With sport, and life in general, having faced utter disruption back in 2020, this past year marked a return to something that thankfully resembled normality. As everyone watched on, whether it was from packed out stands, lively pubs, or simply in the comfort of their own home, Varsity reflects on some of the best sporting moments that 2021 had to offer.

England defeat South Africa 27-26 in Autumn Nations Series - Joseph Hill (Staff Writer)

England’s display in this year’s Six Nations was nothing short of dire, losing to Scotland, Ireland, and Wales on the way to a fifth-place finish, just above perennial strugglers Italy. Despite a convincing victory over Tonga, and a hard-fought win over Australia in their first two Autumn Internationals, a visit from the South Africans in November seemed a tall order for a new-look England side.

Two years on from a crushing 32-12 defeat in the World Cup final in Yokohama, Marcus Smith delivered an imperious performance with the boot to ensure a gritty, hard-fought victory at Twickenham. Smith had already been a particularly bright spark in Eddie Jones’ rejuvenated England side, playing with confidence far beyond his 22 years of age. Full-back Freddie Steward, himself only 21, looked a remarkable talent, his skill under the high ball proving a valuable asset against the aerial onslaught directed by Handre Pollard.

“An astounding trilogy between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder must earn its place as one of the memorable moments of 2021, for it was nothing more than history in the making”

Other emerging talents include prolific try-scoring hooker Jamie Blamire, scrum-half Raffi Quirke, and number-eight Alex Dombrandt. Eddie Jones has managed to combine the introduction of youth with an experienced core, with fixtures of recent England sides remaining in the setup. The brilliance of players like Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell, and Courtney Lawes has not waned since that defeat in Japan and, together with Jones’ faith in players like Smith and Steward, proves an exciting prospect for next year’s Six Nations, as well as the World Cup in 2023. Smith’s last minute penalty to seal a famous victory and avenge the events of 2019 signals a new era for English rugby, one that he himself has a large part to play in.

Fury knockout ends Wilder trilogy with victory - Zakariyya Ali (Staff Writer)

When speaking of heavyweight giants, Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, and Lennox Lewis are usually just a few names amongst many that come to mind. Indeed, the sport of boxing has undoubtedly produced some of both the greatest athletes and sporting moments of all time. And yet, the conclusive fight of what has become an astounding trilogy between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder must earn its place as one of the memorable moments of 2021, for it was nothing more than history in the making.

With the first bout between the two ending in a draw and the second granting Fury a victory through a seventh-round TKO despite being knocked down twice, a third fight was on the cards the very moment Wilder, determined to snatch the heavyweight championship from the ‘Gypsy King’, activated a pre-negotiated rematch clause. Intense from the moment the first bell rang, Fury vs. Wilder III saw the undefeated British heavyweight come up against the most difficult test of his career, with Wilder earning two early knockdowns in the fourth round.

“The list of superlatives to describe Raducanu’s win, which she achieved just weeks after getting her A-Level results, is inexhaustible”

However, an underwhelming set of opening exchanges did little to shake the unrelenting confidence of Fury, who pleased both the judges and the crowd with a successive bout of cleaner jabs and a close-call knockdown in round ten, which an exhausted Wilder somehow managed to recover from. But it was not until the penultimate round when Fury was able to deliver a jaw-dropping right hand that sent Wilder back onto the canvas for the final time before the referee called off the fight, subsequently crowning the British heavyweight with a win and thus retaining his pair of titles, while also cementing his place as one of the greatest boxers of all time.

Emma Raducanu’s ‘Fairytale of New York’ - Tom Bullivant (Deputy Sports Editor)

With Andy Murray taking a back seat in recent years, this summer Britain needed a tennis star to get behind. Enter 18-year-old Emma Raducanu, world number 338 and Wimbledon wildcard. Raducanu had already captured hearts on home soil when she defeated the odds to reach the fourth round of Wimbledon, becoming the youngest British woman to do so in the Open Era, where she was then forced to retire after suffering breathing difficulties and sickness. Moment in the spotlight over? Hardly.

Raducanu pushed on and claimed her slice of sporting history at the US Open, as she became a household name by claiming scalp after unexpected scalp. Suddenly, she’d reached the semi-finals in her debut at the American tournament and the eyes of the nation were eagerly watching on. No matter, as she swatted aside Maria Sakkari to reach the final without dropping a set all tournament. Up against fellow youngster Leylah Fernandez in the final, Raducanu took the first set in familiarly confident style 6-4, and was up 5-3 in the second when Fernandez threatened to break back, only for a medical stoppage to halt both players’ diverging momentum. Emma reset and coolly served out the match, finishing her opponent off with an ace to win the Women’s title.


Mountain View

US Open 2021: dream come true for Raducanu, heartbreak for Djokovic

The list of superlatives to describe Raducanu’s win, which she achieved just weeks after getting her A-Level results, is inexhaustible. She became the youngest Briton to win a Grand Slam title, as well as the first qualifier in the Open Era to win a Slam - and that’s to name just two broken records. In fact, a couple of weeks before her win she had a flight back to England pre-booked, expecting not to qualify for the main tournament itself. Her story is a perfect advert for the game, the women’s competition especially. It’s the ultimate underdog story, and she looked perfectly comfortable on the big stage. Since the tournament, Raducanu has risen to world number 19, up 319 places from Wimbledon in June, and was also voted British Sports Personality of the Year 2021. Her story this year is just about perfect.

Verstappen upsets Hamilton at Abu Dhabi - Liam Kline (Senior Sports Editor)

I must confess: I’ve never been a massive fan of F1. Growing up it was always football on the weekend and not much else, but like most people I was fondly drawn to the ‘Decider in the Desert’. Beforehand, my only knowledge of the 2021 season was a raging rivalry between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen that often ended up in broken front wings and flying cars, so I went in to watching the race thinking there would probably be more of the same. But what I got was a truly exhilarating race, from start to finish. Hamilton cheekily cutting the corner at turn six on lap one, Sergio Perez staging an outstanding defence against Hamilton whilst his Red Bull teammate Verstappen played catch-up after pitting, and Nicholas Latifi binning it late in the race to produce the infamous safety car decision - Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff summed it up best: “No Michael, no, no Michael, that was so not right!”

Yet whether it was right or wrong, that final lap of racing got me out of my seat to scream “GO ON HAMILTON!” at the top of my lungs despite Verstappen’s victory - a level of excitement that I haven’t felt in a while as an unfortunate Arsenal fan. In the aftermath of Abu Dhabi, Hamilton was fittingly knighted at Windsor Castle amidst the backdrop of speculation regarding his future in the sport, pushing the F1 world into a state of limbo that could see it coming out the other side without the seven-time world champion in its paddock. With or without Hamilton, however, I’m eagerly awaiting the 2022 season after an unbelievable night under the Middle Eastern lights.