Last weekend I wrote a piece on TJ Perenara’s behaviour towards the referee during the second Test of the Lions series, which included my opinion on the incident that involved both the scrum-half and the visitors’ Kyle Sinckler in an altercation after the final whistle.
It is vitally important that we do not erode our sense of responsibility towards officials in rugby matches. Professionalism has inevitably transformed rugby into a form of paid entertainment, but it is not wrestling and I, for one, do not want it to become like football. Professionalism means we have full-time referees and officials who take on a tremendous, perhaps unparalleled amount of pressure in the sport to make the right call at exactly the right time.
To have that authority and that integrity so vehemently and aggressively questioned on the pitch by any player is wrong. Captains act as the mouthpiece for the team and should conduct themselves around officials in a respectful and dignified manner. This is something that both Kieran Read and Sam Warburton illustrated in bucketloads last weekend. However, it is not for individual players to gesticulate wildly, to speak directly to the referee in an apparently aggressive manner and to use the pitch as a form of theatre.
It’s a development in the sport that is not isolated to one team or competition, it is a growing trend. When matches have monetary value to them then it is inevitable that players will come out and say the sport is not tiddlywinks, but one thing that all rugby fans value highly – new and old – is the sport’s perceived sense of moral integrity.
The in-your-face manner of many professional footballers is not something rugby should be looking to emulate. Players are role models to youngsters: what message does that send out?
However, it is the incident after the whistle had gone that rankles the most. Both Kyle Sinckler and TJ Perenara were involved in pushing and shoving despite the fact the game was officially over. It has been a time-honoured tradition of the sport that what happens on the pitch stays on the pitch, and both players here failed to honour it in this instance.
Sinckler is a self-professed rugby nerd, studying games every waking hour, but he gave off the appearance of hot-headedness here that is not welcome in a Lions jersey or another colour for that matter. Nor did Perenara endear himself to anyone with these antics.
By all means, wear your heart on your sleeve but show it through the way you play, not the nonsense off the ball or towards the officials.
Saturday’s third Test is going to be a white-hot cauldron of pressure, but players have responsibilities beyond simply playing. With all the history and tradition that a Lions series brings, it’s important to follow in the footsteps of some truly great players and equally wonderful individuals. Heroics not histrionics, gentlemen.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena