Thursday, February 22, 2024

Games golden memories

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New Zealand’s men’s and women’s sevens wins against Olympic champions Fiji and Australia respectively provided a happy Commonwealth Games final day for the Kiwis on Australia’s Gold Coast.

While the fifth placed medal count of 46 (15 gold, 16 silver, 15 bronze) failed to compare with the hosts 198 (80,59,59), it remained highly satisfactory for a nation of our size.
Who will forget Kelly Brazier’s extra time 80m sprint for sevens gold or the sheer joy of the English netballers on pipping Australia at the post for the first netball Commonwealth gold in their history?

That painted a sad contrast to the distraught Silver Ferns who failed to medal for the first time and whose coach Janine Southby’s win record of 51 per cent suggests her head is on the chopping block.

There’s no disgrace in losing to Australia or much-improved England and Jamaica, but being humiliated by Malawi showed just how badly the Ferns’ standards have plummeted.
The decision not to play centre Laura Langman because she played in the Australian league came back to haunt a team that lacked confidence and abandoned its zone defence.

It was a shame that one of the great comeback wins of the Games was tainted by mountain biker Sam Gaze’s poor sportsmanship in accusing team-mate Anton Cooper of the same for not stopping for him while his bike was being repaired.

That Gaze came back to win with a withering, sustained sprint spoke volumes for his ability, if not his mental judgment.

In fairness, he did make a belated apology. But it is a shame his earlier action will leave a lasting memory and erase the glitter from his gold.

With the cyclists giving the New Zealand contingent an excellent start and Sam Webster picking up two golds, the boxers also did their bit with five medals.

Shot putter Tom Walsh comfortably won his event while relatively new mum Val Adams and pole vault poster girl Eliza McCartney had to settle for silvers.

Particularly pleasing was the performance of the Black Sticks women’s hockey team in beating both England and Australia in dramatic fashion to finally win gold. And once again Para Olympian swimmer Sophie Pascoe starred in the pool.

Critics who claim the Commonwealth Games lack the status of the Olympics and world championships do have a point. But it remains a great sporting festival for aspiring champions and long may it continue.

Full marks for the Brisbane Broncos for registering a deserved 27-18 NRL triumph to break the Warriors’ 5-0 winning streak.

They ran harder, were more cohesive and strung their passes together better. However there is much to like about the Warriors play this year to give fans encouragement although the Dragons pose a tough proposition next up.

Meanwhile it was heartening to see fullback Ben Smith return to his best with two dazzling tries in the Highlanders 43-17 Super Rugby win against David Pocock’s Brumbies.

Add to that the brilliance of Beauden Barrett and Ben Lam in the Hurricanes 25-13 win against the Chiefs, with Barrett winning his duel against mercurial Damian McKenzie and Lam scoring a stunning try when beating four defenders.

However with so many of his best props still injured, All Black coach Steve Hansen will be praying for a quick recovery before the French arrive here in June.

  • Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author

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