The footballisation of rugby #2 – Niko Matawalu

The first article in our series highlighting the continuing footballisation of rugby came a couple of months ago when Pat Lam let rip after Connacht’s narrow loss to Cardiff Blues – read here. This time it was an Irish province who were on the receiving end of some ugly rugby practices as Niko Matawlu made the most of a tackle on him in the Pro 12 playoff semi final between Glasgow and Ulster.

Ulster have been a difficult team for the neutral to warm to this season. They have topped the Pro12 disciplinary league table (or come bottom depending on your perspective) with 4 proven citings, 2 red cards and 10 yellow cards. Perhaps the defining moment of their poor discipline this season was Nick Williams’ shoulder charge at the prone face of Cardiff’s Rhys Patchell which was subsequently punished with an 8 week ban.

Jurgen Klinsmann would be proud

Putting aside Ulster’s discipline this season they have good reason to be aggrieved at Matawalu’s conduct in Friday’s Pro12 semi-final at Scotstoun. There were actually two controversial incidents he was involved with.

The first incident in the 33rd minute came when a cross-field kick from Russell towards the Glasgow winger resulted in what appeared to be an early tackle on him in the air as he tried to win the ball. The referee George Clancy gave a penalty against Ulster

Our view is that Clancy got this right. The Ulster winger Craig Gilroy was caught playing too narrow and an accurate kick from Russell gave Matawalu a chance to win the ball. The fact Gilroy had to turn meant he lost track of the ball in the air and ended up making contact with the Glasgow winger in the air. The contact was minimal and Matawalu did his best to show he was interfered with but the decision was correct.

Ulster air

The more shocking incident though came in the 71st minute when the man of the night Matawalu was fouled by Ulster prop Ricky Lutton as he stupidly brought his arm across the Glasgow winger’s neck. It was a penalty to Glasgow but anyone who has played rugby knows that Matawalu’s reaction was not commensurate with the force of the contact. In other words he dived to milk the penalty and perhaps force a yellow card.

The still below shows a body angle and twist that would not look out of place in a Tom Daley training session.

Mata

We don’t want to see diving in rugby. We don’t want to see players conning referees, other players and the paying supporters. We want to see honest rugby where the best team wins, not the players with the best amateur dramatics. If we want to watch professional athletes rolling around on the floor and “milking” offences we can watch football.

Ulster captain Rory Best was right to comment after the game that “You can’t have guys diving around the place to milk penalties, it’s not football.” True, but it would also be nice if he was as candid when some of his players put a fellow professional in hospital with concussion.

Hopefully Glasgow and the authorities will quickly nip these diving antics in the bud or it is going to quickly become commonplace.

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