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Rugby World Cup 1999 :
Dirty and Vicious play

By Adrian Porter

TWICKENHAM, ENGLAND, 20 October 1999 - Rugby is a rough game. The physical aggression implicit in it all too often ignites short-fuse tempers which explode into foul play. There have been glaring instances of lack of self-discipline in several games of the World Cup tournament since it began in Wales three weeks ago.

However, it took some thugs wearing the red shirt of the South Pacific island of Tonga - once known as the Friendly Islands - to dispaly some of the dirtiest and most vicious play seen so far in the game against England.

The Tongans particularly disgraced themselves by tackling English players while they were in the air jumping for the ball and then heaving them head first onto the ground. This is one of the most dangerous fouls that can be inflicted on a virtually defenceless player and, at its extreme, can result in broken necks.

The Tongans were almost as lethal with their stiff arm clubbing of an opponents' neck while they were running at speed. They also seemed to thrive on jumping on opponents lying on the ground and scraping their bodies with boot studs.

These "friendly islanders" were guilty of virtually every dirty play in the book but it took an unprovoked attack and assault on an English player, who was not even involved in play, that led to the referee sending one of the Tongans off the field.

At the start of the tournament, the authorities laid down strict rules to rid the game of gratuitous violence and these rules have been rigorously applied. The guilty Tongans were a disgrace to the game.

In this instance, right triumphed in the end because, as a result of the sending off, the English XV faced only fourteen Tongan players and racked up a score more often seen on a cricket board: 101 points to 10.

This equalled the record set by the New Zealanders in their game against Italy and also saw the English fly-half, Paul Grayson, score a national record of 37 points in one game.

Such records, however, are meaningless when seen in the light of the gross inequaltiy of so many of the sides in the World Cup. Many of the games have had as much relevance as exhibition matches.

Fiji v France : Questionable refereeing

In contrast to the ugly scenes at Twickenham, another Pacific Island team, Fiji, played in one of the most dramatic and best-contested games of the tournament. This was against France in Toulouse. The Frenchmen eventually won 28-19 but that score could well have been reveresed if the Fijians had not suffered some doubtful refereeing by the Irish referee, Paddy O'Brien.

The most blatant example was his decision to call a knock-on against Fiji when the French full- back lost the ball in a tackle and he penalised the Fijian player who had, in fact, picked it up cleanly and touched down over the try line.

O'Brien also awarded France a penalty try for no obvious reason after he had ignored a series of infringements by both packs struggling on the Fiji line.

Up to then, both sides had fought a good hard game using every tactic in the book and taking play from one end of the pitch to the other in their efforst to score.

Another, island team - Samoa - pulled off the biggest coup of the tournament so far by beating Wales 38 - 31. This was even nore breathtaking because it was a repeat performance of a piece of rugby history that rocked Wales eight years ago when Samoa became the first minor team to beat a ranking international side.

At that time, the team was known as West Samoa and a joke going the rounds was that, if Wales could be beaten by a side from West Samoa, they'd need divine help if they ever faced the whole of Samoa. This time round it was the whole of Samoa. The Welsh must feel jinxed. The pundits had said it couldn't happen again - but what do pundits know?

The Wales-Samoa tussle saw the end of the opening skirmishes. Now comes the time for the big, strong boys to go head to head. The real contest begins with play-offs to decide which teams will meet in the quarter finals of the tournament.

These play offs are: England v Fiji, Scotland v Samoa, and Ireland v Argentina.

In the quarter finals the winners of these games will face South Africa, France or New Zealand. Australia is already down to meet Wales.




Adrian Porter spent a working lifetime as a foreign correspondent for the BBC and other news organisations in various parts of the world. He writes on rugby and cricket for Culturekiosque.com.


Opening article: Rugby World Cup 1999 : Forecasts and a Guide to the Game

Rugby World Cup 1999 : Opening Games Wrap-up

Rugby World Cup 1999 : Second Round Games Wrap-up

Read Adrian Porter's archive articles on the Cricket World Cup

Opening article: Domination is the Name of the Game
Results of 1st Week: A Commonwealth Row and High Tech Foul Up Cricketing Traditions
Results of 2nd Week: Umpires Upset Bookmakers With Excessive Wide Balls
Results of 3rd week: Zimbabwe and Bangladesh topple giants to make "Super Six" round
First week of the "Super Six" Pakistan and South Africa in arm-pumping finish
Second week of the "Super Six"Australia snatches victory from South Africa


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