Fist-fights, stompings, kneeing and niggle are what the crowds love, writes Greg Gowden of Rugby Heaven.
In 1997, just before front-rower and great Wallaby gagster Dan Crowley walked into a Sanzar judiciary hearing, he asked: “What do they want us to do now? Go out there and play ‘Pat-a-cake. Pat-a-cake. Baker’s man’.”
The previous evening, the Waratahs v Reds match in Sydney had erupted in mayhem. There were fist fights. Stompings. Kneeings. Niggle. Hate to say it, but the crowd loved it.
The next day a steady line of players headed in and out of the judiciary room, and even they seemed to be chuffed to be involved in some good old fashioned fire and brimstone.
Eleven years on, what Crowley was concerned about has actually occurred. The blatant cleaning up of the game has sadly transformed rugby into a limp pat-a-cake exercise. Rugby has become soft.
Sure, the code had to do something about the gutless king-hit merchants, the coat-hanger tacklers, the biters, the gougers and those sneaks who got up to no good at the bottom of rucks and mauls.
But the cleansing process has gone too far. Rugby correctness has taken over.
Now you have the embarrassing situation where those who put in honest and often courageous tackles anywhere above the opponent’s chest-line are finding themselves heading for the sin bin. Even when attacking players have the head bowed, the defender is in danger of a sudden departure if he puts his arms anywhere near the opponent’s shoulder.
In numerous cases, unless the defender is a midget, he has no alternative but to hit relatively high. Recently, referees have forgotten common sense and become whistle-happy over any tackle that looks half-menacing. And God forbid if one even thinks of raising a boot at the tackle area.
There was the farcical situation on Saturday night where Reds fullback Chris Latham found himself on the sideline for 10 minutes after a short tap-dance on the arm of a Bulls opponent, who was refusing to release the ball.
The Bulls player was at fault, and what other option was there for an opponent wanting quick ball than to try to pry it away? But no, Latham was sin binned, and justifiably the television commentators Phil Kearns and Greg Martin castigated referee Lyndon Bray for being so reactive. The complaints from these two Wallabies about the lack of physicality in the modern game was warranted.
It’s not actually the referee’s fault, but more the lawmakers who in recent years have done all they can to eradicate aggressive acts, such as rucking, from the game. While a special part of rugby has become all but extinct, in its place we endure stoppages at the breakdown because players can do whatever they like to kill the ball, without the fear of being rucked away.
And with the referees struggling to comprehend who is actually doing what, spectators have to bear those like South African Willie Roos, during the Brumbies v Hurricanes match on Friday night, finding fault at almost every breakdown.
Whistle. Whistle. Whistle. Even the first round of the NRL suddenly became more enticing.
This is also why players of the calibre of former All Black back-rower Josh Kronfeld are worried about the game. Kronfeld recently told the New Zealand Herald that “it scares me how quickly we have devalued forward play”.
“And the breakdown has become ridiculous. The biggest problem is they took rucking away from the game so that now we have a free-for-all with hands on the ball,” Kronfeld said.
What’s left is not pretty.
Surely this emphasises the point that when the punter is struggling to get value for money, as shown by the ball being in play for an average of just 34 minutes, it is high time a rough, tough edge returned.
Hate to harp on it, but the crowds love it.Tweet