Thuggery or a one-off transgression?

MARC HINTON, DUNCAN JOHNSTONE
Last updated 05:00 27/11/2012
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OPINION: Mindless thuggery with serious overtones or merely a one-off transgression from one of the good guys?

Fairfax Media senior writers Marc Hinton and Duncan Johnstone debate the culpability of the All Blacks hooker as he gets set to face the music.

MARC HINTON

There's a fine line between fame and shame, and the All Blacks are in grave danger of crossing it. Suddenly they are no longer the victims but the vicious, and it's a look that doesn't suit them.

First we had Adam Thomson's boot coming down on a Scotsman's head - an act we were told was without malice, and certainly inflicted no harm, but was nonetheless careless and pretty ugly.

Now we have Andrew Hore's open-and-shut case of thuggery against Wales that threatens to do more harm to the All Blacks "brand" than any number of exhilarating tries and emphatic victories. Shame.

In one brainless, defenceless act of brutality, the All Blacks hooker has turned the microscope on a New Zealand outfit that can no longer claim the moral high ground on the subject of dirty play.

The All Blacks love to play the victims when it comes to any nasty business about, and they have had a pretty good record in recent years. Their restraint in the face of some suspiciously sustained attacks on Richie McCaw has been admirable, to say the least.

But a line has been crossed here.

Hore's hideous swinging arm to the back of the head of Bradley Davies in just the second minute of Sunday's test defies explanation.

It was cynical. It was deliberate. It was vicious. And it was gutless.

It was also illogical. How, so soon, had Hore reached such a crescendo of aggression that he might let loose with such a wanton act of thuggery?

The All Blacks are the self-styled entertainers of rugby, the custodians of the beauty that exists within an often brutal game. They pride themselves on playing hard but fair.

Their brand has been built not only by a glorious history, but also by the power and grace with which they play. Nowhere in the TV ads or endless slogans are we told that they're thugs who like to hit people from behind.

The upshot of Hore's brain explosion should not be under-estimated. This was the headline in one leading British publication: "New Zealand play lovely rugby but they are not lovely sportsmen." It sums up the feeling in the north right now.

Then you have social media decreeing that Hore had gone from "shooting seals to clubbing Wales". Tawdry stuff. When the coach fails to emphatically condemn his player afterwards, further eyebrows are raised.

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DUNCAN JOHNSTONE

Andrew Hore's outrageous act falls into the thuggery category but to categorise the All Blacks that way is unfair.

Discipline - on and off the field - was a hallmark of the Graham Henry era though the nature of the game meant even his sides, playing with unmatched pace and power, could not remain squeaky clean.

Hore and Adam Thomson have been two disappointing slip-ups that new coach Steve Hansen must arrest or risk his side falling back into being wrongly stereotyped like All Blacks teams of old.

But based on recent history - and both players' records - these unfortunate acts need to be treated as isolated incidents rather than a worrying trend.

The All Blacks mystique has been built on a team that plays fantastic football combined with a hard edge.

In the days of good, old-fashioned rucking, being grounded in All Blacks territory was never a place for the faint-hearted. And nor should it be, argued the All Blacks who pride themselves on their physicality.

As Tana Umaga famously told Australian referee Peter Marshall when being penalised after a touch judge flagged him for a high tackle: "We're not playing tiddlywinks here, mate."

Hard but fair has been the All Blacks' decree. They justifiably bristle when tagged "dirty" though they will always push the boundaries as any top team or athlete will do. It comes with the domain that is dominance.

But it's certainly not as black and white as the English media like to point out.

The All Blacks aren't as sinister as their colour suggests, nor are the Poms as lilly-white as their playing strip.

In the professional era where TV cameras and citing commissioners have brought a microscope on foul play, England would be better at looking in the mirror than pointing the finger at the All Blacks.

While the All Blacks haven't been immune to judicial appearances, England have provided some serial offenders, notably the loutish locks Danny Grewcock and Simon Shaw in the not-too-distant past.

Their current crop aren't exempt either. Inappropriately named new lock Courtney Lawes has got off to an inauspicious start and hooker Dylan Hartley's dastardly deeds include eye-gouging and biting, two crimes that far exceed Hore's excesses.

- Fairfax Media

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