With the Autumn Internationals upon us, it’s time to get excited again about our southern hemisphere cousins coming to visit. It may also be time to brace ourselves for the usual trolls who crawl out of the woodwork when the women’s games take to our screens.
Excuse the cynicism. I hope I’m wrong. However, it bothers me that international athletes can be subject to so much online abuse. Opening a discussion on this trend is something I’m not a stranger to as I believe it is one way to lead change. At the same time, I also feel very sorry for these people whose judgements are so shrouded in negativity. They are really missing out on what could be an entire extra dose of rugby pleasure for their souls.
You may have seen one Twitter user recently create a merciless procession of tweets tearing apart Ronan O’Gara and his induction into World Rugby’s Hall of Fame, uncovering any error that ROG ever made to fortify his argument. It was a pretty tough analysis by the author and, as many users pointed out, it must be an awful drain on one’s happiness to only see the negatives in something that could instead bring you so much enjoyment and satisfaction.
Incredible how Ronan O'Gara's reputation among some as a legendary tactical kicking mastermind survived performances like this on biggest stage. On his day behind a strong pack he was decent, if limited, kicking 10, but on off days a total liability more often than some remember. pic.twitter.com/apT62nzgdn
— Tier 2 Rugby (@T2Rugby) October 27, 2021
Sounds like a familiar kind of bias to me, one that the women’s game knows too well, and something we might be able to reconfigure in the eyes of rugby fans who have yet to see past the negatives in the women’s game.
I probably follow around 50 or so rugby social media accounts. I’m constantly watching videos of tries, runs, sidesteps, tackles, interviews etc. and I often indulge in the comments section underneath where rugby fans and self-proclaimed rugby gurus are offering their two cents. I also often come away from reading those comments feeling angry and annoyed at the blatant and biased bashing of female rugby players, no matter what the video might show.
Take a look at this reaction to two blistering runs by two very similar players representing their countries, shared by World Rugby’s accounts.
Similar head down, leg drive, evasion techniques are on show in attack. Similar errors in defense are obvious in both videos, like tackling too high and reaching with arms. The stark difference in the reaction to these two videos really caught my eye, because it’s not just one or two highlighting my example here, but an entire string of positive under one and a string of negative under the other. I daresay you needn’t rush to the examples to work out which one received the negative comments.
I’m not encouraging any pats on the back for a missed tackle. Few players in an international jersey will be unaware of the severity of such an error and how it will be duly punished by conceding points and territory. But that was not the point of the tweet. The point is to show a clear subconscious bias that exists when many rugby fans decide to comment on the women’s game.
Where are the comments lauding Linda’s run that Alvin Otieno received in abundance? Both players did everything right, so why is Linda not the target of such praise?
I sent a spin off tweet criticising the South African defence which lead to an All Blacks try in last month’s Rugby Championship that opened a few more eyes to this pattern
Awful defense. Pure shite. https://t.co/nRDLn5FMD5
— Anna Caplice (@bananacaplice) October 5, 2021
A stunning New Zealand try shared by the All-Blacks’ Twitter account stating it was “special” was followed by thousands of fire emojis and enough love for Ardie Savea and his cronies to supply Valentine’s Day. I searched and scrolled for a negative comment yet couldn’t find one. Hello? Where are the defensive errors that scream at you so loudly when a woman makes them? Can nobody see the trail of helpless South African internationals lying in heaps lining the field having failed to stop the attack?? It may come as a shock to some of you, but sometimes, just sometimes, world class attack can make a world class defence look poor.
Apologies for the crass language of the tweet, but I was trying to prove a point. Those who rowed in behind the joke (yes, it was a joke. I too thought it was quite “special”) began pointing out that, actually yes, there were missed tackles and poor attempts at defence by the World Champions. I’ll tell you what though, I’m going to go back to seeing the positives, because I certainly enjoyed that try a lot more when I was celebrating for Savea instead of crying for Kolisi.
Why rugby is like Othello
When I was in 5th year I, like every other Leaving Cert student that has gone before and after, studied a Shakespeare play.
“Ah Jesus, not Othello again” I cried before heading into English class one day.
“What? Why don’t you like Othello? I love Othello.” said my classmate, Brenda. “I think it’s class”.
I was shocked. I thought I was being cool and didn’t realise that Othello and his pals were to be enjoyed. I’m always thankful to Brenda for opening my eyes to the enjoyment of our Shakespeare play, because instead of two years of misery and draining disapproval, I learned to see the positives and enjoy Shakespeare thoroughly.
So, my advice is this. LC students embrace your literature; and sports fans: embrace women’s rugby. Because neither is going anywhere for a while so buckle up and enjoy the ride. As much as you might want to resist, there are positives in abundance in both. You just need to open your eyes to them.