Thoughts on a brutal but brilliant sporting weekend

5th October 2015   

Today is one of those days when the sporting landscape feels like its strewn with bruised, battered and beaten bodies – even a couple of corpses – but let’s not get too macabre.
It was simply that kind of weekend. Sport at it’s brutal, bludgeoning best.

Chelsea, Manchester United and England rugby fans will of course say they’ve had better (the departed Dick Advocaat and Brendan Rodgers too) but part of why we love sport so much is the storytelling it serves up. Over the last two or three days, the narrative has been indisputably compulsive to follow.

It’s the modern way to relish a post-mortem. What went wrong, why did it happen, who can we blame?

While Louis van Gaal can brush it off as a bad day at the office, the knives are out for Jose Mourinho and Stuart Lancaster, two very successful and respected coaches. I won’t matter though. One or the other, possibly both, will probably soon pay with their job.

Personally, I think we get too caught up in negative diatribe. OK, their teams were poor. They might get sacked. These things happen.

What about this weekend’s big winners?

I felt they were all utterly outstanding, and it’s criminal not to acknowledge that.

Southampton’s magnificence at Stamford Bridge isn’t getting the credit it deserves. Yes, the Blues are short on confidence and form but even so, the visitors’ game plan and its execution were just about perfect. Hardly anyone beats Chelsea on their home patch, but they schooled Mourinho’s men!

Seeing two stonewall penalty claims ignored would have ruffled some teams (Chelsea for sure) but instead it seemed to spur the Saints on to push themselves harder. At no stage did they sulk or mope around. Ronald Koeman’s men did what teams should do, and just got on with it.

Away at the home of the champions, 1-0 down early on, I don’t think you’ll see many better turnarounds in the Premier League this season.

Southampton’s work rate, focus and match intelligence should have made headlines – as should Sadio Mane’s twinkling individual display – but instead we got Jose’s gibber-jabber of a seven and a half minute rant.

Arsenal’s 3-0 triumph at home to Manchester United was another laudable effort that’s been all-too-casually brushed aside. When I hear Gunners fans bemoaning Brendan Rodgers’ sacking because it denied them column inches, I kind of feel their frustration.

There hasn’t been a more destructive 20 minutes of football produced by any side this season that’s come close to what Arsenal produced against United.

The speed, fluency and beauty of all three goals (and some of their other moves) was just about as good as it gets. En route to last season’s title, Chelsea were powerful and often superb, but they didn’t play football that good. Nowhere near it. Yet no one seems to be that interested. It’s a pity.

And then there’s Australia.

I read a lot of pre-match previews ahead of Saturday’s crunch game, written by legends of the game and esteemed writers, and almost everyone tipped England to win. Trounced 13-33, they didn’t even come close.

Weren’t they just awful? No, actually I didn’t think they were. In general play they matched Australia for large periods, but at the scrums, turnovers and when the backs had ball in hand, the Wallabies played like men possessed. They produced the game of their lives.

I’m sure that other coaches may have gone with a different England starting XV, made alternative substitutions, or tried a new tactic or two, but it would still take a lot to convince me that any team at this Rugby World Cup would have beaten the men in yellow on Saturday night.

Just when it was emotion and pressure overload, Australia’s players delivered their very best rugby to ruin the hosts’ tournament. As a side they showed unbelievable talent and organisation. Just like Arsenal and Southampton, their play was just about as as good as it gets.

I thought it was one of the greatest weekends of sport we’ve seen in ages. In three huge contests, the standards were off the scale. It’s a shame we’re not encouraged to appreciate it.

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