Maro Itoje got stick for celebrating a penalty award for the Lions against the Blues, but is it worth worrying about?
It is something that winds some people up – players celebrating a scrum penalty, a turnover, even forcing a knock-on. Take the British & Irish Lions’ loss to the Blues on Wednesday. After the game Maro Itoje came in for considerable stick on social media due to his vociferous celebrating of a penalty being awarded to his side at the breakdown on the 72nd minute. He drew some ire, alright.
It is interesting to ask: what is your view on it? Had the Lions – who have ostensibly fielded two teams that need something, anything to bond over – won, the view of some critics may have been very different. Perhaps you see it as petulant, regardless of the situation. But not all players are the same.
It is interesting to contrast two opposing approaches on the pitch. Neither or both are right, depending on personal taste. Up first talking purely about his own habits is Crusaders prop Owen Franks, who will start against the Lions tomorrow and who was named in the All Blacks squad for the Test series.
“If I’m right there I will (celebrate a try),” the Kiwi tighthead said yesterday. “But usually I just want to get back there and get my breath back! I’m definitely not one to celebrate over the top most of the time. If I’m not right there I’ll just waddle back and get ready for the next play.
“Hell yeah (succeeding still means a lot). Not so much early in games, when you know you’ve got so much ahead, but you know, those crucial moments like our drop kick on the weekend, that’s a pretty awesome buzz.”
What Franks is referencing there is the Crusaders’ last-gasp drop-goal win over the Highlanders last week. It was a special, unexpected moment for a team that is yet to be beaten this season in Super Rugby.
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You may think ‘I will be as stoic as Franks, any time, anywhere.’ Fair enough. But there is another approach too. Here is what Lions front-rower Jamie George had to say when asked about Itoje’s back-slapping.
“The example you are talking about, we were defending for a large part of the game and at Saracens we are told to celebrate the small victories.
“If you watch any of our games we often celebrate if we get a turnover, because we want to celebrate the effort of the players around us, we are putting in a huge amount of effort trying to get the ball back. It was a refereeing decision but it was off the back of all the work that our team-mates had done.”
It’s not a cut and dry thing, is it. Certainly the Saracens fans would be more appreciative of moments like this, but who’s to say even a dry performer can’t get caught out.
George continues: “Maro brings a huge amount of energy to everyone that is around him and him celebrating just shows that he cares. It is all intrinsic with him, he just cares about the team and when he reacts like that it lifts everyone around him. If you look at a lot of the English guys and Saracens we are all very similar in that respect.
“We care for the jersey, we care for our families and those are the people we are representing when we go on the field. Maro is a very proud person, I know that, that is probably why he reacted as he did and I don’t see any issue with that.
“I think it is a huge positive, I have been coached since I was 14 to celebrate stuff like that and I don’t think I am going to change anytime soon.”
No two situations are the same, clearly. What gets people’s backs up, is when it spills over into histrionics. Rugby is a game in need of balance in terms of play. Are you willing to allow a little emotion every once in a while, or do you see it as pure kidology?