Bif! Whack! *^#@!!!!

by Maria on November 6, 2006

It’s almost become a ritual; antipodean team plays high-contact sport against a northern team, takes out the best player in a tackle that might have killed him, creams northern team. In a manner reminiscent of the infamous Umaga/Meleamu spear tackle on Brian O’Driscoll during last year’s Lions tour, the Australian team playing the hybrid International Rules (Aussie/Gaelic football) are shrugging off an excessively violent tackle that put the future of the game in jeopardy.

On paper, the hybrid game is as euphemistically ‘physical’ as rugby, but in practice it’s gotten much more violent in the past few years. Last night’s tackle on Graham Geraghty was vicious by any standard, and makes me wonder; is there really a future in our lot continuing to play these games against sides that are bigger and demonstrably more brutal? I enjoy watching the tri nations rugby (Australia / New Zealand / South Africa) as much as the next person, but there’s no way I’d ever want someone I cared about to play against them.



P O'Neill 11.06.06 at 12:58 pm

Agreed. [btw, there’s a couple of link issues in the post; the “excessively violent tackle” link comes back to CT although I know JQ did put a hard smack on the global warming denialists). But seriously, the series has looked like a bad idea from the start given the phsyical mismatch. The GAA players would need to borrow some American football gear.


Tom Lynch 11.06.06 at 3:50 pm

Neither side of the argument seems to have it right. It’s clear Australia came out to get violent, but after a loss in the first Test there was a legitimate point to which such tactics could’ve been taken. They went further than that – how much further is debatable – but there’s also a severe case of sore loserdom amongst the Irish management. And, as Sheedy pointed out afterward, the tackle on Geraghty was pretty much legal, and these things happen in football.

If there are complaints to be made, perhaps they should be that the disruptive melee at the start of the match was staged by the Australians to shake up the Irish squad.

Which, incidentally, is totally commonplace in the AFL, particularly around finals time, as is the subsequent media outcry. So it’s no wonder Australians like me feel blase about it …

It’d be a shame if the series was terminated over it, because it’s nice to have the link between the two sports traditions acknowledged.


Cheryl Morgan 11.06.06 at 4:08 pm

I note in passing that Wales took on the Wallabies on Saturday and fought them to a standstill, despite the fact that most of their players are clearly smaller and less beefy. We beat them the previous time we played them too. I’m sure we’ll get crushed by the All Blacks in a couple of weeks time, but they are in a different class to everyone.

The real issue here is not that they are bigger and stronger than we are. That can be cured. (Eat more lamb, boys!) It is how excessively violent behavior is treated by the authorities. Right now violence in rugby is generally punished (or not) by the local Union. This doesn’t work, as was amply demonstrated by the O’Driscoll affair.

It isn’t just the Kiwis that are at fault here. See, for example, this story in which an English rugby manger is complaining about how players in other teams can get away with violent behavior if they are “needed” to play for the national side.

What is needed here is a proper disciplinary procedure that is not subject to the whims of “judges” who have a vested interest in the outcome of their decisions.


Joel Turnipseed 11.06.06 at 5:01 pm

Hmmm… not knowing much about International Rules play, but having YouTubed the tackle in question, it strikes me that the violence there wasn’t any worse by comparison to even high school football here in America (or worse: hockey). That’s the tackle: but: do they have all-out fisticuffs before games (like a bad hockey game)? That would get old quickly.

Of course, that’s not saying I’m impressed by the levels of violence in those sports. There was a play in a recent University of Minnesota game (against… was it Wisconsin?) in which the Gopher’s safety hit the receiver so hard the guy literally flopped on the ground with a seizure. It was one of those moments that makes you question the entire nature of the sport.

Meantime, this week’s hilariously misguided assumption award goes to ESPN analyst Sean Salisbury for this graf on Terrell Owens’ penalty for mocking reports that he slept during team meetings by using ball as pillow in TD celebration:

“Salisbury: The NFL isn’t trying to stop players from having fun, just from distracting from the game on the field. Sure, some of the celebrations seem innocuous, but some of them can lead to hard feelings and this game is violent enough without someone getting upset and trying to take someone else out because of a stupid touchdown celebration.”

Uh, instead of focusing on rage-inducing (but otherwise harmless & mostly fun) celebrations, shouldn’t you, you know, find ways to penalize/less the violence?


Chris Bertram 11.06.06 at 7:01 pm

I’m just relieved that Shaun Perry survived his debut against the All Blacks intact … Bristol need him.


