There has been a lot said and written this week. Is it right to say that the All Blacks have become ‘a dirty team’ on the basis of one game where they committed more illegalities than is normal? No. If this pattern continued more often in their next few Tests, could they then be classed as dirty? Yes. At any rate here is some kind of perspective on this continuing melodrama, because quite frankly, this continued indignance coming out of Ireland is now heading towards squealing child territory and is starting to wear a bit thin. And just by the way, will that scar of O’Driscoll and ‘05 ever really heal?
If we are to go down the ‘dirty’ road and apply this label to all borderline or underhanded acts on the field, then it would be more accurate to state that the All Blacks last Sunday morning were engaged in some dirty incidents. Dirty team though? I wouldn’t go that far. Intense, fast, skilful and pushing things to the limit- sometimes a bit too much. Yes, guilty on those counts.
In some ways the All Blacks are almost strangled by their legacy- the pressure on them to always win is almost unbearable. In high stakes situations if they don’t do whatever it takes to be victorious, practically the whole country will pillory them. It could be why they overstep the line a bit too often for some people’s liking.
On occasion we are viewed, particularly in the British Isles, as blatant cheats. To be called as such is highly inflammatory to even the most mellow of people. Not to condone any consistent bending of the rules or anything, but a lot of the laws of Rugby Union are very convoluted and when exacerbated by the speed at which the international game is played these days and the high stakes, not forgetting the big money involved either, players can sometimes overstep the mark in their aggression or in their sheer desperation to win. That is human nature in a survival-of-the fittest type of environment, such as in a Rugby Union Test match at the highest level. The accusation that a whole team cheat is really of no help to anyone- nothing useful or progressive can possibly eventuate from this kind of catcalling.
It is incorrect to exclusively accuse the All Blacks of such behaviour anyway. I could point out endless occasions when England ruled the roost around 2003 and their canny scrum half Matt Dawson would fragrantly position himself offside in front of the ball as it was being channelled through the opponents’ scrum to allow him to harrass or shove the other number nine or disrupt possession from the number eight- a shrewd ploy and he was allowed to get away with it by lax refereeing. It was crucial to success- that axis between the eight, nine and ten at the scrum is the most vital in launching any cohesive or fruitful attack. But the Brits could then counter that by dragging us all the way back through history to 1905 and the times when Dave Gallaher would rove more or less illegally off the scrum in a wing-forward type position. Such arguments are, in effect, ultimately pointless and plainly also have absolutely no resolution to them.
To paraphrase George Orwell, organised sport is war sans weapons. And we could add that in both situations, the rules are often ignored to gain the upper-hand. It could be classified as cheating, but the much more relevant issue is- what is to be done about it?