South African Rugby
De Villiers defends banned Burger
June 28, 2009
Peter de Villiers has defended flanker Schalk Burger © Getty Images
Controversial South Africa coach Peter de Villiers has spoken out against foul play - while maintaining that flanker Schalk Burger should not have been yellow carded for gouging British & Irish Lions wing Luke Fitzgerald during the Springboks' thrilling 28-25 win over the tourists in Pretoria on Saturday.
Burger has been handed an eight-week ban by disciplinary chiefs following the incident, but de Villiers has refused to condemn the Stormers openside. Burger will miss the third Test and Springboks' first three Tri-Nations games, but they have not yet decided whether to appeal the decision.
"If you know Schalk's nature and character - if you know the man as I know him - he would never do this," said de Villiers during a helter-skelter press conference in Johannesburg. "He is more physical than any other rugby player in the world. To go to those kind of measures, he would never ever do it. And I don't think he did it.
"I have watched the television footage and I am still convinced there is no way he went there on purpose. He never meant to go to anybody's eye. Eye-gouging is something that we as a team, and especially me, will never condone. Along with biting, head-butting and spear-tackling - all those things that don't belong in the game.
"I am against anything that is not in the spirit of the game. We have brilliant players in this country, and to try to prepare them for stuff that belongs in the bushveld is nonsense. If we want to eye-gouge any lions we would go into the bushveld and eye-gouge there. But we would never ever encourage anybody to be part of anything negative or bringing the game into disrepute. We want to promote the game among our youth. We want this game to be the biggest nation-building tool there ever can be. By encouraging stuff like that then we are fighting a lost cause. I would never, ever encourage it."
De Villiers has also lost the services of lock Bakkies Botha after he was banned for a shoulder charge on Lions prop Adam Jones that left the Welshman with a dislocated shoulder.
"What we must understand here very, very clearly is that rugby is a contact sport - and so is dancing," said de Villiers. "There were so many incidents in that game (the second Test) that we could go and say we want to cite this guy for maliciously jumping into another guy's face with his shoulder.
"Why don't we do it? The reason we don't do it is because this game will always be a game to us. If we are going to win games in boardrooms and in front of television cameras and in shops, we must say to ourselves, 'Do we really respect this game that we really honour so much?' If it's the case that we are, why don't we all go to the nearest ballet shop, get some nice tutus and get some great dancing going on. No eye-gouging, no tackling, no nothing. Then enjoy. But in this game there will be collisions. There are no collisions in ballet. And the guy who wins the collisions hardest is the guy we always will select.
"I am not ducking the issue. I am working as part of a system. We are waiting until the (judicial officer's) report so we can dissect the whole thing and come to you with an informed answer. Let me tell you, if you look at the footage properly and you know the man you are working with properly, then you can see why I said it is not a yellow card."
Despite South Africa's Test series success against the Lions, de Villiers continues to enjoy an uncomfortable ride as Springboks chief. He was a surprise choice last year, preferred to alternatives like former Leicester and Blue Bulls coach Heyneke Meyer, and rumours remain rife that senior players such as John Smit and Victor Matfield effectively run the team. De Villiers though, was in no mood to take a backward step.
"If I am the weakest link, then we are bloody strong!" he added. "I didn't know about the perception, and I do not even have time to think about it. I know myself that I am a God-given talent. I am the best ever that I can be, so whatever you think about me doesn't bother me. I know what I am, and I don't give a damn. We have waited 29 years for this great occasion (beating the Lions). I would love the Lions supporters to honour the fact we have won the hardest and best Test series I have seen in quite a while. I would love people to just stand up, take it on the chin and say 'Well done for victory, well done for what you have achieved in the series and well done for winning'.
"Nobody has congratulated us up until now. Maybe they will do so after the third Test."