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Rugby doesn’t hold the moral high ground in sport

Gavin Mortimer says that rugby is as bad as soccer these days and that’s despite the recent ridiculous antics in the soccer World Cup. With a heavy heart, I agree. 

In a recent article in The Spectator, a rugby writer Gavin Mortimer suggested that rugby no longer had the moral high ground over football. He suggested, despite some of the recent antics of certain football World Cup players, rugby was just as bad.

Uruguay’s Agustin Ormaechea clashes with Fiji’s Campese Ma’afu before being shown a red card
Reuters / Stefan Wermuth Livepic

He was right, to a certain degree. Anyone who has played competitive rugby will know that. There’s plenty of skullduggery, violence and abuse. And, there are a number of advocates saying the game has gone soft. Even now, to prevent “cheats” from stopping the release of the ball at the tackle, there are still calls for “rucking” to be reintroduced.

Rucking is where the boot is used to drag the player off the ball. That’s right, six metal studs, on the back, arms and legs of the prone body. Woe betides a boot that goes into the face.

At least there’s an agreement that anything to the face is illegal. Yet gouging, as it’s known, still happens, and if your game isn’t filmed from multiple angles, it’s easier to get away with.

Putting the violence to one side, it’s argued that the two main points of difference between the two sports are simulation and referee abuse.

Simulation is where a player “fakes” an incident to gain an advantage for their team.

These aren’t so prevalent in rugby. It still happens. Anything which approaches a high tackle will often see the ball carrier go down like they’ve been yanked back by an invisible rope. It can buy penalties and even yellow cards.

However, there’s no doubt that most players don’t want to show any signs of pain or weakness on the pitch. We won’t see some of the pathetic rolls or cries of pain on a rugby field for some small clip of the heels.

Referee abuse is another matter. Rugby certainly falls into the passive-aggressive mold here. Players are constantly talking to the referee, disingenuously adding “sir” to their comments. Yet, a poor decision is rarely met with an in-yer-face argument. If that does happen, we all know the consequences. Penalties, marched back 10 metres, or yellow and ultimately red cards.

Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo reacts at referee Cesar Arturo Ramos REUTERS/Toru Hanai

But it’s not the players I’m so concerned about. The sidelines abuse is appalling. To say it’s pathetic is a weak view. Frankly, it’s tantamount to the worst sort of schoolyard bullying. What can the referee do? They can’t respond. They just have to take it.

So, while rugby has some moral high ground on the pitch, I’m with Gavin overall. Let’s grow up, stop acting like spoilt kids and start living the behaviours that rugby stands for.

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