O'Donnell 11.06.06 at 9:07 pm

There is nothing ‘wrong’ or ‘dirty’ about a hard tackle. Even if it knocks a player unconscious and he ends up in hospital. Of course it’s terrible when a player is seriously injured (Geraghty), but it’s important to realise that most of the play which has been described as ‘brutal’ and ‘excessively violent’ was perfectly legal. Physicality is part of the game, as it is in many sports – (you don’t see a batsman get narky when he gets hit in the head by a bouncer).
Certainly, this was a rough match, but at the end of the day, international rules is a rough code. Fisticuffs ARE part of the game (for better or for worse), and players and referees understand this even if it’s not written in the book. Remember, these are big boys and they have all made a choice to play this sport. It takes two to tango, and the Irish were far from faultless with respect to this. As Kevin Sheedy pointed out ‘have a good look at the video before you point the finger’. Call me a cynic, but in my opinion the Irish manager has simply accused Australia of foul play in order to shift the focus away from Ireland’s shambolic performance. To suggest that Australia won the game because of unsporting tactics is begger’s belief. The fact is the Aussies simply outclassed the opposition with superior teamwork and ball control – they were the better team on the day.
Looking forward to another passionate and fantastic series next year. Preferably with a bit less of the biff, and a bit more graciousness in defeat.


Bookie 11.07.06 at 2:50 am

Another ritual is Northern hemisphere teams bleating about the brutality of the colonials as the white orcs of an english forward pack spit and snarl and start things they can’t finish.

It’s always the same, the white jerseyed nonces talk and prance and puff themselves up about the inherent hardness of one or another of their (vastly overrated) tough guys. Game day comes around and said tough guy, all het up on bluster and tabloid headlines, takes a swing at the back of an antipodean head. Antipodean enters into the spirit of things, usually at the tackle or breakdown . Judiciary say fair enough. British rugby fraternity whinges about it for decades (anything but talk about the score I guess).

Yes, the O’Driscol thing was a shame. But the only thing more nonsensical than idea that it was premeditated or deliberate, is the idea that if it hadn’t happened the lions would have won.

Look at the records of Umaga and Mealamu and compare them to those of almost anyone in Englands world cup winning forward pack.

These are team sports with hard contact and not a lot of time for reflection. Accidents happen, tempers fray, people on all sides make stupid decisions. The players all understand this, and fans on all sides can tell horror stories about the ‘evils of them bastards’


Fence 11.07.06 at 4:32 am

I don’t think anyone (that I’ve heard/read) has really denied that the Australians were the better team, but that isn’t any excuse for the level of violence, from both sides. However, Seán Boylan’s career in GAA shows that he isn’t a whiner, and, is also pretty far from a sore loser.

I’ve never really had an issue with this code, but was at that match in Croke Park and don’t think too many were impressed with it. And I think I’m starting to agree with Mickey Harte and think it should be scrapped. It is pretty pointless to put amateurs up against professionals, in a made up game that no one really knows that rules of, and expect to have a good game.


Maria 11.07.06 at 5:23 am

Thanks, P – the link is fixed.


Brownie 11.07.06 at 9:00 am

Yes, “fisticuffs” are part of the game, not *the* game. If we’re getting to a stage whereby the results of professional sports are determined by which side “wins” a fight, which players are carried off, how a referee sanctions (or doesn’t sanction) the offending parties, then I think we’ve got a problem.

In this specific instance, I’ve yet to hear a single Irishman claim they would have won if it hadn’t been for the Aussie rough-house tactics. The question that needs to be asked is why the Aussies think such tactics are required given their acknowledged sporting superiority in International Rules? I think Bookie supplies some insight in his machismo-laden comment.

Game day comes around and said tough guy, all het up on bluster and tabloid headlines, takes a swing at the back of an antipodean head.

Yeah, like when Shaun Long stuck his eyebrow into Willie Mason’s forearm. Adrian Morely’s feet wouldn’t have touched the ground if he’d done what Mason did. The dogs in the street know it.

The biggest difference I can discern between antipodean attitudes and those in the northern hemisphere concerns the establishment rather than the players. No matter what happens on the field, the press, team officials and ruling bodies in the northern hemisphere will at least pay lip-service to preserving the integrity of the sport, saying the right things about what should and should not deemed acceptable and offering contrition, however (in)sincere. In Australia especially, the opposite is the case, with pundits, journos and team management making the case for their boys being better fighters and all-round tougher, rougher and harder than the soft northerners. (Phil “GB RL is amateur” Gould said in Channel9 commentary at the time of the Mason punch on Fielden, “He got what he deserved”. Even if it were true – which it isn’t given the absurd over-reaction of Mason – can anyone imagine something similar being said by Sky or BBC commentary? No, neither can I.)

Flare-ups are part and parcel of professional sport but as the phrase suggests – “flare-up” – these ought not to become de rigueur. The moment they do – and in clashes between the hemispheres in all classes of sport this is more and more the case – they begin to detract from the sport itself and, yes, start to become more than a little tedious.

As for the Geraghty tackle specifically, I have been involved in such “tackles” myself, although in football rather than International Rules. Anybody who has played sport to any half-decent level knows all about the “legal tackles” that provide you with the opportunity – should you want to take it – to do damage to the opposing player. Whether it be a sliding tackle near the touchline that means you can, if you wish, both win the ball AND send the winger crashing into the advertising hoardings, or an International Rules wrestle with an off-balance opponent that gives that you the opportunity to not only ground him and strip the ball, but crash his head into the turf, to boot. None of this has anything to do with holding back or not making big hits on opponents when you have the chance; it’s about gratuitous over-physicality that is incidental to the sporting objective and not a part thereof.

Maybe someone has to die before this is taken seriously? Reading the pages of the Sydney Morning Herald this last week, and it would appear to be the case.


Rob G 11.07.06 at 10:57 am

Ah, thugs’ games played by thugs. Where’s Roy Keane when you need him?


dearieme 11.07.06 at 1:58 pm

Ken Catchpole


Tom Lynch 11.07.06 at 4:21 pm

brownie, if Australia has “acknowledged sporting superiority in International Rules” why’d Australia lose the First Test? My assumption is that the increased violence by the Aussies in the second match was a sign they were worried about losing the series. There’s no doubt that when things start happening off the ball before the first whistle (as they often do in AFL finals) it’s because one team feels it needs to rough up the opposition to improve its chances of winning.

As for the hit on Geraghty, there’s a tradition in Australian football of referring to callous, but legal tackles as good practice. For example blindsiding a player going for the ball with a hip and shoulder that just happens to make contact with the jaw is usually met with laughter and enthusiasm from the commentary desk in an AFL match. Pretty disgusting really. That said, AFL is not a sport where life-threatening injuries occur with any frequency at all (as compared to rugby for one) so I’m not sure your remark “maybe someone has to die for this to be taken seriously” has much merit.

The violence that occurred wasn’t incidental to the sporting objective – winning the match. In fact it might have been crucial. It’s just that to an Australian, it was nothing out of the ordinary for football. I’m sure that’s how everyone in the Australian camp feels about it.


nick s 11.07.06 at 4:23 pm

How about they combine the codes differently, so that it’s hurlers (with sticks) against Aussie Rules players?


Brownie 11.07.06 at 8:56 pm

tom lynch,

What did you make of Chris Johnson the other year?


AlanDownunder 11.08.06 at 6:40 am

Dearieme, I get your drift. Problem is, Catchpole implies Meads. And to think Kiwis go on about Chappell.

Problem with the hybrid game (to bring sports mentioned so far up to 5) is that the round-ballers have the skill advantage (the Aussies can only make an oval ball talk) so the antipodean thugs have to compensate. It’s unfortunately hard-wired into a very well-meaning enterprise.


Tom Lynch 11.08.06 at 4:17 pm

brownie, I think Johnson was well out of line, and as a result, received a three year ban from the International Rules series. I’d say it may well be that it’d help matters if infringements in the IR matches could lead to suspensions from the players’ regular leagues.

However I still say the violence in this year’s second Test would be nothing out of the ordinary in an AFL final. Melees are pretty normal in AFL, as are cynical, albeit legal tackles (and cynical, illegal tackles for that matter).


Kim Davies 11.08.06 at 5:43 pm

It is hard to get excited over a bit of argy-bargy on the field. The notion that there is excessive danger in the antics displayed seems a bit laughable … look at the amount of actual injuries relating to tackling in these codes, compared to say any form of rugby. It is not even in the same order of magnitude. Spectacular, yes; dangerous … doubt it.


derrida derider 11.08.06 at 11:09 pm

God, what a pack of moaners! This stuff about southern hemisphere teams’ “roughness” never used to occur in the days when pommy sides – in both League and Union – were renowned for their violent bending of the rules. It’s only happened since the colonials started fielding really big sides.

Maria already gave the answer in her post – eat more lamb, boys. In the meanwhile stop whinging.

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