Think before you speak
May 6, 2010
An England fan supports Will Carling and England at the 1995 Rugby World Cup © Getty Images
Ma'a Nonu's expletive-laden post-match chat with a radio station last weekend kept alive a long rugby tradition of speaking out of turn. In our latest Scrum Seven we take a look back at some of the most famous faux pas in the game.
Weeks prior to the 1995 Rugby World Cup, England's cavalier skipper elected to brand the RFU committee as '57 old farts' in an interview for television documentary Fair Game. Never one to bite his tongue, Carling's outburst infuriated the top brass but, unsurprisingly, did little to dampen the spirits of the Twickenham faithful. Unfortunately for the red rose's youngest skipper, who had led England to Grand Slams in 1991, 1992 and 1995, there was little the punters could do to save him and he was unceremoniously stripped of the captaincy.
RFU secretary Dudley Wood said, "It is a very sad day for English rugby. It was strongly felt by the committee that his position as captain was untenable. His attack on the committee who had appointed him gave them no alternative but to dismiss him." Two days later, following an apology, his position was tenable again and he led the team to the semi-finals, where they were subjected to death by that most excruciating of means, Jonah Lomu.
In another tale from Lions history, Welsh centre Gavin Henson made few friends on the disastrous 2005 tour to New Zealand. Having kicked Wales to victory over England in the first leg of their Six Nations Grand Slam, Henson's star was very much on the rise by the time of his selection in Clive Woodward's bloated tour squad. A marmite character in many respects, perceptions of the 23-year-old as a preening, self centred presence led many observers to overlook his credentials as the leading inside-centre on the tour.
With Jonny Wilkinson unable to force his way past Stephen Jones at fly-half for the first Test, he was switched to the No.12 berth alongside skipper Brian O'Driscoll. Henson missed out and embarked on a sulk that alienated a number of his fellow tourists. His selection for the second Test did little to quell his distaste for the experience and after his tour was ended by injury he hit out at a number of fellow Lions and unnamed Wales players in his ghost-written autobiography My Grand Slam Year. Of his captain, he said, "As I was on the ground, O'Driscoll came in, but instead of just trying to rip the ball clear of my grasp, he also decided to pull my hair and tried to gouge my eye for good measure. 'How do you like that, you cocky little f****r?' There was a real flash of anger in his eyes. I don't know what had wound him up. It may have been something I'd said in the build-up."
In 2009 Springbok coach Peter De Villiers embarked on a magical mystery tour of misjudged soundbites. With the Lions in town the collective gaze of the British and Irish media fell on De Villiers as well as the tourists, and he was not shy of sparking the odd controversy. His handling of the Schalk Burger gouging incident in the opening moments of the second Test was a PR nightmare, overshadowing the series and the serious nature of the incident. "Why don't we all go to the nearest ballet shop, get some nice tutus and get some great dancing going on," he said. "No eye-gouging, no tackling, no nothing." SA Rugby were forced to issue an apology, and while De Villiers' men were deserved series winners and comfortable Tri-Nations champions, his words were not forgotten at home or abroad.
There are so many Campo classics that this could go on for some time, but we're going to start at the beginning. Way back in 1982 the brash but brilliant youngster was preparing for his first Test match, against the All Blacks and their veteran wing Stu Wilson. In the build-up to the game, Campese was asked what it would be like to go up against such a great player. His response of 'Stu who?' did not go down well.
Campese maintained in the aftermath that he genuinely didn't know who Wilson was due to his rugby league background, but the stage was set for the 20-year-old to receive a bit of a welcome to international rugby. It never materialised as the mercurial Campese started as he meant to go on with the first of his 64 Test tries, albeit in a losing cause.
Another man not shy of a few opinions, the 'Leicester Lip' sparked a row in 2001 while on tour with the British & Irish Lions in Australia. Having branded coach Graham Henry as 'Emperor Ming' due to his authoritarian style, Healey spoke out against the Wallabies' future Test lock, and series-winning lineout stealer Justin Harrison, following a confrontation in a tour match. In his newspaper column he called the Brumbies lock, "a plod", "an ape" and "the plank". Harrison had the last laugh with his pilfered throw in the third Test, his first for the Wallabies, while Healey did not feature in the thrilling series, winning his only Lions caps as a replacement in 1997.
The Twitter phenomenon has caught on in the rugby world, as readers of our Tweet Treats blog will know. In 2010, as the Six Nations was raging on, Wales flanker Jonathan Thomas got into trouble with a misjudged Tweet about gay elite referee Nigel Owens. Ospreys team-mate Ian Evans had toasted a particularly savage training session by saying, "Legs and ass are in bits, can't move." Thomas' response was, "U gotta stop hanging round with Nigel Owens!"
Luckily for the versatile forward he knew Owens and was immediately let off the hook by the referee, who dismissed the incident as, "just tongue-in-cheek, something they said without thinking about it."
Watson, a talented back-rower and son of anti-Apartheid activist Cheeky Watson, became a hate figure for many Springbok fans in 2008 following controversial comments recorded while he was appearing as a guest speaker at the Umbumbo Rugby Festival at the University of Cape Town Rugby Club. Watson was alleged to have said "the problem with South African rugby is that it is controlled by Dutchmen", while also suggesting that South African rugby is "rotten to the core" and that he wanted "to vomit on the Springbok jersey".
A 10-cap Springbok, he had been a divisive presence in the changing room and was labelled as a 'cancer' by skipper John Smit in his autobiography. Watson has since moved to Guinness Premiership side Bath after a successful 2009 Currie Cup with Western Province, while the Newlands faithful had initially reacted to the allegations by booing his every touch of the ball in an exhibition match for the Stormers against Saracens.