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Dublin: 8°C Saturday 17 April 2021

What is it about personality that Rugby Twitter hates so much?

An awful lot of people let themselves get riled up by the sight of sportsmen enjoying their sport.

NOTHING SCREAMS ITS outrage like Twitter, but these Heineken Champions Cup weekends seemed to have brought even that most bilious of social media platforms to reach impressive standards of uproar for the most trivial of events.

In week one, when viewers were done remonstrating with Freddie Burns for taking his try for granted and suffering that agonising fate of having Maxime Medard slap the score away, a clip of Maro Itoje arose from Glasgow.

Maybe a section of rugby fandom just really detests celebration and the loss of the Stiff Upper Lip, because Itoje’s crime was also to celebrate a ‘try’ that wasn’t. The England second row lampooned Glasgow’s glee after they thought they had grounded a score that would have taken a big chunk out of what was then a 10-point lead for Saracens.

Unfortunately, the whistle had long since blown on their would-be turnover and Itoje turned to the glut of Glaswegians and leapt up and down in feigned celebration.

And then came Simon Zebo on Saturday. The exiled Ireland star had the temerity to celebrate a try he was about to score. Anything wrong with the grounding? Well, he used one hand like Freddy Burns (and thousands of others down the years) but he slid and planted the pill safely to the ground. No problem… until Nigel Owens asks him to apologise to young Michael Lowry. Then the quiet word from a referee brings the world onto his back.

Simon Zebo and Michael Lowry Zebo issued extensive apologies to Lowry. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

I’ve only met Lowry briefly, but he doesn’t strike you as the kind of lad who needs much protection from the big, bad world. He can handle a gentle jibe from a man out-pacing him on an outside line to the corner. He has surely endured worse treatment from heavier brutes than Zebo while wearing RBAI colours. 

The request to apologise seemed to convince even Zebo that he had committed a hanging offence. The ex-Munster man delivered his post-match apology with a trowel and headed off the Maude Flanders think-of-the-children brigade at the pass. But there was a telling line within his pleas for mercy:

“I probably built up the game a bit too much in my head this week and let the emotions get the better of me for a few seconds,” said the Corkman.

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Who can really blame Zebo for enjoying a try against an Irish province? No matter how many players Racing sign from these shores, the nation doesn’t regularly gather round a screen to watch them face off against the Paus, Agens or Bordeaux Begles of this world. But Ireland was watching on Saturday night and he should have felt every right to enjoy running in that final try.

It was another glimmer of what Irish rugby is missing since Zebo felt the need to go and chase a new adventure. The x-factor cliche that so often lends itself to his game is apt because it’s not always easy to put into words what he brought to Munster and Ireland aside from pace, power and terrific skill. 

Racing 92's Simon Zebo is tackled by Ulster’s Will Addison and  Stuart McCloskey Simon Zebo with a good, serious face. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Rugby revels in its arm wrestles, the battles, clashes and unseen work down in the trenches. It’s all very war-like, all so serious. Brief displays of personality from men like Itoje and Zebo, evidence that some people derive a little joy from rugby should be welcomed, not vilified.

If you are outraged by this sort thing, please – for the love of God – never watch an American sporting event. They do all sorts over there, lads:  Steph Curry celebrates 30-foot three-pointers before they even start dropping from their apex, LeBron James stands under his basket staring down opponents he has just blocked while the game continues at the other end of the court and the NFL is full of running backs and wide receivers who hold the ball one-handed in front of them on their way into the endzone.

While you’re at it, actually, try to avoid a great deal of sport past and present, because what Zebo did was tame, offensive only to those who were good and ready to be offended.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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