David Flatman: 'Whooping' can turn out to be a whopping great mistake
From the Front Row
Sunday 06 November 2011
Whether we are in the office, on the roads, down the corner shop or at home with the in-laws, there is a code. This code is basically a system of behavioural boundaries that, when obeyed, help maintain decorum and facilitate the polite, unabrasive ticking along of life. Now and then – as a result of being human – somebody oversteps a mark and, until the episode is acknowledged and corrected, calm is lost.
It will come as no surprise to learn that rugby, too, has its codes. I'm not talking about the official ones here, more the unspoken, time-honoured ones. Call me biased, but I've always thought that the prop forward shoulders a lot of responsibility in this area, and this is why it disappoints me so much whenever I see one letting the side down.
You see, as a front-row forward, one is only ever one scrummage away from being physically and publicly humbled; this is why none should ever celebrate too aggressively a powerful surge or favourable decision from a referee. Put simply, gob off too much and all you do is pump motivational fuel into the veins of the man on the other side, making yourself look less of a gentleman all the while.
No, a dominant scrummage or awarded penalty should be met with as little facial expression as possible, as much through sporting respect as through the desire not to damage your own reputation.
How many times have we seen a prop win a decision and mark the occasion with a self-promoting shriek, maybe a fist pump and, if things have really gone south, a patronising head-tap for his opposite number? And how many times have we seen the same man have his head inserted into his backside minutes later? I watch this stuff closely, and it happens an awful lot.
The bad news is the rotis spreading. Once the cauliflower-eared arbiters start misbehaving, the masses will follow. This is perhaps the only sense in which a prop forward could ever be labelled a trendsetter. Sadly, a new phenomenon has crept loudly into our game: whooping. Before I lambast those I regard as offenders, allow me to demonstrate some self-awareness; I am a grumpy old git and I know I am. I am also, some might argue, incapable of doing anything remotely whoop-worthy on the field. So those who dismiss my views as those of an under-talented dinosaur might well have a point.
I am not, however, one of those bitter old goats on the wrong side of 30 who hate the new generation, regardless of how they play and behave. There are some brilliant blokes who fit squarely into what I would call the new generation. Every time I meet these guys I observe that, despite being massively talented and having achieved huge things while so young, they remain humble and real. They get it. But there are also a number of players in England who, for some reason, feel it is acceptable to jeer, mock and abuse their opponents during a game. These players are not all kids, there are grown-ups doing it, too.
Not for one second do I think we should all play in silence, nor would it be possible never to utter a word to an opposing player. But verbal pressure at the line-out or the odd "take that, sunshine" is vastly different to the – dare I say it – Americanised whooping, back-slapping, head-tapping and self-congratulatory affirmations that we are used to seeing in the NFL.
In my view – and it is only my view – this is not what our game is about. I always loved watching Sean Fitzpatrick play, partly because he was so good, but also because – I always noticed – he wore the same mask whether he won or lost. He never gloated, patronised or taunted his adversaries, knowing this would only rile them and knowing, invariably, it's the noisy, cocksure ones who are the least threatening in battle.
It would be silly for me, sitting in this privileged position, to arrogantly assume moral superiority through words and to pour scorn on all those who fail to live up to the behavioural standards my father imbued in me. But, in fact, were I to put together a list of 10 rugby "do nots", there is a decent chance I would be guilty of having done eight or nine of them. This, whether we like it or not, is life in the front row.
One thing I hope I have never done, however, is openly disrespect the bloke opposite me who is giving everything for his team. And this doesn't just go for fellow prop forwards; it goes for all players. Sure, I've celebrated victories, be they big or small, as they happened, but there isa big difference between cheering with your buddies and projecting your celebrations on to your momentarily overpowered opponents.
In essence this is when pride becomes boastfulness. And we don't boast, or at least we shouldn't. Get your head down, do your job, take the win and have a good old sing-song in the bath afterwards. Crikey, I am getting old.
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