Malcolm Boyle: Ominous reaction to foul play rule

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Paul Gallen of the Blues punches Nate Myles of the Maroons. Photo / Getty Images
Paul Gallen of the Blues punches Nate Myles of the Maroons. Photo / Getty Images

Don't say you weren't warned; in fact, anyone who had an opportunity to voice an opinion before State of Origin II was expressing concern about the knee-jerk reaction to Paul Gallen's punches in the first match of the 2013 series.

Reaction by the administrators to this piece of foul play was ominous, and totally bereft of Rugby League nous. Referees were instructed that any player throwing a punch would be penalised and cast into the sin bin for 10 minutes.

The potential for farce was cranked up to new levels as all discretion was removed from the match officials. It appeared that the officials in their anxiety made pushing a capital offence. Such was the frustration that what was the most minor of offences could in itself have sparked a major stoush. It was a dumb knee-jerk response which nearly led to a much more serious outbreak of fisticuffs.

But Rugby League has always struggled with getting its reactions right, this is because the vast majority of Rugby League supporters have no problem with the physicality of the game which can and often does boil over.

In fact they love it. This not to sanction outright brutality but in a collision sport such as the 13-man game tempers can and do flare. Sometimes violence can manifest itself in other ways, New Zealand Rugby League legend has it that one of the most unusual episodes to involve a team from New Zealand took place during a tour of France some years ago.

The New Zealand team were travelling from a game to a new base in the French countryside and, outfitted in their number ones, stopped to have a beer in a local pub. Their behaviour was impeccable but a local bikie gang attempted to assert its territoriality over the unwelcome and strangely dressed visitors. Predictably a stand-off ensued with the leader of the gang, a huge man accompanied by his aggressive girlfriend.

The situation was turning very bad for the New Zealanders until one of them, a tough second row forward from the central North Island decided to take matters into his own hands and let fly with the mother of all punches. His expertly aimed blow hit the woman flush on the point of her jaw, sending her reeling backwards, leading to a swift strategic withdrawal by the menacing gang.

Former Kiwi coach Graham Lowe tells a slightly similar story of intimidation when one of his teams toured Papua New Guinea in the eighties. It was a particularly rugged test match with passionate locals at times rising to fever pitch in their support, at games end the team closeted themselves in the safety of their dressing room. The door was barged open and a sack sailed into the room. When Lowe realised the sack contained snakes, there was a quick sprint for the bus.

- Herald on Sunday

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