THERE is no denying that Stuart Hogg’s fumble against Ireland last weekend was a shocker, but some of the reaction has been way over the top. Those calling for the full-back to be stripped of the captaincy, or indeed dropped from the Scotland team, seriously need to get some perspective.
The suggestion that Hogg has ceased to be a world-class player on the basis of that one inexplicable error is ludicrous. It was costly, but was not the difference between Scotland winning or losing the game, with some of the cheap penalties conceded far more damaging.
And trying to rationalise why it happened is a waste of time, because sometimes even the best of us have a moment where it just goes terribly wrong. The greatest thing about sport is its unpredictability. If every competitor performed at their very peak without any mistakes all of the time, then this glorious triviality would quickly become a very boring proposition indeed. Our gladiators are all the greater because they are fallible.
Here are 15 howlers from the the annals of top-level sport that bring to mind the words of the great Vince Lombardi: “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get back up.”
15. Chris Paterson – 10th September 2011 – Rugby World Cup
He scored 809 points in 109 matches for Scotland and was Mr Reliable for the national side over a 12-year period, but this conversion effort during a routine win over Romania in the group stage of the 2011 Rugby World Cup was not one for the highlights reel.
14. Lindsey Jacobellis – 17th February 2006 – Turin Winter Olympics
With a three-second lead in the Snowboard Cross Final during the 2006 Turin Olympics, favourite Jacobellis approached the penultimate jump but decided to add a little style by throwing in a method, a grab and one of the most basic snowboarding tricks. Upon landing, Jacobellis caught her heelside edge and fell down, which allowed Tanja Frieden to make up the significant gap and capture the gold medal. Jacobellis was forced to settle for silver.
13. David Beckham – 30th June 1998 – Football World Cup quarter-final
The Argentina-England rivalry had elevated the excitement surrounding the game to a feverish pitch, with England desperate to avenge the defeat of the 1986 World Cup. Although the game had several noteworthy events (including an astonishing goal by Michael Owen), it will always be remembered for Beckham’s sending-off. After being fouled by Diego Simeone, the England midfielder vented his frustration with a cheeky little flick of his right leg tripping over a backward-walking Diego Simeone.
The referee saw it as an unlawful act of petulance and showed Beckham the red card, leaving England a man down early in the second half. With the game locked at 2-2, England held on to draw but eventually lost the game on penalties.
Years of abuse would follow the incident. The press vilified Beckham and his effigies were burnt outside London pubs. The headline in The Daily Mirror the following day described the England team as: “10 Heroic Lions, One Stupid Boy”. Beckham was to be voted the 91st worst Briton in Channel Four’s poll of the 100 Worst Britons. He also reportedly received death threats and was taunted by a group of England supporters during a 3-2 defeat against Portugal in Euro 2000.
12. Joe Denly – 3rd March 2019 – New Zealand v England Test Series
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson, on 62 and attempting to save the Test, was fooled by a delivery from paceman Jofra Archer and pushed the ball gently in the air to the England player at a short mid-wicket. But Denly, who is usually an accomplished fielder, let it fall through his hands, also being unable to pouch it on the second attempt as it fell softly to the ground – initially horrifying and then amusing Archer and his team-mates.
11. Adama Toupalik – 31st January 2o16 – Under-23s Men’s Cyclocross World Championship
Czech cyclist Adama Toupalik was some distance ahead of the pack in the Under-23s Men’s Cyclocross World Championship final in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium. The 19-year-old rider accelerated hard out of what he thought was the final corner before straightening up and heading towards the start/finish line, then started show-boating before bringing his bike to a slow stop as he crossed the line, but he had miscalculated because there was still one lap to go.
“I was in some kind of trance at the finishing line,” said Toupalik. “It’s terrible because I know I could have won it and I’ve been waiting to win this race since I was a junior. I am an idiot – nothing more, nothing less. Everyone thinks it’s a big joke. I accept it. It was my mistake and these things happen sometimes.”
10. Roberto Baggio – 17th July 1994 – World Cup Final
Baggio was arguably the best football player on the planet in 1994, scoring five goals along the way as Italy strode through the knock-out stages to the World Cup Final, but he couldn’t break the deadlock against Brazil in the biggest game of all, and it finished 0-0 after extra time to go to a shoot-out. There was a grim sense of inevitability when the man who had lit up the tournament stepped forward to take the third of his team’s shots at goal, which needed to be scored to keep them in the contest, and sent it over the bar.
9. Doug Sanders – 12th July 1970 – The Open Championship
During the final round of play at St Andrews, Sanders saved par from the Road Hole bunker and led Jack Nicklaus by one heading to the 72nd hole. After a lengthy drive on the short Par 4, he took four shots from just 74 yards and missed a downhill putt for par from three feet to win.
8. Beauden Barrett – 2nd October 2019 – Rugby World Cup pool match
The All Blacks were 63-0 up in injury time of their World Cup pool match against Canada in Oita (Japan), when their star full-back darted through a yawning gap and into wide open space. He looked an absolute certainty to score, with not a soul nearby, when suddenly – and inexplicably – the ball slipped from his grasp about 10 yards from the line.
