Sunday 24 September 2017

Vincent Hogan: All Blacks cast shadow on rules

Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Well, that's that then. Next time this column swings home in the early hours with no keys, half a kebab down our shirt-front and hiccupping like a toad, we're lodging an appeal.

Conciliation talks can go straight into the hands of the IRB. A man might end up three sheets to the wind, but I challenge anyone to prove that he went out with that intention. Wonder do they do house-calls?

The optics may be poor, but toss the burden of proof in the right direction and chances are your wife will end up thinking she's actually married to Florence Nightingale.

Take the business of Keven Mealamu. He started the week cited for an alleged head-butt on England's Lewis Moody and finished it with All Blacks coach Graham Henry lauding him as "probably the cleanest player in the world".

Which, you will agree, is a quite considerable journey.

Now Mealamu is no smoking gun. That bothersome business with Brian O'Driscoll in 2005 may mean that mention of his name in this neck of the woods tends to get concerned mothers out counting their children.

Our national schools are flooded with kids who probably think of him and Tana Umaga as a kind of muscled Bonnie and Clyde.

But, that Christchurch altercation aside, Mealamu has been a largely exemplary professional. Hence, the initial suspension imposed for that Moody incident being the minimum four weeks.

So we've no interest in demonising a bloke here who's pulled on the All Blacks jersey 82 times. And let's be frank.

We're not exactly in a position to play St Peter at the Pearly Gates are we, given that small matter of Jamie Heaslip's knee and Richie McCaw's head in New Plymouth last June?

Good people do bad things in the heat of battle. Actually, reading the extracts from Alan Quinlan's book in this newspaper, his explanation for that moment with Leo Cullen -- which cost him a Lions tour -- seemed perfectly sane and rational.

When real sport spouts a hairy palm, sanctimony ill-becomes those of us occasionally prone to pathetic outbursts of indignation on a five-a-side pitch.

But aren't you even faintly intrigued by what went down in Edinburgh last Friday morning? That business of a three-man committee making the call on whether or not Mealamu's season should be over?

What were they trying to adjudicate on exactly? Evidence of intent, that's what. And how do you do that? Correct, you guess.

So they sat down, watching -- over and over -- the very same footage available to you and me on YouTube. Except, they will -- presumably -- have had the volume turned down.

That way, they won't have heard Stuart Barnes's rather genteel cry on Sky of "Ooooomph, that is not attractive" or, conversely, the New Zealand TV commentary which amounted to a nervous clearing of throats, scuffing of shoes and tip-tapping of biros on paper.

What can be said is that the TV images don't do Mealamu any favours. But you would have to be a mind reader to know for sure whether it was actually his intention to torpedo his head into the back of the England captain's. And we're not. So we don't.

What goes on between a player's ears must, forever, remain his own private information.

This, however, was not the committee's view. Peter Ingwersen, Robert Williams and Jean Noel Couraud came to the conclusion that Mealamu had not acted deliberately and, thereby, reduced his suspension to a fortnight. He is thus free to play in the All Blacks' concluding Autumn International against Wales.

This is good for Mealamu and good for New Zealand. Good for rugby?

The player's fine behavioural record had already been factored into the initial suspension and this column challenges anyone to access the footage and identify even the tiniest window into Mealamu's mind as, leading with his head, he arrives to "clear out" the ruck.

So, as the most powerful rugby nation on the planet bellowed with outrage at 'Kevvy's' citing, what made Peter, Robert and Jean Noel blink?

Look, this isn't an All Blacks issue, it's a rugby issue. Ambivalence to foul play is a stick with which the sport is too often beaten and, frankly, this Mealamu story just stiffens the case of the prosecution.

That apart, we'd like to welcome coach Henry and his wonderful team to Dublin this week. We got off on the wrong foot two years ago when great umbrage was taken at this column's reluctance to defer to the Blacks and all they represent.

Worse, we again expressed our misgivings about the Haka and the pressure brought to bear on opposition players to mount an appropriate response. To some, this equates to jimmying a sacristy door.

BBC World kindly invited us on to explore our difficulties with this eye-rolling, tongue-flicking, throat-slitting homage to the "hairy men". As an after-thought, they mentioned that Sean Fitzpatrick would be squaring up in the opposite corner.

We did the math. Legendary All Blacks hooker picks on-air fight with babbling Irish non-entity who has the gall to question a sacred cultural practice. We declined.

You probably have a name for that in the land of the silver fern but, here, we call it pragmatism. You guys cast a pretty long shadow, you see. This week offered proof.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport