Did Pinetree have haters? Were they waiting for him in the weeds?
Were they out there, saying to themselves, and anyone else who’d listen, that, ‘yeah, that guy’s okay. But if he were really any good they’d call him Kauri. He might have big hands and be able to carry a rugby ball like it’s a pistachio, but he’s crap in the scrums. And he’s really just a hayseed thug. You wait, one day he’ll completely lose his shit and kick someone in the giblets’.
The answer to the above seems to be ‘no’. Sir Colin Meads’ sins – and there were more than just that one unsavoury incident in 1967 when he became the second most recent All Black to be sent off – were looked upon as the acts of a tough national hero doing exactly what was expected of him.
Britain’s Daily Telegraph described the great man being marched from Murrayfield for what was a very naughty piece of play as ‘rather like sending a burglar to prison for a parking offence’.
Meads had form, all right. But of course he did – he was an international lock forward.
Even the commentary of the great man’s outrageous piece of bootsmanship was sympathetic.
“In goes Meads trying to loosen the ball with his foot,” the legendary Bill McLaren offers as Meads lands a size 29 to David Chisholm’s thorax. Although he does note: ‘the crowd didn’t like that’.
Comparing Sir Colin’s sending off with that of Sonny Bill Williams’ on Saturday night is like comparing Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with ÷ by Ed Sheeran. Both number one albums on the billboard chart, they’re nominally the same thing. Being separated by 60 years can make judgment difficult, but it’s obvious to most that one is a piece of genius from masters of their craft in their prime while the other is a moment of madness from a ginger bloke who thought it would be clever to try to emulate Prince and name something with a symbol.
SBW’s nudge to the chin of Anthony Watson was a garden variety tackle gone wrong.
Check out the footage of Sir Colin clogging Chisholm. When was the last time you saw something like that?
He may have earned an ignominious footnote in history as the first All Black since Pinetree to see red, but poor old SBW’s offence isn’t in the same league. It wouldn’t even make the top ten acts of All Blacks thuggery. Hell, it probably wouldn’t make the top 100.
Last year I was lucky enough to while away some time at the quaint suburban ground that is Brisbane’s Ballymore Stadium. The highlight was standing on the exact spot where Richard Loe broke Paul Carrozza’s nose.
Despite bashing Corozza’s schnozz right in front of the touch judge, Loe wasn’t even penalised.
Brian O’Driscoll would likely be among those who have an opinion about where SBW’s offence rates, as would Ken Catchpole, the Wallaby whose career ended shortly after Sir Colin got hold of his leg in a ruck.
Yes, SBW deserved to be sent off. He made a mistake and the correct sanction for that mistake was a red card. But I defy anyone to suggest there was malice in his act. Williams’ job as a professional rugby player is to tackle opponents with as much force as possible within the rules of the game. His intent was to dissuade Watson from thinking it was a good idea to try to win the game by running as hard as he could at and through the All Blacks’ defensive line. Yes, SBW cocked it up, but the margins these days are incredibly fine.
With what we now know about head injuries, the rules are rightly weighted in favour of player safety. But the effect of that is that players now operate in an environment where simply tackling an opponent who has jumped a few inches off the ground to catch a bad pass is deemed an offence. And incidental contact to the head is a transgression worthy of dismissal. When your job involves attempting to smash your opponents into submission, that’s a pretty tricky workplace environment to negotiate.
Most right-minded people understand that. But, to the SBW haters lurking in the weeds, Saturday night’s incident was proof of what they’d always known – that he is a dumb, callous imposter who isn’t fit to lace the boots of the legends who have graced the All Blacks jersey in the past.
He might be a genuinely good bugger and model professional, but there will be no knighthood for Sonny Bill Williams. That’s the real shame of Saturday night.