South Africa v British & Irish Lions, Johannesburg, July 4
Smit admits fears after Botha ban
July 3, 2009
John Smit has admitted to fearing for the game after Bakkies Botha's recent ban © Getty Images
South Africa skipper John Smit has spoken of the squad's disappointment at the two-week ban handed out to lock Bakkies Botha for an illegal charge on British & Irish Lions prop Adam Jones, fearing that the decision could set a dangerous precedent affecting players clearing out at rucks. Botha will miss Saturday's third Test against the Lions in Johannesburg, but will be available for the Springboks' Tri-Nations campaign.
Smit lamented the dislocated shoulder suffered by Jones, whose arm was caught in the ruck when Botha crashed in to him, and confirmed that the Lions management were also troubled by the decision. Smit also expressed his hopes that Botha's reputation as a hard-man had influenced the decision, rather than a change in attitudes towards the game itself.
"We are deeply saddened, and probably more angry than anything else with regards to the Bakkies Botha outcome," said Smit, who leads his country for the 58th time tomorrow. "I think we have to hope and pray that it is purely just victimisation of Bakkies Botha, and not the way the game is going.
"If it is not victimisation of Bakkies for the way that he plays the game hard, then a ruling like this could change this wonderful game we have for good. It is a great concern. The players are not happy, and we will stand together in this regard and make a point.
"If he has been found guilty for something that is not part of the game, I think we could probably take 15 or 20 clips out of every single Test match that's been played up until this date and ban every single guy that has cleaned a ruck. I have to hope it is victimisation of an individual - otherwise this game is going in the wrong direction.
"We haven't had sanity prevail with his appeal. To let something like this be passed is obviously setting a precedent that would probably ruin the game from a ruck point of view. We've had support from the Lions management, who have also said they don't agree with the citing. We've had support from players in the Lions squad - and I've had support from players around the world who I have played with and against, who've also said it is ludicrous."
Botha's ban has been overshadowed by flanker Schalk Burger's eight-week suspension for making contact with the eyes of Lions wing Luke Fitzgerald, but Smit hoped that there would be no bad blood between the teams following the final Test.
"Emotions are always going to run high in a series like this one," he said. "I think it has been a phenomenal series - two tight Test matches with one to go - and one of the more exciting series we've had.
"Every single one of our players will remember the series for the rest of his life. The games have been tenacious and physical. But I really believe after the third one is played and done, no matter what the result, we will have a phenomenal function afterwards. The wonderful thing about playing rugby union is you get to run into each other and tackle each other at a million miles per hour, then afterwards share a beer.
"It was a hard Test match (last Saturday) - it was a classic. The harder they are and the worse you feel on a Sunday, the more you remember of them and the more you enjoy yourself afterwards. You want to play those Tests often. But if you had to play them 20 times a year, I think the average age of retirement would probably be 24 or 25!"