Sportsmanship – Time to Dust off an Old Column

Given the Bakkies Botha schtick at this week’s Tri Nations match, I’ve been giving this column about Sportsmanship from 2001 a lot of thought.  It might be time to fly it up the flagpole and see if it resonates with any rugby fans.

– Benson

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In my last column I briefly addressed the idea of sportsmanship and the lack of it as it mattered in the Hopoate case in rugby league.

Well, it’s time to focus on this idea of sportsmanship.

Last weekend I watched one of the best up and coming college rugby teams play. The University of New Mexico Lobos faced off with the New Mexico Tech Pygmies rugby team. The game was very much one-sided. The Lobos scored almost at will. They play with a teamwork and a fluidity that you see in top Super 12 teams. The Lobos never were threatened in the game. Scoring early and often, they won, 91-3.

However, I also haven’t seen such a high level of unsportsmanlike conduct and arrogance, ever.

In my life.

The saying is “Rugby is a hooligan’s sport, played by gentlemen.” What I saw last weekend bore no resemblance to a gentlemen’s sport.

I’ve seen the Dallas Cowboys of the early ’90s, I remember the ‘85 Bears and the “Superbowl Shuffle.” Anyone remember when the Boston Celtics were good?

That wasn’t enough. When is winning ever enough anymore?

In the first half, the University of New Mexico played like they were true champions, they jumped into the lead, they took control of the game, but they allowed the Pygmies to stay in the game.

The difference between the first and second halves could be measured in light years. During the second half, the Lobos were boasting about how many tries they had left to score 100 points. The Lobos kept out one of their best players until the second half, when they were up 41-0.

Near the end of the game, one of the Pygmies was injured, the result of a cheap shot. He was shoved from behind into the knee of another player, no attempt at a tackle. At the end of the game the Lobos ran the ball in from one end of the try zone, ran across the try zone and placed the ball down in the furthest corner they could find and still score.

Was that necessary?

No.

I understand we live in an age where you can’t just win, you have to show up your opponent.

Why only score, when you can score and rub a little salt in the ol’ wound?

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

Sound familiar?

Is this what rugby is really about? Running up the score, trash talking, humiliating your opponent.

At what point would the coach step in and say “Enough is enough”?

I like a good, hard ruck as much as the next guy, I’m in favor of hard playing rugby. It’s the taunting, the deliberate belittling of a team playing their best that I’m against.

I spoke with the referee after the game. He said that if the game hadn’t ended at that point, he would’ve taken the player who scored the final try aside and had a word with him.

I’m glad I’m not a referee. I’d have disallowed the final try for taunting. (Be worried, the referee at the game has almost talked me into becoming a referee)

I mentioned a line in the sand that players can’t fully come back from after they cross it. It’s the same with teams. If a team gets a reputation for running up the score, throwing cheap shots, and being bad sports when they lose, then it’s hard to come back and re-create the teams image. Every time a team slips up, the people start to think, “Well, they’re back to their old ways.”

Look back at the 1995 World Cup, New Zealand vs. Japan, 145-17 All Blacks. That didn’t make up for the loss to South Africa. Draw the parallel with the University of New Mexico, they can run up the score against a team they outclass, they can taunt and trash talk. But outside of a sevens tournament in May, their season is over. They lost in the Western Round of 12 to Air Force. And I’ll bet that despite running up the score this weekend, they’d give up every try they scored in order to be in the playoff run.

If you truly love the game, then it’s not a matter of winning or losing, this is the essence of sportsmanship. (But I gotta tell you, I’m not against winning a game, it’s winning without class that I’m against.) The indomitable spirit of the game is being decimated by these antics.

One of the best phrases I’ve heard about sportsmanship comes from “Any Given Sunday.”

From Al Pacino to Jamie Foxx, “Just remember, on any given Sunday, you’re either gonna win or your gonna lose.”

And back to Coach Al, “But can you win or lose like a man? I got it.”

Is it too late to get it?

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