Citings, fighting and biting
The tackle that fried Schalk's burger
We are but a week into rugby's most prestigious tournament and already it is shrouded in citing controversy and has seen more than a fair share of David and Goliath stories, not too mention the physicality shown by all but a few.
From five-week bans, numerous scuffles and cheap shots, to the 'minnows' punching well above their weight on several different occasions, we have seen it all and more.
The discrepancies in the bans we have seen handed down this week are not only alarming but raise questions with regards to the consistency, or complete lack of it, shown by the World Cup disciplinary panel.
What concerns me, is not so much the length of the ban to Schalk Burger, but the precedent set earlier in the week. If Phil Vickery only gets a two-game ban for a malicious and premeditated hack, then how can you justify banning Burger for four games.
Admittedly Burger's challenge on Junior Polu looked ugly, but we all know looks can be deceiving. Burger puts his body on the line time and again, and is by no means a dirty player. There was no premeditated intent on his behalf, and yet he still cops a ban similar to that of Paul Emerick. For those who missed it, Emerick was banned for five weeks for a spear tackle. The two are hardly on a par.
This is not, as many would have you believe, anything to do with the nationality of the citing commissioner, who for the record was Australian, but the panel's double standards. It seems as if they took pity on England, in all sorts of trouble as it is without losing their captain for five weeks.
If the officiating on the pitch has not been bad enough to date, we are now being subjected to some atrocious decision-making from those who prefer to hide away behind the scenes. The sooner we see some uniformity to disciplinary matters the better.
Rugby is a game of physicality, of that there is no doubt. So what a delight then to see a series of such bruising encounters thus far in France.
There is no getting away from the 'negative' manner in which certain sides approach the game, but why play in a manner that does not capitalise on your strengths? This is rugby after all, a contact sport. Whilst we all like to see a game full of flair and skill there is still a place for the crunching tackles and more direct approach.
This is not to say some of what we have seen is not bordering on the illegal, but you would expect nothing other than for teams to push it to the limit. This is not to say that what becomes illegal is justifiable, far from it. But rugby would not be the same without the physical edge that has the tendency to boil over from time to time.
Lets just hope that the frivolous meting out of suspensions does not deter sides from playing their natural game. Else we could be in for a rather dull run in to Paris and the final.
There will be no shortage of coaches with nails bitten to the quick after their sides' early showings, in games they were expected to win at a canter. Not to mention those overjoyed in the manner their so called 'minnow' sides have embarrassed the tournaments top guns.
The big southern hemisphere trio aside, you would not think such a gulf exists between the sides on show. Pre-tournament there were countless points being predicted, yet the likes of Namibia, Portugal, USA and Georgia have fronted up and turned in performances defying their status in the world game.
For everyone but those sides they so brilliantly frustrated, and to an extent humiliated, this was a spectacle to behold. For messrs. O'Sullivan, Hadden, Ashton and Loffreda it was anything but. While you and I would have delighted in seeing USA make England look like a Sunday league team, I can assure you Brian Ashton would have been pulling what little hair he has left, out.
Such performances can only be beneficial for the game in general, let alone give these sides renewed confidence and belief, even if at the expense of several over inflated egos. Maybe now the likes of Dallaglio will get off their soap box and be content with a place in the stands.
One thing is for certain, there is plenty more nail-biting to come, so don't for one minute think this is a flash in the pan from the small fish in the big pond.
By Marcus Leach