Reason: There is much to savour from defeat

MARK REASON
Last updated 05:00 06/08/2014
Richie McCaw
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GUTTED: Richie McCaw reacts after giving away a crucial penalty late in the Super Rugby final loss to the Waratahs. Former test referee Jonathan Kaplan says the All Black skipper was unlucky to be pinged.

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OPINION: Martin Crowe on 299, the Anglo-Kiwi Bernard Freyberg falling 500 yards short of swimming the channel, golfer Roberto de Vicenzo at the Masters signing for the wrong score and declaring ''what a stupid I am.''

Sometimes in sport failure can be more glorious than success. Sometimes in sport defeat can be more glorious than victory.

Right now, just a few days after the Super 15 final, Richie McCaw and the Crusaders will be chewing on the cold gristle of what-might-have-been.

Every sportsman, even Don Bradman, remembered for the glorious failure of that final test innings, carry a head full of if-onlies to their grave.

But if the Crusaders have poetry in their soul, in the years to come they will look back on Saturday night's Superb 15 final with a fondness. They were part of a great match. Their comeback was heroic.

Memories of 2011, the Crusaders were a band of brothers.

On Sunday afternoon I found myself at a poetry reading, as you do.

Harry Ricketts, cricket nut and teacher of English at Wellington's Victoria University, was holding a bard-room meeting in a cafe in Carterton.

Words hummed across the atmosphere as Harry uncoiled his expressive fingers like smoke from a pipe.

The espresso machine clattered and hissed in protest at these archaic sounds taking up its space.

And then this .....

 

Why this obsession with success

which brings so brief a glow?

Fading already: won; done it;

 

gone. Afterwards, what then? What next?

With failure, there's so much

more to savour, so much more to feel.

 

Like a loose tooth, you can jiggle

it any time you like;

the true friend you can never brush off.

 

How long will Richie jiggle at that loose tooth? How long will Richie regret competing at that temptress ruck? How long will he regret conceding the fatal penalty?

A month, a year. More likely a lifetime.

You have to move on, they tell us, but do you think Crowe has moved on from the airy shot he played on 299? Or Doug Sanders from the tiny putt he foozled to blow the 1970 Open.

McCaw said afterwards, ''I guess when you roll the dice that is what can happen. It's pretty gutting really. Yeah, 50-50, but in those moments, I probably should have known better really.

''Perhaps I opened the door for the ref to make a decision and whether you agree or disagree that's the way it was and unfortunately he kicked the goal. I'm pretty annoyed but I can't do much about it now.''

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Nor will McCaw be able to do much about it next week or next month or next year. It will be with him, now and for always, just like the penalty he conceded in the final minutes against the Reds in 2011.

That cost the Crusaders victory in Brisbane and probably top spot on the table, the key to finals success.

Great players live on the edge. McCaw wins more often than he loses, a lot more often.

Maybe that's why the losses hurt so much. But he knows better than to blame the ref. The whole of New Zealand should.

The Waratahs, if they had lost, would have pointed to Nadolo's foot in touch, a seven-point reverse.

They would have questioned the offside decision that put the Crusaders ahead, the Tahs defence moving early because Sam Whitelock had his big hams on the ball.

They would have questioned the scrummage penalties when, after a half of parity, Wyatt Crockett and McCaw packed in on the angle.

The Waratahs won because they earned home advantage over the regular season. With that home advantage comes certain privileges.

One of those privileges is that refs tend to give the home side the benefit of the doubt in the closing minutes. With most of the 61,000 people screaming blue murder, do you think Craig Joubert could stay above it all?

He is only human.

That is why home advantage is so important in the play-offs. That is why Richie knows in his heart that he should never have given the ref the opportunity.

That is why the Crusaders had to hang on to the ball instead of kicking it away, another example of the questionable tactic of subbing halfbacks for the final ten minutes.

The All Blacks wanted Andy Ellis on for the final 20 minutes of the World Cup final because he is so good at managing refs.

Would Joubert have given that penalty with Ellis in his ear?

We shall never know, but he certainly wasn't going to give France a penalty in the final 15 minutes of the World Cup final. Home advantage again.

But how much would that World Cup final have meant without the empty years from 1991-2007. When the Crusaders next win the final it will be all the sweeter for these years of failure.

It could so easily have gone the other way.

When Bernard Foley lined up the kick, did anyone else's mind go back to a man called Scott Norwood. He was the kicker who missed, from a very similar distance, the kick to win Super Bowl XXV.

The Buffalo Bills went on to lose four consecutive Super Bowls. They are still searching.

''There's no success like failure and failure's no success at all.''

Poor Norwood could have those words inscribed on his headstone.

Richie has tasted both.

One is so much sweeter, but you never quite stop jiggling that loose tooth.

- Stuff

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