Whilst the 2015 Rugby World Cup has been an incredible spectacle, we have also seen flashes of the other far uglier side to the sport.
Although these instances have been few and far between, there are increasing signs of a football like culture creeping into rugby, even though many would go out of their way to deny it. It seems that now the sport is at something of a cross-roads as it battles to retain its ideals whilst also looking to expand its reach to a global audience.
Rugby purists will always maintain the sports integrity ensuring that actions both on and off the pitch remain respectful, even in the most difficult of circumstances. Newer fans to the sport however clearly do not hold rugby’s culture as close to their heart, and are unfortunately becoming an increasingly vocal minority.
Two incidents this weekend have shown rugby in its worst light with Welsh wing Alex Cuthbert and referee Craig Joubert coming in for unwarranted criticism that in some cases is frankly libellous. Part of the issue in both cases is access to social media, but the trolls are also finding their ways into stadiums and making their disquiet heard.
As a Scotland fan who was at the game myself, I was saddened to see the reactions of some fans despite the absolute devastation at watching our side narrowly miss out on what could have been one of the greatest moments in Scottish rugby history. I could even understand the boos when the decision was initially made as fans should be able to make their opinions heard.
It was what came after that was disappointing as boos rang out around Twickenham as Bernard Foley stepped up to take the kick. To then hear the booing continue as Wallabies captain Stephen Moore and coach Michael Cheika were booed throughout their post-match interviews was frankly embarrassing.
There are also suggestions floating around that a bottle was thrown at Craig Joubert which prompted his hasty exit from the pitch. If this is true, the fan throwing the bottle should be too ashamed to ever show their face at a rugby stadium again. At the end of the day, Joubert made a poor call, however there was no malice intended, it was simply a case of human error due in large part to the split second in which he had to witness the incident.
Even more concerning is the abuse Alex Cuthbert has received from some sections of the Welsh fan base. Although this is from a much smaller contingent of ‘fans’, to send such abuse to your own player is pathetic. To do so from behind the safety of a keyboard is frankly embarrassing and cowardly.
Whilst Cuthbert may have not been at his best recently, have no doubt that he has put his heart and soul into doing everything in his power to help Wales throughout the World Cup. Only his fellow teammates can fully comprehend what he has been through in the brutal Welsh training camps.
The reality is that in professional sport, players go through highs and lows. Unfortunately his downturn in form has coincided with the Rugby World Cup, however there is no excuse for some of the idiocy that has been spouted about him since his side’s narrow loss to the Springboks in the quarter finals.
The problem is there is no cure for stupidity, and whilst ‘fans’ have access to the internet, they will continue to post stupid uneducated comments. However, much in the same way World Rugby announced a crackdown on unsportsmanlike conduct on the field, there should also be a crackdown off the field when appropriate.
Fellow rugby supports also need to take a stand against such stupidity and call out fellow ‘fans’ for poor behaviour. One of the truly great things is that we can take our whole family to the game and enjoy a great day out, without fear like in certain other sports were foul language, abuse and even violence occur. If we fail to act now, then it is easy to see rugby going the same way as sports like football where the idiots become the vocal majority.