Italian veteran Martin Castrogiovanni dominated the rugby headlines for all the wrong reasons this week, albeit for the reasons that he intended. Following Toulon’s 25-21 defeat to Leicester last week, the French team’s prop called a press conference in which he unleashed an expletive-ridden tirade against the Tiger’s head coach, Richard Cockerill. Following the same match, Toulon flyer Delon Armitage was also accused of mouthing off to fans at half time. These incidents have raised perturbing questions concerning the modern state of a characteristically placid sport.
A phrase commonly used to describe rugby is ‘a thug’s game played by gentlemen’. For the most part this is true: respect is important in a sport where you spend 80 minutes knocking six shades of blue out of each other; it is vital both on and off the field. Nowhere else are you likely to see 30 muscle-bound giants being bossed around by a diminutive Welshman, whom they address as ‘sir’. However, every once in a while incidents such as last week at Welford Road occur, and they smirch the otherwise dignified name of rugby.
Castrogiovanni, who left Leicester Tigers last season to rejoin Toulon, had a bone to pick with Cockerill, his ex-head coach. Allegations had allegedly been made that the Italian had abandoned Tigers simply for the lucrative money that has lured so many others to the French team. Castro vehemently denied this, claiming that he paid £100,000 of his own money to leave Tigers so he could further his rugby career at Toulon, preferring their style of play. In particular, he was forthright in his criticism of Cockerill, accusing the coach of bringing his name into disrepute. A large portion of the words used by Castro cannot be repeated in writing, but a single phrase can sum it up: ‘Love me or hate me. I don’t hate anyone. Peace and love. I just don’t like c*nts.’
A phrase commonly used to describe rugby is ‘a thug’s game played by gentlemen’
No-one can deny that Cockerill is an aptly named ‘Marmite’ character. His abrupt and forthright attitude to coaching endears him to Tigers fans, but many others find him intolerable; who can forget his abuse of the fourth official in the Premiership final of 2012/13? However, he is a figure of authority within English rugby and should not be subject to comments such as those made by Castrogiovanni. There is an unwritten law within rugby that bitching and snide comments are not allowed, and even Tigers’ master of darkness is protected by that law.
As already mentioned, Castro’s post-match outburst was not the only matter of attention for the media last week. Delon Armitage, Toulon’s winger/full back, is alleged to have verbally abused fans during the half time interval. The Englishman is renowned for a fiery temper, and the incident would likely have been glossed over had it not been married to Castro’s more public outburst. As it is, Armitage is line to be investigated by the European Professional Club Rugby (EPRC) disciplinary team, along with Castro. Both players are likely to face a committee and be fined for their actions, perhaps even facing a playing ban.
It all sounds, frankly, like a whole lot of fuss over nothing, but the furore created will endure and, disappointingly, the match will be remembered for its post-match drama, not the efforts on the pitch
Without promoting stereotypes too much, such behaviour is more common in sports like football; it has a richer history of scandalous behaviour, ranging from John Terry’s antics from a few years ago to recent allegations of corruption at the heart of FIFA. Rugby distances itself from disreputable escapades as much as possible, which is why the media have pounced on the action so readily. In fairness, Castrogiovanni called the press conference himself and made a conscious effort to put his words in the public eye as much as possible; not only does this highlight how strongly he feels about this issue, but it will also likely reflect the punishment he receives.
Usually, there are always at least two sides to a story, and Castro’s situation is not exempt from this. It has since emerged that the money he paid to leave his contract with Leicester was paid back in full by Toulon. He was also described by Cockerill as a beloved icon on Tigers’ rugby. It all sounds, frankly, like a whole lot of fuss over nothing, but the furore created will endure and, disappointingly, the match will be remembered for its post-match drama, not the efforts on the pitch.
Behaviour like this should be stamped on, as it creates a false image of rugby. It is not sport with commonplace bitching or off-pitch spats and should not be pictured as one. You can’t help but feel for Castrogiovanni, as he clearly feels wronged by Cockerill and Leicester, but his actions have brought rugby into disrepute.
Follow Jack on Twitter: @jackrhart
Image courtesy of rugbyworld.com