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September 5, 2011 | by  | in Opinion |
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The ‘C’ Word

Excellent.

Not more than week after two successive losses puts the All Blacks’ World Cup favourite’s tag into serious doubt, their integrity is called into question by the aptly named Mark Reason.

The All Blacks are ‘cheats’, apparently. No tiptoeing around it. Cheats. The ‘C’ word. According to him, our rugby team use off the ball tactics to open up holes and gaps in opposition defences.

Sure, he may be wrong. He may be a grumpy Englishman. He may even be slightly jealous. But it takes balls to come out in a New Zealand paper and criticize the morality of our beloved All Blacks, so much that he may even have a point. In my opinion he’s added a crucial dimension to this World Cup campaign and caused a spark that has for a very long time been missing in our sport.

For far too long the focus around this (or any) World Cup has been on making winners. Now, the question is: are we good winners?

This World Cup will be an ideal time to look into this—the tournament will be unavoidable and will be watched by millions. The All Blacks will be desperate to win. The eyes of the world will be on the games and (according to Sky Sport) our camera crews have been attending some sort of bizarre sadistic boot camp in preparation. These off-the-ball incidents will be at our disposal in slow motion, high definition, even 3D. It is time to look at them. I mean really look at them.

The New Zealand sporting public has lacked this type of scrutiny into our own performances in any sport—we’re quick to blame cheats if they cause us to lose, but hesitant to label our own heroes as immoral.

We all remember that forward pass in 2007 that bundled the All Blacks out of another Rugby World Cup—that, in our minds, was cheating. When Daniele de Rossi dived to win Italy a penalty in South Africa last year, effectively sending New Zealand out of the tournament, he was a cheat. But Richie McCaw and Keven Mealamu holding down a defender for fourteen seconds? Gamesmanship. Shane Smeltz’s offside? Play to the referee’s whistle, boys.

As anxious as the everyday fan is to concede that a New Zealand team or athlete was outplayed, they are doubly unlikely to admit that the Kiwi may have bent—or even broken—the rules. In fact, we even celebrate our All Black’s captain’s ability to bend the laws as one of his most valuable skills!

Now, I don’t mean to side completely with Mark Reason here—I, too, believe that every side cheats or pushes the limits in some way. Not doing so would be stupid. We wouldn’t stand a chance. But I believe it’s time to start questioning where we draw the line between gamesmanship and cheating. At what point do we celebrate fair play over success?
I daresay every All Blacks fan (myself included) would rather a win in October, than the consolation prize of being the only side in the competition that played to by the rulebook. But at some point, if we are to kick the cheats out of our sports, we need to step back and take a look at our own players objectively.

He may lack what his name guarantees, but Mark Reason may just have thrown a bit of doubt into the minds of the All Blacks: somebody is watching

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