The two abiding memories of Saturday’s S15 playoff game were the complete dominance of the Crusaders over the Reds and the incessant booing of Quade Cooper by the home supporters. Dan Carter completely outplayed Cooper and while the Crusaders demolished the Reds, the Canterbury fans let their team down badly. The semi final of the 2011 world cup was equally marred by the booing of Cooper by the home fans. The same happened in the 3rd / 4th place playoff, until Cooper was stretchered from the field to reluctant, embarrassed applause from the Eden Park crowd.
Cooper may rub some people up the wrong way and his description of the Wallaby camp as a “toxic environment” on Twitter certainly didn’t endear him to Robbie Deans. Some may say that Cooper deserves it for a couple of cheap shots on Richie in 2011. Perhaps it’s because he’s a Kiwi who now plies his trade in Australia or maybe the Cantabrians are still smarting from losing to the Reds in the S15 final in 2011. No matter what the reason, it’s unacceptable and it reflects badly on not just the Crusaders but on NZ rugby.
Canterbury crowds have a long tradition of hostile receptions for visiting teams be they international or domestic. Grant Fox and Carlos Spencer got the Lancaster Park treatment as bad as any overseas visitor. In Paris, supporters relentlessly boo visiting kickers but are balanced enough to boo their own too, if they miss more than a couple of kicks at goal. There is no more hostile environment for a visiting team to face than at Loftus Versfeld on the South African Highveld. Booing has become a blight on the game and should not be viewed as acceptable.
The treatment of Cooper in New Zealand however, has taken this behaviour to a new low. The fact that the leaders of the game in New Zealand have consistently failed to take a stand and publicly state their disapproval of this boorish conduct, reflects poorly on them. The behaviour of home supporters could become one of the criteria in deciding the allocation of future Test matches. While perhaps a draconian measure, the threat alone might be sufficiently serious for the culprits to change their ways.
Credit goes to Crusaders full-back Israel Dagg who tweeted after Saturday’s game “Great win by the boys but please peeps give @QuadeCooper a break!! Disappointed by the boos!!! #moveon.” Senior players such as McCaw, Carter and Read are revered by the NZ rugby public and must surely be embarrassed by the behaviour. It remains to be seen if Ewen McKenzie picks Cooper for the forthcoming Wallabies game against the All Blacks in Wellington. However, were Cooper to play, it would be the ideal opportunity for the NZRU, in conjunction with senior All Blacks, to urge the home fans to show respect for the Wallabies and the Kiwi amongst them in particular. Israel Dagg has shown them the way, let the All Blacks so called leadership group follow.