Time to move on

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When they were handing out sports journalists, the British rugby community must have been in the toilet. The Blacks arrive today for their first tour of all four Home Unions since 1983, attempting a Grand Slam achieved only once in a century of Black rugby. But British newspapers have largely responded to the biggest event of international rugby the UK can provide outside a World Cup with hyperbole about an incident from four months ago. That Mealamu and Umage went unpunished by touch judge, referee or match commissioner, is galling. But O’Ddriscoll himself said in a recent BBC interview, “It is time to move on.” He actually went much further, adding “I don’t have any grudges against Tana or Keven… I would have no problem having a beer with Tana.” O’Ddriscoll knows these things are part of rugby. His injury, at least, had no effect on the outcome of the series. But in the 2003 World Cup semi-final, Nnew Zealand’s hopes were ended when Aaustralian flanker George Smith took out their best player Justin Marshall, with a late tackle. The 2001 Lions’ fortunes turned when their key player, Richard Hill, was taken out by a flying elbow from Nathan Grey. Nneither Grey nor Smith were banned.Rrugby simply has an institutional problem in dealing with foul play of this sort. There is a citing procedure in place, but the match commissioners responsible for applying it bottle it when it comes to the biggest incidents. Who would be the man to ban the Black Captain during a Lions series in Zealand? Or a key Wallaby from the World Cup final in Sydney? It isn’t just southern hemisphere players who get away with it; in 2001 Martin Johnson all but shattered McRrae’s ribcage, stamping and knee-dropping a man half his size: he was banned precisely until the day before the Six Nnations started. The O’Ddriscoll incident has given this problem unprecedented attention. But it has been wasted, centred on the wrong offenders. Umaga and Mealamu were reckless, but it is their job to be aggressive rugby players. Touch judge Cole, who saw their actions from metres away and failed to even inform the referee, and match commissioner Willem Venter, who somehow decided there was no case to investigate, were there to guard against foul play and their abject failure to do so makes them the real villains of the piece.With an upcoming IRB conference focusing on foul play, here was an opportunity to finally tighten up the citing procedure and cut down on foul play. But it has been lost, as those with a voice about rugby concentrated on immature mud-flinging. rugby fans, we really do deserve better.Even worse, the only likely long term effect of this hysterical ranting is to create more, not fewer, such incidents.The incident, of course, is Lions’ captain Brian O’Ddriscoll’s ongoing injury, inflicted by Blacks’ Keven Mealamu and Captain Tana Umaga. I’m not defending them – picking up, flipping over and dumping players onto the ground is illegal and dangerous precisely because it can cause such serious injuries even when it isn’t intentional. I have little patience with ex-Blacks like Zinzan Brooke, so keen to put the incident in the past that they forget to condemn it.ARCHIVE: 4th week MT 2005

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