When I was growing up, at around this time of year, I’d sneak out of bed and power up the TV. My chosen destination was BBC Two. I loved to watch a chap called Steve Davis, bent forward as he invariably was, over the green baized table of Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre. He was prolific at a game whose hypnotic clicking and hushed tones would pull me in like sporting amphetamine.
Victory was almost inevitable for Davis. He’d set about each frame with a surgeon’s temperament. Nothing ruffled him, and he’d march through tournaments with an unerring accuracy, until, late into the evening of the early May Bank Holiday Monday, he’d raise the famous trophy above his head. He won the world title in 1981, 1983, 1984, 1987, 1988 and 1989. In 1985 and 1986, he was the beaten finalist as Dennis Taylor and Joe Johnson won respectively. Between ’83 and ’89, he played thirty five consecutive snooker matches at the World Championships (of nineteen frames or more) and lost two of them.
The victories of Taylor and Johnson were remarkable, not just because of the black ball finish or their 150-1 nature, but because we felt that the seemingly inexorable had been snubbed: Davis’ religious onslaught had been repelled.
The Nugget, for that was Steve Davis’ nickname, was teased for being boring. “The Romford Robot” they gibed and “Steve ‘Interesting’ Davis” was sneered across snooker tables the nation’s length. He was used in TV commercials as the epitome of an ‘unexciting’ sportsman. He played along, he didn’t mind; perhaps he understood that genuine envy lay at the heart of it all.
We don’t really like sportsmen or teams that bring the inevitable. Think of Manchester United under Alex Ferguson, Floyd Mayweather Jr, Pete Sampras, Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor or the Australian cricket team of the 1990s. They act as the domineering critic to our romantic notion that sport can be won by anyone. Because of their unfaltering brilliance, theirs is the outcome we expect and subsequently, desperate for a different story, we roll our eyes as they tilt towards each title. We only like really good, unrelenting sporting entities when they relent.
Put into that ‘inevitable’ bracket Leicester Tigers. They stirred into life back in January and I wrote about their victory up at Sale in my very first article on this website. And at the Ricoh Arena against Wasps, on the penultimate weekend of the Aviva Premiership season, something unnervingly familiar took shape. Leicester Tigers and their ability to make a top four play off spot, year after year, came inevitably into view.
Wasps are quite a team. And at their new home in Coventry, not far from Leicester’s own stomping ground, they were making a push for the final four. For me, Wasps possess at least three men who should make the AP team of the season. In Elliot Daly, Joe Simpson and Nathan Hughes, they have panache, pace and power. Stir in some Andy Goode nous; a little Johnson & Haskell bash and bosh; Christian Wade’s ability to wiggle his way out of any defensive cul-de-sac; and you can see why many fancied them to be in the final reckoning.
But you can’t bet against the Tigers. Dogged and uncompromising, they plugged away all afternoon. Not even being down to fourteen men, after Seremaia Bai’s red card for his ludicrous head lunge on the prone Hughes, could waver their intent. They seemed destined to stay on course for a meaningful meeting next weekend with the champions elect. As the final whistle went, the emotion of the moment affected even the most hardy; Richard Cockerill’s hands went to his face. They stayed there for several moments, half in prayer, half in relief. The Leicester Tigers Director of Rugby had witnessed one of the performances of the season. Just when they needed it.
The Tigers haven’t been good all season, at times they’ve been poor. But the fact that they still have a chance of making the playoffs tells you everything you need to know. I’d love Exeter to pip them to the post. Not because I am a fan, but because the Devon outfit have an intrigue and enchantment about them that I feel deserves it. But it doesn’t. League tables never lie and the best four teams over twenty two rounds of remorseless rugby football will deserve it. And I can tell you now, through gritted teeth, one of those four will be Leicester Tigers. You can put your nugget on it.
Sam Roberts © 2015. (Text only). All Rights Reserved.