The Last Word: March 19

Tommy Fleetwood, of England, plays his shot during The Players Championship. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES
Tommy Fleetwood, of England, plays his shot during The Players Championship. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES
The United States celebrates after being awarded the ice hockey gold medal at the Beijing Winter...
The United States celebrates after being awarded the ice hockey gold medal at the Beijing Winter Paralympics.
Carlos Sainz, of Spain, takes part in testing at the Bahrain International Circuit earlier this week
Carlos Sainz, of Spain, takes part in testing at the Bahrain International Circuit earlier this week
Brenna Huckaby, of the US, and Lisa Bunschoten, of the Netherlands, crash into each other during...
Brenna Huckaby, of the US, and Lisa Bunschoten, of the Netherlands, crash into each other during the final of the women’s snowboard cross SB-LL2 at the Winter Games.
Jingyi Liang, of China, takes the fastest way down the hill during the men’s Para Super Combined...
Jingyi Liang, of China, takes the fastest way down the hill during the men’s Para Super Combined Super-G at the Winter Paralympics.

Welcome back

Hayden Meikle
Hayden Meikle

Sorry for not giving The Last Word readers notice the column was taking a two-week (three-week?) break.

There has been lots happening, from Paralympics to racing to in-depth yarns focusing on Otago rugby’s brush with bankruptcy in 2012, and the Saturday meanderings had to give way.

Not-so-Super Rugby

Where to start with the disappointing, but not surprising, state of the country’s premier sporting competition?

It is sometimes hard to be sympathetic for professional rugby organisations, as they aren’t always particularly open and they have generally occupied a position of privilege that has led to arrogance or complacency.

PhotoL Getty Images
PhotoL Getty Images
But you can’t not feel sad about where the inaugural season of Super Rugby Pacific is heading.

There was genuine excitement when it started. Finally, the format was back to something sensible. The introduction of the two new Pacific Island-based teams was an objectively good thing. And while the South Africans added plenty to the competition over the years, the removal of the crazy travel and time zone was such a relief.

Now here we are.

Old mate Omicron is cutting a swathe through the New Zealand teams, forcing the schedule to be shifted constantly and creating a terrible backlog. We’re stuck with a lopsided draw with the Australian teams playing each other and not — sorry, but it is true right now — having to play against the best teams. Our franchises are bleeding money because they’re not allowed fans through the gate. And public interest appears to be plummeting.

Poor old Moana Pasifika has played one game in five weeks.

As for the Highlanders, well, they really needed to be on the park this weekend, given their 0-4 start.

I don’t think they are a bad team at all, but they must find a way to (a) bounce back from Covid, and (b) score some bloody tries.

It is impossible to predict exactly where things go from here. But it sure is shaping like the inaugural season of Super Rugby Pacific is going to be a write-off.

Aupiki impressions

It would be far too easy to moan about the other inaugural Super Rugby season, the women’s competition.

Aupiki is barely a season — it has been crammed into a 10-day, final-less quickfire festival — and both the skill levels and overall fitness (completely understandably) have been somewhat lacking.

But let’s look at the positives.

It’s here. It’s a start. Women’s rugby is in primetime. There is real talent there, not to mention engaging characters. Our girls and young women can see some of their heroes and dream of getting this opportunity.

I always felt the promoters of Aupiki got a little carried away, laying on the cultural significance and emotion way too thickly.

This is a sports event, one that has real potential, but needs to walk before it runs.

Hopefully, with a subsiding pandemic and more New Zealand Rugby attention and investment, it takes off in 2023.

Cam the man

Yes, the coolest sports star in the world right now is Cameron Smith.

The Australian golfer claimed the biggest purse in PGA Tour history, $US3.6million ($NZ5.2million), when the won The Players Championship, or what they call "the unofficial fifth major".

Smith has been around a while — he is 28, has won five PGA Tour events, and is up to No6 in the world rankings — but this win has really put his name on the lips of every golf fan.

He is also such an interesting character, looking more like an INXS roadie from the 1980s with his mullet and moustache than a cookie-cutter golf pro.

Smith seems humble, just a bloke from Brisbane who enjoys bashing a golf ball.

There was a lovely yarn from Ben Everill on the PGA Tour website that explored the appeal of Smith, and his relationship with best friend Jack Wilkocz, who moved from Australia to the US to help Smith combat homesickness.

"There is no official title for big Jack, but he is the jack of all trades for Smith. He takes swing videos for the golfer’s Australia-based coach. He ties down loose palm trees in the backyard during a windstorm. He is always ready for a beer, a fishing trip, or to kick a footy around. The one thing he isn’t: a yes man.

"They are, to use an Aussie term, a pair of fun-loving bogans. The word can be construed a few ways, but in this case it’s akin to lovable rascals. They are unconventional, a little uncouth at times, salt-of-the-earth, and very funny."

Golf (all sport) needs more people like Cameron Smith.

Sign of the apocalypse

No, I haven’t become a Crusaders fan. Nor do I believe there is a lot to like about how the Manchester City and Chelsea football clubs go about their business.

But Netflix hit Drive To Survive has finally got me into Formula 1. Gulp.

I still can’t get excited about engines, or the rules, or even a lot of the actual racing. But the politics, the conflict, the drama ... sign me up.

Which team and/or driver shall I support? More on that next week.

You must be joking

Tom Brady coming out of retirement after six weeks? Save me.

Bet the bloke who paid $US500,000 for his last touchdown ball is a little grumpy.

hayden.meikle@odt.co.nz

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