Sports Letter: Union still a law unto itself

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The Independent Online
Sir: How very revealing is the rugby union writers' excitement at the possible arrivals of the ageing Anthony Sullivan at Cardiff and the part-time Wendell Sailor at Leeds. Not so very long ago, these same union hacks would have it that rugby league could produce no stars of its own.

Yet union attitudes have not really changed. In the midst of the mountains of union verbiage, growing in inverse proportion to the crowds at Allied Dunbar Premiership matches, sit all the old prejudices.

How wonderful is the irony of the Saracens' coach, denigrating the brief union careers of Henry Paul and Jason Robinson while lauding his choice centre pairing of Scott Gibbs (formerly of St Helens) and Allen Bateman (Warrington and Cronulla) before selling his next home fixture with the possible appearance of Barrie-Jon Mather, (very briefly and rather unsuccessfully of Wigan, Perth and Castleford).

Even Jonathan Davies has obviously been back in the fold long enough to lose perspective, trotting out the official union line that Anthony Sullivan might succeed because playing on the union wing will not be too technical for him. Yes, Jonathan, all the people you played league with and those of us who watched you are far too poorly educated or intelligent to understand union laws. You praise Iestyn Harris's skills, but fear union is too technical for him. So many laws. So much patronising drivel.

It is clear to those of us not in the fold, (and not hopeful of coaching Wales) that if the morass of union laws prevents a talented player from showing his rugby skills then the laws are wrong. Or perhaps, compared to waiting for Mike Catt's erratic lobs, running on to Andrew Farrell's fast, precision passing gives a player room to move and play. Or perhaps like Robinson and Paul before them, Sullivan, Harris and Sailor will only be vilified as failures after they return to league.

As for those very laws, the Independent on Sunday felt bound to lecture the world on the example of union law-giving and refereeing. And with more delicious irony, Graham Dawe ("How Change Can make Laws an Asset," 27 September) went on to explain how any number of laws and their interpretations in union should be changed. Even were we to accept the farcical and wrong notion that union invented this refereeing technology, no one could accept any such lecture from the sport whose own laws are broken throughout every match with impunity, as referees ignore everything they even manage to see in order to "let the game flow".

No sport can lecture others on orderly conduct, which thinks that a kick to the head can be legitimate, or which punishes a player for biting a chunk out of an opponent's face by lauding his character, banning him for the closed season, and cheering his return.

How educational to compare reactions to Mike Tyson and Kevin Yates, or Paolo Di Canio and Neil Back. The former in each case cannot be reviled or punished too severely, the latter is a union player and therefore a decent sort.

New professional rugby union? At its heart it remains the bully, bitterly contemptible of anyone who dares criticise it and wholly unaware of its own ugliness.