There is a clear difference between gamesmanship and cheating, and the two should not be confused, writes former Springbok STEFAN TERBLANCHE.
I am not sure if I should thank or swear at one of my friends for inspiring the topic of this column. I had to push delete and rewrite my whole column as it really gripped me, and made me think long and hard.
We belong to many chat groups, and the question he posed started a great rugby debate yet again: Do the New Zealand rugby players and teams cheat, or is it just good gamesmanship?
For me there is a very clear and simple answer, but I have no doubt many will disagree with me. It’s been discussed on many occasions around a braai in years gone by.
Cheating is something that happens before you take the rugby field. Cheating would be classified as taking a banned substance, spying on the opposition’s closed training session before an important game, bugging the opposition’s team room or poisoning their pre-match meal. Cheating is something that gives you an unfair advantage over the opposition.
You cannot cheat on the field, as the same rules apply to all teams, and it should be impossible to do so. If you have a referee that’s not strictly officiating the offside rule, it is not cheating but great gamesmanship if you play offsides all day long.
If you have a referee that doesn’t enforce the law against playing the ball on the ground at the breakdown, it would be great gamesmanship to continue playing the ball off your feet at will, while the opposition pull their hair out. It’s the job of the officials to apply these rules and in doing so, ensuring a fair contest.
An All Black or Crusader has the same percentage chance as a Springbok or Bull of being penalised for entering the ruck or maul from the side. How you react to being penalised, how often you do it and when you do it again is all part of great gamesmanship. The best teams manage this so well and in some cases, too well.
In this day and age every bit of information, good and bad, is readily available, and I am only talking about rugby in this instance. Information about opposition players, their weaknesses and strengths can be viewed with the push of a button on any half-decent rugby programme. The same applies for the information on the man in the middle, officiating the game.
When a player makes a decision on the field — and you only have a split second to do so at the top level — the best players more often than not make the right call. They do so because of a natural talent and playing ability, and only a very small percentage of this decision comes from particular preparation for a specific match, opposition and official. They know what is acceptable for the referee and what is not, guided by the basic rules of the game.
When people tell me that the opposition cheat on the rugby field, it drives me insane. It is not cheating, but meticulous planning and great gamesmanship. The bigger the game the bigger the play, and the best players will again make a great call to break the rules in the last minute of the game, but in doing so they know full well the risk attached to such a big decision. More often than not they already know the outcome of the decision and more often than not they will get the rub of the green.
That’s gamesmanship. That’s all it is, and something that any player and team could use to their advantage. It’s a skill just like tackling, running or kicking the ball, but can completely change the outcome of a game or tournament.
*Terblanche is a former Springbok who earned 37 Test caps. He is now the CEO of the SA Rugby Legends Association and will serve as a member of World Rugby’s judicial committee at the 2019 World Cup. His column was brought to you by Tuttle Insurance Brokers.