History has shown that no one loves a scandal like the British Press. For proof of this, you need only to look back a few months to unravelling stream of information of the Daily Mirror’s phone-hacking exploits to realise the desperate lengths a publication will go to. Rugby has had its fair share of front pages, from Lawrence Dallaglio’s drugs scandal with the News of the World through to Ben Foden’s incident with a London taxi driver in March this year. The reality is that once the headlines have been printed, as Rob Kitson rightly pointed out in the Guardian, the damage has been done. Except that occasionally, this is the clearest sign that we are ignorantly forgetting the truth.
Martin Johnson spoke before England flew out to the Rugby World Cup of how he trusted his players to be responsible. This does not mean to stay in every night studying on how to improve, but as Johnson said himself, “to enjoy the experience” of playing in a Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. There is no worse way to reflect on a poor performance in a match, win or lose, than to shut yourself away for the night in solitude. By going out for a few beers, England let off some of the pressure they would have felt throughout the tight contest against Argentina last weekend.
If playing into the hands of the headline writers, the general consensus would be to react by condemning the players for being out drinking, getting drunk and let’s be honest, having a good time. The argument is a balanced one; on the one hand these players are professionals and must be conscious of their public image, but on the other they are not schoolboys or benedictine monks. But does being in a bar having a few drinks, taking photographs with fans without any arrests or complaints mean that any reputations should have been damaged? Absolutely not.
Perhaps the reaction to both the night out in Queenstown and the bungee jumping a couple of days previous has been blown out of proportion by the fact that England did not convincingly win against Argentina last weekend, which is ludicrous in itself as it wildly undermines the quality of the Pumas side. The mentality that England’s players should not be taking part in extreme sports which are 99.9% safe is reminiscent of ridiculous Health & Safety measures found in an office.
Overall, the last week represents the difference between a vague assumption and cold hard fact. England having a good time has turned into a headline story of false raucous behaviour. The fact that a quote was needed from the owner of the Altitude bar Rich Deane to say that “no dwarf-throwing took place” by the England players, sums up the ridiculousness of the whole situation perfectly.
by Ben Coles