Cape Town - Outspoken referee Nigel Owens has hailed former All Blacks great Richie
McCaw as the hardest man he's seen on a rugby field.
Owens, in his weekly column for WalesOnline,
has hit back at widely reported recent assertions from England loose
forward James Haskell that the game had gone "soft" on the back of him
being penalised for a high tackle in his home finale for Wasps.
According to the Stuff website, the openly gay Welsh referee who won plaudits for his condemnation of
Israel Folau's recent controversial comments, has taken issue with
Haskell's lament that rugby had become "a bit of a pathetic sport" with
its hardline stance on high hits.
Owens wrote in his column that
despite rugby cleaning up the "dirty" aspects that had prevailed in
earlier eras, it remained as tough a game as it had ever been. He then
cited the recently retired McCaw as a prime example of that.
"The game is definitely cleaner at the top level than it was in the
1970s or 1980s. But does that make it softer? No, it does not," said
Owens in his column.
"Some see the rugby of 30 or 40 years ago as the good old days, but
were those days really that good? You hear horror stories about players
getting booted at the bottom of rucks, about stamping and head-butting.
Call me old-fashioned but that's not the kind of game I would want to be
Then he went for McCaw as the "hardest man" he had encountered on a rugby pitch.
"(He was) capped 148 times by New Zealand despite playing in the most
attritional of positions where every game he would be required to throw
himself into harm's way, perhaps by locking himself over possession and
soaking up the attention of immensely powerful forwards who would do
everything they could to wipe him off the ball.
"That's what I call a genuine hard man."