Friday 20 April 2018

Oz Rugby Union ballot sees fans vote with their feet

New Zealand's All Blacks centre Ma'a Nonu (C) offloads the ball to Malakai Fekitoa (L) during their Rugby Championship match against the Australia's Wallabies in Sydne
New Zealand's All Blacks centre Ma'a Nonu (C) offloads the ball to Malakai Fekitoa (L) during their Rugby Championship match against the Australia's Wallabies in Sydne
John Greene

John Greene

Imagine two heavyweights of world rugby like England and France going head to head in the first round of the Six Nations at prime time on a Saturday night in either Twickenham or Stade de France. Now imagine this game being played in a stadium with over 15,000 empty seats. It just wouldn't happen, right?

And yet that's exactly how it panned out last Saturday night when world champions New Zealand travelled to Sydney to take on their greatest rivals, Australia, in the opening game of the Rugby Championship. This, arguably, is the most attractive fixture in world rugby but the ANZ Stadium wasn't even close to sold out. In fact, it was about 15,500 short of being a sell-out.

There were some mitigating circumstances, most notably the awful conditions the game was played in, which probably put paid to a lot of the walk-up crowd, but it's hard to imagine the All Blacks arriving in Dublin, Cardiff or London and not selling out.

These are tough times for Australian rugby. Aussie rules is disappearing over the horizon, such is its popularity, and rugby league is also growing its support base. Hard as it might be for us to believe on this side of the world, but rugby union in Australia, never the most popular of its field sports, is an even harder sell these days. And last week is proof of that. The Bledisloe Cup has lost some of its sheen.

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It's the end of an era in the GAA this week as one of the longest serving officials retires on Friday. Michael Delaney, CEO of the Leinster Council, makes way after 38 years in the position.

The Laois man has overseen an extraordinary period of change and played a central part in helping the Leinster Council to be a progressive and innovative arm of the GAA.

From humble beginnings where he operated out of his home in Ballacolla in the late 1970s to a new office in Portlaoise in 1990 and, finally, to purpose-built provincial headquarters, also in Portlaoise, over a decade later, Delaney and the Council rarely stood still.

Delaney has been the quintessential administrator over the years, able to fade into the background and yet come out fighting when needed. There's no doubt he will be missed.

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"As villains go, drug cheats are far worse than steeplechase strippers." So said Derval O'Rourke in her Irish Examiner column last week as she commented on the chorus of boos which greeted Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad's victory in the 1,500m final at the European Championships. "I've been at many athletics meets where drug cheats are running and I've never heard them receive such condemnation," wrote O'Rourke.

Mekhissi-Benabbad ran the last 100m of the 3,000m steeplechase with his top off. He was so clearly the best athlete in the race, that he felt relaxed enough to engage in an unusual celebration. Sadly for him, it was against the rules and he was disqualified.

O'Rourke has been made wait for so long for the bronze medal she was cheated out of at last year's European Indoors in Gothenburg by Turkish athlete Nevin Yanit (who tested positive), yet those who trailed in the topless Mekhissi-Benabbad's wake in Zurich got their medals straight away.

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Jenny Murphy and Marie Louise Reilly of the Irish women's rugby team spoke to their counterparts on the Republic of Ireland women's team on the eve of their 2-0 victory over Slovenia last week in a World Cup qualifier. Murphy and Reilly visited Sue Ronan's squad on Tuesday night at their base in Dunboyne and also assisted in the traditional presentation of caps.

The win at Tallaght Stadium means Ronan's team have 14 points - Ireland's highest ever in qualifying - with two games remaining. More importantly, they have an outside chance of getting to next year's finals in Canada.

"It was a great opportunity for us to congratulate them on their magnificent performance and also hear from them about their experiences and how they approach things," said Ronan of their special guests.

Sunday Indo Sport

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