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Opinion: Is The Spirit Of Rugby Slipping Away?

Rugby LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 12: Mike Brown of England talks with Dan Biggar of Wales after the RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 12, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

The headlines in the media over the past week have been dominated by ‘Marler-gate’ and whether what has transpired in the aftermath of the incident is at odds with the ‘spirit’ of the game. So is that ethereal notion at threat or is the very esoteric character of rugby alive and well?

Many fans were angered with what Joe Marler said, many said it was in jest and taken too seriously, and the England prop’s lack of a ban for his actions caused another tsunami-like uproar across the world of rugby. But the fact that fans can discuss these issues at length and can laugh about what has been said to each other is part of that aforementioned spirit of the game. When that debate boils over into anger and insults rather than intelligent reasoning and gentle joshing, that is when we move away from rugby’s inherent code of conduct.

In all honesty, seeing comments on social media sites from genuine fans that stated that they felt a part of the game had died with what happened over the last week deeply troubled me. There is still so much to treasure about the sport and one isolated incident which was an act of stupidity and one shrouded in instant regret is not one that should come to dominate the game so much.

ROME, ITALY - FEBRUARY 14: Joe Marler of England looks on during the RBS Six Natiions match between Italy and England at the Stadio Olimpico on February 14, 2016 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Yet in the same game, England’s Mike Brown came to Wales’ Luke Charteris’ aid when he had quite clearly dislocated his fingers. It wasn’t in the same league as when All Black Tana Umaga ensured Colin Charvis did not swallow his own tongue back in 2003, but it shows that rugby is not on the brink of some apocalyptic moral breakdown.

We do have a tendency to focus on the negative in our sport at times, and probably right now in the northern hemisphere we could do with a shot-in-the-arm and remember what makes us love this sport so much in the first place.

For this writer, the quality that makes rugby so wonderful is a sense of unity. It was a unique experience to be a part of the World Cup last year and to see so many towns and countries across the United Kingdom embracing the sport and its fans was fantastic. I myself went to see South Africa take on Samoa at Villa Park and to witness huge green masses of Springbok fans roar their team on to victory in the face of many thousands of people taking on the positions of honourary Samoans was quite a spectacle.

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 26: A South Africa fan flies the flag during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool B match between South Africa and Samoa at Villa Park on September 26, 2015 in Birmingham, United Kingdom. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

As an England fan, even though the Red Rose were appallingly bad in their pool games, the disappointment of them being knocked out before the quarter-finals was quickly replaced with wonder and delight at the rugby being played, particularly from the southern hemisphere trio of New Zealand, Australia and Argentina, but also the bravery and determination of a Scotland team unlucky not to make it to the semi-finals.

In other sports tribalism can take over to the degree that spectators are segregated away from each other, and that hooligans will attempt to beat each other to a pulp in name of a club or a badge. In football, you are dedicated to one club and will support teams playing against your rivals. For instance, Everton and Liverpool fans would never dream of offering their support to the other. How many Everton fans cheered when Liverpool last won a European trophy?

Yet it’s not so black and white in rugby. When five of the eight teams in the Champions Cup quarter-finalists are English clubs, this is celebrated across the country. When Leinster, Munster or Ulster celebrated their Heineken Cup wins, was the rest of Ireland filled with despair or jubilation? Regardless of where one is from, one has a respect for the rest of the rugby world and like all fans one wants the game to grow and grow. That is why there was such overwhelming joy when Japan did the impossible last year and defeated South Africa.

Regardless of what happens on the pitch it is forgotten off it and opposing fans can commiserate or celebrate afterwards long into the evening. When the rivalry on the pitch spills out past its four ‘walls’ then that is when the spirit of rugby dies, but for now it is buoyant, brilliant and beautiful.

Let of us revel in the fact that we all appreciate such a magnificent sport that can bring so many different people together. The spirit of rugby is stronger than ever.


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Author: The PA Team

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