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Du'Plessis Kirifi should be free to salute crowds with or without abuse

By Tom Vinicombe
Du'Plessis Kirifi. (Original photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

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Hurricanes flanker Du’Plessis Kirifi has revealed he had unsavoury comments yelled at him from the stands following Saturday night’s victory over the Waratahs.

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Kirifi was caught on camera flipping off members of the 11,000-strong crowd after the come-from-behind 22-18 win and some would have unsurprisingly jumped to conclusions about his behaviour.

Those critics will now have to eat their words following Kirifi’s revelations about his entirely justifiable behaviour – but should it really matter whether or not Kirifi copped abuse in the lead-up to him flipping the bird?

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The key to stopping the Blues.

Rugby has long lagged behind other sports when it comes to allowing the individual involved to let their personalities shine through.

Few would disagree that Kirifi was right to feel frustrated after what went down at Leichhardt Oval.

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“Abuse from the sideline is part of our job, and it’s a part I personally love – however this doesn’t justify racial slurs or comments about my family,” he posted on Instagram on Monday.

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But what if Kirifi hadn’t copped abuse of quite as personal a nature? What if Kirifi had been criticised for the way he performed, or simply for being on the winning side?

If you want to encourage fans to get along to games or simply to tune in on TV then it’s important to avoid intentionally homogenising the product.

Many professional rugby players in New Zealand (and, really, the world) are afraid to step out of line and say anything that could indicate they have thoughts, feelings and opinions of their own. If that’s simply who they are as a person then there’s nothing wrong with that, but players who break the mould shouldn’t be forced into line.

The NBA is just one of many sporting leagues awash with characters who aren’t afraid to speak their mind or throw a little bit of shade towards opposition players and fans.

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In the tennising world, while the ongoing battles between the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic make for interesting storylines in of their selves, a player like Nick Kyrgios attracts just as many headlines, even if he’s not quite as accomplished a player as the aforementioned stars of the game, simply because he’s such a big personality.

Fans of a sport will tune in if there’s a good game to watch but non-fans can be enticed throughout the storylines that bleed into the narrative of the everyday.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a sport espousing values such as ‘respect’ and ‘discipline’ but the one that really draws people’s attention and gets fans excited is ‘passion’.

Rugby needs passionate players and sometimes that means going against the grain and not behaving like a robot.

Kirifi had a very good reason to throw caution to the wind and flip off some ill-behaving crowd members (to call them fans would be doing the game a disservice) at Leichhardt Oval.

In his Instagram post, Kirifi has said, “If I had my time again I’d definitely act in a different way” – but it would be wrong to quell the Hurricane’s passion, especially given the words he allegedly received from the crowd.

And what if there hadn’t been unsavoury comments? What if the truth had never come out and Kirifi had just taken umbrage with some particularly wordy Waratahs fans?

Well, so what?

There was nothing wrong with Andrew Mehrtens flipping off the Pretoria crowd after nailing a match-winning drop goal when the Crusaders pipped the Bulls back in 1999.

Rugby needs heroes, it needs villains, it needs storylines to draw in the interest of those who aren’t quite as interested in the game as they were one, two or three decades ago, and those who wren’t yet born during the so-called ‘golden era’ of the sport pre professionalism.

Kirifi had every reason to respond to miscreants in the crowd when the Hurricanes bested the Waratahs on Saturday – and even if he hadn’t, it’s the kind of behaviour that many would remember for years to come, which sometimes is exactly what you need to reignite a flame in a sport which isn’t necessarily attracting the same attention it once did.

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