Week 2 Rugby World Cup Highlights, Lowlights and Going Soft

Is Rugby in danger of turning into soccer?

Already in this World Cup we've seen penalties for stepping on a player at the bottom of a ruck as opposed to rucking someone which traditionally means using as much force applied to the base of your boot studs to propel an opponent at the bottom of a ruck out the back of the ruck. It's the price you pay for being there.

In the France-Ireland game Sebastien Chabal was on the bottom of a ruck and making no effort to roll away. In the good old days, defined here as pre-television when men were men and dinosaurs ruled the football field and the blood flowed freely, the onus was on the player at the bottom of the ruck to get the hell out of there or face the fury of your opponent's boot studs. This had the effect of freeing up the ball and allowing the play to move on to the next battle. The referee was redundant as the players unwritten code of ethics (or lack thereof) took care of any misdemeanours.

Yet during the week we saw Chabal lie down at the bottom of the ruck as if he were at his hairdressers getting ready for the haircut that he threatened but never eventuated while his Irish opponent, who rightly took offence at this outrageous behaviour, expressed his displeasure, not by dragging his boot studs across his bearded face but by lightly stepping on him and being penalised in the process.

But as appalling as the passage of play was, nothing comes close to the disgusting display put on by Frederic Michalak. Taking a leaf out of that lesser World Cup - the soccer World Cup, Michalak took at least two dives. Now for the uninitiated who do not follow soccer (and congratulations for doing so) a soccer dive is when a player, threatened by the humiliation of being touched by an opponent throws himself at the ground, hands to the face before rolling along the ground, writhing in agony in a pathetic attempt to earn the sympathy of the referee and so mask his questionable sporting skills and inability to play the game as it was intended.

Michalak did this twice and succeeded once in conning the referee into awarding a penalty. Now this may or may not be a French thing. But unless the IRB stamp this out and soon it will become a Rugby thing and the game we all love will be played by weaklings wearing make-up and carrying handbags.

Ban the TV replay, get rid of the TMO (television match official) and let the players tell the ref who was right and who was wrong. Referees are paid to referee Rugby, not to police children. The laws off the field are different to those on it, and many of those are unwritten and known to men who have had to learn them the hard way. Is the IRB's philosophy not to antagonise the mums watching at home because they might not want their kids playing Rugby? Well mums who don't like that sort of thing breed kids who are soft and shouldn't be playing Rugby anyway. Soccer mums may get all the publicity but it's the Rugby mums who quietly go about their business cutting oranges into quarters and screaming at their kid to get stuck in and have a go. No soccer mum has ever screamed out "smash him".

But for all my indignation at the plight of Rugby, it is nothing compared to that of the English Rugby commentators. Tortured by years of humiliating performances they have begun to turn on their own team. Just check out some of these comments from the England-Samoa clash:

"It hasn't been a vintage (English) display - well it has been a vintage display but not in the way they'd like."
"The old men of the English bench."
"The selection of Lawrence Dallaglio is looking more bizarre by the day."
"(England) have no one who looks like breaking the line... (It's) been a problem with the English backline for years."
"These lumbering old men that England have in the side - it's pointless giving the ball to them."
"England punished for this very slow ball that they continuously seem to be hampered by and have been for so long now."
"It's not working (slow ball) and it's never worked in World Rugby."
"The difference between the English cavalry and the South African cavalry coming off the bench is quite startling."
"The English players are not tier one players."
"You just sense the lack of confidence... coming through in spades."
"You wonder if their mental focus has been misdirected."

It must be said that mid-way through the second-half one of the commentators admitted that he was Scottish. Why the English would employ him to do their commentary is baffling, but I can't wait for their next game.