Rugby's dark side exposed

Yahoo! Contributor Network

It has not been a great week for rugby in the press. The tragic news that a Royal Marine, enjoying some downtime in Durban, was beaten to death outside the stadium after the Sharks v Rebels game last weekend sent shockwaves through the rugby world. A terrible anomaly in a sport whose culture is defined by respect and camaraderie amongst fans, it is nonetheless worrying and shocking.

There has also been plenty in the news recently about players themselves misbehaving. Whilst the All Blacks' Zac Guildford and Australia's Kurtley Beale are the latest to fall foul of alcohol-fuelled misdemeanours, it is not a new problem amongst rugby players. In fact, in the past five years there have been 25 instances in which players have sought help for alcohol or drugs related issues.

Sadly, it is something which seems to be becoming more prominent. Zac Guildford is an immense talent, so much so that he was thrust into the limelight of international rugby at the tender age of 20 - no mean feat in the rugby-mad nation of New Zealand, with their current team widely regarded as one of the best to have ever played the game.

Since then, however, things have gone from bad to worse. Stories abound of his troubles, including episodes of violence, gambling, breaches of team protocol - the list goes on. After unsuccessful attempts at coming off the booze himself, he finally succumbed to help and has since returned to the Crusaders' team after a period of exile. Some people argue he has been given too many chances. Others salute a young man who has recognised his problem and (hopefully) dealt with it. Time will tell which camp is correct.

This week, Kurtley Beale punched two of his teammates after his side had slipped to an embarrassing 64-7 loss. It included an attack on his team captain, and punches being thrown at a player who tried to intervene. No-one knows the exact circumstances; all we can be sure of is that alcohol was involved. He has since been given a leave of absence from his team, and is to seek counseling as part of his rehab.

There is no place for this sort of disrespect in the game, and while the players themselves must be held responsible it is easy to feel a degree of sympathy for them. These are young men who are thrust into the limelight with fame, fortune and fans' adoration - is it any wonder they fall off the wagon?

The binge-drinking culture that accompanies rugby is well documented. As fun as it was in the amateur days, in the world of professionalism it is not really acceptable anymore. When you attain the status of celebrity through your sport you have to be aware that when you step out of line you will be splashed over the front pages for it.

A solution to the problem is tricky. Rugby has always had a strong team culture - the belief that no man is bigger than the team is one that players would do well to remember at times. More guidance, perhaps, from coaches and those associated with clubs for young players who find stardom overnight would be good.

Whatever happens it is such a disappointment to see world-class players wasting their talent in this way. A rugby player's career is such a short one it is a great shame to see some of the best wasting valuable playing time.

The Lions travel to Australia in June, and Beale now stands a good chance of missing out. For the majority of past Southern Hemisphere greats, playing the Lions ranks as one of their greatest achievements, and as tours only come to each country every 12 years you only get one chance. Beale would sorely regret missing that.

It is worth noting that Guildford and Beale are far from the only culprits - they are just recent examples used here to illustrate a point. It is a problem much bigger than those two, and rugby could do with having a look at ways to stop it getting any more serious.

Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

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