RICHARD Cockerill has called for players to take responsibility for ensuring that gamesmanship does not become predominant in the sport. Referring specifically to the incident which saw Munster lock Tadhg Beirne react theatrically to a nudge from Pierre Schoeman, the Edinburgh head coach accepted his player had committed an offence. But he insisted that if the Irishman’s behaviour were to become too widespread, it would take rugby “down a different route” – one in which it would lose much of the respect in which it is held.
Schoeman was penalised for foul play, when Edinburgh had just been awarded a penalty that could have seen them go 16-10 up. Defining it as a big moment in the game rather than insisting it would have been a decisive score, Cockerill acknowledged his team had to take responsibility for eventually losing the Champions Cup quarter-final 17-13. But he also contrasted it with another moment, in which Edinburgh scrum-half Henry Pyrgos refrained from exaggerating when he was dumped on his back off the ball by opposite number Conor Murray just before Munster scored their opening try.
“There is no need for him [Schoeman] to get involved with Beirne,” Cockerill began when asked about the incident at his Tuesday press conference. “It has been well documented you don’t want guys diving and making a fuss of things, because you’re going to get it right across the game.
“There’s a bump of shoulders. There’s a player who is 16 stone or 18 stone or so. It doesn’t look good for Beirne from that point of view. Pierre could have avoided it – he didn’t need to get involved in it. However, the bigger picture is do we encourage all the players to lie on the floor and make a meal of it so when a player is injured the TMO gets asked to have a look at it?
“It was a huge point in the game. We kick that goal it is 16-10 and it’s different. Pierre must learn that lesson and we can defend better from the ensuing line-out. But also the officials need to decide what they want to reward.
“If you start rewarding people for, what’s the right word?, diving, simulating, making a meal of it . . . . Henry Pyrgos gets dumped on his back when they score their first try. Do I encourage Henry to lie on the floor and hold his head and get the TMO in and all those things?
“We can all do it. Maybe that’s the way forward in any big game. If you get slightly hit, lie on the floor, pretend you’re injured and then you bring the TMO in and you have different actions. We go to the TMO and maybe it’s not a try. Where does rugby end up? It ends up down a different route.
“I don’t want Henry lying on the floor pretending to be injured. Because where do we end up with it? We end up on a slippery slope. I would prefer our players to stand up and be robust and get on with it. Without sounding too old, if that happened 15 years ago you would be embarrassed, wouldn’t you? Even your own team-mates would be laughing at you telling you to get up. It’s happening all the time now.
“If you’re injured, stay down. I get it: I completely understand that. If you’re not, get up and get on with the game. The respect for the game starts to fall away if you don’t.”
Theatrical gamesmanship, while not wholly unknown in the past, does appear to have become more prominent in recent years, but players have sought to take an unfair advantage in one way or another for far longer than the 15-year timescale mentioned by Cockerill. Nonetheless, the coach believes there is a difference between behaviour such as Beirne’s and other actions which might be regarded as bending the rules or testing the spirit of the game rather than blatantly disregarding it.
“Depends on what you call gamesmanship,” he added. “Is gamesmanship competing for the ball on the edge of offside? Is pretending to be injured gamesmanship?
“Just like diving in football? Is that gamesmanship? Do you want it in the game or not in the game? I don’t mind. If we’re going to do it, let’s all do it and get rewarded for it.”
Asked if he had mentioned the incident in his report to the match officials on the game, Cockerill’s reply was terse. “There’s no point, because nothing will get done.”