Much has been said about the sending off of Steven Luatua for the Blues against the Chiefs in Hamilton last Friday night and whether it’s bad for the game. But this is a conversation rugby fans have been having for years.
Cast your mind back to Wednesday, September 30, 1981, at the ground then known as Rugby Park, when Wellington lifted the Ranfurly Shield from a hapless Waikato team.
This was in the days when Shield rugby was almost akin to a Test match and 30,000 were packed into the ground.
Wellington had come north with a side featuring All Blacks Murray Mexted, Alan Hewson, Jamie Salmon and superstar wingers Stu Wilson and Bernie Fraser, supported by strong players across the park.
But the Waikato public were behind their side one hundred per cent. They were the holders, they had defeated Auckland to claim the Shield, and had defended it valiantly nine times.
They had star power as well in the form of loose forwards Miah Melsom and Geoff Hines, beanpole lock Hud Rickett, backs of All Black quality in Kevin Greene, John Boe, Murray Taylor and Arthur Stone, and props Paul ‘Bam Bam’ Koteka and Kiwi Searancke.
As the teams ran onto the field, the ground heaved and the noise was deafening, the clanging of cow bells resonating across the whole city. It was truly an electric atmosphere.
Late in the first half, Koteka became the villain as referee Bill Adlam blasted his whistle at a ruck and immediately dispatched the big prop back to the stands, authoritatively stating he had “put the boot” into his opposite number.
No warning, no sin bin, a straight sending off.
The stunned crowd fell silent as they realised it was all over, the Shield would be heading south to the capital.
Wellington duly racked up an 18-0 first-half lead and despite the 14 Waikato men holding the second half to four-all, the 22-4 victory was comprehensive and well deserved.
Searancke later said his fellow prop’s sending off was irrelevant, and Wellington would have won either way.
Others were of the opinion it was due to Wellington’s domination that Koteka resorted to the foul play, and refere Adlam was given no choice.
Koteka was to become the first Cook Islander to represent the All Blacks: first in France later that year, and then in a Bledisloe Cup match against Australia at Eden Park a year later.
The Koteka family were forestry workers and as the industry died in Tokoroa, they moved to Western Australia where the Koteka name is still prominent in rugby, with Karl Koteka playing for the Force in Super Rugby.
Attending the Reds versus Brumbies game at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday afternoon in 33-degree heat was a good chance for Queensland Reds fans in the Western stand to get to know one another up close and personal, with 13,500 cramming into the shady side of the stadium.
With all the reporting and leaking and reacting and denying going on over the weekend and late last week around the now confirmed demise of the Sunwolves from Super Rugby, though it’s difficult fully know who is pulling which stings, one thing stands out as a clear common denominator.