ABs and the north have never seen eye-to-eye

21:24, Nov 17 2012
Adam Thomson
UNDER THE PUMP: Adam Thomson's one-week ban was been criticised by many for being too short and is now under official review.

Something very strange happened in London during the week. In the Adam Thomson case we briefly saw the International Rugby Board displaying common sense.

Normal service was quickly resumed, however, when the 747 decibel level whining from British media hacks soon produced a more typical IRB reaction, with the threat of more severe consequences.

A one-week ban, that meant Thomson missed last night's test, which he wasn't going to play in anyway, was actually a punishment to fit a crime that deserved a slap for stupidity, but only just tiptoed into the area of foul play.

In New Zealand we've expected the worst of the British rugby judicial system ever since 1925, when Cyril Brownlie was ordered off in a test at Twickenham.

For some the pain of that moment went on forever. More than 70 years later, at a rugby club function in the South Island, I mortified myself by asking Brownlie's elderly niece what she'd heard of the incident.

The daughter of the legendary Maurice, she'd been perky and entertaining until that moment. "We never spoke of what happened to Uncle Cyril," she said, and started to softly cry.


My lack of sensitivity didn't have the benefit of the humour with which Alistair Hopkinson, a Canterbury prop, addressed the 1967 ordering off of Colin Meads by Irish referee Kevin Kelleher at Murrayfield.

As the stone-faced All Blacks shuffled on to the team bus after the game, Hopkinson shook his head at Meads.

"That's the dumbest bloody thing I've ever seen."

Strong men blanched. In the breathless silence, Hopkinson continued. "If you'd limped off they'd have applauded."

Even a distraught Meads had to smile.

There wasn't much humour when Meads was later banned for two weeks by the IRB, especially when you consider he was ordered off for a kick that touched neither the ball, which Meads said he was aiming for, or the Scottish back David Chisholm, who referee Kelleher said was put in danger.

On the other hand, consider the most weird save of an All Black heading for a red card.

The 1980 All Blacks were playing Llanelli when touch judge Ian Inglis signalled to referee Alan Hosie there had been foul play in a ruck by Graeme Higginson.

Higginson was a threatening, surly figure, and that was just to any journalist trying to interview him. On the field he was even more unforgiving.

Hosie pointed dramatically to the grandstand. All Blacks captain Graham Mourie heard the words "you're off".

But wait, here comes Phil Bennett, the Welsh first-five, who, while not the Llanelli captain, argues furiously with Hosie, asking for Higginson to be allowed to play on. He was.

The words "you're off"? Mourie only heard part of what he said, explained Hosie. The full phrase was "Once more and you're off".

The pointing arm? Hosie said he was just illustrating to Higginson what an ordering off would look like. Just as likely an explanation came from a Welsh writer. "Hosie was saying to the All Blacks, ‘That's my brother up there in the stand, and he needs two tickets to the test'."

There must be something about first-fives and refusing to moan about the All Blacks. Two or three hours after the first test in Dunedin in 1979 between the All Blacks and Argentina, fellow journalist Roy Williams and I bumped into the Pumas' great No 10, Hugo Porta, in a lift at the team's hotel.

His nose was battered, and there was clear bruising along one cheekbone. What happened, asked Williams. Porta raised an arm, and lifted a forearm to his face. "Something on the field, but for me, please, it stays there." He would never say another word about the incident.

Television replays revealed Porta had been smacked in the face by an All Black forward, but there was never a citing and the Pumas lodged no complaint.

What's truly rare is for a player to freely admit he committed foul play. So applause for the honesty of All Blacks prop Kevin Boroevich, rough and tough on the field, but a lovely, open man off it, who wrecked any chance he had of making the 1987 World Cup All Blacks, when he stomped A J Whetton in a trial game at Pukekohe.

There was a backstory. Boroevich had been playing club rugby in France. On his way back he and his wife had all their money and clothes stolen. At home their stored furniture was damaged, a house deal had fallen through and he couldn't get a job.

Boroevich said in the trial "A J got the ball in a lineout and was grounded. I just jumped on him, and rucked him. It's pathetic to do something like that.

It didn't come from something in the game, and it certainly didn't have anything to do with A J. He's a great guy. I just blew".

So, in a strange, almost careful way, did Adam Thomson at Murrayfield. No matter how gentle, scraping sprigs over the head is illegal.

But, as coach Steve Hansen said, with trademark honesty, a long suspension would have been "a hell of a way to finish your All Blacks career when you've actually been a pretty tidy All Black".

Sunday Star Times