Rugby Championship

No-arms Nonu ... the hypocrisy!

2013-09-16 14:00
Ma’a Nonu (AFP)
Cape Town – Of all people, Jean de Villiers has done so little to deserve two malicious “coat-hangers” in the space of five Test matches.

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Apart from being one of the cleanest players on the top-flight rugby circuit worldwide, the veteran centre is also blossoming more and more as Springbok captain, not only maintaining high personal performance standards but also excelling for tactical expertise, calm decision-making and great diplomacy in the role.

In short, I believe he is fast developing the sort of leadership aura of modern Bok predecessors like Francois Pienaar, Gary Teichmann and John Smit, even if it is true that he is yet to deliver any front-line silverware in just over a year at the helm.

As much as anything, he is a remarkably uncomplaining servant of whichever team he represents, whether it be the Stormers or Springbok No 12 jersey, despite the fact that he is horrendously over-played at both Super Rugby and Test level.

So De Villiers really warrants better than to have to endure disgraceful threats to his bodily well-being from opponents – both no strangers to foul play, note -- cynically flouting the pretty clear-cut tackle laws to bring him crashing to ground while on the offensive and at reasonably full throttle.

The first in this year’s international season came in June at Loftus, when Samoan wing bruiser Alesana Tuilagi stiff-armed him to the hard Highveld deck and was swiftly red-carded and suspended for two weeks – at least justice was seen to be decisively served there, especially as De Villiers had done anything but “milk” the incident.

He even graciously accepted Tuilagi’s handshake immediately after the assault, which for the offender was probably a bit like the wife-beater thinking all was hunky-dory again after buying roses to appease her for his vicious punch to her face.

But De Villiers was done a dirty once more at Eden Park on Saturday, in an incident that unjustly melted rather into the background because of prior controversies surrounding team-mate Bismarck du Plessis (largely exonerated when it is all rather too late) that continue to provoke mass ire back in South Africa.

This time, the midfielder was taken out in a crude shoulder charge by Ma’a Nonu, his formidably burly opposite number, a second after providing an off-load with his head turned sideways and thus particularly vulnerable to an unseen, unsubtle and frankly cowardly whack.

Ironically, too, it came just a day or two after De Villiers had spoken publicly of his “real respect” for Nonu, adding that he was “a good guy off the field as well”.

In my own mind, this was a transgression more severe and spiteful than the “second yellow” offence by Du Plessis – which led to his costly permanent eviction on Saturday -- when he led with an elbow as ball-carrier when challenged by New Zealand’s Liam Messam.

Heck, at least Messam could see him coming.

New Zealand Herald scribe Gregor Paul has wailed -- fortunately a voice in a relative wilderness, even in New Zealand -- that “the second (Du Plessis) incident alone was a red card ... nasty, dangerous and deliberate”.

All the while Paul steers gloriously clear, in his sermon on rugby impropriety, in even mentioning the Nonu matter, for which the culprit got a stock yellow card with no further sanction seemingly in the pipeline.

Is it perhaps because Nonu has become such a routine offender for dangerous tackles that Paul deems the issue too predictable to even bother addressing?

“Unfortunately it’s something he does regularly,” noted former All Black and television pundit Justin Marshall, stating the obvious to many South Africans but at least showing a refreshing commitment to impartiality. (Another New Zealand commentator then makes the point that it is apparently Nonu’s fifth yellow card of the season.)

Neutral journalist Steve James, writing in England’s broadsheet Daily Telegraph, revealingly said: “It was a tackle much, much worse than that of Du Plessis.”

Unsurprisingly, Nonu has already featured in controversy in earlier Castle Rugby Championship combat this season: he somehow escaped even a 10-minute “binning” for a daze-inducing shoulder barge on Wallaby prop James Slipper in Wellington.

Defending Nonu afterwards, All Black coach Steve Hansen said, suddenly producing tough-guy talk suspiciously absent in his judgement of Du Plessis: “We’re not playing tiddlywinks. It’s a man’s game and I think sometimes we get a wee bit carried away.”

Ah, I see.

I’ll bet you this much, too: if Ma’a Nonu’s name was Butch James, he wouldn’t have the remotest chance of running out for the follow-up Test between the Boks and All Blacks at Ellis Park in three weeks, would he?

And that should not be seen as any special defence of Butch James, not an irregular presence in galleries of rogues.

When these old foes lock horns in Johannesburg on October 5 - and yes, I’m trying really trying hard to strip parochialism from my thoughts - I would argue that Ma’a Nonu should be more of a marked man by the match officials than the guy at the centre of the Auckland hullabaloo, Bismarck du Plessis ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Ma'a Nonu sees yellow (Getty Images)

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