Hugh McGahan is a former Kiwis player and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Hugh McGahan: Eddie Jones harks back to an age of hatred

Eddie Jones, the England head coach issues instructions duirng the England captain's run held at the Suncop Stadium. Photo / Getty Images
Eddie Jones, the England head coach issues instructions duirng the England captain's run held at the Suncop Stadium. Photo / Getty Images

Eddie Jones didn't miss when he took aim at rugby league this week.

"Rugby league is not a skilful game, it's a game where you've go to hurt people," the England rugby coach told Brisbane's Courier Mail in the lead-up to last night's rugby test with Australia.

Maybe he was just trying to drum up interest in the Brisbane match, and do it at a time when most Aussies in the eastern states are more interested in State of Origin.

All it did for me was hurt me and reinforce age-old stereotypes about league and rugby.

There has been a long-standing perception league is a game for thugs and rugby one for the upper classes. Yes, most league people are proud of their blue-collar roots, but it's the condescension from the high-and-mighty brigade they hate.

The success many players from lower-income families have enjoyed in rugby, many of those Maori or Pacific Islanders, had done a lot to break down those stereotypes.

Jones went a long way to obliterating those advances in one inflammatory sentence.

It was a low blow, particularly as rugby has borrowed so much from league over the years.

A lot of the drills and plays in rugby today have come from league - the second-man plays, the defensive screens and the use of block runners. Rugby has also introduced wrestling into training to help with work at the breakdown.

The All Blacks coaches have a close relationship with Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy. I don't have any problem with that because, as coaches, you're always looking to learn and develop.

I've been involved with both games for some time. I've obviously got a background in league but I've also coached rugby since 2005 and I can tell you both are equally tough and skilful.

Some think the two games are on an inevitable journey to being combined at some stage.

I can't see it. Any hybrid game would only be a gimmick, a marketing tool, and rugby wouldn't allow it to happen given the progress it has made in the international game and the fact it now has the Olympics to promote it further through sevens.

I admit, league doesn't help itself at times with the antics of a minority who drag the game down through drug-taking, drinking and abuse. Rugby, though, is far from clean. Anyone remember the England team's antics at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand?

For Jones to say league players go out of their way to hurt people shows just how out of touch he is. If anything, league has been sanitised through a tougher judiciary and all-seeing TV cameras.

That's the same Jones, it needs to be remembered, who wasn't allowed to play league at school and who was Australia's national rugby coach when he poached the likes of Wendell Sailor, Lote Tuqiri and Mat Rogers from league when most converts had been going the other way.

And he handed an England debut to New Zealand-born former Maroons forward Ben Te'o last night.

Jones said Sam Burgess was a "non-event" at last year's Rugby World Cup but went on to offer a back-handed comment when he said Burgess would have gone on to become a very good rugby player.

I can hardly wait to hear what he says next.

- Herald on Sunday

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Hugh McGahan is a former Kiwis player and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Hugh Joseph McGahan MBE was a renowned rugby league player and coach who represented New Zealand in no less than 53 test matches, captaining 17 of them. Beginning his career in Auckland he later moved to Sydney where he played over 100 matches for the Roosters, finishing his career in 1991 as captain-coach of the eastern Sydney outfit. Accolades were never far away from the impressive Kiwi lock and in 1987 McGahan jointly won the prestigious Golden Boot Award, the first row forward at the time to win the award. Hugh McGahan’s international career was similarly impressive coming to the fore in 1982 after scoring a remarkable six tries for the Kiwis against Papua New Guinea in Auckland. Hugh Mcgahan ended his career with distinguished honours as he was awarded the Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to rugby and later inducted into the NZRL Legends of League. He continues to write sports columns for the New Zealand Herald.

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