The shrill sound of the referee’s whistle had barely sounded, announcing the conclusion of New Zealand’s semi-final victory over South Africa in the 2015 Rugby World Cup, when the triumphant New Zealanders busied themselves by doing something totally beyond the realm of modern-day sport.
Imagine having just punched your ticket to the world title game, and the first thing on your mind is what it must feel like to be the other guy.
You can’t, can you?
In this social-media driven world of 140-character assassination, it’s simply not feasible to fathom such an occurrence.
In rugby, it is a way of life, and that’s why rugby is the sport that every other sport should aspire to be.
The last of the truly pure and classic sports is rugby. Trash-talking is forbidden, and fans heckling the opposition is frowned upon. No player other than the captain is permitted to speak with the referee.
The laws of the game – that’s right, rugby isn’t governed by rules, but by laws – are implicitly designed to ensure fairness to both teams at all times. Fans of opposing sides can and do sit next to each other and enjoy the match together.
Sportsmanship and respect and appreciation for the opponent aren’t just expected, these qualities are inherent in the game.
It’s the last team sport left where these characteristics are cherished. Long gone are the days when Gordie Howe of the vanquished Detroit Red Wings visited the dressing room of the champion Toronto Maple Leafs and toasted the Cup champs with a glass of champagne.
In rugby, it is tradition for the home side to fete the visitors with a post-match celebration. At the World Cup, New Zealand brought every member of the opposing side to their dressing room for a post-match beer.
The laws of rugby prohibit blocking, and any form of interference, accidental or otherwise, is immediately penalized. Tackling is not permitted above the shoulders, and in fact it is the tackler’s responsibility to ensure the safety of the ball carrier while bringing him to ground.
Now that Toronto has its own pro rugby team – the Toronto Wolfpack, who play in the UK’s RFL Championship, making them the world’s first transatlantic professional sports team – Canadians can actually go to a stadium and witness this sportsmanlike behaviour in action, and discover what all rugby fans already know.
That in rugby, being a good sport will always be in vogue.