Israel Dagg’s mesmeric run and one-handed offload in the World Cup semi-final last Sunday was a stunning piece of sporting skill. So good in fact, that it possibly hasn’t been bettered this year. Dagg attacked the defensive line, dummied and exploded through a hole in the Australian defence with blistering speed. Hauled down at the last, he still managed to extend his arm and offload the ball perfectly into Ma’a Nonu’s stride for the only try of the match.
The combination of grace, power and thrilling verve elevate this instance to an immortal plane. The coup de grace for Dagg’s moment of magic was the stage on which it was performed; a New Zealand versus Australia World Cup semi-final at Eden Park is almost as titanic as sporting events come.
So, what of the other contenders for the greatest single piece of sporting skill this year? Andy Schleck’s assault on Serre Chevalier in Le Tour De France was more an immense feat of human endeavour and courage than a moment of genius. Novak Djokovic’s ascent to the summit of men’s tennis has been littered with brutal yet beautiful moments; however, they have all converged as a great mural rather than a stand-alone masterpiece. Similarly, Rory McIlroy’s destruction of the US Open’s entire ideal mirrored Djokovic’s entire year in that regard.
Ironically a genuine contender comes from a sport that struggles to be recognised as that. Adrian Lewis charged to his first darts World Championship on the back of a 9-dart leg in the opening set. Quantifiably impeccable and executed on the most important night in the sport this is an underappreciated gem of 2011.
However, ultimately, the only comparable piece of skill came from an incomparable sportsman: Lionel Messi. On a similar stage to Dagg (Champions League Semi-final), against a similarly despised enemy (Real Madrid), Messi’s already epic performance came to a deafening crescendo. Gliding across the turf, leaving a trail of Madrid defenders strewn in his wake, bewildering the world’s best goalkeeper with a deft finish, Messi’s elegance and complete mastery of the beautiful game was encapsulated in seven magnificent touches.
Like Messi, Dagg needed roughly five seconds to transcend his sport and produce a moment that ought to reverberate in sporting history. Messi is already a sporting legend; Dagg is on the fast-track to attaining this status. Both produced moments of supreme sporting artistry, fitting for the eternal tapestry of sporting brilliance. Such moments are rare and should be appreciated all the more when they occur. Appropriate too that they occurred in such hallowed and mythical jerseys; the All Black of New Zealand and the blaugrana of Barcelona.
The majority of observers would probably vote for Messi’s run and finish in a hypothetical poll of the two pieces of skill, especially as he scored the goal himself. However, the completion of a sporting talent from potential into finished product – much like Usain Bolt in Beijing – is possibly the most exciting epiphany one can witness. The breathtaking gasp when Bolt’s 100m time flashed up on screen in 2008 was matched last Sunday as the youthful Dagg brazenly waltzed around Matilda and into a pantheon of sporting genius that few ever reach.