Rugby’s Most Notorious Players in Recent Memory

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DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND - JULY 14: Amanaki Mafi of the Rebels looks on during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Rebels at Forsyth Barr Stadium on July 14, 2018 in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Dianne Manson/Getty Images)

“You have the right to remain silent…”

Until you hear those words, you’re really not one of rugby’s most notorious players. Maybe it doesn’t have to go that far but that’s roughly what Rebels’ player, Amanaki Mafi, heard on Sunday. New Zealand police arrested the Rebels’ loose forward due to an incident involving his own teammate, Lopeti Timani. Released on bail this Monday, Mafi now faces serious charges. The arrest came a day after the Melbourne Rebels suffered a close defeat in their Super Rugby Quarter Final playoffs match. Losing to the Pulse Energy Highlanders after having an early lead in the game.

Rugby’s Most Notorious Players

Details are sparse regarding what exactly happened, but we at least know both players received a fine for $15,000 AUD each. Both the Rebels Union and the ARU have launched investigations so while we wait for the outcomes, let’s take a look at some of rugby’s most notorious players.

Chris Ashton – England’s Bad Boy

On the field, Ashton was guilty of eye gouging in 2016. Defending his actions, he claimed it’s difficult to know just where exactly you’re gouging someone during a tackle situation; showing little remorse for an on-field offence that is still considered one of the most heinous. Along with punching, biting, stomping and sometimes, even hair pulling.

Off the field, ‘some bloke‘ hit Ashton with a glass in a London nightclub back in 2012. Luckily no charges arose from that incident.

The current Sale Sharks winger was also involved in a dust up with the Director of Rugby at Northampton, Jim Mallinder. They came to blows after Ashton let Mallinder know of his plans to move to Saracens. For that indiscretion, Northampton left him out of their fixture against Munster. It happened earlier in 2012 – before the glassing incident – so how innocent he was on that night remains open to speculation. Only the year before a female NZ hotel employee accused Ashton of an inappropriate act. Copping a warning from the RFU about his conduct, it’s clear he’s no stranger to public controversy.

Martin Castrogiovanni – Italy’s Party Animal

Social Media, the bane of every controversial sports star’s existence, busted Martin Castrogiovanni in 2016. A picture appeared on twitter showing him at a party in Las Vegas. That was after he requested time off for family leave from his French club. What’s worse, is that his team, Racing 92, played in a Champions Cup semi-final against Leicester Tigers (his former team) that weekend.

He’s also known for hitting out against current and former teams and remains one of rugby’s most notorious players. Calling his own impromptu press conference after a game, Castrogiovanni cursed Leicester Director of Rugby, Richard Cockerill. He used creative language to attack the director, airing his exact feelings about the club and didn’t stop anywhere short of using some shocking expletives.

Bismarck Du Plessis – South Africa’s not so Friendly Giant

As recently as March this year, Bismarck Du Plessis got into a fight involving his own teammate, Mohamed Haouas. The two players had a fist fight during their warm up for a Montpellier game against Racing 92 in the French Top 14 competition. A game they ended up winning quite comfortably.

It remains a mystery as to why it happened, but thankfully it didn’t seem to influence the match all that much. Everyone was friendly again after the game, some saying it may even have helped invigorate the team just before kick-off. Du Plessis has been involved in numerous carded incidents during his career, never backing down from a good rumble on the pitch.

James O’Connor – Australia’s wild child

James O’Connor is more notorious for his reputation as a booze-hound than being involved with brawls and dust-ups. For instance, in 2013, O’Connor was barred while trying to board a flight to Bali, for being “too” drunk. He was axed from Australian Rugby shortly after that and could only be considered for the Wallabies squad again in 2015.

More recently, while plying his trade in France, he was arrested for keeping lookout for ex All Black, Ali Williams. They allegedly were buying cocaine outside a Paris nightclub. Choosing not contest the charges, he ended up only having to pay a fine. The pair were busted when they were seen giving cash to a suspicious person by French police on CCTV cameras.

Tana Umaga and the ‘Handbag Incident’

The current Auckland Blues coach, Tana Umaga, would prefer not be included in a list of rugby’s most notorious players. However, his story is one of the more comical tales of late night debauchery. He accosted his teammate in the early hours of the morning using a bystander’s handbag. One witness is quoted as saying “It looked like an angry mother smacking a naughty child”. The teammate in question was Chris Masoe, who apparently started crying and got ridiculed for it by the other patrons.

In Umaga’s defense, Masoe apparently got ready to square off with another patron when he decided to intervene. Everyone who was there admits to being a bit sloshed by the time the evening took a turn for the worse.

On the pitch, Umaga is also known for his antics. Foul play on Brian O’Driscoll during the British and Irish Lions tour of NZ in 2005, left the Irish captain out of the rest of the tour. Umaga received no citing for the tackle. When facing the media he called on the rest of the forwards to stand by him in solidarity. Asked as recently as 2017 about the incident, the embattled coach said “If people haven’t put it behind them, they never will.”

Quade Cooper – Mr Notorious

No ‘Rugby’s Most Notorious Players‘ list would be complete without mentioning Quade Cooper. The ex Wallaby Fly-half has had his fair share of misadventures. Police arrested him for burgling a house in the summer of 2009, that being one of the most notorious of his many well-documented incidents. Yet, that’s not why he deserves a top spot on the list. Cooper remains the most notorious players for his audacity to keep playing club rugby at Souths for $800 000 AUD a year. Brad Thorne, coach of the Reds, refuses to let the controversial rugby player be part of his setup at the Brisbane side. Opportunities to change the situation have come from both the Brumbies and the Rebels. But the ‘baller‘ chose to remain and continue playing at the lower levels, still receiving his hefty paycheck for his troubles.

The ARU reprimanded the prolific social media user after criticizing them in 2012 over structures and a “toxic environment” surrounding the team. He certainly hasn’t done his career any favors since then. In 2014, there were still high hopes that he could lead the Australians to World Cup Victory. Bernard Foley eventually ousted him as the first choice fly-half during the RWC 2015 tournament.

There’s also the issue with his passport that came to light in 2016. Cooper traveled on a New Zealand passport while playing for Australia during his tenure at the Sevens national side. It’s that kind of devil may care attitude that makes him one of rugby’s most notorious players, if not the most.

The Bad Boys will remain in Rugby

“We have to clean up the game.”

That phrase echoes regularly from rugby quarters in every corner of the rugby-globe. Usually, commentators and writers follow it up with that cop-out word, ‘…..but’. That but could just as well precede the statement “we should be cleaning up players off the field too“.

Rugby may be a gentleman’s game, but there are still some bad boys around and there probably always will be. Sweeping the indiscretions under the rug is just not as easy today, especially in the digital age where fans, friends; and even the bad boys themselves, can share it to the world within seconds.

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