x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Onfield and off, rugby is a sport rich in contrasts

Some of the things it drives its protagonists to do are frightening, and often totally out of character.

Does any other game provoke quite such extreme white-line fever as rugby? Some of the things it drives its protagonists to do are frightening, and often totally out of character.

Take, as an example, Michael Jones, the great All Blacks flanker, who was deemed one of the best players the game has seen.

He is a devoutly religious man who refused to play on Sundays during his playing days due to his faith. Yet he was uncompromisingly fierce on the field.

At the last World Cup, in his role as Samoa's coach, he even suggested rugby union was getting too soft, and that he would suggest his son take up rugby league in future if he wanted to play a man's game.

Jones himself always explained the apparent contradiction by saying his faith taught him that it was better to give than receive.

He is just one example in a sport rich in contrasts. Keven Mealamu, the All Blacks hooker, is another case in point.

He blotted his copybook at the weekend, when he aimed a crude butt at Lewis Moody, England's prone captain, at Twickenham. It earned him a four-week ban, and thus his place on New Zealand's northern hemisphere tour.

"I do take it personally, because I'm not that type of person," was his contrite response. Quite.

When he is not on rugby's front line, Mealamu is a keen artist, and illustrates children's books.

Perhaps the judiciary committee will consider Jumbo the Monster Caterpillar, one of his creations, as a character witness the next time he is up on a charge of butting.

pradley@thenational.ae