World Cup over­shad­owed by bar brawl, bans and drunk play­ers Perth con­trol Eng­land con­fi­dent of progress

Scan­dals have eclipsed up­lift­ing mo­ments in open­ing weeks of the event, writes Sam Dean

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Tennis -

Hours af­ter a 74-6 school­ing of Scot­land in their sec­ond game of the rugby league World Cup, the New Zealand squad am­bled into the de­par­ture lounge of Christchurch air­port and made their way to­wards se­cu­rity.

They had a flight to catch but first, air­port staff told them, there was some gos­sip they might be in­ter­ested to hear. The Ki­wis soon learned the Scot­land team had been at the air­port a few hours be­fore, and that three of them were so boozed up that they were un­able to board their flight.

The news soon spread and it was not long be­fore it was an­nounced that Sam Brooks, Johnny Walker and cap­tain Danny Brough had been hurled out of the Scot­land squad and sent home.

Keith Hogg, the chair­man of Scot­land Rugby League, phrased it del­i­cately. “They clearly had been drink­ing in an in­ap­pro­pri­ate fash­ion,” he told New Zealand news site Stuff. “The con­se­quences of that be­came very ob­vi­ous at the air­port.”

Brooks, who has since re­turned to the UK for pre-sea­son train­ing with club side Feather­stone Rovers, later is­sued a du­ti­fully apolo­getic state­ment ac­cept­ing his ac­tions were “noth­ing short of un­ac­cept­able and, more im­por­tantly, to­tally em­bar­rass­ing”.

And yet the trio’s tale of de­bauch­ery is just the lat­est in­stal­ment in a whole se­ries of mishaps and scan­dals that have plagued the open­ing weeks of the World Cup. Some of them have been amus­ing, oth­ers trou­bling, and all have been a source of awk­ward­ness for the sport at what is its show­piece event.

It all be­gan in a Cairns bar when Italy’s Shan­non Wake­man punched his own team-mate, James Tedesco, re­port­edly floor­ing him, be­cause he be­lieved Tedesco was flirt­ing with his girl­friend. Tedesco has de­nied propo­si­tion­ing Aimee Bloom­field, say­ing it was a “mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion” be­tween the two play­ers that was quickly sorted out the next morn­ing with a hand­shake. Yet the story rum­bled on, partly be­cause Tedesco is an NRL star, and also be­cause Bloom­field her­self waded in, say­ing: “What hap­pened was deeply up­set­ting. I’m not sure Shan­non and James are still talk­ing, I haven’t seen them to­gether since the fight.”

A few days later, shortly af­ter the Scot­land episode, France hooker Eloi Pelissier joined Brough, Brooks and Walker in be­ing sent home as pun­ish­ment af­ter he was found to have bro­ken a cur­few.

Marc Palan­ques, the pres­i­dent of the French Rugby League Fed­er­a­tion, said Pelissier had com­mit­ted “a se­ri­ous breach of the dis­ci­plinary reg­u­la­tions of the team”.

It fol­lowed the de­ci­sion to jet­ti­son util­ity man Hakim Miloudi from the squad for dis­ci­plinary rea­sons af­ter a match against Ja­maica.

The next twist came last week­end, when Eng­land’s Jer­maine McGil­l­vary was ac­cused of bit­ing Le­banon cap­tain Ste­fan Ratch­ford ad­mits Eng­land will have no ex­cuses for not com­plet­ing the job when they meet France in their last World Cup group game to­day.

Eng­land still need a point to se­cure a quar­ter-fi­nal spot. But Ratch­ford says they will know ex­actly what to ex­pect at Perth’s Rec­tan­gu­lar Sta­dium against a side fea­tur­ing nine play­ers from Su­per League out­fit Rob­bie Farah dur­ing Sat­ur­day’s group match in Syd­ney. Farah did not attend the sub­se­quent dis­ci­plinary hear­ing and it took just three min­utes for a ju­di­ciary panel to clear McGil­l­vary, who branded the ac­cu­sa­tion “out­ra­geous”.

There was no last­ing dam­age, but it’s an­other un­wel­come head­line.

Not to be side­lined by the var­i­ous es­capades of the Scot­tish and English, Wales then took the op­por­tu­nity to pour their own brand of kerosene on to the bon­fire. Step for­ward coach John Kear, whose frank as­sess­ment of the tour­na­ment was that it was viewed as a “third-tier com­pe­ti­tion” in Aus­tralia, where some of the crowds have been smaller than hoped.

“You have got to have wake-up calls and I think we are get­ting one,” he said. “I get the im­pres­sion from speak­ing to peo­ple in­volved in the game in the south­ern hemi­sphere that this is looked upon as a third-tier comp.

“They say State of Ori­gin is the top tier, fol­lowed by NRL and this is a stan­dard below NRL and it prob­a­bly is. That’s re­flected by the in­ter­est in it.”

A day later, it felt fit­ting that a surf­ing les­son for the Wales squad, who have lost heav­ily to Pa­pua New Guinea and Fiji, was aban­doned when sharks were spot­ted.

And yet to fo­cus on all this is to do a dis­ser­vice to the ac­tual sport on show. If you look be­yond these off-field dif­fi­cul­ties, you will find plenty of highs to go with the lows.

How about Samoa and Tonga per­form­ing their pre-match war dances to­gether, fus­ing cul­ture and pas­sion? Or the de­light on the face of Sam Burgess when his brother Tom slalomed through to score for Eng­land against Le­banon? And what of New Zealand’s Shaun John­son, who be­came his coun­try’s top points scorer in that Scot­land thrash­ing?

That’s not for­get­ting the dream of glory for Eng­land, which re­mains alive de­spite de­feat by Aus­tralia. Wayne Ben­nett’s side face France to­day in their fi­nal group game be­fore the knock­out stages. That is when things get in­ter­est­ing. And that, the or­gan­is­ers will hope, will be when at­ten­tion turns to events on the field, rather than the fire­works off it.

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