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Wasn't rugby supposed to be a gentleman's game?

Facing the All Blacks in New Zealand can actually be an advantage. (EPA/Kim Ludbrook)
Roar Rookie
18th September, 2013
99
3340 Reads

One of my earliest (and as so often is the case, the best) rugby memories is witnessing the visit of the New Zealand Cavaliers to South Africa in 1986.

The significance of the visit and the debate regarding whether the tour should have taken place or not was of no relevance to the nine-year-old that I was but what I can remember is an extraordinary excitement over the appearance of such strange moustachioed foreigners to our shores.

The memories that I have of learning the names of the Kiwi players and working out who the danger men would be are not new.

Generations past can recall visiting rugby teams to the country who have been swooned over by adoring fans and some of the players reciprocated by falling in love with our country as well.

In the lead up to the final ‘Test’ match the country was in raptures with the teams at one a piece and titanic struggle was promised with much needle expected. The response by the Cavaliers was legendary.

Before kick-off, they made their way to the centre of the field and performed the Haka.

The crowd erupted in delight. This was the New Zealanders way of saying, “we are the All Blacks in spirit albeit not in name and we have come to beat you”.

In the lead up to this weekend’s Test match, a similar feeling of excitement was prevalent but the difference in the reactions of supporters to the respective teams is in stark contrast to what it was in years gone by.

Whereas in the past, we were only exposed to what was said in the foreign media through the word of a travelling family member, today’s fan gets his fix immediately.

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Social media allows supporters to live vicariously through the success of their nation’s teams and any vitriol can be lobbed at opponents at the click of a key pad.

What has emerged in the last few days since the Saturday Test is hardly new and hardly surprising.

A Facebook page has been dedicated to the removal of the referee from ever blowing his whistle again and the most puerile and infantile comments are shared among fans with glee.

Rugby has always regarded itself as being somewhat superior to its other footballing codes on account of the stoic and gentlemanly principles that it espouses.

What set us apart in the past is the friendly teasing banter that is exchanged at the worst of times but at the best of times, supporters fell over themselves to talk up how superior the other team was to their own.

Instead of the Haka becoming a moment of proud reflection for all rugby supporters as something unique to our sport, the players are zoomed in on and the fireworks erupt in glitzy extravaganza worthy of an American pro-wrestling event.

Opposing supporters on the other hand often boo the All Blacks, and thats before the game even starts.

The booing of place-kickers has become so common place in the game that its actually expected.

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The derisive shouting of Bismarck du Plessis from the field on Saturday was conducted with a venom of people who have forgotten that they are not sitting in a Roman colosseum.

In the lead up to the last round of Test matches, I can only long for the days when rugby jerseys were swopped and winning captains were hoisted on the shoulders of their opponents.

I can only long for the days when players were the ambassadors of their countries and did not treat themselves like preening commodities.

Finally, I long for the days when we, the fans, remembered that while we love our rugby with a passion.

The sport’s traditions demand of us a standard with which we communicate with each other…lest our beloved sport becomes like those other codes.