Updated: Friday, 15th February 2019 @ 12:37pm

Comment: Electric Rugby World Cup start and Brendon McCullum the hero to Diego Costa's villain

Comment: Electric Rugby World Cup start and Brendon McCullum the hero to Diego Costa's villain

| By Andy Donley

On a weekend crammed full of memorable sporting occasions, football let itself down once again.

Legends have been born on the back of Georgia and Japan’s Rugby World Cup exploits, the Murray brothers dragged England into the final of the Davis Cup for the first time since 1978 and Gloucestershire overcame Surrey in a tense Royal London One-Day Cup final.

Yet in football’s flagship fixture of the weekend, Diego Costa’s unpleasant petulance and referee Mike Dean’s lack of common sense ruined what could have been a classic instalment in the Chelsea/Arsenal rivalry.

That it is no surprise that Costa orchestrated Gabriel’s dismissal from start to finish is no excuse.

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho lauded the Brazilian’s fighting spirit, and whilst it is true that football lacks characters, it is surely preferable that these multi-millionaire role models are boring rather than repugnant.

Everything about Costa’s personality is offensive.

There is a place for aggression in every sport, and some of football’s finest figureheads have relished the physical battles.

But Costa’s schoolyard posturing, sneaky belligerence and total lack of respect for his opposition has no place in what was once a proud sport.

Twice the Spanish international (an indicator of his moral character after he switched allegiance from his nation of birth after being snubbed) pleaded with Dean to book Arsenal players – once when tripped by Francis Coquelin, and then successfully to secure the dismissal of his countryman, Gabriel.

If football was interested in establishing respect, that should have been enough for his dismissal alone, regardless of the pushes and slaps he directed at Laurent Koscielny, prompting the scuffle which preceded the red card.

Costa is not strong, or brave, or admirable.

He is a calculated provocateur, whose behaviour on a football pitch makes it an unsavoury sport to watch.

Add to that the exorbitant match-day prices, ludicrous wages and the largely sterile, passionless individuals who collect them, and football is a sport that risks alienating the fans that make it great.

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Ironically, whilst Costa was busy showing the world the extent of his depressing gamesmanship, Brendon McCullum, the epitome of modern sportsmanship, was being recognised at Lords cricket ground.

The admirable Kiwi captain was awarded the inaugural Christopher Martin-Jenkins Spirit of Cricket award, after winning the hearts and minds of the British public when his New Zealand side faced off against England at the beginning of the summer.

With the Australians – famed for their tough approach and razor-sharp sledging – due later in the year, an antagonistic summer was predicted by some.

But McCullum’s men had such a remarkable influence on England’s promising young charges that it was not until early September that a cross word was swapped, when one-day captain Eoin Morgan disagreed with Aussie captain Steve Smith over Ben Stokes’ controversial ‘obstruction’ dismissal.

Even then, McCullum’s influence was referenced, and the man himself wrote in the Daily Mail that if he had been captain, Stokes would have remained at the crease.

Commerce exacts an ever-increasing influence over sport and individual athletes.

As such, it is fantastic to see that being a principled person is still appreciated by some.

Long may it continue.

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England’s first steps in the Rugby World Cup may have been tentative, but the tournament itself has began with a bang.

RWC officials would have been rubbing their hands with glee after Georgia defied the odds to triumph against Tonga.

And when Japan ludicrously scored an 84th minute winner against the mighty South Africa, it is likely that they could hardly believe their luck.

As for all of rugby’s admirable qualities, the disparity between the elite nations and those struggling to establish themselves can be chasm-like, and one-sided matches do not necessarily make exciting viewing.

No one is in any doubt that the clashes between the top sides are going to be thrilling spectacles, but minnows like Japan and Georgia writing headlines is gold-dust to those responsible for the legacy of the competition.

Even in England’s curtain-raiser, Fiji ensured that the hosts would not be afforded a comfortable acclimatiser.

There was certainly cause for hope for the home nation though.

A bonus-point earning four tries were scored despite England struggling to match Fiji’s ferocity at the breakdown, and bench-warming beefcakes such as Billy Vunipola and Slammin’ Sam Burgess impressed mightily in the final quarter.

There is no doubt that England will have to play better than that if they are to ensure that the Webb Ellis trophy remains on these shores after the tournament’s denouement.

But Chris Robshaw and his men will know that whilst they remain in the tournament, theirs is the fixture others will fear most, if only to avoid that partisan roar of the Twickenham faithful.

Follow Andy on Twitter here.

Image courtesy of Ben Sutherland, via Flickr, with thanks.