7. Mike Gatting – 12th February 1993 – India v England Test Series
While Mike Gatting’s insatiable appetite may be legendary, one thing he inexplicably failed to gobble up during England’s disastrous 1992-93 tour of India was perhaps the most simple chance in the history of Test cricket. When Ian Salisbury ripped one from the Chennai rough into the glove of Kiran More, the ball could not possibly have taken a slower, more gentle trajectory toward the welcoming hands of Gatting at silly point. Astonishingly, with umpire RS Rathore’s finger already raised, Gatting conspired to reject the gift and the ball laid to rest in front of a giggling Graeme Hick at slip.
6. Bernhard Langer – 29th September 1991 – The Ryder Cup
The War on the Shore more than lived up to its title, with a ferocious and often bitter contest between Europe and the USA unfolding in America’s Deep South. Coming to the 18th hole all-square against Hale Irwin in the final day’s singles matches at Kiawah Island, and needing a point to secure Europe the trophy, Langer was faced with a must-make six-footer. The German scouted out the turf, swished a confident practice stroke, and then shoved his shot wide.
5. Freddie Burns – 13th October 2018 – Heineken Champions Cup pool match
With Bath trailing by two points with seven minutes to play in their opening Champions Cup pool match, they were awarded a penalty in front of the posts, and Burns stepped up only to hit the post. Which was disappointing, but nothing compared to what followed, when a brilliant Semesa Rokoduguni break took Bath deep into the Toulouse 22, where Burns slashed through the fringes to the line. Euphoric at the apparent redemption, he went to touch down with one hand, celebrating with the other, only for Maxime Médard to nip in from behind and knock the ball out of his grasp.
The Rec was stunned. Burns was substituted a minute later. Bath never recovered and ended up third in their pool, a long way off making the knock-out stages.
4. Devon Loch – 24th March 1956 – The Grand National at Aintree
Owned by Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, and ridden by Dick Francis, Devon Loch went to the front of the race with three jumps remaining, was half a length ahead of E.S.B. as he cleared the last and kicked on into a commanding lead on the final stretch.
Then, in front of the royal box just 40 yards from the winning post and five lengths ahead, he suddenly jumped into the air and landed on his stomach, allowing E.S.B. to overtake and win. Although Francis tried to cajole the horse, it was unable to continue. Afterwards, the Queen Mother said: “Oh, that’s racing.”
It is not known why Devon Loch jumped. Some reports claimed he suffered a cramp in his hindquarters causing the collapse. Another report asserted that a shadow thrown by the adjacent water-jump fence (which horses only traverse on the first circuit of the Aintree course) may have baffled the horse into thinking a jump was required and – confused as to whether he should jump or not – he half-jumped and collapsed. Francis later suggested that a loud cheer from the crowd, for an expected royal winner, distracting the horse.
3. Don Fox – 11th May 1968 – Challenge Cup Final
The 1968 Challenge Cup final should probably never have been played, following a torrential downpour shortly before kick-off that left parts of the Wembley pitch under water. With 87,000 packed into the stadium, however, the decision was made to go ahead only for another storm mid-way through the match to make matters worse. That reduced the latter stages of what became known as “the Watersplash Final” to a farce.
Wakefield were trailing 11-7 to Leeds when in the final minute Fox kicked low into the sodden turf to restart the game after a Leeds penalty. Ken Hirst got to the loose ball first to hack it through the water twice and touch down under the sticks. With tries worth only three points at that time, the stage was set for the most famous moment in the game’s folklore.
Fox, already voted winner of the Lance Todd Trophy as man-of-the-match, merely needed to put over the simplest of kicks to win the Cup for Wakefield. On the saturated pitch, however, he lost his footing slightly in his run-up and skewed it wide, sinking to his knees in despair while Leeds celebrated an 11-10 victory which seemed to have got away from them, leaving legendary rugby league commentator Eddie Waring uttering the immortal words: “He’s a poor lad.”
2. Chris Iwelumo – 11th October 2008 – Football World Cup qualifier
George Burley’s side needed to beat Norway at Hampden to keep their dream of reaching the 2010 World Cup in South Africa alive, and it looked like they were on their way when Gary Naysmith was sent away down the left by Scott Brown, and his square ball to debutant Chris Iwelumo set up an easy tap-in.
But Iwelumo, who was in the form of his life for Wolves and up near the top of the English Championship scoring charts, somehow managed to miss the target.
Scotland ended up drawing the match 0-0 and after a miserable campaign which involved a 4-0 hammering in the return fixture against Norway, finished third in the group to seal another summer at home while 32 others partied in South Africa.
Iwelumo went on to win another three caps but never found the back of the net for his country.
1. Gavin Hastings – 26th October 1991 – Rugby World Cup semi-final
England had dominated from the off in Edinburgh, bullying their hosts up front and turning the screw through relentless dominations territory and possession, but despite being on the back foot Scotland wouldn’t go away, and it was 6-6 with 22 minutes left of the match.
Scotland finally got on the front foot with Gary Armstrong orchestrating as the home forwards rampaged into the opposition 22, leaving the desperately flailing English forwards feeling they had no option but to pile in from the side at a ruck in front of the posts in an attempt to stem the tide.
Scotland were awarded a penalty, almost slap-bang in front of the posts, and with the the old stadium reverberating to ‘Flower of Scotland’, home full-back Gavin Hastings – a bona fide Scottish legend – lined up the kick, and then pushed his effort to the right of the posts.
The wind was knocked right out of Scotland’s sails and when Rob Andrew, as cool as ever, slotted the winning drop goal ten minutes later, Scotland’s greatest opportunity to hit the jackpot on the world stage was gone.
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