It may be a Neanderthal thought, but perhaps the answer is to bring back good old-fashioned rucking. The question, of course, is what to do about players who are persistently offside.
Back in the day, when Richie McCaw was only getting on the wrong side of his cot, players used to punish offside opponents with a vigorous dose of rucking. Gareth Edwards said you always came out of a game against the All Blacks completely black and blue, but it was fair and well deserved.
But since rucking was banned, players have turned to a far more brutal form of ‘vigilante justice’. In recent weeks both Dean Greyling and Scott Higginbotham have taken it upon themselves to object physically to McCaw’s methods. Unfortunately these two instances show just how out of touch the games authorities are in dealing with the whole issue.
Greyling’s forearm smash to the side of McCaw’s head constituted assault. He should have been sent off at the time, but neither ref nor touch judge were strict enough. You could excuse Alain Rolland his leniency. The last time he sent someone off for foul play it cost him the World Cup final.
But what on earth was the citing officer doing in the case of Greyling. Paul Tully said the South African prop’s action had the potential to cause serious injury. He then handed down a one match suspension. Murder would presumably warrant a month off games.
A couple of weeks later Scott Higginbotham takes it upon himself to sort out McCaw, who had just entered a ruck from somewhere near South Australia. Higginbotham let his knee flick McCaw on the way past. There followed a scuffle. Higginbotham, now on the ground, aimed a head butt so soft that it could only be called a Sydney kiss. There was no intent to harm.
Yet Higginbotham, who had a previously exemplary disciplinary record, received a two match ban. Jannie Lubbe, the citing officer who previously exonerated Quade Cooper for a scuffle with McCaw,recognised that there was no intent to harm. Yet Higginbotham still received double the ban of Greyling.
The world is about face. It seems the worse the offence on McCaw, the more lenient the sanction. In the final of the World Cup McCaw was eye gouged, but the IRB swept the incident under the carpet. They didn’t want the scandal. No action was taken about an incident that shamed rugby. Better to pretend it didn’t happen.
10 months later Meyer assaulted McCaw. His coach apologised to the All Blacks captain and called his actions unacceptable. Captain Jean de Villiers was appalled and said his team would never condone playing dirty. Yet Greyling received a one match ban. It’s a joke and not a very funny one.
So when Higginbotham roughed McCaw, coach Steve Hansen called it another cheap shot and pointed out that his captain was subjected to them every week. McCaw said: “It does get frustrating at times and annoying, but there’s not much I can do about it.”
There’s actually quite a lot Richie could do about it, like staying onside, but world class openside flankers don’t think like that. They push the law past breaking point. That’s why rucking was a good solution. Any stud near the head was an automatic sending off offence, but the rest was fair game.
At the moment the game is anything but fair. The psychos are getting away with murder and the likes of Higginbotham are receiving rough justice.
If the IRB won’t go back to rucking, at least appoint a few more ex internationals – as they do in cricket – to the disciplinary panel. At least that way we might get some understanding of the difference between gratuitous violence and onfield vigilantism.