Gregor Paul 's Opinion

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: NZ teams using 'niggly' tactics

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Asaeli Tikoirotuma of the Chiefs looks dejected after the teams' loss during the round six Super Rugby match between the Force and the Chiefs. Photo / Getty Images.
Asaeli Tikoirotuma of the Chiefs looks dejected after the teams' loss during the round six Super Rugby match between the Force and the Chiefs. Photo / Getty Images.

There's a touch of the sanctimonious about New Zealand rugby when it comes to the issue of foul play.

Clean, green New Zealand extends, apparently to the rugby fields of this country. There might have been a few rogue All Blacks in the past but these days - so everyone here would have you believe - it's all jolly hockey sticks and no bad eggs to be found.

With the odd exception - Andrew Hore and Adam Thomson in 2012 - that's largely true. The All Blacks are not a dirty team, New Zealand rugby is not riddled with filth.

However, while the game here might not be dirty, it is starting to be more than a little niggly. These last few weeks have seen an increasing number of players indulge in unnecessary, cheap stuff that is designed to infuriate opponents.

Worst of all has been the jersey holding. The Crusaders were frankly shocking when they played the Stormers a few weeks back.

Every ruck, every breakdown there would be a Crusaders' player, clinging on to something he shouldn't have been.

Schalk Burger, not one to hang around to wait for the referee to sort those things out, lost his cool and started swinging his giant paws about at one stage.

In the normal course of events he'd have been pinged for retaliating, but the referee had seen enough to know that the former Springbok was justified in his actions. There'd been too much of it previously and not had it been subtle.

Stormers captain Jean de Villiers made sure he brought the matter into the open ahead of the match with the Chiefs - suggesting that the defending champions were notorious for jersey pulling.

The Chiefs responded with the typical 'not us governor, we are squeaky clean on that front'. Sadly, no one in New Zealand is squeaky clean on that front and the players here are developing a reputation internationally for being a bit cheap and needless.

Of course all that will be denied, but the cameras don't lie. This weekend keep an eye on the activity around the ruck and at any given stage there will inevitably be some jersey pulling by a New Zealand team. It's become part and parcel - recognised as a legitimate means to disrupt the defence. Keep the defence tied in for that split second longer - what's wrong with that?

What's wrong with it is it's illegal and beneath the players here.

They don't need to do it and once players gain a reputation, they can never lose it - especially not with referees.

- Herald on Sunday

Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer. He has written several books on rugby including the Reign of King Henry, Black Obsession and For the Love of the Game.

Read more by Gregor Paul

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