By Gavin Mortimer
WHAT’S ALL the fuss about? Or put another way: what’s so different about what Delon Armitage did to Clermont’s Brock James from what Josh Lewsey did to Damian Traille during the 2007 World Cup semi-final? Remember that? England’s erudite winger dotted down in the second minute, exploiting the Frenchman’s inexperience at full-back. As Lewsey got to his feet he patted Traille on the head. If that’s not taunting a beaten opponent then I don’t know what is.
Yet did the rugby world go crackers? Did players, past and present, line up to have a pop shot at Lewsey? No. In fact one newspaper, the Independent, offered its readers the chance to buy a print of the moment, captured by one of its snappers, with the paper headlining the photo ‘Lewsey rubs it in’.
Armitage’s gesture was no more offensive but now thanks to Twitter we live in an age of immediacy, where people can sound off before the paint is dry, so to speak .
Which is what people did on Saturday afternoon. “Since when did the values of rugby include taunting an opponent in the act of scoring a try?” asked Scotland scrum-half Chris Cusiter.
This isn’t a defence of Armitage. For too long he’s indulged in prattish behaviour, be it pushing a doping officer, fighting in a nightclub or his lengthening roll call of reckless tackles. But is what he did to Brock James as he ran in Toulon’s try against Clermont really any worse than what was allegedly done to him a few minutes earlier? It’s said that Aurelien Rougierie patted Armitage on the head after Clermont had scored a try, while it’s also been claimed the former England full-back was subjected to ‘duck’ taunts by the opposition.
Brian Moore tweeted that he would have chinned any player who had done that to him during his illustrious career, yet didn’t the feisty England hooker revel in his ability to wind up the French front-row with a few choice words at the set-piece? And if you search hard enough on Google, you’ll find a photo of ‘Pitbull’ in all his glory, mouthing off to a couple of crestfallen Welsh players in the aftermath of another England try during a Five Nations encounter.
And on the subject of photos and taunts, what about the famous snap of Johnny Sexton screaming in the face of Munster rival Ronan O’Gara during Leinster’s victory at Croke Park in the 2009 Heineken Cup semi-final? Apparently Sexton, in the course of celebrating a Brian O’Driscoll try, was taking his revenge for a series of alleged sledges from O’Gara about his failure to drop a goal. But that was put down to that catch-all excuse of modern sport – ‘passion’.
The greatest vulgarity committed by Armitage on Saturday wasn’t the taunt aimed at James, but the personal insult directed the way of Moore in response to his initial tweet. It’s too childish to bear repeating – and it’s since been deleted from Armitage’s account – but it demonstrated that Delon, fine rugby player that he is, still has some growing up to do.