it’s a pen then it’s going to cause a lot of people to talk afterwards.’ So, I don’t know what happened there.”
— United Ways (@UtdWays) February 28, 2021
Very much mission failed by Atwell, then, because it’s all Manchester United fans will talk about.
Allow me to doff my Newcastle United-supporting hat for a second and point something out from Manchester United’s last Premier League match.
The Toon were soundly beaten 3-1, with Bruno Fernandes scoring what was a relatively soft penalty. It was a penalty, and is probably given two-thirds of the time, but that time the decision went in favour of Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s men.
Harry Maguire can also count himself fortunate – have you heard a Manchester United fan talk about this incident over the past eight days?
Maguire doesn’t even look at the ball and elbows a player in the box. Not checked by VAR 🤷♂️ pic.twitter.com/jKZGV0OUs2
— Matt (@MGH) February 22, 2021
That player was Newcastle skipper Jamaal Lascelles, VAR didn’t check the incident, and there’s a 3-1 win in the bag.
The point is, sometimes the rub of the green goes against you, and whilst Callum Hudson-Odoi should have been punished for his handball, football fans are notorious for remembering when they’re wronged, and forgetting when they get a slice of good fortune.
I’m not saying Manchester United fans shouldn’t feel aggrieved, because I would be fuming, but some of the talk online about the team being consistently hard done by are, well, a tad over the top.
One of my favourite football-related moments from the weekend actually comes via LeBron James, who schooled Swedish egomaniac and world-class footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
I’ve long since grown tired of Zlatan’s wannabe Chuck Norris persona, and it should come as little surprise that the Swede cannot understand why a sportsman would use his prominent public profile to champion a cause he cares about.
In a recent interview, Zlatan said that LeBron should “just do what you do best”, and refrain from talking about social and political issues.
Well, LeBron had no time for that, and came back with some strong words:
LeBron responded after Zlatan Ibrahimovic criticized him for his activism.
“I’m kind of the wrong guy to actually go at because I do my homework.” pic.twitter.com/VyKgBrYuiz
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 27, 2021
At the end of the video, he is referring to statements from 2018, when Zlatan said that as the son of a Bosnian father and a Croatian mother, “undercover racism” caused the Swedish media and public to treat him with less respect and reverence.
I guess stick to sports only applies to other people, right?
Meanwhile, there was a truly phenomenal strike from Notts County’s Eli Sam, who scored with a scorpion kick during his side’s FA Trophy win over Oxford City:
I don’t know what this young chap below will go on to achieve on the football field in years to come, but even if he never cracks the big time, he’ll always have this one in his locker.
During a match in Algeria, between the reserve sides of HB Chelghoum Laid and MSP Batna, the latter looked likely to score, until a ballboy come out of nowhere:
This ball boy couldn’t stand seeing his club concede a late goal 😅
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 27, 2021
That might be his last match on the sidelines for a while, but that’s the price one pays for stepping up when most needed.
Finally, let’s chat cricket, starting with the final of the CSA T20 Challenge.
Sadly, the final was a pretty accurate depiction of the standard of cricket we have seen throughout the tournament, with the Dolphins’ 107/7 chased down by Temba Bavuma’s Lions, although not without a hiccup or two.
Many of the matches were relatively low-scoring affairs, and the final was no different:
Bavuma leading the Lions to a tournament victory will likely lead to increased calls for him to take over the test match captaincy, but he’ll need to work on getting that average well above 30 before his place in the side is locked down.
In Pakistan, Dale Steyn has been plying his trade for the Quetta Gladiators in this season’s Pakistan Super League, but chirp him about his hairstyle at your own peril.
He took to Twitter to call out Kiwi Simon Doull for a ‘mid-life crisis’ chirp that went down like a lead balloon:
Got the clip pic.twitter.com/ZhjekK9rpD
— — (@_maaaaz) February 27, 2021
He followed up his initial tweet with this:
If your job is to talk about the game, then do that.
But if you use that airtime to abuse anyone for their weight, sexual choices, ethnic backgrounds, lifestyle etc or even hairstyles, then im afraid I have no time for you as a human.
You and anyone else like that to be fair.
— Dale Steyn (@DaleSteyn62) February 27, 2021
I guess they won’t be exchanging Christmas cards this year.
Finally, let’s touch on the mystery that is Shahid Afridi, still going strong at the age of… well, how old is he?
When Afridi burst onto the scene back in 1996, with the then-fastest ODI century of all time, he was supposed to be 16 years old.
Throughout his career, his birth date was listed as March 1, 1980, which would make him 41 today.
Now Afridi has muddied the waters further (there have long been doubts over his age) by tweeting that he is celebrating his 44th birthday, rather than his 41st:
Thank you very much for all the lovely birthday wishes – 44 today! My family and my fans are my biggest assets. Really enjoying my stint with Multan and hope to produce match winning performances for all MS fans.
— Shahid Afridi (@SAfridiOfficial) February 28, 2021
This is doubly strange, in that Afridi claimed he was born in 1975 in his autobiography, Game Changer, saying about his 1996 hundred:
“I was just nineteen, and not sixteen like they claim. I was born in 1975. So yes, the authorities stated my age incorrectly.”
Well, if he was 19 at the time of the 1996 hundred, he would have been born in 1977.
Does he not know how old he is?
Is he just having a laugh?
What is age, anyway, but just a number?
It’s all too existential to ponder on a Monday, so let’s call it a day there.
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