New Zealanders looked forward to two big sporting treats in 2017. One fell a bit flat, the other exceeded expectations.

In the end, it was all about winning or not.

We dared hope for revenge for San Francisco when the America's Cup was to be contested again in Bermuda, and were confident of a clean sweep in the three-test rugby tour by the British and Irish Lions. Bermuda delivered, with controversy, drama and the right result. But the Lions tour ended in the most stale of stalemates, a tied series and a drawn third test that left many wishing rugby would allow extra time.

No such problem with knife-edge catamaran sailing. Team New Zealand stormed, strolled and cycled to victory in Bermuda where holders Oracle Team USA and Jimmy Spithill were no match for helmsman Peter Burling and skipper Glenn Ashby.


The real stars may have been the designers, engineers and builders. There was a lot of attention on the TNZ cyclors - the word itself is a new coinage - who provided the power that normally stems from hand grinders, but there was so much more to pedal-power on those boats. Even a dramatic pitch-pole against Britain's Ben Ainslie, when Aotearoa nose-dived flinging sailors into the water, could not halt their progress.

It was a year for women's rugby, women's sport, with the Black Ferns winning the World Cup and try-scoring wing Portia Woodman verging on household-name status. But it was prop Toka Natua who scored an unlikely hat-trick in the final win over England in Belfast.

At this time of year, the failures don't seem so important. The West Indies cricket tour, the Warriors, the Phoenix ... More memorable were Tonga's march to the semi-final of the Rugby League World Cup and the disappointment of that semi-final, followed by days of street protests against the referee's decision denying the team a last-minute try. Tongans provided the best atmosphere seen at a New Zealand sports ground for years, the stands turned red by their flags.

One real loss marked 2017. New Zealand lost an icon with the death of Colin Meads in August at age 81. Long after most players have been largely forgotten, Meads was still an in-demand product salesman on TV, such was his status. His career of 55 tests was not exceptional by comparison with durable All Blacks on today's heavier schedules. It was Meads' rugged approach that epitomised New Zealand rugby, combined with rare athleticism for a tight forward at that time.

He was intimidating on the field and modest off it. His number was always in the Te Kuiti phone book and often rung by reporters to be answered by that deep, rumbling voice.

Meads was in the powerhouse of a great All Black era which ended in a series defeat by the 1971 Lions. Meads captained the team that year, his last as a player. As a coach in 1985 he took the rebel "Cavaliers" to South Africa. He was a man of honest, straightforward views and played the same way. His legend will live on.