In his memoir Kicking It Around the Globe, champion Wallaby Matt Burke offers an insider’s view of the passion and humour of the world of elite international rugby. On the field, this is a world where physical intimidation leads to a psychological edge that can be a massive advantage. And among the many funny and downright eye-opening stories he shares, in the chapter titled ‘Refs’ Burke recounts a situation where Englishman Will Greenwood gets educated on what falls within ‘the spirit of the game’. Straight from the pages of Kicking It Around the Globe, here’s how Burke tells it.
We did take on England at Twickenham one outing and the verbal and physical intimidation was all a part of our strategy to get over the Poms. At one point in the game England were awarded a scrum, about 40 metres from our line and about 20 in from touch. They took their positions in a split formation from the scrum, with most of the backs set deep to the left with two players remaining on the right side.
As the packs were setting, the last to join the scrum for the Wallabies was our enforcer, Matt Cockbain – otherwise known as Bobby Boucher, from the movie The Waterboy, because of the massive hits he pulled off in games. Matt saw Will Greenwood standing to attention behind the scrum and quickly came to the conclusion that this was the play where the ball came back down the short side from a switch.
Everyone studies everyone else’s plays, it’s just a matter of working them out before the opposition gets the advantage. Cockbain piped up and said, ‘Hey, Greenwood, I know this play. It comes back down my channel on a switch. I’ll give you the tip. Don’t come down here, mate, otherwise I will freaking kill you.’
No response from Will Greenwood.
‘I know you can hear me,’ came another quip from Cockbain. ‘As I said, I know this play – come down here and I’ll cut you in half.’
Greenwood then turned to his playmaker, Jonny Wilkinson, and said, ‘Mate, they know the play, call it off.’
‘Just a reminder, this is my channel. You, here, dead. Got it?’ were the last words from Cockbain.
Greenwood, now getting a little flustered, turned to the assistant referee on the near touchline and said, ‘Sir, are you getting all this? He’s trying to intimidate me verbally. He’s swearing at me, telling me he’ll kill me if I run down this side. He’s not allowed to say that – it’s not in the spirit of the game. It’s bullying. You have to do something about it. So what are you going to do?’
The assistant referee turned to Greenwood stone-faced and said, ‘I can’t do anything about what he’s saying to you, but I will tell you something for free. I know this play as well and wouldn’t run down his channel if I were you…’