SOMETIMES in sport a player comes along who completely grabs your attention, you know the one that every time he gets the ball you lean forward in your seat, mouth slightly open, poised to shout so everyone in your house (and next door) is aware something beautiful has just happened.
We all have a favourite player, we all have that one player we proudly sit on bar stools and defend them like your life depends on it. If I’m being honest I’ve even gone so far as to get my girlfriend drunk and try make her promise our first born will be named Brian… with a middle name of O’Driscoll… regardless of gender. I’ve often wondered how cool would it be to have an entire gaggle of kids (I’m presuming gaggle is the correct term for a group of children?) and have them named after my favourite Leinster players of all time – little Isa, BOD, Shaggy, Reggie, Felipe and Rocky would all be natural rugby talents, and together they’d create a family dynasty within Irish Rugby. Inevitably this line of thinking is shot down by the boss (or girlfriend as she prefers to be known) who refuses to entertain the idea of having a squad rather than a family.
We all have favourite players, but on top of that we all have players who we love to hate. Life is made of heroes and villains, rugby is made of legends and b*****ds. That player whose name is greeted by a chorus of boos when announced over the stadium tannoy. I have several players who I count as mortal enemies, many of them play for Munster and I hate them purely because they play for Munster. They pull on that red jersey and instantly my brain says they represent all that is evil in the world and Leinster represent all that is good in the world, therefore I must hate them.
This applies to fans everywhere, and clubs everywhere and it is from this I’ve decided to compile a list of rugby’s top pantomime villains.
Why? Around 2004 Henson was regarded as one of the best prospects in rugby, this welsh wizard was wowing fans at Ospreys and making a name for himself on the international scene with Wales in the Autumn internationals. However, it didn’t take long for aul Gav to start raising eyebrows (or was it plucking eyebrows?) with his ‘manscaping’. Henson became known for his love of spray tans and shaving his legs, which there is nothing wrong with if that’s your thing, but it got to a point where Henson was appearing more on the gossip pages of tabloids than the back pages. His relationship with singer Charlotte Church made him one half of Britain’s chaviest couple but it was his stint doing reality television that really turned people against him. Apparently he was turned down from Welsh TV show ‘The Valleys’ because the amount of spray tan needed cost four times the budget.
Why? That dive. Ashton has a brace cockiness, this arrogance that infuriates people. The confidence of Mohammad Ali but lacking the personality (and ability) to back it up. The ‘Ash Splash’ is seen as a real insult to opposing teams, a lack of respect and as a result each time he dives across the line even his clubs own supporters are saying; ‘Go on… drop it you prat.’
Why? Quinlan is marmite, it’s either love him or hate him. Since he retired from the game he has taking up punditry in Ireland with RTE and The Irish Times. Quinny’s comments have become the topic of debate amongst fans – in particular he proved controversial during the 2013 Six Nations when he said Irish fans were letting the team down and themselves down by not being in their seats before kick-off. Quinlan lashed out at fans claiming some were more interested in getting their pints in the bar than they were seeing the opening few minutes of a match. To an extent I’d agree with him, but that didn’t stop people telling Alan where to stick his opinion, after all, he wasn’t the one paying the €80 for a ticket, at that price I’m pretty sure people will drink to convince themselves they are getting value for money.
Quinlan wasn’t the most endearing player either. A reputation for ‘doing the dirty work’ and being an unsung hero of the Munster and Ireland pack. Quinlan was a player who constantly took the laws of the game and bent them as far as humanly possible without ever really breaking them. That said, Leo Cullen would argue the opposite and point to Quinlan’s eye gouging on the Leinster Captain as evidence. Quinlan received a 12 week ban for the offence and as a result missed the 2009 Lions Tour. The citing commission failed to recommend he wear mittens for the rest of his career, however.
Why? Arguably one of the most successful rugby players in the history of the sport – a natural born leader, inspirational for his teammates and a cheating b*****d to all outside of New Zealand. McCaw is like a cat with nine lives, he receives more final warnings on the pitch than anyone else. His arrogance offends most people as he has this air of ‘I’m just better’ when asked why so many players target him. Besides constantly pushing the boundaries in rucks and what not, McCaw was also voted the sexiest man in New Zealand in 2012… ahead of everybody’s man crush, Sonny Bill Williams. Another reason to dislike
Why? For being Dylan Hartley.
Why? I know it’s a bit too easy to put a referee on the list of villains but Barnes is one of those refs that manages to make fans collectively groan when they see his name associated to their clubs matches. He’s a bit too fond of his own voice and at times his decision is so head scratching, people thing there has been an outbreak of lice in the stadium.
Why? The eyebrows, that scornful look, the infamous red carpet incident with Irish President, Mary McAleese. Maybe this one is my biased Irish brain but I like to believe that outside of England, Johnson is the embodiment of everything evil within the game. Of course I’d never say this to his face, he’s a monster.
The Spring Boks
Why? It’s not just one South African, it is an entire squad. The Spring Boks. Forget the whole apartheid thing, that doesn’t factor into this list. This is purely just about players you love to hate for irrational reasons. Johan Le Roux, Schalk Burger, Bakkies Botha, Morne Steyn, the list is endless. If you pooled all the rugby nations of the world together I would imagine England and South Africa rate very highly in the pantomime villain’s chart.
Why? Despite now being the Queen of England’s BFF, Tindall has never ingratiated himself to a wide public. Especially those who are vertically challenged. Dwarf Tossing sounds like a game you might see in the Scottish Highland Games, it is not. Midget gate earns Mike a place in the list – pick on someone your own size Tindall… but ya know, not me, I wear glasses and you can’t hit people with glasses, right?
The 2008/9 Harlequins Team
Why? We all remember blood gate don’t we? During the Heineken Cup Quarter-Final in 2009 Tom Williams exited the field with blood pouring from his mouth. Granted the blood did look somewhat suspicious. The blood substitution was a shrouded attempt to grasp victory from the jaws of defeat by getting the kicking ability of Nick Evans back on the pitch.
Of course the blood injury was fake and it led to Williams receiving a 12 month ban which was reduced on appeal and all sorts of other bans being placed on the clubs director and physio by the ERC. Harlequins also had to stump up over a quarter of a million pounds in a hefty fine.
So there you have it, the ten pantomime villains of the modern era. Who do you agree with and who do you think should be on the list? Have your say below.