The Two Longest 30 Seconds in History.

by Anton Wills-Eve

On Saturday I settled down to watch England play New Zealand in the semi-final of the world rugby league cup. Most of the crowd at Wembley stadium in London, and in front of their television sets, expected England to lose. But no one expected the feast of superb rugby league football that both teams served up for the whole match. England eight points to nil up and everyone wondering if the miracle was possible. A New Zealand converted try and a penalty goal before half time saw the teams take a 15 minute break level at eight all. The the second half got even better. The New Zealanders gradually got stronger and with some twelve minutes to go were ahead, but incredibly England pulled it back and going into the last ten minutes were 18-14 in front. Could they hold on? Both sides literally battered each other from one end of the field to the other until, with 31 seconds to go on the clock, England gave away a stupid penalty. The Kiwis threw everything into a final attack, the clock passed 80 minutes and the hooter went for full time, but the ball was still live and the play had to be finished. And how . A try for New Zealand in the last move of the game and it was 18-18. But the conversion kick still had to be taken. As English hearts sank miles below the Wembley turf the ball rose high and true between the posts and New Zealand had won the greatest contest between the countries anybody present could remember. A game like that would never be seen again. Or would it? If you had tuned in to your television on Sunday afternoon to watch Ireland take on New Zealand in the rugby union international in Dublin, you would presumably have done so because you liked your rugby and wanted to see how many points the All blacks were going to score in thrashing the Irish. Well Ireland had never beaten New Zealand at rugby union, ever, and nobody was expecting it yesterday. But sport is not the opiate of the people for nothing. It is because it is the only thing in life which produces miracles so often. After only 20 minutes of the game the Irish were leading by 19-0. No team had ever led New Zealand by that margin in the history of the sport. And at half time Ireland were 22-7 ahead. But, for those of you who don’t know what happened in the second half I shall put you out of your misery. The All Blacks slowly ground the Irish down, but the green army was not going to surrender. They gave away a couple of silly penalties and were still hanging on by 22-17 as the last five minutes were reached. Every Irishman was on his feet as the clock ticked away. Yes you’ve guessed it. Just 29 second to play when the New Zealanders made one last push. They kept the ball in alive and in play well past the full time 80 minute mark and referee Nigel Owens of Wales needed eyes in both sides off his head as well as the front and back to make sure no infringements occurred which would have signalled the end of the game. That 30 seconds lasted three and a half minutes before the All Blacks somehow managed to cross the try line for a five point score and tie the match. BUT, and this really must be a unique coincidence in sporting history, because the conversion kick was yet to come. The New Zealand kicker seemed to take an age lining up the ball and finally ran up and smacked it high  and handsome but wide. The game was a draw! Or was it? Not for hawk-eyed Nigel it wasn’t. He noticed that several Irish players had started to charge down the ball fractionally before the kicker started his run up to kick it and so signalled to both captains that the kick had to be taken again. This time, of course, the ball went straight between the posts and New Zealand had turned a defeat into a draw and then a win all in the longest 30 seconds of rugby I have ever seen. But isn’t it nice to be able to enjoy drama of the level of these two games and, even in your disappointment, still be able to enjoy such soul stirring competition. I am often asked which code of rugby I prefer, the 13-a-side league version of Saturday or the 15-a-side union version of Sunday and I have to say that after this weekend there is absolutely nothing to choose between them when played at their very best. My only regret is the certainty that I shall never see two such games, played within the space of twenty four hours, again. Or will I?