Wallabies halfback Nick Phipps’ behavior this Rugby Championship season has seen him rise rapidly through the ranks of rugby villainy. Jamie Wall looks at some of his greatest precedents.
Two blatant acts of bad sportsmanship this year have catapulted the perpetually bronzed Phipps into the number one position on the list of current rugby villains.
Exhibit A: throwing poor Malakai Fekitoa’s boot into the Westpac Stadium cheap seats (as if Fekitoa doesn’t have enough to worry about lately as it is)
Exhibit B: dropping a shoulder into an Argentine trainer in the final round match at Twickenham
In a game where good sportsmanship is often promoted to almost nauseating levels, becoming international rugby’s biggest villain could be seen a relatively easy achievement. However, Phipps is very much the latest in a list of thugs, cheats and unhinged maniacs who have brought a bit of colour to the often personality-deficient world rugby environment.
These are some of his most villainous precedents:
Johan le Roux
Anyone feel like a snack? The Springbok prop did in a 1994 test against the All Blacks, nibbling on Sean Fitzpatrick’s ear a couple of years before Mike Tyson took ear-biting to a truly global audience. Le Roux received a massive 19-month ban, the longest ever in international rugby, as well as the infamy of the being one of the few men convicted of attempted cannibalism in international sport. It didn’t stop him from releasing a tell-all book entitled Biting Back, which was more or less a 300-page whinge about how crap touring New Zealand was.
The All Blacks haka is a challenge, and generally the done thing for opposition players is to stand there looking staunch until it’s finished. Not so English hooker Cockerill, who decided that swearing profusely at his opposite Norm Hewitt would be a good idea in 1997. The All Blacks won the test comfortably, but Cockerill again raised the ire of NZ fans in another loss the following season by obnoxiously celebrating a try that closed the scoreline between the two sides to a mere 42 points.
The Wallaby flanker’s name has become so synonymous with one incident it’s pretty much impossible to find any other information about the rest of his career. His assault on Frank Bunce in the second 1996 Bledisloe Cup test seemed completely unprovoked, although the fact that Bunce cocooned himself immediately does give a clue that he knew what was coming. Brial’s test career ended soon after, so he never had to face a hostile New Zealand crowd, but since then his name has been used for nothing else than to describe spirited, but ultimately futile, flurries of punches.
Sir Colin Meads
Old Pinetree is the most legendary All Black of all time, but he didn’t get his mythical status by being a nice guy all the time. As well as being sent off in a test against Scotland in 1967, he also earned a lifetime of derision from Australian fans for prematurely ending the career of Ken Catchpole. The halfback, often rated the finest to ever pull on the Wallaby jersey, had one leg pinned in a ruck when Meads wrenched the other as hard as he could. This tore Catchpole’s groin muscles irreparably – hence why Meads is held in wildly different regard on either side of the Tasman.
In a nice bit of symmetry, we end on a Wallaby halfback who Phipps could definitely learn a thing or two from when it comes to getting under an opponent’s skin. It only took three words from the eventual 139-test veteran in the 2003 Rugby World Cup to solidify his standing as the owner of (if you’re an All Blacks fan) the most ruthless sledge of all time. With the semifinal all but in the books for the Wallabibes, Gregan was picked up on the ref’s mic reminding the All Blacks that they’d have to wait “four more years” for a World Cup victory. Of course, he was wrong – it turned out to be eight.
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