x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Not a good couple weeks for the apologetic rugby hooligans

Maybe football and rugby are only separated by an understanding of contrition, writes Paul Radley.

A dejected Dylan Hartley of Northampton walks off the pitch after collecting his losers medals during the Aviva Premiership Final between Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints at Twickenham Stadium last month. David Rogers / Getty Images
A dejected Dylan Hartley of Northampton walks off the pitch after collecting his losers medals during the Aviva Premiership Final between Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints at Twickenham Stadium last month. David Rogers / Getty Images

Rugby folk love to claim theirs is a hooligan's sport played by gentlemen, while football is a gentleman's game played by hooligans. Well, either that argument was not water-tight in the first place, or maybe standards are slipping, judged by the past couple of weeks.

Two weekends ago, in the biggest match in English rugby, the captain of one of the teams was sent off for calling the referee a cheat in expletive-laden terms.

The opposing coach is now being brought to book for allegedly directing similarly coarse language toward officials, while demanding an opposition player be sent off. The ball was oval. If there is a problem, it is a rugby one and nothing to do with the round-ball code.

Fast-forward to the moment when Schalk Brits could have ended Owen Farrell's British & Irish Lions tour before it had begun if he had landed a punch he threw while playing for the Barbarians.

Maybe this is where the gentleman gene kicks in: rugby is good at saying sorry.

When a repeat-offending footballer bites an opponent, complains that the punishment is too harsh and that he was the victim of a media witch hunt, it is accepted as part of the sport.

Brits, perhaps fearing a backlash when he and Farrell return to training with Saracens, immediately shared an apology via social media. Dylan Hartley, meanwhile, took his portentous suspension for abusing a referee on the chin.

So maybe the two sports are only separated by an understanding of contrition.

pradley@thenational.ae

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