Saturday, August 18, 2007

Egg Chasing Time

Is it too much to expect that you can play a game without getting the shit kicked out of you? But, you know, it's a man's game blah, blah, blah... Yawn. Take it away Mr Lawton:

"Consider what might have happened last summer if a few weeks before the football World Cup, one of the tournament's great players, Ronaldinho or Thierry Henry, say, had been prevented from playing because an opponent had punched him in the face.

In rugby, though, we are talking about the routine ebb and flow of a 'man's game'. In Christchurch after the first Lions Test two years ago, Tony Blair's former spin doctor Alastair Campbell said the great Irish centre had been a victim of a sickening, premeditated 'spearing' assault by Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu.

Umaga, a superb All Black captain and bone for bone, pound for pound one of the most respected players who ever drew breath, claimed he was innocent; another mythic weapon of mass destruction, you might say. However, in Bayonne this week there was not a sliver of doubt about what happened.

O'Driscoll was cold-cocked, off the ball, by Bayonne lock Mikaera Tewhata. He had his sinus broken and will miss Ireland's opening game against Namibia. He is also doubtful for encounters with host nation France and Argentina. This was supposed to be a warm-up for the great festival of rugby. But warm-up for what? The kind of thuggery which so regularly besmirches a game that in this vital area repeatedly fails to provide convincing evidence that it will ever truly grow up.

There is a point when rugby has to face up to the fact that if its hope for a more universal acceptance is ever to gain ground, against the suspicion that it will always be a refuge for a disturbing number of psychopaths, then platitudes will no longer do the job. Gratuitous violence of the kind which O'Driscoll fell victim to in France can only be tolerated by a game which accepts it will be always be obliged to harbour a beast.

With luck and a healed sinus, he may make a delayed impact on a world audience. However, such evangelism on behalf of his game has been put at risk by a piece of cheap, back-street violence. It is a scandal, a perversion of sport, and if rugby does not realise it is jeopardising its own future by regularly countenancing such barbarism, it is moving beyond help.

Rugby World Cup? Why not stage it in a biker bar?"
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