The last word

Runners clear the water jump at Wincanton Racecourse in England. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Runners clear the water jump at Wincanton Racecourse in England. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
It’s a final

And that, my constant readers, is why we should care about the game that will not exactly stop a nation but could still be really gripping this afternoon.

Look, we get it. The clash between Otago and Taranaki has plenty NOT going for it.

It is for a nebulous title called the ‘‘Championship’’, which is sort of a second division thing but not really because you get to play first division teams, and there is no promotion at stake as the integrity of the competition was wrecked by teams having to pull out.

It is being played under the shadow of a global pandemic that continues to affect pretty much everything about our lives.

And, it is being played somewhere called Inglewood, which I know nothing about except, thanks to Wikipedia, it was once home to metal toy maker Fun Ho! Toys, and the town ‘‘gained notoriety from a string of violent crimes which tend toward the gruesome, bizarre and barbaric’’.

But it’s still a final. And it’s still Otago.

It’s also a very good Otago team that, in a year when the NPC made sense, would be pushing for a top-four place in the top division.

I’m tipping Otago will tip up Taranaki, and while the prize of promotion has been taken away, victory will still carry some meaning.

The big question

Can the Black Ferns bounce back from what has been a dreadful tour?

It was good to talk to the great Farah Palmer this week (see Thursday’s ODT) to get her thoughts on three consecutive — and brutal — test losses in the north.

Farah, our former columnist, has such experience and mana that you know, while she has to tread a diplomatic line at times in her glass ceiling-breaking role as deputy chairwoman of New Zealand Rugby, she will cut to the chase.

Particularly notable were her comments about the Black Ferns’ efforts — and the reference to both playing better and being fitter — and also about the inevitability of the New Zealand women’s game turning fully professional.

At some stage, NZR has to take the plunge.

It can’t expect the Black Ferns to operate on the smell of an oily rag and still compete with the English women, in particular, who appear to have made astonishing strides thanks to being properly resourced.

You don’t want to wish for another Black Ferns hiding tomorrow morning, but it might help expose the issues that need to be addressed.

Spaniard Garbine Muguruza celebrates with the trophy after beating Estonian Anett Kontaveit to...
Spaniard Garbine Muguruza celebrates with the trophy after beating Estonian Anett Kontaveit to win the WTA Finals in Guadalajara, Mexico. PHOTO: REUTERS
I had a dream

If the All Blacks have to lose, all of us would rather it be to Ireland than to the Springboks, Wallabies or (ugh) England.

But is there not still something jarring about seeing three New Zealanders — two of whom have represented the Maori All Blacks — in the Irish backline?

Rules are rules, and James Lowe, Bundee Aki and Jamison Gibson-Park can’t be accused of not giving their all for their adopted country.

It just seems a bit off.

Lowe unintentionally highlighted the oddness of this sort of thing with two quotes that, well, don’t quite work together.

First quote: ‘‘Since I was a kid, I dreamt of being an All Black, man.’’

Naw, lovely.

Second quote: ‘‘Words can’t describe what it was like to hear my country’s national anthem and to stand in front of the haka. It’s a childhood dream.’’

Eh? Which dream was it?

From a distance

When the Wellington Phoenix — back in action tomorrow night — plays the Perth Glory in the A-League, they call it the Distance Derby.

To be fair, 5300km is a heck of a road trip. But it has nothing on poor AS Venus, the Tahitian club that this week faced a decent haul to compete in the French Cup, which features teams from some of France’s overseas territories.

The Coupe de Polynesie champion was drawn away to French fourth-tier side Trelissac.

That journey? Just 16,000km. One way.

AS Venus lost 2-0. But hopefully stopped for a good feed on the way home.

Truly bizarre

The National Rugby League does so many things so well, but this one utterly bewilders me.

It is the time of year when clubs are making offers to players coming off contract.

But, weirdly, they are players coming off contract at the end of NEXT year. So teams are signing players in November 2021 who will not appear in their jersey until about March 2023.

They say it’s something about making sure contract negotiations don’t linger and distract players or clubs during this season, but it just seems so strange.

What a contrast to American sport, where you can literally turn up to training, find out you’ve been traded, and be playing for your new team within days.

Cricket crisis

What a shocking week for English cricket following revelations about the racist treatment of Azeem Rafiq and others at Yorkshire.

The picture is of a young man broken by his treatment from some high-profile players, and of a system rife with bigotry.

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