All Blacks have a chance to erase black mark
Never mind what may or may not have happened in the opening seconds of the first Test between the Lions and New Zealand in June — it is great to have the All Blacks over here.
I am looking forward to watching their attempt to win a Grand Slam against the four home nations.
The release of new footage of the spear tackle by Kevin Mealamu and Tana Umaga on Brian O’Driscoll — timed perfectly for the arrival of the New Zealanders last week — meant it was inevitable the whole debate over whether the pair should be punished would be reopened.
Some people have suggested it happened in the past and should be forgotten. However, if it had happened to me when I was captain of the Lions, and my tour was over moments after kick-off in the first Test, I think I would have had every right to be upset.
All credit to O’Driscoll, who has made it clear he was hurt and angry at the time but now wants to move on. That’s a sensible view — it doesn’t do him any good to be seen carrying a grudge. I have every sympathy for him, and I think he has handled the situation extremely well.
Can you imagine if it had been Umaga dropped on to the turf, head first? I guarantee the papers in Auckland and Wellington would still be full of comment, especially with the team now touring over here. It so happens the roles were reversed, and that means we have every right to talk about it.
Of course, the issue of the International Rugby Board’s whole disciplinary system is called into question by an incident like this. I was at the match and wasn’t exactly sure what had happened to O’Driscoll. Neither was the match commissioner, who was the only man with the power to decide if Mealamu and Umaga should have been cited. If they had been cited, then the whole matter would doubtless have been investigated properly.
However, the commissioner — on the strength of one TV replay — decided they didn’t have a case to answer, and then promptly got on a plane to South Africa. So even when new evidence came to light, nothing could be done. Whether that’s right or wrong is up to the IRB, but it does seem questionable to me.
Let’s not forget, though, that Tana Umaga is a great player. He proved that against the Lions and, if it hadn’t been for Daniel Carter’s remarkable performance in the second Test, he would probably have been man of the series.
Now players over here are going to get the chance to prove themselves against him and that should be quite a sight.