During the World Cup I wrote a piece about by my fear that the culture and spirit of rugby was changing.
The piece was about the abuse leveled at the referee, Craig Joubert, following the match between Scotland and Australia.
Rugby is often held up as a game where respect for the referee together with the discipline of players is at the heart of the sport.
In fact, RESPECT & DISCIPLINE are two of the 5 core values that the RFU look to embed in all levels of the game. These values are TEAMWORK, RESPECT, ENJOYMENT, DISCIPLINE & SPORTSMANSHIP (TREDS).
I had hoped that the criticism of Joubert was a one-off slip in those core values but with Eddie Jones’ recent appointment of Dylan Hartley as England captain I fear that this is a further step away from those standards.
I’ll hold my hands up and say I’m not the biggest fan of Hartley as a player but it is his record as a player which worries me more in light of his appointment as captain of the national team. Over the course of his playing career so far he has had bans totalling over a year.
I understand that professional sport is all about winning. Perhaps grassroots rugby has a different view, but the RFU reiterates that the TREDS are central to our game and that England as a national team are “connected” to the grassroots of the sport. However, this appointment would suggest otherwise.
In his defence, Eddie Jones has said that he wants the team to have an edge, be confrontational and the like. However, let’s look at the offences the newly appointed captain has received bans for. These include eye gouging, head-butting and abuse of the referee. Nothing suggests a player on the edge of the game, but rather a player that engages in cheap shots and a lack of respect for both his opponents and the officials.
It would appear to be the RFU engaging in a do as I say not as I do approach or at least allowing that to happen. This is, in my opinion, a real double standard.
But maybe these double standards aren’t just restricted to the top levels of the game.
There are rules in the game around sportsmanship, especially in the youth game, but looking at the recent results of regional Colts competitions there have been a number of 65+ to nil games reported.
The rules at those levels clearly state the game is over when a 50 point gap happens. No ifs, buts or maybes but these too have been ignored.
Let’s hope both examples are a hiccup. I’m hoping the new England captain together with his team will inspire a new group of people to want to get involved in the game. Equally I hope that those who manage the game locally remember the rules are there for a reason.