British & Irish Lions
Just not good enough
July 1, 2009
Schalk Burger's gouging incident was the turning point of the second Test © Getty Images
Peter De Villiers Schalk Burger Luke Fitzgerald Jaque Fourie Brian O'Driscoll Jamie Roberts Morne Steyn
We had to wait until Monday evening but, finally, somebody at the South African Rugby Union (SARU) saw sense and issued a statement distancing them from the totally irresponsible and increasingly bizarre utterances of Springboks coach Peter de Villiers.
"We would like to apologise to the rugby community for comments that appeared to give the impression that acts of foul play are in any way condoned by South African rugby," said SARU president Oregan Hoskins.
Even de Villiers - a complete loose cannon - was quoted as saying, "eye gouging is something we as a team will never be part of…my comments on Saturday were based on what I know of Schalk Burger and not on what occurred."
Sorry Mr.de Villiers, that's not good enough. You might not want to believe Burger is a gouger but the evidence proved indisputably that he committed one of the most heinous crimes in the game.
If you make one grab at the eyes you might be able to argue you did not realise where your hands were but the video evidence clearly shows Burger having a second go which takes the crime to a higher level and should have resulted in a much longer suspension.
When are the International Rugby Board going to insist that their Judicial Officers uphold their own recommendations relating to sentencing?
They clearly state that gouging should be punished with a minimum of 12 weeks for a low end of the scale offence. I would argue this was a medium to high end offence because the intent was there for all to see and because he went back for a second attempt.
It should have been a minimum of six months but the man in charge was Alan Hudson from Canada, a minor rugby nation. I would suggest he was way out of his depth when confronted by the full force of SARU.
There has been no suggestion of Burger being censured by his own Union - they appear to be in denial about it - and as far as I know there has been no apology to Luke Fitzgerald from the player himself.
I would like to believe he would have been sent-off if the referee had seen the incident himself rather than having to rely on it being reported by his assistant but I am not surprised he opted for the yellow card rather than red when given the option by Bryce Lawrence - "at least a yellow card" was his advice.
Imagine yourself in Christophe Berdos's position - you're officiating in arguably the biggest match of your career and just 30 seconds in you are confronted with a decision which will almost certainly decide its outcome - on an incident you have not actually seen yourself. I think I would have gone for yellow too. If anybody chickened out it was Lawrence who was about a metre away.
Even after de Villiers had suggested that it was all part of the game and that people who did not like it should go to the ballet instead of rugby Lions boss Ian McGeechan refused to be drawn into the argument other than to stress he would never excuse gouging.
He just appeared totally bemused that somehow the Lions had already lost the series. "We could be two nil up, we could be level at one all but, somehow, we're two nil down,' he said shaking his head in disbelief.
"We just haven't had the rub of the green on the field," was the closest he came to any criticism of the referee.
These Lions have not had the best of luck but, deep down, I am certain McGeechan knows they have only themselves to blame. If they had simply been outplayed it would have been easier to accept but in both matches they created enough chances to win.
I would guess last Saturday was the biggest disappointment in his long and illustrious Lions coaching career.
In the first-half they were superb and for most of the second-half it looked as if they had done enough. As soon as they went to uncontested scrums the Lions seemed to lose their edge but the Springboks were so disjointed they were not able to take advantage - until they went to the bench.
The introduction of Jaque Fourie and Morne Steyn made all the difference. Most people over here don't think much of de Villiers as a coach and they think even less of him as a selector, citing the omission of those two from the starting line-up as proof.
The Springboks immediately became more direct and sadly, that coincided with the Lions having to make replacements because of the injuries to Brian O'Driscoll and Jamie Roberts. In complete contrast they were fatally weakened.
It is unfair to put all the blame on Ronan O'Gara but he was culpable when Fourie was allowed to squeeze into the corner and his final act was just stupid. He was never going to get to the ball and he took the receiver out - the referee was absolutely right in his decision.
A draw would have left the Lions with everything still to go for on Saturday. Instead they are depleted, battered and bruised mentally as well as physically and are looking at a hammering. Somehow they deserve more than that.