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The Sporting Life: The Spear of the Lion

Alex Richards

A musical Hubble Space Telescope
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I can see the All Blacks being hit with some high profile snubs in terms of competitive play as well after that.
 

Nick Sumner

Should've just left it...
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This is a fascinating 'what if'. It's the kind of incident on which a game can turn.The All Blacks are famous for playing dirty. In the 1994 French tour of NZ (The only time NZ have been whitewashed at home) both test matches were rife with off the ball incidents of foul play by NZ players. You can watch both games on YouTube with the New Zealand commentary, which is hilarious. The camera replays every foul (in the pre video ref age they got away with a lot) and at each outrageous foul the commentator gruffly offers "Well, you all saw it..."

I can see some possibilities. Firstly if O'Driscoll suffers the same injury as OTL.

1. The referee or linesman see the offence, Mealama and Umagu both get sent off and NZ have to play with 13 men. The incident occoured just inside the Lions half, so the penalty would have led to a Lions attacking move (probably not a shot at goal). In OTL NZ won convincingly as they did the next two tests, but in this scenario the Lions might very well win the first test. I'm not sure what the law was at the time but Mealama and Umagu would probably have been banned for at least one match.

2. There's a coherent response from the world RFU and Mealama and Umagu get longer bans. If its for a couple of months, that has an effect on the tri-nations in 2005 and South Africa could win it. Funnily enough, in rugby, the longest bans are for drug abuse and disrespecting the ref, not attempted murder, so they probably wouldn't get more than a few weeks.

Then there's the possibility that Mealama and Umagu manage to break BO'D's neck. In this case I think the outcry would see them banned for life. There might be a bit of a ripple effect in the 2006 Tri-nations but in the 2007 RWC NZ would still be in an easy group and still get dumped out by the French in the 1/4 final.
 

David Flin

Voila, a viola.
1. The referee or linesman see the offence, Mealama and Umagu both get sent off and NZ have to play with 13 men. The incident occoured just inside the Lions half, so the penalty would have led to a Lions attacking move (probably not a shot at goal). In OTL NZ won convincingly as they did the next two tests, but in this scenario the Lions might very well win the first test. I'm not sure what the law was at the time but Mealama and Umagu would probably have been banned for at least one match.
Two All Blacks being sent off in the first minute of a test in New Zealand? That would require an awfully brave referee. The sin bin for a yellow card was around, and my guess would be that the referee would choose that option.
 

Nick Sumner

Should've just left it...
Published by SLP
Two All Blacks being sent off in the first minute of a test in New Zealand? That would require an awfully brave referee. The sin bin for a yellow card was around, and my guess would be that the referee would choose that option.
The offence was horrendous though. The Ref in question was Joel Jutge, a Frenchman, he had refereed in the 2003 RWC. You could argue that a French Ref would be biased against NZ and wouldn't give a monkey's about crowd reaction. Those two teams have a history of violence going back to 'the battle of Nantes' in 1986 .
 

Geordie

SEA LIONS ON MY SHIRT
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A grim PoD to think about @David Flin, but definitely worth considering. It was an absolutely horrendous assault -premeditated and deliberate, and BO'D was really lucky to avoid serious, potentially life-changing injuries.

Had BO'D broken his neck, I can't see how the gruesome twosome would have got away with it. They surely would have missed the rest of the series, and - as @Nick Sumner says - could have been banned for longer. It would be interesting to see the fallout. Would NZR have tried to defend them until the citing commisioner found them guilty? How would the NZ press and public react? How would the British and specifically Irish boards, press and public respond?

As @Alex Richards points out, other international teams could make things more uncomfortable for NZR by refusing to play, or demanding some sort of guarantees. Also, if O'Driscoll is seriously hurt, it may have real impact on the All Black dressing room. How many of them knew what was coming? How many would be willing to defend the thugs who did it? Would they fear reprisal in the next test? Would they be willing to line up next to Mealamu and Umaga? Speaking as a former prop forward, the scrum is a dangerous enough place, even at amateur and school level. At international level, when you've got such immense forces pushing against each other, how can you trust a man who actively tries to injure players? There could be players on both teams who decide that they're not going to scrum down if Mealamu is in the front row...
 

AndyF

Shadow Under-Secretary for Treacle & Jam Mining
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Outstanding article David, I missed that game myself but caught the furore afterwards.
Something that hasn't been mentioned yet; if O'Driscoll hadn't managed to turn his neck in time, regardless of the subsequent firestorm about RU safety it might start, might there have been pressure (from the RU fanbase, RU Organisational & Governmental) to have Mealama & Umagu brought up on criminal charges?
Personally, I'd expect at least Assault charges, if not Attempted Murder (I'm irrational like that if I think someone's trying to do serious harm).
 

David Flin

Voila, a viola.
Something that hasn't been mentioned yet; if O'Driscoll hadn't managed to turn his neck in time, regardless of the subsequent firestorm about RU safety it might start, might there have been pressure (from the RU fanbase, RU Organisational & Governmental) to have Mealama & Umagu brought up on criminal charges?
I don't know enough about the inner workings of NZ rugby organisations at the time to have a view on how they would have responded had O'Driscoll been badly injured. From the situation as it actually arose, they were very dismissive of any suggestion that there was any problem whatsoever, with the nadir being the claim that it was Mealama and Umagu who were the victims because people were saying bad things about them. The word "sook" was much in evidence.

My guess - and someone with better knowledge of the NZ side of things might well be better able to comment - is that if O'Driscoll did have his neck broken, NZ Rugby would have said words to the effect of: "It was an accident. These things happen. Maybe we need to look into what can be done to make sure it doesn't happen in the future, but it certainly wasn't our fault in any way that it happened."
 

AndyF

Shadow Under-Secretary for Treacle & Jam Mining
Patreon supporter
I don't know enough about the inner workings of NZ rugby organisations at the time to have a view on how they would have responded had O'Driscoll been badly injured. From the situation as it actually arose, they were very dismissive of any suggestion that there was any problem whatsoever, with the nadir being the claim that it was Mealama and Umagu who were the victims because people were saying bad things about them. The word "sook" was much in evidence.

My guess - and someone with better knowledge of the NZ side of things might well be better able to comment - is that if O'Driscoll did have his neck broken, NZ Rugby would have said words to the effect of: "It was an accident. These things happen. Maybe we need to look into what can be done to make sure it doesn't happen in the future, but it certainly wasn't our fault in any way that it happened."
My main thought on that wasn't necessarily the reaction of the NZRU (which I don't judge as likely to be much different), but on the reactions of the other national RU bodies & possible diplomatic pressure being brought to bear on the New Zealand Government itself to intervene.
 

David Flin

Voila, a viola.
My main thought on that wasn't necessarily the reaction of the NZRU (which I don't judge as likely to be much different), but on the reactions of the other national RU bodies & possible diplomatic pressure being brought to bear on the New Zealand Government itself to intervene.
I rather suspect @Alex Richards has it about right; some very high-profile snubs from other bodies, and other individuals. I can see tours being cancelled, I can certainly see a threatened boycott of the 2007 World Cup if NZRU hasn't taken firm action.
 
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