Sunday 25 September 2016

Rugby has lost its way, its soul and its reason - time for an overhaul

Published 20/02/2016 | 02:30

Dave Kearney (SPORTSFILE)
Dave Kearney (SPORTSFILE)

The French second-row Yoann Maestri hit Jonathan Sexton when he wasn't looking. Brave or what? Even the muggers usually say, 'Hand it over or else'.

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I would ask Maestri this question. How could you deliberately, and with some thinking time, attempt to send a fellow player home to his wife, little boy and a six-day-old baby on a stretcher? You knew Sexton had concussion problems in the past. How can you justify such a cowardly attack?

A man who would do this is capable of anything on the field and a rugby nation which consistently engages in dirty play will go to any lengths to win.

When the captain carries out a premeditated assault, well then you would have to be suspicious that he was under orders. The attempted guillotining by French skipper Guilhem Guirado of Dave Kearney almost lobbed his head in a basket.

So, I would ask the French coach Guy Noves if he told his team to go out and deliberately maim Irish players? We are at least entitled to ask the question. And I must apologise for praising Noves here last week. His team lack any kind of sophistication or élan.

So, Guy, did you have a private word or did your players disobey your instructions to play hard and fair? And, Guy, will you play the 'dirty' players again next week, thereby proving to all of us you did not authorise your team to maim?

The French TV people who put up the big money called the shots. The French were gifted their first two games at home. Italy was the easiest game for them but Italy almost shocked France.

The Irish who are champions were given six days to recover. France had a seven-day break and the game was played on Saturday even though Sunday is the traditional big day for French rugby. That extra day's rest makes a huge difference, particularly when you are playing away from home.

Rugby has changed. Rugby is not run in a fair way.

There are some in this French team who have forsaken any sense of humanity. This wasn't a one-off. France have been violent for years. Pascal Papé deliberately put Jamie Heaslip out of the game last year. Naturally enough, Papé hit Jamie when he wasn't looking.

The French threatened Sexton before the World Cup so there's motive and form for the conspiracy theory. He's tough though. The assault from the Frenchman, he told us, helped loosen out his stiff neck. And he says out-halves are always targeted anyway. The attacks on his body prove he's on top of his game.

Much has been written about Jonathan's concussion problems. Here are some facts, which may not suit certain people. Jonathan's last concussion was in November 2014. He has only ever had two serious concussions. Jonathan has had the best possible medical advice and, as a young dad and husband, he would not put his future at risk.

The IRFU will not take chances either. Legal action could be taken in years to come and aside from that the medical team genuinely care for the players. There's no guarantee of safety in rugby for anyone. His family worry about him.

Jonathan has been the victim of some terrible hits, particularly in France. Toulon are the richest and most powerful club in the world.

A Toulon player broke Jonathan's jaw. The ball had long gone. He should have been up before a judge. For some reason there was no television recording of the incident.

Rugby is a violent game and it is his choice to play or not to play. Out-halves have a bullseye painted on their backs.

Rugby players accept the risks and sad to say there are young boys who were injured playing rugby who will spend the rest of their lives in a wheelchair.

There's a bit of the illusion of the invincibility of youth coming through here. Yeats wrote these lines on the thrill of it all in his poem 'An Irish Airman Foresees His Death'.

A lonely impulse of delight

Drove to this tumult in the clouds;

I balanced all, brought all to mind,

The years to come seemed waste of breath,

A waste of breath the years behind

In balance with this life, this death.

Young lads play in the now. Future hurts are to be dealt with in the future. So, it is then that the game must be properly policed. Players who see little danger need a wiser counsel.

J'accuse the referee, the TMO, the citing officials and the citing officer of failing to protect the players. They seem to think Sexton was hit by a shoulder. It was an elbow. Dave Kearney (left) left the pitch in terrible pain. Is this justice? I thought long and hard about writing this piece. I am Jonathan's godfather and we are good old pals. Didn't want to seem biased and all that but I'm not. This is nothing but the truth and I stand over every word.

Neil Francis took the game apart analytically and his brilliant article here persuaded me to have a go. Francis was sickened by the whole affair.

Francis wrote: "This controlled violence - it is a test of self. Pre-meditated violence and foul play - well, that is something that is outside of your control - and you put your faith and, indeed, your life in the hands of somebody else, trusting that they will uphold your faith."

The patent lack of protection will give parents second thoughts on whether or not their kids should be allowed to play rugby.

Unless rugby reduces the risks of injury and enforces the rules of the game, the Ireland-France game played in Paris on February 13, 2016 will be known forever as the day the rugby died.

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