What was the greatest moment of Saturday night’s thrilling rugby test match where the Wallabies managed a tight victory over a magnificent French team? It’s hard to say. There were so many wonderful moments in a game that see-sawed from the first kick off. The most patriotically inclined might have experienced a moment of chicken-skin even prior to the kick-off as they watched the men in gold puffing out their chests and booming out the national anthem while standing arm-in-arm on the side-line. But not me. That’s not my schtick. Then came the footy. While the sending off of Koroibete, in the early minutes, could not be called a “greatest moment” it certainly raised the passions of all present (and all watching the game on television) to an unusual level. The rugby that followed the dismissal, though, served up an abundance of highlights that thrilled the fans of both teams.
Woki launched himself over the defenders
Was the greatest moment when Wallaby captain Hooper broke through the French back line and fired a pass back to scrum-half McDermott, (who was lurking on the inside), enabling the little bloke to scurry away and plant the ball next to the posts?
No? Perhaps the greatest moment was when Woki, the rangy French back rower took the pill from the back of a maul and, instead of trying to burrow through the Australian forwards (in the traditional manner), launched himself over the defenders (like an American football running back’s attack on the line of scrimmage) to plant the ball under the posts.
Maybe an even greater moment was the 95-metre effort by the French backline that involved a scrum, followed by a re-gathered chip kick, and several passes, to put Barassi over for another seven pointer!
As far as great moments are concerned, it’s pretty hard to beat the effort of Wallaby lock Swain who, after the final siren, shut down the French forwards’ final effort to steal the game back from the men in gold, by locking the ball into the maul and thus depriving the French of the opportunity to pick and drive their way to a late score.
Yup. They were all great moments. Any one of them worthy of the “greatest moment” tag. But for me, something stood out above all those pieces of football brilliance as the highlight of the evening. In the last ten minutes of the match Australia had yet another opportunity to grab the ascendancy when a line-out was called close to the French goal line. Here was a moment of pressure! The test match could well have been on the line. With Australia’s throw-in, the Wallabies had the opportunity to win the line-out, drive toward the French line and potentially score a try that would secure the match. The Australian hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa strolled over to the side-line in preparation for throwing the ball into the line-out. The stakes were high. They couldn’t be much higher. His throw had to be a good one. The noise from the forty thousand punters in the stadium kicked up another level. This could be the most important line-out throw in Paenga-Amosa’s career so far. It was certainly the most important line out of the game. His team had to win clean possession. His throw had to land perfectly into the hands of the nominated Wallaby jumper. A “not in straight” call from the referee could have been a career-endangering error for the young bloke.
Stay calm… take a deep breath
The television camera, just for a fraction of a second, caught the moment when Paenga-Amosa was approached by a ball boy who was going to put the Gilbert into the big bloke’s hands. Paenga-Amosa would have been in intense concentration at the time. Perhaps he was saying to himself, “only minutes to go… gotta get this right… calm… stay calm… take a deep breath… get the signal from the captain about who is my receiver… think through the movements of the players in the line-out… get my timing right… set my feet… get a good hold on the ball… focus on where the jumper will be.” I’ve got no idea what he was actually saying to himself but, at this moment of intense pressure, there would have been a lot of quiet planning going on.
Paenga-Amosa is no ordinary fella. He is a six-foot tall and one-hundred-and-eighteen-kilogram elite professional athlete who not only plies his trade all around the world but plays in the front row of a rugby scrum for his country. He is a giant of man. There are athletes who are well over seven foot tall in the American NBA who he could take apart using just one pinky-finger. He is a formidable human being.
What happened when the young ball boy approached Paenga-Amosa to hand him the ball? One of the toughest, strongest, and battle-hardened athletes you would find anywhere in the world reached out and took the ball… then placed his hand on the kid’s head and gave his hair a little ruffle. At this moment of most intense concentration the Australian hooker broke the fourth wall by welcoming a child outsider into the drama that was unfolding if only for a tiny fraction of a second.
A tiny moment of acknowledgement
For years I have watched tennis players, rugby players, soccer players and other professional athletes completely ignore the ball kids who are provided to assist them with the flow of their games by quickly and efficiently providing them with balls. We, the punters, don’t mind. We understand that they are pros and that they must concentrate on the match. A quick “thank you” or a pat on the back is just not necessary. It almost never happens. From time to time, when a funny incident happens to a ball girl or ball boy on the court, a tennis player may ham it up by engaging in a bit of by-play with the child but, given the rounds of applause that such interactions engender, it’s easy to conclude that the by-play is as much a PR exercise as it is an act of showing gratitude to the kid. Maybe that’s a bit cynical. But what Paenga-Amosa did was something quite different. It lasted for a fraction of a second. It probably went unnoticed by the tens of thousands at the stadium and the millions who were watching the game at home. There was no applause. No hamming it up. Just a tiny moment of acknowledgement. The great god stepped down from Mt Olympus and showed that he, just like the ball boy, was human.
Amidst all the hype, the excitement, the tension, the pressure, the brilliance of the play, the chest-thumping patriotism, the flag-waving, the passion, the doing it for their country, the courage, the noise, and the ecstasy this moment stood out for me above all the others. This moment was none of those things. It was a tiny silent moment within all the noise. A moment of kindness. I will remember it longer than the memory of Barassi’s try.