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The excuses men make

Much has been made about complaints from the Western Province players that they were affected by a flu virus in last Saturday's 16-11 Currie Cup semi-final defeat to the Cheetahs. Paul Dobson looks at the kinds of excuses team and individuals come up with.

Former England captain Lawrence Dallaglio – one of the most feared and respected competitors in world rugby – provided the alto backing vocals for one of Tina Turner's greatest hits.

It's not great to lose a rugby match, especially a crunch match, not if you identify closely with your team.

Even in defeat you are loath to desert the players you love and admire. Its better than to look for something outside of that team to talk away the bitter gloom of defeat, to lift the dark cloud.

The great cry, which echoes down the ages and in fact echoes backwards to eternity, is: 'We wuz robbed!'

The man who first shouted that aloud was Joe Jacobs, the manager of the German boxer Max Schmeling. Schmeling had fought Jack Sharkey. To all bar the judges and Sharkey's immediate family, Schmeling had won. At the verdict Jacobs cried his famous cry, the best articulated of a common excuse for defeat – the referee did us.

It takes other forms: We played against 16 men. How much did they pay that bloke? I believe the ref's aunt's cousin's father-in-law coaches them.

Bless Kobus van der Merwe, the Western Province coach, who, asked about a forward pass from Barry Goodes to Willem de Waal for the Cheetahs' try on the Newlands semi-final, said: "If we'd've got a try that way we wouldn't have complained. We shouldn't have put ourselves in that position in the first place."

Lots of top coaches have from time to time turned on referees in search of excuses – including Clive Woodward, Andy Robinson, Matt Williams and Rob Andrew.

In each case the result stayed. Sharkey has won that fight for the last 73 years.

Next excuse: If we could've put our best team in the field, it'd've been a different result. The winning team, it seems, does not have injury problems. The Cheetahs had no excuses for winning when they lost Boela du Plooy to a broken jaw.

Mind you, Western Province did not resort to excuses in that regard either. Nor did their management put forward health problems, though afterwards there were suggestions that a horrible virus of some sort had played fifth columnist and laid some of the team low.

One must then admire them for ending the game stronger than the Cheetahs. Perhaps after plodding poorly for 55 minutes they had now played the dreaded lurgy out of their systems.

The All Blacks twice had health problems. When they lost the Bledisloe Cup match in the mid-Eighties they revealed afterwards that they had suffered food poisoning. In 1995 when they lost the World Cup final they also revealed afterwards that they had suffered food poisoning.

They may well be the only team in the history of international rugby to have revealed afterwards that they had suffered food poisoning. In 1995 they even found a mixture of Mata Hari, Lucretia Borgia and Jezebel, called Suzi, as the poisoner, the venomous mamba of the diningroom.

Some times the excuse is the shape of the ball or the direction of the wind which produced "luck" for them. They had all the luck. If we'd had their luck.

Mercifully at the end of the Currie Cup semi-finals, hard fought and close contests, neither side's officials produced excuses … although the local media made much of the supposed flu bug.

For one thing it would not have changed the score an iota. The Lions and Western Province would still have lost just as Schmelling, England, Scotland, Newcastle and New Zealand have done before them. But there is even greater virtue than quiet acceptance of the inevitable.

As the old men taught us: Win as P>If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same
..You'll be a man my son.

Do you agree/disagree with Paul?


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