Rugby: the gentlemen’s game

March 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

There’s a well-known saying: “football is a gentleman’s game played by ruffians, and rugby is a ruffian’s game played by gentlemen.”

And when you see footballers abusing the referee, swearing at the cameras and feigning injury, it is easy to believe.

In spite of the elegance and grace displayed by the players as they skilfully kick a ball, football has a tarnished reputation for unsportsmanlike behaviour.

It is unnecessary, unsporting and off-putting.

Rugby, by its nature, is a rough sport. The physicality of it results in cuts, bruises, head-knocks, occasionally broken bones.

Sometimes fists are thrown, eyes are gouged, and players are tackled dangerously.

None of this is sporting or an example of fair play. It would be easy to assume then, that rugby is not a gentleman’s game.

But that’s where you are wrong.

The gentlemen’s game

Perhaps it is because the game has its roots in elite, public schools, but rugby players rarely engage in the kinds of unsporting behaviour often displayed by footballers.

Abuse of match officials is non-existent. Only the captains are allowed to talk with the referee – and only in a civilised manner.

There is no intimidation to try and persuade match officials to reverse a penalty – and if players mouth back, the penalty is increased.

As for feigning injury to win a penalty, to put it simply, it is seldom done. It’s far more likely that an injured man will continue to play on.

That is exactly what All Black captain Richie McCaw did in the 2011 World Cup Final.

McCaw was eye gouged in the final few minutes of the game and instead of coming off the pitch he remained, half-blinded, and led his team to victory.

No angels

That’s not to suggest that rugby players are saintly examples of fair play.

The sport has its moments of unseemly behaviour. In their World Cup semi-final against France, Welsh coach Warren Gatland, considered having one of his players fake an injury.

They did not go ahead with the idea, with Gatland saying:

“We could have easily done that in the first 25-30 minutes. But in the spirit of the game, in the spirit of the World Cup semi-final, I didn’t think that was the fairest or the right thing to do.”

The proof

So, no, rugby players are not on pedestals, superior to their football equivalents, it’s just that acts of unsportsmanlike behaviour happen less in rugby than in football.

Don’t believe it? Just look at this weekend’s sporting action for proof.

Out of the 10 Premier League games played, there was only one where no players were booked for foul play.

In the Sunderland-Newcastle match there were nine booking incidents and Sunderland captain, Lee Cattermole, was handed a four-match ban after receiving a red card for using foul and abusive language against match officials.

In direct contrast, over the five Aviva Premiership rugby matches, only two yellow cards were handed out, both in the same game, for professional fouls.

No-one was banned from further matches.

It may only be one weekend, but the statistics speak for themselves.

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