The year 2018 has been reasonable to an ageing Liverpool supporter like this writer, but as much joy as I have taken from their progress in the English Premiership this year my favourite five sporting moments of the year are all South African.
All Blacks vs Springboks, Wellington – The final score of 36-34 told a story of a close game, but that two-point margin had no hope in hell of painting the emotional white knuckle ride that was that Rugby Championship match between the old rivals.
After losing by five points to the Wallabies the Boks were expected to catch a hiding to rival the 57-0 they’d conceded last year in Albany.
But they put in a defensive shift for the ages (over 200 tackles), counter-attacked to the tune of five tries against the All Blacks’ six and worked themselves to a standstill in a game which gave them the idea they were on the right path and showed the rest of the world how to go about solving the Rubik cube that is the world champions.
Wish I was there moment:
Kagiso Rabada vs Australia, Port Elizabeth – As a fast bowling tragic (I’ve been reading books about the unstable men of cricket since I was under-14), nothing gets me going like a thoroughbred quick putting the fear of God into batsmen.
Rabada did this and then some with his seminal performance in the second test against Australia in Port Elizabeth, where sustained pace, control, sustained aggression and a tailing ball fetched him figures of 11/150.
When you throw in that needless shoulder contact with Aussie captain Steve Smith you have the perfect fast bowling performance, complete with inexplicable red mist.
Did you see that?
Aphelele Fassi and the bicycle kick – Most know young Fassi, who had just left school this time last year but started the Currie Cup final, as the man who fetched a high-flying Aphiwe Dyantyi after the Springboks and Lions man had intercepted in the Currie Cup semifinal.
I was lucky to see him in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge, where he also did the unthinkable in defence.
While backtracking in defence in the 45th minute, the 20-year-old intercepted what would have been the scoring pass from Leopards’ fullback Lungelo Gosa on his five-metre line while facing his own tryline, and with little time to think or space to manoeuvre he simply bicycle-kicked a touch-finder.
With that kind of lateral thinking under pressure, he was a marked man for me.
Close but no cigar:
Kevin Anderson at Wimbledon – Having made the final of the 2017 US Open final, many expected Anderson – a journeyman turning 32 – to fade quietly after his moment in the sun against the run of play.
But he had different ideas, putting in his best ever year on the ATP circuit by winning two titles, rising to a career high ranking of sixth by making the final at Wimbledon after upsetting eight-time champion Roger Federer in the quarterfinal and prevailing 26-24 in the final set of his six hour and 36 minute semifinal against John Isner.
The final against Novak Djokovic had a sense of anticlimax about it as it was over in straight sets in the Serb’s favour.
It was close but no cigar stuff, but the rumoured R70m he has earned this year might go a long way towards easing the pain.
Captain, my captain:
Siya Kolisi, first black Springbok captain – The phrase Captain my Captain has been overused over the years, but when Kolisi led the Boks from the Ellis Park tunnel and on to the field against England on June 9, it was a moment that resonated with even a jaded hack like this one.
For 18 years I’d written rugby without truly feeling like I belong (the why and how this is a subject for another column), but that day I did because of the countless South African children who would forever be able to dream regardless of where they came from because a poor boy from Zwide had ascended to the position of Springbok captain.
Kolisi may not come across as a diplomat like some of his predecessors, but he is a walking, talking, inspiration for South Africans from all walks of life.