Malcolm Boyle: Ground work well worth it

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The round two Super Rugby match between the Hurricanes and the Blues. Photo / Getty Images
The round two Super Rugby match between the Hurricanes and the Blues. Photo / Getty Images

Here we are again (already) at the crossroads weekend for summer and winter sports in the Southern Hemisphere. Super Rugby meets international cricket, where a tickle to fine leg could earn you a slap on one ground and a clap on another.

I've always reckoned when it comes to climate and playing conditions, we start a country mile behind the Aussies who generally play their field sports "above the ground." These conditions are much more conducive to producing fast, quality football in all codes.

So it's comforting to note in recent years in New Zealand a huge improvement in turf management at most major grounds. The mud (and sand) laden fields of yesteryear have largely gone and our footballers now have the confidence to match our transtasman rivals with running, rather than grinding rugby.

Australians don't seem to have any problems in the confidence field, at national or international level. In my time in the Australian media I didn't meet too many sportspeople who weren't convinced of their own superiority and indeed, invincibility.

In fact, there was a great story going around our newsroom about a media search for Australia's greatest sportsperson of all time. I'm told that after an exhaustive campaign over many months, a craggy old fellow turned up at the newspaper office, announcing: "I'm Mick from Marrangaroo and I'm Australia's greatest sportsman".

Asked what was behind his claim, Mick from Marrangaroo didn't draw a breath for the next 30 minutes as he ranged over dozens of events he had won in a career traversing every state in the vast country. Rodeo, sheep shearing, hunting, ultra-distance running, darts, woodchopping, dog trials; you name them, he'd not only done them all but had won every trophy available.

"What about the more popular sports?" asked a young reporter. "Sure," said Mick from Marrangaroo. "I captained Australia at cricket when we didn't lose a game for a decade and, in fact, captured the Ashes so many times that they had to burn another lot to stop the Poms complaining. I won five Australian Golf Opens, playing three of them left-handed as the airlines lost my golf bag.

"I led the Marrangaroo XI to the state and national cricket championships four years in a row. I coached and captained NSW in the State of Origin series five times for five victories." By this time the young reporter was beside herself. "Mick, of all these incredible moments what was the one you'll never forget?" she asked.

"Well, it was my 14th NRL Grand Final and we were tipped to be beaten heavily by the Roosters. After a torrid game we were down by five points with the final siren about to sound. I got the ball behind our own line, beat the entire opposition team and ran 100 metres, kicking over the fullback's head on the way to a try under the black dot.

"Wow Mick," said the reporter, "that surely was the pinnacle of a brilliant career?"

"No" said Mick, "I missed the bloody conversion!"

- Herald on Sunday

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