Wednesday, 19 August 2009

I'm A Cheat

I’m a cheat.

There, I said it. No messing, no excuses, just an open and honest admission. I get onto a rugby pitch and I cheat like mad.

Handling in the ruck? Absolutely. I’m damn good at that. There’s no coincidence that the best referee my side had all last season was the only one to catch me doing it. (By comparison, the worst referee we had was the one who pinged me for handling on the only occasion I never actually touched the ball.)

That’s not my only crime, though. Breaking too soon from the scrum when the referee’s back is turned? That’ll be me. Slowly retreating so I’m still in the way when a tap penalty is taken? Guilty, your honour. Cutting a team-mate so that we can have a blood replacement? Er, no. That’s going way too far.

I’m a back row forward. Cheating is what we are good at, it is part of the game and everyone does it to everybody else. I’ve been involved in playground-style scraps for the ball with opponents when we are both lying at the bottom of a ruck. But hell, I’ve never gone as far as Dean Richards had his Harlequins team do last season. There’s cheating where you do it to your opponent before they do it to you, and there’s cheating where you stoop so low that even the earthworms look down on you.

The sad thing is, I learned a lot of what I know from watching Deano. For example, I wear my socks rolled down, because he did and he did so because it makes it harder for the referee to tell which side an infringing leg belongs to. As a callow youth in the 80s, learning the basics of back row play, there was no better player to watch. Look back at his debut against Ireland and see the lengths the Irish pack go to to stop him scoring a third pushover try and you’ll see what I mean.

For me, those memories are all tarnished now. The man who played the game as it should be played on the pitch somehow has become the man who tried to ruin the game for those who came after him. The world of rugby may never forgive him.