The last word

Seattle Mariners leftfielder Shed Long jun dives for a ball during his team’s Major League game...
Seattle Mariners leftfielder Shed Long jun dives for a ball during his team’s Major League game against the New York Yankees at T-Mobile Park in Seattle. PHOTO: USA TODAY SPORTS
Bula Vinaka

Deceuninck-Quick Step  rider Mark Cavendish (right), of Britain, celebrates winning stage 10 of...
Deceuninck-Quick Step rider Mark Cavendish (right), of Britain, celebrates winning stage 10 of the Tour de France with team-mate Julian Alaphilippe, of France. PHOTO: REUTERS
A warm Dunedin welcome to the Flying Fijians — and, of course, to our beloved All Blacks — for tonight’s test at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

I’m still getting back into the sporting swing of things after six years away, and have to be honest when I confess I do not know much about this current Fijian team. Is Waisale Serevi still around? Rupeni Caucau?

And, yep, one can but nod quietly when people point out this is basically an entree, that the second test to be held in the city this year (against the Springboks on September 25) is a hundred times bigger, that the Tongan mismatch last week does not bode well for another clash of the haves against the have-nots.

Yada yada yada. It’s still a test, still the highest level of rugby. And it’s still the All Blacks, the team that means more to this country than any other.

It won’t be a full house, obviously, but as long as we get some decent rugby and some excitement, there should be no complaints.

Red representation

Nice to see the All Blacks do their bit for diversity by giving Finlay Christie a good run off the bench for his debut against Tonga.

As we all know, gingers are among the most maligned members of society, and visibility at the elite level is so important to give encouragement to the next generation of blood-nuts.

Best gingers in sport?

The modern star is English cricketer Ben Stokes. In recent times, we had great redheads like Manchester United footballer Paul Scholes and South African cricketer Shaun Pollock. Further back, there were All Black fullback John Gallagher and NBA centre Bill Walton.

At home, there was Highlanders lock James Ryan, and the immortal Paul Tito.

I’m struggling immensely to think of many ginger sportswomen, though Silver Ferns netballer Sam Winders is prominent in the present day.

The poster boy for flame-haired athletes, of course, is American snowboarding legend Shaun White — the man they called the Flying Tomato.

Kiwi pride

Last week I mentioned that one of the things that had happened during this column’s hiatus was New Zealand basketball superstar Steven Adams moving from the Thunder to the Pelicans.

I also found time to read his book — My Life, My Fight — and it’s a nice yarn with some lovely little glimpses into what makes him so special.

But how sad, as soon as you open the book and browse the prologue, to be reminded that he STILL has not played for the Tall Blacks, some eight years after he was drafted into the NBA.

Adams writes of having the New Zealand flag sewn into his custom-made suit for draft night, and says: ‘‘I wanted to represent New Zealand through and through.’’

That’s what we want too, brother. Time to represent us.

We understood, in the early years, you had to prioritise your NBA career, and safeguard your future.

But now we are struggling to understand your continued exile, especially as NBA superstars like Luka Doncic and Devin Booker are falling over themselves to play for their respective countries.

Sporting questions

It did not surprise me that sports trainspotter Jeremy Scott was one of the first people to email The Last Word.

Apart from being a Liverpool fan, which automatically earns him brownie points, Jeremy loves to pose a good question. And he threw these at me:

1. Is 99.94 the greatest sports number/statistic ever? Hard to argue with that one. Bradman’s average will always walk alone.

2. Is there a more dominant sports team than the St George Dragons who won 11 straight titles from 1955-65? I need to give this one some more thought.

3. What is the ‘‘iconic’’ All Black position? Is it No7, No9, No10, No11 or No15? With all due respect to No11 (Jonah, the most influential All Black of all time) and No15 (Cully! Nepia! The Boot!) and No9 (has Aaron Smith surpassed Justin Marshall?), this is a straight shoot-out between No7 and No10. And Richie settles it.

4. Will you be sharing your thoughts on Laurel Hubbard? Not yet. Gender is a modern minefield, and I am wary of making sweeping proclamations either way. For now, Laurel is competing within the rules and deserves our support in Tokyo.

Olympic travesty

How ludicrous that an Olympic Games robbed of much of its magic by Covid-19 will now be missing one of its potential stars because of a recreational drug.

American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson has been banned due to recording a positive test for marijuana.

I am a bit of a puritan when it comes to drugs — though I voted for marijuana legalisation, because that’s a health issue — but it is just a nonsense that top athletes get canned for a few puffs of weed.

It’s not performance-enhancing — and it’s legal in several US states.

Born to ride

Well, of course The Last Word was excited to hear an American equestrian with a special entertainment link was going to compete in Tokyo.

Jessica Springsteen, daughter of rocker Bruce Springsteen, was named to the US showjumping team this week.

The 29-year-old Springsteen was an alternate at the 2012 London Olympics but failed in her bid to make the 2016 Rio Games.

Good boys

My apologies to the local greyhound racing community for neglecting to mention one salient fact in my first couple of stories this week about harness racing finishing up at Forbury Park.

While the last trailer-towers went round on Thursday night, Forbury Park still has three dog meetings before the old venue is mothballed.


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