In 1823, William Webb Ellis first picked up the ball in his arms and ran with it. And for the next 156 years forwards have been trying to work out why. - Tasker Watkins VC, LJ.

Friday, September 30, 2011

RWC Part V - Eliota Fuimanao-Sapolu, Nigel Owens and Twitter.

Eliota Fuimanoa-Sapolu is a player with Samoa. They played an absolutely cracking match against South Africa, which the Springboks won, 13-5; as a result, Samoa are now out of the RWC.

Nigel Owens was the ref. On an Assistant Referee's recommendation, and following a warning to both sides to stop face-slapping in the first half, he sent off the Samoan player for a strike to the face of Heinrich Brussow, after Brussow was attempting to stop Williams from holding him off the ball. That was with roughly 8 minutes to go in the game; John Smit was sent to the sin-bin approximately a minute later for a deliberate knock-down.

It was a hard, niggly, but wonderful game. It could have kicked off into an all-out brawl at any stage; that it didn't is a credit to Owens, and his Assistant Referees, Julian Terheege and Wayne Barnes. Owens had a very good game; when, after a game, both sets of fans are complaining he was hard on them, it's usually an indication the ref was fair.

But, afterwards, things got ugly on Twitter. People were saying that if Nigel Owens turned up in Samoa, he was a dead man.

At which stage, Eliota Fuimanoa-Sapolu hit Twitter, and things went pear-shaped in the grand fashion. One can understand being upset; but this went to entirely different levels. He started tweeting seriously aggressive comments about Nigel Owens, including retweeting the threats to cause harm to him if he appeared in Samoa; and including that "IRB is f*cked up arrd need to get new IRB officials and that Welsh ref if i was ay hitman i wud shot dat kient" (into which charming missive I've inserted an asterisk as I try to avoid mindless vulgarity when writing in a public sphere).

It can be seen in all its ghastly glory HERE

This is not the first time Mr. Fuimanoa-Sapolu has covered himself in glory on Twitter; after the Wales-Samoa match, he was claiming that for Samoa to have a shorter turn-around between matches  was: Unfair treatment, like slavery, like the holocaust, like apartheid. F*CK U. However, retweeting threats to cause a referee harm is a new low; and possibly a criminal offence.

What makes this even more astonishing is that not only should Mr. Fuimanoa-Sapolu know better - to be blunt, anyone with three braincells lined up in a row and talking to each other should know better  - but that he is, himself, qualified as a solicitor in New Zealand. The mind boggles.

What this, and other incidents such as the Brian Mujati incident, should show is that it is vital - not desirable, vital - that teams get a handle on social media. However much it may feel like a quiet private conversation, posting something on Facebook or Twitter isn't. It's more like conducting a conversation by megaphone across a crowded square; everyone gets to hear it. And record it. 

The lesson for any team is; get a policy in place about what can, or cannot, be tweeted or put on social media; tell the players; get them to sign up to it; and enforce it. Because otherwise, a team can be put on the sport because of an unbelievably crass comment that should never have been made. 

Whether or not Samoa, or Eliota Fuimanoa-Sapolu will be facing a disciplinary hearing remains to be seen. But the lesson for team management is clear; get your policies and procedures in place, before ever it gets to the stage of running that risk.

And the lesson for players is even more obvious: if in doubt, keep it to yourself, and have some respect for the game, and your own dignity. 

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