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'He hasn't killed anyone': Davies on Feyi-Waboso's choice and trolls

By Chris Jones
Immanuel Feyi-Waboso walks out for his England debut (Photo by Dan Mullan/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

Former Wales No10 Jonathan Davies knows all about the “numpties” who make social media criticism an increasingly worrying pressure on top rugby players and officials.

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Davies, who won 37 caps at out-half for his country, also had an outstanding rugby league career but that has not stopped him being mauled by online critics for his commentary as a pundit.

He explained to RugbyPass: “I had a few numpties saying what does he know about rugby league because I live in Wales now. Well, I was player’s player of the year twice, captain of Great Britain, I played out in Australia, I beat New Zealand and Australia and I was the Man of Steel. So no matter where I live, I think I know a little bit about it (league)!”

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The ability of keyboard warriors to fire off criticism based purely on an inexplicable desire to verbally wound the target has been brought sharply into focus by the new Whistleblowers film on RugbyPass TV, which focuses on the experiences of referees and television match officials at the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.

England’s Tom Foley, the TMO in the World Cup final, has walked away from that role after receiving “a torrent of criticism and abuse,” while Wayne Barnes, the referee for the final which saw All Blacks captain Sam Cane sent off, has retired and hit out at social media abuse of officials.

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Players are also regular targets of the haters, with former England captain Owen Farrell standing down from international rugby citing social media abuse aimed at him and his family as a contributing factor.

England flanker Tom Curry was also the target of online abuse after approaching referee Ben O’Keeffe to report an alleged racially abusive comment from South Africa hooker Bongi Mbonambi when the teams clashed at the World Cup.

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Against this backdrop, the build-up to next Saturday’s England versus Wales Guinness Six Nations clash at Twickenham started with English head coach Steve Borthwick saying Exeter wing Immanuel Feyi-Waboso would be supported in the face of potential social media attacks.

Born and raised in Cardiff but qualifying for England through a grandmother, Feyi-Waboso, who made his Test debut off the bench last Saturday against Italy, is expected to be named in the match squad to face the Welsh in London.

Borthwick said: “We are really cognisant of that and rightly so given the World Cup experience. There is a heightened awareness now of those external noises and external factors. We will give all the players all the support they need.”

Now a TV television pundit, Davies recently wrote on X (formerly Twitter): “Haters will be haters. Don’t let the numpties on social media get you down. Brave and know-it-all all trolls everywhere (sad pathetic people, you know who you are). Tin hat season during Six Nations.”

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Expanding on his views on Tuesday, Davies said: “It is a sad indictment on society that there is a lack of balance or perspective. If Feyi-Waboso chooses England, then he hasn’t killed anyone or abused one of your family. He has made a choice so get on with it. If you are the kind of character that worries (about social media) then you have to get off it.

“I got abused when I went north (to rugby league) but playing out-half for Wales you cop it anyway. Win and you are brilliant, lose and you’re the worst.

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“After the weekend, Scottish fans got into me saying, I wasn’t impartial. I remember playing in a rugby league match and when I ran out and a bloke in the crowd shouted: ‘Davies, you’re a wanker.’ Then someone next to him shouted, ‘Pity his father wasn’t.’ I laughed.

“Social media is great but you need a hard skin and have to ignore the idiots. When I was playing I had Barry John and Phil Bennett commentating and if I didn’t play as well as they expected they gave their views and I respected it.

“It comes with the territory but now with Twitter, you don’t know who these people are. They are faceless trolls and unfortunately, it’s a sign of our times. Either you come off social media or have a hard skin.

“If I was playing now then I would just accept it for what it is and I would only listen to people who I respected, journalists, ex-players and broadcasters. The problem now is that everyone thinks they know everything.”

All Blacks assistant coach Jason Ryan recently added his voice to those calling for strong action, telling Newstalk ZB: “What has been happening with some of the messaging and threats that have been sent to referees (and) their families is disgusting.

“It’s something that needs to be cracked down on at the highest level. The sooner something is done about it at the highest level, whether or not that is through the law and criminal offences or World Rugby, it has to stop because it’s not good enough.”

World Rugby partnered with an online monitoring agency for the recent World Cup and flagged more than 1,600 abusive social media accounts which resulted in 90 per cent of the most serious content being removed.

Signify Group monitored 900 social media accounts for World Rugby, including those belonging to all match officials with public-facing social accounts (including their families) and World Rugby’s official channels during the 2023 tournament. It revealed the teams most targeted were England followed by Springboks, France and New Zealand.

As a result, legal action is being taken with one person being charged in Australia and other prosecutions pending in South Africa, France, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Australia.

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Comments

1 Comment
J
Jerry 131 days ago

I'm an England supporter and I watched the game with my Scottish wife. As much as I enjoyed her discomfort during the second half, I was equally horrified at the level of JD’s biased commentary, it was like listening to a fan. I think they should only let him commentate on games not involving Wales.

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