By Bea Asprey

“WALKING AROUND the ground with my winners’ medal is something I shall never forget. I felt like a rock star.”

These are the words of Sam Warburton after Wales’ 30-3 defeat of England on the final day of the Six Nations. Humble and classy, it should be noted that Warburton may have “felt” like a rock star, but he didn’t act like one.

Warburton, though, has been the victim of a worrying trend taking hold in rugby. Too often we are seeing players, coaches and officials abused. It is a cruel and ugly trait, and has no place in our sport.

The growth of social media has given people more opportunity and confidence to contribute a worthless two pennies while hiding behind the safety net of anonymity. No one is immune; if you voice an opinion, you’re laying yourself open to cutting criticism and personal attack.

I’m as big an advocate of Twitter as the next fan. It’s a privilege to have access to the game’s biggest stars and to witness friendly banter between both team-mates and opponents. But it’s a privilege that we will certainly lose if the harsh jibes continue, proven by the fact that Scotland back Nick De Luca, Warburton’s father, Jez, and English pundit Brian Moore have all suspended their accounts at one time or another having been subjected to unacceptable taunting.

On the evening of Super Saturday, the thunder rolled in and so did the jokes: “Was that a giant wheel falling off a chariot?” read one tweet.

The ability to have a joke and a beer with your opponents after a match is a source of pride and what makes rugby so unique. But when the line is crossed by a minority who wish ill on individuals and their families, it threatens to spoil the face of rugby and the sport’s ethos for everyone.

And it’s not limited to online abuse either. Cian Healy received a ‘violent letter’ while in camp with Ireland following his stamp on Dan Cole, while Moore was called an array of expletives in his 400-yard walk from his Cardiff hotel to the Millennium Stadium before the title decider.

In sport mistakes will be made, games will be lost and passions will run high. But in rugby, we pride ourselves on the good grace in which we roll with the punches. Let’s keep it that way.

This was published in the May 2013 edition of Rugby World. Click here to find out what’s in the current issue.