Wednesday 26 October 2016

Sinead Kissane: Brian O'Driscoll's row with All Blacks faithful shows how blinkered fans can lose sight of what matters

Published 10/09/2016 | 02:30

Brian O'Driscoll has come under attack from some New Zealand fans
Brian O'Driscoll has come under attack from some New Zealand fans

This summer threw up a few heavyweight clashes but Brian O'Driscoll v New Zealand was one of the more unexpected ones.

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After Sanzar's decision not to cite New Zealand prop Owen Franks for an alleged eye-gouge on Australia lock Kane Douglas last month, O'Driscoll tweeted: "This is an absolute sham @WorldRugby ??!? Makes a mockery of citing. If nothing comes of this it's a farce."

It was a farce. The video angles clearly show Franks' hand around Douglas' eye and, at the very least, Franks should have been made to explain his actions.

But social media has shown that it's not just lies which rile people but also honesty, so O'Driscoll's honest opinion did not go down too well in New Zealand.

What got particular traction was O'Driscoll's tweet in response to one New Zealander: "you lot are so blinded by your beloved team. It bangs of not having a whole lot else". He later deleted that tweet, admitting it was petty.

In an effort to undermine his view, it was open season on O'Driscoll from some New Zealand fans.

In the New Zealand Herald on Thursday, Bryan Gould (a New Zealand-born former British MP), accused O'Driscoll of "sour grapes" and said he, along with rugby writer Stephen Jones, are "both renowned for grudges they bear against not only the All Blacks, but against the New Zealand rugby public and even the country itself".

He added: "O'Driscoll at least has the excuse that he was the victim of a shockingly unfortunate accident in a Lions match. Where he goes beyond what is reasonable is his unwillingness to accept that his injury was caused unintentionally and was not the result of deliberate foul play.

"Instead, he has all too predictably used the Franks incident to re-ignite the charge that the All Blacks play dirty and have some special dispensation that allows them to get away with it."

The last paragraph of Gould's piece included the lines: "The best piece of advice we can offer O'Driscoll, who famously lost every match he played against the All Blacks, is that it's just a game."

Gould decided to join up some unconnected dots. By bringing up what happened to O'Driscoll 11 years ago when he was picked up by Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu and dumped head-first into the ground in the first Test of the 2005 Lions tour, Gould deduced that O'Driscoll's opinion is tainted.

The loyalty some New Zealand fans show their team knows no limits. In Behind the Lions, Donncha O'Callaghan said the flak the Lions players took from the locals on that '05 tour was relentless.

"I'll be honest, it was hard for me," he said. "You're going down the road and they're abusing you - 'You're no Lions, you're more like pussycats'.

"And the lady in the shop thinks she's doing her bit by abusing you, as much as Richie McCaw does by poaching the ball."

We've had our own loyalty episodes in Ireland. When Warren Gatland dropped O'Driscoll  for the final Lions Test in Australia three years ago, it led to the kind of outrage on social media which should never leave O'Driscoll in doubt about his standing in the Irish public. But it did not justify the "vitriol" Gatland said he received.

"There was a moment (during the third Test in Sydney) when I looked at the TV when I was in the coaching box with 15 minutes to go and I felt like gesturing towards it!"

Gatland said this week when he was announced as Lions head coach to tour New Zealand next year. "It was a tough week that last one."

Team selections are subjective - everyone will have their own opinion and their own loyalties. But when the welfare of a player is at risk on the pitch then that's different, that's when common sense should come into play.

There's nothing admirable in the kind of loyalty from fans who decide to ignore video evidence which clearly shows that their own player had his hand around the eye area of an opponent and when criticism for the lack of punishment for this incident is twisted into a grudge against an entire nation.

When a player from your country has committed an act of dangerous play, irrespective of intent, it is misguided loyalty to ignore it or pass off that act as just being part of the game.

It is 11 years since O'Driscoll was spear-tackled by two New Zealand players, an act that could have resulted in unthinkable damage but which has been used as ammunition to hit back at O'Driscoll because he pointed out a clear injustice in the way laws about player safety were not implemented in a particular match.

"As I was thrown down, the only thing in my mind was to somehow break my fall. Much better to break my hand or my arm than my neck. Something had to give and it was my right shoulder, which had been sheared away, and as I now know, dislocated.

"I tried to shout out to Andrew Cole (touch judge), who I could still sense standing by the ruck, but I had no voice at all - either I had been winded or the shock had numbed me for a minute, I felt like a drowning man, I wanted to shout for help but no-one could hear me".

That was O'Driscoll's description in Behind the Lions of that incident in the Test in Christchurch in 2005.

So, tell me Mr Gould, does that sound like "just a game" to you?

Irish Independent

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