Oval Talk

New Zealand are smart, not cheats

Oval Talk

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It's now just a few days away but it seems New Zealand are getting a little paranoid ahead of the World Cup. Or at least that's how it looks after their reaction to being called cheats by an English expat journalist now living there.

The Kiwi media and websites were so angry about Mark Reason's comments that the former New Zealand international Colin Meads was asked to wade into the situation.

Meads, so often the enforcer when the All Blacks' good name is called into question, said there is a difference between gamesmanship and cheating.

Indeed, New Zealand are not alone with taking part in some gamesmanship, every team 'bends the rules.'

New Zealand's coach Graham Henry was involved in one of the most lurid headlines in rugby's recent history when he was coach - when 'Grannygate' dealt with the issue of eligibility of international players.

And even more recent than that came Dean Richards's fall from grace over the 'Bloodgate' scandal at Harlequins.

Henry was also the coach of the All Blacks when Brian O'Driscoll was pile-driven by Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu out of the 2005 Lions Tour.

Given the facts you cannot argue that the Kiwis do not bend the rules - and Reason pointed out the areas where the All Blacks shine.

Systematic offside at the breakdown, holding down and obstruction, and deliberate forward passes are among their specialties; and just because they are the best at these, does not make them more culpable than anyone else.

England were just as guilty against Ireland last week but were naïve at the breakdown and conceded far too many penalties. It's not New Zealand's fault that they play a smarter game than most teams.

It is something that should not affect the All Blacks, but Reason's comments came just a week after the All Blacks' 25-20 defeat to Australia in the Tri Nations.

They're feeling vulnerable having lost to their neighbours just a fortnight before the World Cup, and then a Pom journalist has the nerve to call them cheats. The timing was either ill-thought or cynically timed, and Oval Talk suggests it is the latter.

But will it change any team's approach to how they play the game? Unlikely, teams will continue to bend the rules for as long as their coaches encourage it and referees do not stamp down on it.

However, with this debate now in the open, so close to the tournament, it is vital that referees are as accurate as possible when applying the laws of the game.

And this is something the International Rugby Board referees boss Paddy O'Brien is also keen to see happen. Since new law interpretations were introduced last year O'Brien believes referees have become more lax in ruling on those areas during the recent Super Rugby, Tri Nations and northern hemisphere warm-up games.

Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards was very pleased to hear this saying:"We are very conscious of discipline. It's a massive priority on our list going into every game.

"We know we've had problems with discipline in the past but we've worked very, very hard on it and it's something that we stress massively within the Wales set-up. If Paddy has emphasised that's how it's going to be refereed I applaud him."

But whether the laws are applied properly or not doesn't make a difference to New Zealand's chances. The All Blacks are the best students of the game and will adapt to what's put in front of them quicker than anyone else.

It just would be better if they won it with the laws applied properly - then ignorant journalists wouldn't have the cheap excuse of calling them cheats.

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