Underdogs slaying the Dragon recalls greatest victory in history — Charles Gardner

Italy’s Edoardo Padovani dives in to score in the last minute, clinching a 22-21 victory against Wales (PHOTO: planetrugby.com)

As a former sports editor, I’m sure you won’t mind if I indulge in a bit of rugby banter. In the midst of so much misery in our troubled world, the Italians gave us something to cheer about with their historic victory at one of the ‘holy sites’ of the game.

If you’re not into sport, stay with me because there is a spiritual lesson here. For just when there was a rising chorus of demands that Italy be relegated from the Six Nations spectacle, having gone 36 games (and five years) without a win, they played out of their skin in slaying the Welsh Dragon – snatching a 22-21 win from the jaws of defeat with a last-minute seven-pointer.

They were always in the contest, and in the lead for much of the game, but when the home team took a six-point lead with just over ten minutes to go, it looked all over bar the shouting for the crestfallen minnows.

The commentators had even awarded their man of the match to Welsh player Josh Adams, who had scored what they assumed to be the winning try. Talk about counting your chickens.

The minutes ticked away and then, seemingly out of nowhere, Italy’s 22-year-old full-back Ange Capuozzo got hold of the ball and ran virtually the full length of the pitch, skilfully side-stepping his way past a host of defenders, before passing to his team-mate to score under the posts and ensure the seven points they needed!

“You’d have thought we’d won the World Cup,” said a delighted Italian coach Kieran Crowley. The post-match party planned to celebrate Dan Biggar’s 100th Welsh cap and the 150th for Alun Wyn Jones was quickly abandoned – and it was left for the Italians to do the dancing. I must say I was pretty excited myself.

I often support Wales, but also love to back the underdogs and have been willing on this team, mostly in vain, since they joined the competition. And my Aussie son-in-law is half-Italian!

It turned out to be the most exciting match I have watched – even beating the two World Cup finals involving England. I have discovered that you need to take sides before kick-off to get the most out of the armchair experience.

But what I found so shocking, reading the Sunday paper next day, was that the Italians hardly got top billing. The report on their extraordinary efforts was buried on an inside page, and was more of a post-mortem on the shabby Welsh performance than exulting on the sizzling display of the boys in blue.
Isn’t that just like the gospel? When all around is sinking sand, with death and disease, murder and mayhem stalking our streets and cities, the good news of Jesus too often gets tucked away (by the media and others) where few can witness its power to turn defeat into victory for countless people around the world.

The Gospel has this habit of coming from behind, when all seems lost, and scoring stunning tries and conversions which change the lives of communities forever.

I think of the Gas Street Church in Birmingham (featured on BBC1’s Songs of Praise last Sunday) which began with 40 people just six years ago and now has an attendance of over a thousand. The Gospel is exemplified by the boy David killing the giant Goliath with a single pebble from his sling. The least of us can make an impact on a cruel world, bringing down armies of oppressors through God-given resolve – “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord” — Zech 4:6.

God is not interested in how mighty we are; he rewards and honours those who trust in his might! As Mary, the mother of Jesus, put it: “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” — Luke 1:52

Modern Israel, still God’s chosen people, have had a run of against-all-odds victories over their foes which defy rational explanation. Ukraine has clearly been experiencing miraculous intervention in their resistance against the Russian invaders. Yes, God is on their side if for no other reason than that he hates oppressors.

I was sorry to read about Welsh captain Biggar storming off at full-time, hurling his boots to the floor in frustration, which had echoes of England’s 2019 World Cup final defeat by South Africa in Japan when team members petulantly removed their runners-up medals from around their necks.

But there was a bright spark to this otherwise damp squib finale for the reigning champions, with Josh Adams graciously handing over his man of the match medal to Italy’s Ange Capuozzo.

Nevertheless, as Wales head coach Wayne Pivac said: “It’s a bitter pill to swallow.” But let’s get things in perspective. There’s coming a day when we will all have to face the bitter pill of the final whistle on our earthly lives, which thousands in war-torn Ukraine are having to face all too prematurely.

It comes to us all in the end for, with all his apparent genius, man has not been able to conquer death. But there is One who has – and his name is Jesus. All who trust in him will be safely guided over this great barrier to an eternal life of indescribable joy and peace.

We may have little strength and skill but, with Jesus as our captain, we will forever be on the winning side, even if despised and rejected for a time, as our Saviour was.

Writing of the hope we offer a world facing the ever-present reality of death, Barnabas Fund international director Dr Patrick Sookhdeo also reminds us of Jesus’ victory, quoting the words of Robert Lowry’s Easter hymn: “Up from the grave he arose, with a mighty triumph o’er his foes…”1

1Barnabasaid, March/April 2022

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