Practice the game's ethos: Respect
Last weekend was a great rugby weekend for me.
Not only did I finally return to the Sportsground in Galway for the first time since 2013 – to witness Connacht versus the Bulls in the United Rugby Championship – I also was lucky enough to watch arguably the best Test of the past few years (All Blacks versus Springboks) in an Irish pub drinking Guinness.
What more could you ask for?
The game between the All Blacks and the Springboks made me fall in love with rugby all over again.
The world has changed a lot.
From international travel, to work, even rugby hasn’t escaped the effects of the pandemic.
But something I realised again over the weekend, is that there is still one thing that has never, and will never change – the importance of respect.
And respect comes in two unalterable steps. Giving and receiving.
During my time as a player in Galway, the economic recession was severe.
The ambience was thick in an atmosphere of hard times.
But Galway and the West of Ireland seeps under your skin.
After a win, the team is known to ceremoniously belt out a rendition of the ‘Fields of Athenry‘. Celebrating good times but still remembering the hard times known throughout the history of the West.
You can imagine how nostalgic I was back at the Sportsground for the Bulls game.
A story in particular that struck a chord to me in the rich history of the West of Ireland came from the pronouncement in 1653 when the English General Oliver Cromwell infamously told the Irish Catholics they had the choice of going “To hell or to Connacht!”.
This quickly became synonymous with the English Plantations – the forced relocation of people from their rich and fertile lands in the East to the impoverished West. The Plantations were a central aspect of the land settlement implemented in the Cromwellian conquest. It was designed primarily to clear the ground for Protestant colonisation of the other three Irish provinces.
So any games that we lost, I took it personally.
(The column continues below the video ...)
Any rugby player will tell you if you play and sacrifice for something bigger than yourself, it’s easy to get fired up for a game. What’s more, any player that has played against Connacht at home in Galway will know it’s no walk in the park.
So when Jake White made such contemptuous comments in the pre-match interview, it didn’t sit well with the people of the West.
I don’t think he meant to insult anyone.
He is a very accomplished coach.
Perhaps his success around the world systematically killed any respect for the identity and areas of some clubs. Big wallets of rich clubs might be more important.
Since taking over the Bulls, he has reformed them as the powerhouse in South Africa. Since the pandemic, they have been strides ahead of the rest of the South African teams have won all the competitions during the pandemic.
In saying that, when he takes the reigns (like he did at the Sharks in South Africa), he brings a focus to the amateur wing of the clubs under those provinces and forces players in the squad to go play for the amateur clubs. That’s lovely.
So he had to know better during that pre-match interview. After all, he was the coach when the Springboks played against Connacht in a friendly before the 2007 World cup. The Springboks stumbled to an 18-3 win.
Add to that, Connacht is the only Irish team – bar Leinster – to have won the league in the last decade.
Asked what he knew of Connacht on a windy and wet Friday, White declared: “A lot of Leinster guys, who come down from Leinster because they didn’t get contracts up there; they come down here.
“It’s very similar to a couple of franchises we have in South Africa. When they don’t get contracted by the big unions, they go down to the small provinces and try and find a way to get noticed by the bigger provinces.
“As I said, we’re used to playing that sort of opposition and it will be nothing different. They’ll be looking to front up, especially after last week when they lost against Cardiff.”
White had also been asked about Connacht’s strengths, but offered none.
People don’t like the biggest and strongest guy on the playground because he is a bully. People like him because he is nice to everyone, knowing he can annihilate them but still treats them with respect.
However, if you are a bully and love talking smack, the universe has a way of balancing it up and dishing you a cold piece of humble pie.
A 34-7 result for Connacht isn’t just a loss, in that weather, it’s a hiding.
Respect is everything. It’s the currency that everyone should live in, first and foremost.
A great example of respect was the All Blacks versus Springboks Test.
After the awesome Test, the respect between the players was unbelievable.
There is a fondness between the countries that is real.
The photo of Beauden Barrett and Elton Jantjies, with Jantjies telling Barrett: ‘Well played brother, it’s good seeing you back out there’, gave me a lump in my throat.
That is respect.
No insecurities. Humility is practised and lived by all.
The true cream of the crop gives everything on the pitch and then drinks a beer with the opposition.
It’s respect for what each has put into the game and given to the sport.
In New Zealand, they talk about “whanau”.
If there is something like an extended family or community in rugby, the love for rugby between South Africa and New Zealand is the closest you’ll get. That’s why they bash the piss out of each other at all levels, be it international or super rugby. There are no bullies.
The two countries just love competing against each other. That’s respect.
In South Africa, the book ‘Legacy‘ by James Kerr is very popular.
It’s about the principles of the All Blacks. It’s a great read.
The book focuses on the importance of both character and culture.
One of the mantras is ‘no d***heads’. It translates to ‘no bullies’.
These principles are evident when watching any New Zealand team and undoubtedly mirror the country’s culture.
The mantras “Train to Win” and “Compete to be the Best” are obvious.
However, that’s not why everyone loves them. People admire the All Blacks because of their humility which is even more pronounced than their unwavering hunger to be champions.
So what I don’t understand is how a Kiwi journalist cannot reflect any of these principles?
Ben Smith has been coming for the Springboks and their management ever since winning the World Cup.
Another mantra of the book is “know myself“.
If you think unapologetically, honest and authentic journalism is what you are doing, I think you should read that book.
Same as Jake White’s comment before the Connacht game, the universe has a way of neutralizing bullies and disrespect.
And you are a bully Ben Smith. A keyboard bully.
It’s easy to have a strong opinion when you are hiding behind a screen. One of the most important institutions of the culture of rugby is respect.
But, there is an invisible line, if you step over that line, you get a bloody mouth.
You step over the line frequently. I will be honest, sometimes you make legitimate points, only to be a bully again.
Practice respect. Practice Mantra Six of the book.
By Ethienne Reynecke