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Opinion

It ain’t tiddlywinks, but rugby needs to sing in union against dirty play

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Roar Pro
30th September, 2022
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Wallaby lock Darcy Swain has copped a right royal schlocking in the media and online for his foul play against Quinn Tupaea in Bledisloe One, which left the All Black flanker injured and out of the game for up to nine months.

Swain received a six-week playing ban which many thought inadequate given the consequences of his actions, but has expressed regret and if he is genuine will think hard before doing such a thing to another man on the field.

Overall I have been proud of the Australian reaction to Swain’s misdeed. Former players such as Will Genia on The Roar have guided the public reaction to the incident and Aussies joined the chorus, asking Swain to rethink how he plays our beautiful game.

The whole of the global rugby community does however need to reflect on the incident and ask itself, how is it in 2022 that we still have players thinking that they can act in this fashion.

My suggestion is that the global rugby community look to Australia’s example of how we have reacted to Swain’s transgression and to the way the game is played in Australia.

Australia has produced genuine tough, competitive teams throughout the history of the game and at the peak of the Wallabies powers through the 1990s and early 2000s, were the first national team to win two world cups, a record not matched by any other nation until South Africa’s win in 2007.

Yet until this unfortunate action by Swain, the Wallabies haven’t been known for inflicting serious injuries on their opponents through dirty play.

The Wallabies opponents haven’t had legs wrenched so hard that muscles are torn from the bone and careers ended, they don’t have faces smashed in by an elbow while on the ground after scoring a try, they don’t have shoulders and tours wrecked in spear tackles, and they don’t have their necks damaged through repeated targeting of key players through neck rolls.

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Darcy Swain

(Photo by Getty Images)

Furthermore in those instances where a Wallaby has engaged in dirty play, think Quade Cooper’s knee drop on Richie McCaw in 2010 and now Swain, the players are admonished.

Aussies don’t want rugby to be played like tiddlywinks, but we would rather our team lose a game than resort to dirty tactics, which almost certainly explains why those actions are the exception rather than the norm by Wallabies.

I sometimes think that the Wallabies commitment to fair play puts them at a disadvantage on the international stage, but that commitment is one of the reasons why it was so easy for me to support the men in gold, when I moved to Australia from New Zealand in the 1980s.

I hope that every Wallaby reflects on this event and the legacy that they are part of and recommits to maintain the reputation of the Wallabies as a clean team.

I also hope that the rugby community around the world reflect on the Australian example of not accepting dirty play and let their own teams know their expectations.

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It would be my dream to see former players who in times gone by engaged in dirty play admit that they did the wrong thing, without any mitigating excuses, and implore modern players not to be “that guy”.

Also while we should be respectful of the dead and honour their great achievements, if a past sporting hero did another player such harm through dirty play that it ended their career, nations need to temper any deification, with honesty about instances where they behaved badly.

Keeping rugby clean is probably one of the most important measures that can be taken to ensure the survival of the sport. Players in 2022 are bigger, stronger and faster than they ever were and if a culture where this sort of conduct is excused is perpetuated, then the consequences will inevitably be suffered by players like Tupaea.

Aside from the terrible personal consequences to the player, this is bad for national teams who lose a player and for rugby in general. Parents will think twice before allowing their kids to participate in rugby, if dirty play that could leave them with serious injuries is not stamped out.

The ball is in the court of rugby around the world, if you don’t want future kids to only be allowed to play tiddlywinks, police your own to stamp out dirty play in rugby like Australians do and the game will be better for all.

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