Top 5: Controversial Figures in Rugby Union

Usually in our 'Top 5' lists, we choose pleasant reflections of players gone by who deserve more credit for their actions on and off the pitch. This list however, is very, very different. Although we like to think of our great game as perfect, unaffected by the blemishes left on becoming professional, there have been a series of unfortunate events that has led our game into disrepute on multiple occasions. Now this list won't include every scandal and will miss out some key names who's reputations are currently 'up in the air', but it will include personnel who've been reprimanded for lapses in professional behaviour whether that be on the field of play, or in the dressing rooms. Here is our list of 'Controversial Figures in Rugby Union'...

5. Yoann Huget

The majority of the names included on this list will be there for things they've said to the media, as opposed to their actions on the pitch. By all respects, Huget will go down as one of the finest French players of his time, being an ever-present thorn in the sides of northern hemisphere teams and being remembered for his cracking finishing. However, he was prone to diving, and when I say prone, I mean it was unusual to watch him play and not roll around on the ground after light collisions. We don't like that in Rugby, and we make that abundantly clear when we discount certain other ball sports.

Now that doesn't seem so bad on the surface, but his dirtiness could be used equally effectively in offense as it was defence. Whether it was stamping like an elephant on Conor Murray or gouging other players off of the ball; really ugly pieces of unsportsmanlike behaviour. Gosh was he a great player, but he being a s***house will be his claim to fame.

4. Sevu Reece

The young flyer might be in the headlines for all the right reasons this season, but his career definitely didn't get off to a flying start. In the early hours of July 1, 2018, a heavily intoxicated 21 year old Reece, got into an argument with his partner of two years in the Hamilton central business district. Reece yelled at his partner to, "shut up, in much more colourful language than that", according to the court statement, and chased her down the street, dragging her to the ground. She suffered bruising to the side of her face and waist and bleeding to her knee.

He was subsequently granted a discharge without conviction in order for him to take up a contract in Ireland, by Judge Denise Clark in the Hamilton District Court. Judge Clark accepted that the victim had forgiven Reece, that the couple were undergoing counselling, Reece had admitted a problem with alcohol and had been sober for three months.

Reece expressed remorse and apologised at a restorative justice meeting. Judge Denise Clark imposed a NZ$ 750 fine when a letter from Connacht, confirming the contract offer would be withdrawn if he was convicted, was read in court. In July 2019, just a single year later, Reece was named in the 39-member All Blacks team to prepare for the Rugby Championship and the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Although most fans sit on either side of the fence, you cannot deny that he is a controversial figure in todays game.

3. Brett Gosper

Another highly controversial figure in Rugby and depending on how you view the game, you can either class him as immensely successful, or a blight on the sports professional era. Gosper was an excellent player, having achieved numerous accolades when playing for Melbourne and for Racing Club de France. In July 2012, well after his playing days of the 70s and 80s, Gosper became Chief Executive of the International Rugby Board (now World Rugby), based in Dublin. As CEO, Gosper has overseen Rugby's successful return to the Olympic Games (after 92 years absence) in Rio in 2016 as well as a record-breaking Rugby World Cup in England in 2015. Further record breaking success was achieved in 2019 at Asia's first ever Rugby World Cup in Japan; Commercial revenues, broadcast audiences (including a domestic record rugby of 54.8 million for Japan v Scotland) and social media metrics (2.1 billion video views) at 2019 Rugby World Cup all exceeded those of 2015 Rugby World Cup.

That all sounds great right? Well it is, but only for the high ranking, tier one teams who actively profit from those successes. Teams such as Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and others in Tier 2 and below have often gone on record as receiving significantly less remuneration that those in Tier 1, even though they drive the viewership on many an occasion. His proposition of a 'World League' also came under fire as rumours that a lack of Pacific representation would be involved in the competition due to their world rankings.

In a controversial interview with Dan Leo, Leo suggested that Tier 2 nations be allowed to have players who played for Tier 1 nations switch back to their nation of heritage (birth, parental birth), Gosper then laughed and said he didn't know, 'how to define a Tier 2 nation'... World Rugby has been very specific about the different tiers in the game, he is the 'Chief' of that organisation meaning he practically invented the notion.

2. Pablo Matera

Matera is another player currently plying his trade and is known for his ferocious performances for Argentina and Stade Francais. Having captained Argentina to their famous win against the All Blacks last year, Matera looked to be a legend in the making. However, several Twitter users then found and shared racist messages published by Matera shortly after the encounter. Matera's Twitter posts were made between 7 and 9 years earlier, putting him between the ages of 18 and 20. In response, Matera deleted his social media accounts. has since publicly apologised. Both the Delegación de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas (DAIA) and the National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (INADI) heavily condemned Matera’s tweets. Though many called for him to be dropped entirely from the Argentinian squad and permanently banned, he has since been allowed to play for his nation and will surely become a polarising figure when playing overseas.

1. Israel Folau

You knew this one was coming right? Folau was a 'World XV' level for Australia for the best part of half a decade and one of the finest 15's to ever play the sport. It's not Folau's capabilities on the pitch that has made him a controversial figure in Rugby, it's what he has said off of it. Folau's statements about what he understands the Bible to say about same-sex marriage and homosexuality, brought him into conflict with the administrators of Rugby Australia, and in 2019, they terminated his contract. After seeking a Rugby League escape, he caused controversy again, in the first game of the season against St Helens. He was the only player of both teams who refused to take the knee, a symbol used as one of solidarity against police brutality and racism. Between stating that people who identified as gay would go to 'Hell' and refusing to join the sentiment against brutality against black lives during the height of it's importance makes him an easy candidate to top a list like this.

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