"If you can deal with triumph and disaster …"

My title comes, of course, from Kipling’s “If”; the poem that for many years was voted the UK’s favourite. The rugby players of Wales & Ireland were put to that test on Saturday, after they had played out the final stage in the Six Nations tournament. In the event Ireland won, though they might have lost in the final 30 seconds had not a Wales penalty goal attempt fallen 61 inches short. “Who measured that?” I thought, on reading it in my paper. Then I remembered that by winning, Ireland had achieved the coveted “Grand Slam”, which had eluded them for 61 years, so this was a forgivable bit of poetic licence. Whether it was 61 inches or 62, it was a damn close-run thing. So the reactions of the players when interviewed after the game were a test of character, which I am glad to say they passed.

Normally I can do without the interviews of the players. They have done their talking on the pitch; it’s a rare sportsperson who can offer an instructive insight after the game; especially just a few minutes after having played 80 minutes of top-class sport. I’d rather hear the views of the studio panel of top-class and well-paid summarisers that the BBC has assembled to give an overview. But first we always have to endure ten minutes of banal questions followed by mostly (sorry, guys) anodyne replies.

I say normally … but on this occasion the players’ responses were instructive and I think they passed with flying colours. I didn’t hear all the interviews but in those I heard the Irish were gracious in victory and the Welsh gracious in defeat; both gave credit to their opponents, following traditions which I had feared had been outdated.

But my all-time favourite for grace in defeat, or at least getting a sense of proportion? Boris Becker, after winning Wimbledon in 1985 (at 17 years old, and the first unseeded player ever to do so) and winning again the following year, was then beaten in the second round in ‘87. Replying to the inevitable overblown shock-horror questions at the post-match interview, he said simply: “I lost a game of tennis; nobody died.”