As England discovered on Saturday, reaching number 19 is devilishly difficult. The week before Eddie Jones’ team had made history by steamrollering Scotland to equal the All Blacks’ record of 18 consecutive international victories. Yet, like the Kiwis, England appeared laboured and out of ideas against a defiant Ireland side.
Across sport, 18 appears to mark a major landmark that, while difficult to attain, is almost impossible to surpass. For many years, Tiger Woods was expected to beat Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors, yet so far he has fallen short. Likewise, Ronnie O’Sullivan is still one behind Stephen Hendry’s record of 18 titles in snooker’s three major tournaments. Many experts believe Roger Federer’s Australian Open title in January – a record 18th Grand Slam – will be his last, while Martina Navratilova held the women’s record – again with 18 – for singles Grand Slam tournament victories in the Open Era for several years until she was eventually surpassed by Steffi Graf.
It’s easy to dismiss the frequency with which the number 18 appears in sporting achievement as a coincidence. However, perhaps it is simply an indication of how difficult it is for even the greatest athletes to maintain the consistency required to beat every other individual to glory, time after time.