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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 June, 2005, 14:20 GMT 15:20 UK
When is a fight not a fight?
By Charlie Henderson

The Lions tour of New Zealand is back on track after a 23-6 win over Wellington - although it may have more to do with what came before the game.

Following the ponderous 13-19 defeat to the New Zealand Maori, Sir Clive Woodward and his management team asked for some urgency.

They got it in spades.

The crucial moment of the tour may prove to be a training ground bust-up between Gordon Bulloch and John Hayes.

Bulloch, the Scottish hooker, needed stiches to a head wound but passed the incident off as some "good old-fashioned rucking".

And Radio Five Live rugby correspondent Iain Robertson, describing the set-to as nothing more than a "stramash", called it "excellent news".

"It was a no-holds barred session and now they're full of confidence," he said. "It shows there's now an edge to this team and they desperately needed it.

"They've been going through the motions so far. This showed there was a passion."

And that was the case against Wellington where the front-row in particular were firing on all cylinders and the team seemed to have a spring in their step.

But one rugby man's "passion" is another footballing man's pandemonium.

Imagine the headlines if Sol Campbell and David James had started hitting out at each other during a poor practice routine on corners during England's recent tour of USA.

The old saying that football is a gentleman's game played by thugs and rugby is a game for thugs played by gentlemen is one that is laughed off by former Wimbledon manager Dave Bassett.

"When footballers do it they're hooligans and when rugby lads do it they're men," he told BBC Sport.

It clears the air - one or two people get their frustrations out in the open and they feel the better for it
Dave Bassett

"It's a perception that's just a load of rubbish. They're all competitive, these things happen and after a while the players will shake hands and get on with things.

"Scuffles are going to happen. Players are competitive and professional and it's part and parcel of the sporting workplace.

"The rugby boys in New Zealand have taken a bit of stick, they had a bad result and those frustrations can boil over.

"When you have physical contact you react differently, if you're involved in sport there are various things that happen and it's a totally different business to working in an office."

And it is something Bassett has never actively discouraged.

"I've never found it a problem. It can clear the air, one or two people get their frustrations out in the open and they feel the better for it," he added.

Neil Back
Neil Back left Joe Worsley needing 13 stitches in the Premiership Final
"And things never go on to the extent where they're slugging one another for 30 minutes in a bare-knuckle fight.

"You can go a couple of seasons without anything and then all of a sudden you'll get two in a small space of time - it depends on the mood of things and the mood of people.

"It's been happening for years, but if it happens now everybody tries to cover it up because if not the media will have a field day that there's a load of hooligans running riot."

The nature of the game means that while aggressive contact is encouraged in rugby, football is in the process of becoming less of a contact sport.

Rugby has a strong code of conduct, a self-policing state dating back to the amateur era when confrontation and physicality made way for beer and revelry following the final whistle.

But after 10 years of professionalism the money involved means teams are keen to protect their assets and rugby is slowly morphing and catching up its round ball cousin.

Exposure is greater, citing is more common and the media are slowly picking up on "middle-class thuggery" - as can be seen by the airtime and column inches given over to Bulloch and Hayes.

The Lions are an anachronism in modern sport, a throwback to amateur days, and it may prove that while this "excellent news" sparks the squad to greater victories in 2005, in future years it will be as frowned upon as a footballing fight.



What was the main reason for the Lions' whitewash in NZ?
All Blacks just too good
Woodward's selections
Injuries to key players
Squad was too big
97190 Votes Cast
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Wellington 6-23 Lions
15 Jun 05 |  Lions in NZ
Bulloch plays down training clash
15 Jun 05 |  Lions in NZ
NZ Maori 19-13 Lions
11 Jun 05 |  Lions in NZ
Bay of Plenty 20-34 Lions
04 Jun 05 |  Lions in NZ
Taranaki 14-36 Lions
08 Jun 05 |  Lions in NZ


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