Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: The moment attitudes changed across rugby

Rugby close to crossing the line where the fans can’t trust what they’re watching.

Everything changed for rugby last week. It didn't lose a piece of its soul as such, but there was a severe warning about how easily it could.

The sight of the Australian federal police turning up at the hotel where the All Blacks were staying in Sydney, to investigate why a listening device was recording private conversations, has to be the moment attitudes across the sport changed.

Until the police are able to provide evidence to the contrary, everyone should work on the basis that the game has endured a possible integrity breach.

It's apparent that not everyone is quite on that page yet. The day after the police investigation began, Ian Foster was asked by the Australian media whether he felt the All Blacks were paranoid. "You can kick that word for touch," was the terse response from the All Blacks assistant coach.

And with good reason. The discovery of a high-tech listening device expertly hidden in a chair within the team room was one spectacularly good reason to justify the All Blacks' belief they need to take their security seriously.

The tone of the narrative out of Australia generally has also alluded at a continuing failure to see the big picture. Australian Rugby Union chief executive Bill Pulver has only expressed his sense of disbelief that such an episode could have happened - that he has never heard of such a concept before - and has twice suggested the biggest problem as he saw it was the timing of the news being made public.

The subtext is obvious - that he feels this was a bit of a stunt designed to upset the Wallabies on game day.

It's time, though, for the political point scoring and attempted narrative-changing comments to end. The truth is that every top international rugby side takes their security seriously and goes to some length to protect it.

Most have also experienced some kind of incident where they have come under threat - the Wallabies having been victims at last year's World Cup.

As they trained in the spa town of Bath, preparing to play their crucial match against England, a photographer with a long lens was spotted lying in bushes.

He was chased by Wallabies security personnel but not caught. Possible spies being detected at training grounds is a long-standing issue.

In 2005 in London, All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith virtually tripped over two heavily camouflaged men lying in thick foliage with cameras, filming a training session.

Sir Clive Woodward, without any hard proof to confirm it, was sure that his England team had been spied on at the 2003 World Cup, hence his decision to train behind screens - a practice that virtually all international sides have since adopted.

Rather than expose the vulnerability of teams, these sorts of stories have been grist to grind an unflattering mill that has portrayed coaches as absurdly twitchy and guilty of seeing ghosts and shadows that simply aren't there.

Maybe now that will change. It should change because part of the reason coaches are twitchy is that most of them take plenty of advice from high-level security professionals, who provide them with ample reason to be a bit edgy.

Rugby is big business. There will be millions resting with the TAB on the Wellington test. There are sponsorship deals that link to success; there are well-paid jobs attached to outcomes, replica jersey sales, ticket sales and broadcast deals that tally up to hundreds of millions of dollars all connected, some directly, some not, to results.

With so much at stake, it's both naive and dangerous to believe that people with a vested interest won't be prepared to cheat or even break the law to gain an advantage, for whatever purpose.

This is neither absurd nor paranoid. The best international teams spend the majority of their time in search of what they call the extra one per cent - the smallest advantages they can find to edge ahead of opponents.

These tiny differences are so often accredited as being the separation point between the best, that it would hardly make sense to laud teams for finding these one percenters, only to then mock them for protecting themselves against the prospect of opponents illegally stealing them.

Any "inside" information, however insignificant, will have some kind of applicable and practical value. Whether it's enough to alter the natural outcome of the contest is not the point: it's the possibility that it can and with that, the integrity and credibility of the game is lost.

Where will rugby be if people can't truly believe what they are watching?

The discovery of the listening device in Sydney is not a stunt, or an opportunity to faintly mock the All Blacks for having a warped sense of victimisation.

This is the beginning of a new era for rugby - one where every stakeholder and member of the wider fraternity works in partnership to respect, promote and honour the sanctity of the game.

- NZ Herald

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