Are the All Blacks now sim­ply a dirty side?

Sunday News - - RUGBY - MARK REA­SON

OPIN­ION: Steve Hansen said af­ter the All Blacks beat Ire­land in Dublin last Novem­ber, ’’Do you want me to tell you we’re a dirty side or some­thing.’’

It seems to me the an­swer to that ques­tion is now a colos­sal YES in cap­i­tal let­ters. YES, it’s a swing­ing arm in the af­fir­ma­tive. YES, it’s a lead­ing shoul­der to the head. I apol­o­gise if that up­sets you in the rugby shires, but the rest of New Zealand is fed up with the dread­ful, head­hunt­ing ex­am­ple set by the All Blacks.

A cou­ple of weeks ago I spoke at a din­ner of the Auck­land Med­i­cal Legal So­ci­ety on the sub­ject of con­cus­sion. All bar one of the doc­tors and lawyers who spoke to me af­ter­wards were wor­ried and re­pulsed at the height of the tackle and the con­tin­u­ing dam­age to young peo­ple’s heads.

It seems to me no ma­jor in­ter­na­tional team in world rugby takes out the neck and head of op­po­nents with such sick­en­ing reg­u­lar­ity.

Luke Ro­mano put his body on the line for the All Blacks in Buenos Aires. Re­gret­fully he also put the neck and head of sev­eral Ar­gen­tine play­ers on the line.

Ro­mano could prob­a­bly not be blamed for To­mas Cubelli hav­ing to be put in a neck brace. Ro­mano got his man, but it was Sonny Bill, turn­ing in his body as Cubelli fell, who was shame­fully re­spon­si­ble for the dam­age.

But Ro­mano con­sis­tently went over the top with his tack­ling tech­nique. He hit Lu­cas Noguera, To­mas La­vanini, Pablo Mat­era and Joaquin Tu­culet with high shots. He then smashed into Martin Ladajo. Again Ro­mano was up­right with his body po­si­tion and his shoul­der jud­dered into Ladajo’s head.

As­ton­ish­ingly noth­ing was done. Even more as­ton­ish­ingly Hansen said af­ter the match, ’’I thought Luke Ro­mano had prob­a­bly his best game in the jersey.’’

Well, Ro­mano had his best game in the jersey if he is mea­sured on the Meads-o-me­ter. Vi­o­lence now seems to be al­most cel­e­brated. It wasn’t there to the same ex­tent un­der Richie McCaw’s cap­taincy which makes you won­der. McCaw pre­ferred to call out cheap shots from the op­po­si­tion prompt­ing the New Zealand pub­lic to boo Quade Cooper. So why aren’t we boo­ing our own play­ers? This has been go­ing on since the match in Dublin last Novem­ber. Sonny Bill and Jerome Kaino brought it into the Lions se­ries. And then four or five of the side ex­ported the vi­o­lence to Buenos Aires.

Early in the sec­ond half Vaea Fi­fita hit To­mas Lezana with a shoul­der. It was high and there were no arms in­volved. A yel­low card was the min­i­mum sanc­tion. As­ton­ish­ingly noth­ing was done.

Then Kieran Read hit Ma­tias Or­lando with a very dan­ger­ous tackle. It wasn’t an ac­ci­dent. Read made two or three other tack­les in the match where the height was mar­ginal. If you con­stantly drive at 70kph in a built up area there are go­ing to be ca­su­al­ties.

Hansen said af­ter­wards, ‘‘Reado got binned for a high tackle and he’s the cap­tain. He’s been around long enough to know he should not be do­ing that.’’

Typ­i­cally, the im­plied con­cern was not for the wel­fare of the player who got hit, but for the fact that the All Blacks were down to 14 men. In­deed Hansen thought that his for­wards ‘‘showed a real phys­i­cal­ity...which was great.’’

At the AMLS din­ner a charm­ing el­derly gen­tle­man spoke to me as we were leav­ing. He re­called the time when he had been play­ing and, as an op­po­nent came in for the tackle, he bumped him off with a thrust of the hip. Coach and cap­tain re­moved him from the pitch and said that his ac­tion was dan­ger­ous to the head of the tack­ler and was un­ac­cept­able

So surely, know­ing all we do now about the long-term im­pli­ca­tions of head in­juries, it is no longer ac­cept­able for the All Blacks to re­peat­edly tackle higher than any other first tier na­tion. Surely it is not ac­cept­able for them to still play an en­forcer at 6 and 12, where the likes of Jerome Kaino, Liam Squire and Sonny Bill seek to in­tim­i­date through fre­quently dan­ger­ous play.

Other world sides can be guilty of dan­ger­ous play, yet look around and ask your­self where all the hit­men have gone. A few di­nosaurs still roam the planet, such as Adam Cole­man, Yoann Maestri and Dy­lan Hart­ley. But they ap­pear to be a dy­ing breed, ex­cept in New Zealand.

South Africa al­ways had a few bully boys like Bakkies Botha and Schalk Burger. Aus­tralia had the Owen Fine­gans of this world and Eng­land had thugs such as Martin John­son and Danny Grew­cock. Back in the days of Michel Palmie, Jean-Fran­cois Im­ber­non and Jean-Pierre Bas­tiat you were safer in a high se­cu­rity prison than in the mid­dle of the French pack.

But those teams have moved on and their av­er­age tackle height has come down. Yet it re­mains dan­ger­ously high in New Zealand, al­though men­tion the word ‘‘dirty’’ and the yeo­manry will start to foam at the col­lar.

Hansen said about War­ren Gat­land, who had called his team out dur­ing the Lions tour, ’’I ex­pect him to know the New Zealand psy­che. It’s not about in­ten­tion­ally try­ing to hurt any­one, it’s about play­ing hard and fair.’’

Most of the doc­tors and lawyers I spoke to the other week think that is typ­i­cal rugby guff from a bloke who can’t see past his own team. They see a rugby cul­ture stuck in the past.

But the big­gest sad­ness of all is that th­ese All Blacks can be the Brazil of rugby, play­ing the art­ful game as only they can. The Black Men­ace doesn’t need to travel the world hand­ing out de­men­tia like a signed au­to­graph of re­mem­brance. Th­ese All Blacks could choose beauty over the beast.

Has dis­ci­pline has slipped a lit­tle un­der Kieran Read?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.