By: Nigel Yalden | Saturday, October 20, 2012 9:00 AM
All sports would benefit hugely from having a person of Nathan Sharpe’s calibre involved in it.
The 34-year-old from Wagga Wagga will captain Australia in his final rugby test on home soil tonight, leading the undermanned Wallabies against a red hot All Blacks in Brisbane.
Up until a couple of weeks ago, it was going to be his final test ever.
But with the Wallabies’ injury toll rising on a somewhat disturbing weekly basis, the request was made for Sharpe to extend his international career and lead the Wallabies on their end of year Northern Hemisphere tour.
The response was never in doubt.
Nathan Sharpe is one of the proudest Australian athletes I’ve come across in my short time doing this job and there was no possible way that he would have chosen to walk away, having represented his country in 111 test matches to date, at such a crucial and challenging time.
All Black skipper Richie McCaw made a telling reference to Sharpe last month in Argentina.
During McCaw’s traditional Friday press conference in Buenos Aires, talk swerved from the impending clash with Los Pumas in 24 hours’ time to the comments of a “toxic environment” inside the Australian camp that had been made by disgruntled Wallabies first five Quade Cooper.
McCaw said “guys like Nathan Sharpe, they are good rugby men, they are proud men and they will be doing everything to make sure their environment works.”
It may not seem like much, but McCaw could have easily just said “senior players” or “the leadership group”.
That fact that McCaw used Sharpe’s name specifically, even if it was subconsciously (which I doubt), shows the respect that he is held in.
You can see that at the conclusion of every game he plays in the way he acknowledges his opposition as he shakes their hands and the way the sentiments are reciprocated by his opponents as they shake his hand in return.
Nathan Sharpe probably won’t be remembered as one of the most talented lock forwards ever to play the game of rugby union.
Others were better in the air, some scrummed better and many were better all-round athletes.
But what Nathan Sharpe does, better than 99 percent of the rest, is wring every possible bit of available energy, concentration and courage out of his two metre, 115 kilogram frame and use it all for the betterment of his team.
Plain and simple: you never, ever see Nathan Sharpe shirking his responsibilities.
He calls himself in the lineouts, hits rucks and mauls and has become a more than useful ball carrier, showing the ability to mould himself to the requirements of an every evolving game.
Off the field, and I can only speak from a media point of view, he is fantastic.
Ask a question and you’ll get a very direct, well thought out, honest answer in reply.
If his team played great, Nathan Sharpe will be the first to tell you.
If his team played poorly, Sharpe is at the front of that queue as well.
His ability to analyse a game in a snap shot post match interview is second to none and make life for a side line reporter a breeze.
As stated earlier, Nathan Sharpe probably won’t be remembered as one of the most talented lock forwards ever to play the game of rugby union.
But he most definitely will be remembered as one of the best in the professional era for the way he represented the game and everything that is good about it throughout his outstanding career.
** As published in the Waikato Times on Saturday 20 October 2012 **