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Smart or Dirty? The Worst Rule Bending in Sporting History

Picture of Luke Bradshaw
Sports Editor
Updated: 27 February 2017

Italy didn’t break any laws with their defensive tactics against England in the Six Nations last weekend, so we honour some of the best examples of rule bending in the history of sport.

Italy against England

Italy’s tactics of not engaging the ruck, allowing them to stand in what would have been an offside position, utterly confused England in the first half of their Six Nations match. By the second half England finally realised that they could crash straight through the space vacated, but a number of the players seemed baffled by the whole thing.

Italy weren’t the first either

It was a tactic that the Waikato Chiefs utilised for a number of games in 2015 in Super Rugby.

Steve Watson’s front flip throw-in

Throw-ins in football require both hands to be behind the head before throwing, and both feet to remain on the ground when the ball is released, among other regulations. Newcastle’s Steve Watson broke none of these when performing a front flip before releasing the ball, while also giving the throw far more power thanks to the extra momentum.

The Chappells’ underarm ball

In a One Day International between Australia and New Zealand, the Kiwis were one shot away from drawing the match, needing a six off the final ball. Greg Chappell instructed the bowler (his younger brother, Trevor) to roll the ball along the ground instead of bowling it, making it impossible for it to be hit out of the ground. The Aussies didn’t break any laws, but went down in history for their unsporting behaviour.

…And Michael Chang doing something similar in tennis

One of the most memorable shots tennis has ever seen. At the 1989 French Open, Michael Chang was exhausted – cramping and hobbling his way through his fourth round match with the favourite Ivan Lendl. With Lendl standing way back ready for Chang’s serve, the American quickly served underarm instead. Lendl reacted and managed to make the return (just) but lost the point, and his head in the process. Chang also began standing right in when returning causing Lendl to complain to the umpire, despite Chang not breaking any rules.

Thierry Henry nicking Friedel’s ball

Following on from a similar George Best effort nearly 40 years earlier, Arsenal’s French striker waited for Blackburn goalkeeper Brad Friedel to let go of the ball before kicking it, nicking the ball before Friedel could connect with his foot. Technically, Henry had done nothing wrong (a player couldn’t previously contest for the ball if a keeper had two hands on it), but the goal was ruled out and the rule changed to include dropping the ball onto the foot as ‘still in possession’.

Wilt Chamberlain’s free throws

The lanky centre (even by basketball’s standards) was notoriously bad from the free throw line. Chamberlain tried throwing underarm on a number of occasions with varying degrees of success, but more surprisingly adopted a technique where he’d start further back, throw the ball up, and then dunk the ball – something he was excellent at – because there was nothing in the rules to say the ball had to be thrown.

Senna crashes into Prost

The opening corner of the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka was where the championship was decided, thanks to a crash between the two main protagonists. Ayrton Senna led Alain Prost with one race to go and knew that if neither finished he would be world champion. The Brazilian subsequently crashed into his French rival at the first corner ensuring just that. Prost was livid, despite the fact he had adopted almost identical tactics the year before.