Thinking and talking about rugby every day for 50+ years
22 September 2014
All of this 'media speak' about the Aaron Cruden late night drinking incident in Auckland last weekend already smacks of not everything about its background being told to we of the rugby public. While it could be said - do we fans have a right to know the full facts - I for one would like to think the full facts ought to come out. They would have in the old days of the media. Now it seems everyone, both NZRU and the media, are often together in on a game of 'shoosh - if we only whisper about this, it won't be as bad as it might be.'
It seems after Aaron Cruden had a few too many beers and slept in somewhere in Auckland and missed his All Black flight to Argentina - and is being punished thus by missing two test matches - the NZ Rugby Union, the New Zealand Rugby Players Association, the Manawatu RU, the All Blacks camp in Argentina and, really sadly, the supposedly always probing New Zealand rugby media have forgotten about an incident which centred around Aaron Cruden which took place way back in - wait for it - 2011!
It involved the young man being involved in some questionable social misbehaviour in several Wellington pubs on a particular day back then. It was reported at the time but three years later, all we seemed to hear at the press conference in Buenos Aires (where the All Blacks are) and in Wellington (at NZRU headquarters) was rugby-speak about how much we 'love our children (the latest cutsey description of the All Blacks team) though sometimes we don't like their behaviour.' It was then added that the offending All Black 'child' would not be flown over on the next flight.
What was left hanging seems to be the hope that the 2011 story now might 'go away' to be not raised again by anyone.
Aaron Cruden seems to be a nice little bloke, always affable and available for interviews and he expresses himself well. This episode is very sad for him. He has a background story in rugby with regard to his recovery from early serious health problems which is both admirable and courageous. He plays the game very well. But it seems he is not perfect as a 'role model' (God I hate that term). Even as this latest drinking story emerged he said he was 'very disappointed in himself' over missing his flight and he has apologised to pretty well to everyone he thinks he should do.
But should that be the end of it? In 2011 having been originally left out of the All Blacks World Cup squad Cruden spent some time, to use his words, 'doing a bit of skateboarding and drinking a few beers' around Palmerston North.
But then followed a story which was first whispered around Wellington rugby circles that on the day of a World Cup game at the Westpac Stadium. His behaviour in several local bars in the city that day saw hotel management in several of them react sternly to him being on their premises. At the time at least one paper published the story. I was rung by one radio station for comment. I did not give any as I had no firm details at all. I know more now.
But now I also wonder; does a two test suspension hint at something else too? Something more serious than missing a hotel wake up call and being late for a plane flight? Are the NZRU now back-dating this latest, and as far as I can see less serious incident, to the 2011 story for their latest punishment? Make no mistake they knew about the earlier incident. To me a two-match suspension for a 'first offence' is very stern.
When nothing publicly happened over the 2011 story, charitably I suppose, I was like most Kiwis would have been. I think I put any non-action by the NZRU down to the All Blacks World Cup programme having dire selection problems at first five-eighths at that time (both Dan Carter and Colin Slade were injured by halfway through the tournament). So it was maybe 'necessary' to overlook any Cruden punishment issues.
My silence then is a logic I am not proud to own up to today. The NZRU instead called in the Manawatu man to the team to cover and eventually play in the final in place of the injured Daniel Carter. (Remember Stephen Donald only became the hero when Cruden went off the field injured).
But if this is the way the rugby reporting world wants to operate these days, then so be it. I can't change the media's feebleness one jot. But such a style is hardly fair by the media AND the NZRU on Zac Guildford, Cory Jane, Israel Dagg, Mils Muilaina, Bryron Kelleher, Aaron Smith, Jimmy Cowan, Ali Williams and even back to Norm Hewitt and even way, way back to Keith Murdoch (and any others I might have overlooked) all of whom had to fully and totally play out their own various All Black 'role model' indiscretions in the very harsh public glare.
The record 70-6 World Cup win over Italy was just five days earlier. Now John Gallagher and Craig Green each scored 4 tries in this new record 74-13 win over Fiji.
Jedforest, Newcastle and Scotland
51 internationals for Scotland 1988-99
Described once as ‘a one-off, a complete and utter mystery’ as a person, Gary Armstrong ended his international career remembered as a deeply steadfast scrumhalf whose commitment to any team he played for could never be denied. The 'mystery' referred to extreme shyness.
But like a lot of shy rugby people Armstrong expressed himself strongly once he ran on to the field. He always tackled way above his diminutive stature, was an elusive runner, especially around the short side of a scrum, and above all was unswerving in his courage. He may have been a quiet man but when he played his final game for his country, captaining the team against the All Blacks at the 1999 Rugby World Cup, he was described afterwards by his coach Jim Telfer as ‘the bravest man I ever saw play for Scotland’.
Armstrong made his debut for Scotland in 1988 and only months later was in the British Isles team which toured Australia. On that trip he failed to make the test teams, losing out to Robert Jones of Wales, but in 1990 he played some of his greatest rugby. Not only was he a powerful force in the Scottish touring team to New Zealand, a team which harried the All Blacks over two close tests, but he also played a pivotal role in Scotland’s epic victory over the ‘auld enemy’, England, in the critical Five Nations and Grand Slam match of that year.
Injuries kept him out for two seasons and one time, after 28 tests, he actually retired from test rugby to concentrate on his dearly loved Jedforest team. But Scotland seemed to always call Armstrong back and each time they did he gave his usual 110%. He was captain of Scotland when they won the Five Nations in 1999 (of great satisfaction considering they were 100-1 outsiders when the season started). He also was one of the rare players to play the 1991 World Cup series, then miss the 1995 series in South Africa (he was injured), only to be back for the World Cup in 1999.
He retired from international play after captaining and playing strongly in the quarter-final match against New Zealand on his beloved Murrayfield.
After sevens years of productive play as a professional with the Newcastle Falcons, Armstrong became one of the first professionals with the new Scottish Borders professional team in 2002, signing as a 35 year old on a three-year contract!
Which international rugby player who went to two Rugby World Cups also won two Olympic Games Gold Medals and 2 World Championship bronze medals in a chosen 'other' sport?