Hansen's silence says a lot about NZ rugby

MARK REASON
Last updated 05:00 28/11/2012
Andrew Hore
Getty

PLEASE EXPLAIN: All Blacks hooker Andrew Hore chats with head coach Steve Hansen and assistant Ian Foster after the test against Wales.

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OPINION: Silence.

For two days the world waited for Andrew Hore, Steve Hansen, Richie McCaw, Steve Tew or even the bloke who carries the bags to apologise for the All Black hooker's unprovoked assault on Bradley Davies.

Instead, New Zealand rugby appeared stuck on an endless loop of John Cage's soundless epic. At the time of writing there had not been a solitary public note of regret.

Many good men and women in this country are ashamed of this craven refusal to say sorry, but they should not be surprised.

When Adam Thomson took it upon himself to stand on Alasdair Strokosch's head, All Blacks rugby reached for the euphemism.

The old melon, the bonce and the noggin had all got a bit of a scrape but there was apparently no malice in Thomson's calculated decision to stamp on another human being's skull.

The real villain of the piece was a Welsh rugby writer called Stephen Jones and the real victim was New Zealand rugby, which again was the unfortunate casualty of a media beat-up.

You do wonder if New Zealand rugby will ever learn how decent society behaves. When Dean Greyling disgracefully assaulted McCaw, the Springboks leadership reacted immediately. Coach Heyneke Meyer publicly called the attack "unacceptable" and said: "I want to apologise to Richie McCaw." Captain Jean de Villiers said: "We'll never condone playing dirty" and promised to take action.

But all we have had out of Hansen so far is evasion. Initially Hansen wasn't sure if Hore "clocked him but he certainly hooked him out".

A little later he said: "It looked like he was trying to clean out the Welshman in front of him It's unfortunate that it's happened." Then Hansen said: "I am just resigned to the fact that he will probably get cited . . . think they think we're thugs or something but we don't play differently to anyone else."

We should be thankful that Hansen is no longer a policeman. He would have presumably let Charles Manson off with a caution.

The All Blacks coach, like many of his predecessors, clearly suffers from Arsene Wenger syndrome, an unfortunate irritation of the optic nerve that causes temporary blindness when watching your own team.

The world accepts that rugby has always had its thugs. Martin Johnson and Danny Grewcock got up to some revolting things on a rugby pitch and many of the English press excoriated those men and their actions. But the world does not accept the code of silence that has pervaded the All Blacks and a supine part of their media for far too long.

Many years ago Cyril Brownlie became the first man to be sent off in a rugby match.

The Welsh referee was considered the finest in the world and he had already issued three general warnings. He then saw Brownlie stamp on an opposition player's leg off the ball and he sent him from the pitch.

The All Blacks manager of the time said the referee had "made a mistake" and "a grave injustice has been done to Brownlie", an occurrence that "could not help the spirit of imperialism".

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New Zealand papers whinged about the sending-off then and they are still crying about it now. True to future form, Brownlie has somehow become the victim of his own violent action.

It is this reaction that continues to gall the rest of the world. The recent list of All Blacks shame is a long one - the Canterbury front row deliberately beating up the 71 Lions, John Ashworth tearing open JPR's face with a double stamp, Richard Loe's assault on Paul Carozza, Jamie Joseph wrecking Kyran Bracken's ankle, Keven Mealamu and Tana Umaga smashing Brian O'Driscoll's shoulder.

These acts are bad enough, and other nations have similar shameful incidents in their rugby history, but what really grates is the consistent lack of a full and proper apology.

Steve Hansen talks of taking ownership, but when has New Zealand rugby ever taken ownership of these acts of violence? These players are national folk heroes just like Colin Meads, the daddy of them all.

The national exculpation of Mealamu and Umaga was a disgrace that still angers many people in Britain and other parts of the rugby world. It was an assault that came desperately close to breaking a decent man's neck.

And yet many in the New Zealand rugby community portrayed the All Blacks as the victims of an hysterical over-reaction by the British media.

If there was any hysteria, it was caused by shock at New Zealand's collective failure to say sorry for what constituted common assault.

Good on the many callers in to talkback radio who have condemned Hore's attack on Davies, but the delay in a similar condemnation from either the All Blacks management or the NZRU shows how out of touch these people still are.

The nation may be growing up, but New Zealand rugby is still behaving like the child who won't own up.

How glorious it would be if Tew, Hansen, McCaw and Hore faced the world's media and apologised to Bradley Davies.

How glorious it would be if Joseph was told to strip Hore of the captaincy of the Highlanders.

How glorious it would be if the law in this country decided to prosecute rugby players for assault.

Is that really all so far fetched? Together we could make it happen.

- Stuff

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