Jonny Wilkinson and David Beckham

Golden boots and golden balls: Jonny Wilkinson and David Beckham are stars in their respective sports

By Sarah Mockford, Rugby World Features Editor

ANTICS ON the football field lately, particularly the endless diving and poor attitudes on show in the Barcelona-Real Madrid Champions League semi-final, have left many fans disenchanted with the game. Then there are all the sordid tales of off-field misbehaviour in the tabloids – and that’s before you consider all the stories now protected by super injunctions.

It was a recent comment from Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic that caught my eye and brought up the age-old debate of whether football can learn from rugby. He said: “When I played in Serbia and Russia, players dived. In England, you don’t so much. That’s why people love to see English football. Fans don’t come to watch people going down or arguing on the pitch. Fans enjoy it when players are honest.

“You have rugby in England. You see how much respect they have. They challenge, they hurt each other, they even fight – but how many do you see rolling on the pitch? This is respect. That is what football should be like.”

Rugby has often preached to football about the need to respect officials, fair play and so on – but can the sport still lord it over their round-ball cousins? Frankly, I’d say no. Rugby is not whiter than white, far from it in fact given their own recent misdemeanours. Bloodgate is the obvious example to disprove the theory, but more recently there have been bad cases of gouging and even this weekend bore witness to an instance of unsportsmanlike behaviour, Manu Tuilagi landing three punches on Chris Ashton in the Aviva Premiership semi-final between Leicester and Northampton.

Danny Cipriani

Fireworks: Danny Cipriani's late-night outings have not gone down well with his Melbourne Rebels team-mates

Off the field, there have been drugs bans and plenty of drunken antics, recent incidents involving Andy Powell, Gavin Henson and Danny Cipriani cases in point. Even rugby’s bureaucracy has become as farcical as football given last week’s embarrassing U-turn by the RFU. So surely rugby union needs to look at itself before preaching to other sports. Yes there are plenty of good things about the game but there are things that need to be addressed – and fast – for rugby to ensure the sport maintains its traditional values and enhances its reputation. Perhaps then rugby could even attract some of those disillusioned football fans, this year’s World Cup a perfect opportunity to do so.

“Rugby’s not a saint by any stretch of the imagination,” says former Australia fly-half Michael Lynagh. “Players are getting into trouble on and off the pitch.”

Ex-Gloucester coach Dean Ryan believes it’s important to educate young players coming through the ranks so that they realise they are role models. He says: “It’s not just rugby or football, we’re talking about young men playing sport and the responsibility that comes with that. A lot of things come with paying young men enormous amounts of money and we need to look at how to support players in terms of education. I hope the World Cup is a show – the last thing the sport wants is to be clouded by bad incidents.”

Ieuan Evans, the former Wales wing, realises the potential of the World Cup as rugby’s showpiece event but is realistic enough to point out that the sport will always play second fiddle to football.

“The audience is bigger for the World Cup so is a great way to promote the game, but we’ll never compete with football because that is the truly global game. But we can spread the word of the game with the World Cup. We want to offer entertainment and for young people to be drawn in. We want kids across the world to follow the sport.”

And it will be fantastic if those children appreciate the respect and camaraderie that makes rugby such a special sport. However, rugby must also ensure it gets its own house in order before preaching to other sports about rights and wrongs. The game is not perfect.

To read more views from the Sky Sports analysts on rugby’s big issues, see the July issue of Rugby World, on sale Tuesday 7 June.

  • manuela

    Rugby any day over the over-paid, under-talented pampered Princesses of the premier league.
    Lord knows the England rugby team has’nt been up to much over the past few years but they still have never been so pathetically awful as their footballing counterparts.

  • Dan

    I have alway admired rugby, but have always been a football fan more so! I currently am a player manager of a football team and watch spurs regularly but over the last year or so i have gravitated more towards rugby – the chelseas and man city’s with their money and the cheating has just infuriated me so much i now go to watch saracens which i really enjoy. Tickets are cheaper – i have just paid 140 quid for a season ticket at sarries wheras the cheapest spurs season ticket is 800 quid. Even the lads i manage on a sunday morning cheat, dive and all think they are ronaldo on the football pitch and the off field rows and bitching i get is a nightmare. Rugby is not whiter than white but i feel there is still a lot rugby has to offer over football.

  • Dias Anah

    Fair comment, football is riddled with distasteful stuff. Granted, there are a lot of people who see it all as part of the theatre of football, and there will be those who find it tiresome, but when you get down to the nitty gritty, people love football despite the dark arts, becuase its the game. Watching people show respect to one another is never going to replace the excitement of watching Messi.

    The Rugby fraternity who are so quick to lambast football have been strangely quiet since the Barca masterclass at Wembley last Saturday – very wise too.

  • Jamie

    It is funny that in the last few years I have found myself more detached from the game of football. I have always been a rugby player, and therefore will always favour it. But I have also been a lifelong Chelsea fan, and until recent years, watched all the games religiously. Now I find no time for the sport at all, unless I’m playing 5 a side. Even the other day I couldn’t be bothered to watch the league crunch match between United and Chelsea. And this all boils down to what the sport has become. I did watch the Champions League match between Barcelona and Real, and I think that’s the icing on the cake for me. Not only did I not enjoy the game, but it made me angry. The greatest football team the world has ever seen, and their main concern is putting pressure on the ref to make decisions in their favour, rather than just playing. Which is what the entire football supporting world wishes to see.
    I do agree 100% with the article and previous comments. Rugby is in no way perfect. Bloodgate left a horrid stain on the game. And players are becoming increasingly more caught up in off field mischief, to then be plastered all over the media. My only conclusion to this is that it may be due to the increased popularity of the game, and therefore the higher celebrity profile of the modern day rugby player. Either way it isn’t an excuse, the game demands discipline and a high level of mental strength as well as physical. This should be the case off the field, and should be a mentality enforced by the clubs to a much higher degree.

  • Benjie

    Football is an over payed Chavs sport. The only talent they have is falling over. It’s a horrible boring sport. End of story.
    ¡¡¡¡¡¡¡Rugby all the way!!!!!!!

  • Benjie

    Football is played by over payed chavs. You can’t say it’s isn’t . The only talent they have is falling over uncontrollably. End of story

  • Realist

    Rugby’s bureaucracy has always been some of the worst in the world- Wade Dooley on the 1993 Lions tour is a case in point- but this and other off-field antics are not actually too big an issue. The issue we have isn’t even with the fights and scuffles- again, these have been going on for years, and if anything have got better over the years. No, what actually goes on is not the issue- it is the spirit in which it is conducted. That is what makes diving, Bloodgate-style incidences and and bullying referees so wrong- it is just cowardly cheating, whereas rough and tumble in a contact sport is only to be expected from time to time. So long as rugby maintains its core ethos of camaraderie and these punches don’t become regular, I see no serious problems developing

  • Wally Martin

    I’m afraid Dean Ryan is wrong. Fans love a bit of controversy. Now I know people will now post that they want nothing but saints playing the game the way God intended, but it’s the kerfuffles we all spend time debating.

    What we don’t want is this:

    This is something we do not want to learn from football. Cockerill should hide his head in shame.