Scrum Sevens
Blood, punch-ups and biting
Huw Baines
March 11, 2009
Ronan O'Gara walks from the field after being assaulted by Duncan McRae, NSW Waratahs v British and Irish Lions, Sydney Football Stadium, June 23, 2001
Ronan O'Gara trudges from the field after taking a beating from Duncan McRae in 2001 © Getty Images

With England's disciplinary problems the talk of the rugby world, and Danny Care's shove on Marcus Horan making him the poster boy for bad attitudes, we show you how it could have been worse...much worse.

Duncan McRae, meet Ronan O'Gara

One of the most widely referenced bouts of foul play in the modern game saw NSW Waratahs fullback Duncan McRae set upon British and Irish Lions fly-half Ronan O'Gara during a tour match at Sydney Football Stadium in June 2001, raining blows down on a prone O'Gara as play went on.

Once the referee deigned to intervene, McRae was given his marching orders as O'Gara stumbled from the field a bloody mess. McRae was banned for seven weeks after the incident, but as it was during the Australian off-season he escaped without missing a single competitive game.

The pair came face to face again in 2004, when O'Gara's Munster faced McRae's new club, Gloucester, in the Heineken Cup. "I can't see how he will apologise to me at this stage, but if he comes up to me and wants to shake my hand, I'll have no problem," O'Gara told The Independent at the time.

"From now on, boys, we get our retaliation in first."

In rugby terms, "Calling a 99" won't get you an ice-cream. During the 1974 Lions tour of South Africa the tourists were so incensed by the underhand tactics of the Springboks that their captain, the legendary Willie John McBride, devised a plan to stop it. Put simply as "one in, all in" the "99" required every Lion to down tools and set upon the nearest Springbok at any sign of intimidation, thus stopping the referee from taking action as he couldn't send off the entire team.

'We had a meeting about how to react [to the violence] and it fell to the Big Man [McBride] to decide what to do," recalled late Lions lock Gordon Brown in The Observer. "He took a long puff on his pipe, then he simply said, 'From now on, boys, we get our retaliation in first.'"

During the third Test, christened "The Battle of Boet Erasmus", the call went up, with Welsh fullback JPR Williams famously charging the length of the field before going after Springbok lock Moaner van Heerden. The plan worked, as following the melee the referee didn't send off a single Lion.

Give 'em the boot

The image of talismanic Wales fullback JPR Williams walking from the Brewery Field pitch in Bridgend in 1978 to receive 30 stitches in his cheek after a sickening stamp by All Blacks prop John Ashworth has become infamous.

Williams was stitched by his father on the side of the field, returning to finish the game. "I remember being nowhere near the ball and being stamped on twice. Luckily, I had previously broken my cheekbone and bones always grow back stronger," he said after receiving a long-overdue peace offering from Ashworth in 2008. "If I hadn't, then my cheekbone would have gone. My father stitched me up and I went back on to finish the game, which certainly wouldn't be allowed these days."

All over before it began

In another episode from the history of the Lions, All Blacks Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu failed to shower themselves in glory by spear tackling Lions skipper Brian O'Driscoll seconds into the first Test at Jade Stadium on June 25, 2005.

O'Driscoll dislocated his shoulder and missed the rest of the tour, while the event became synonymous with the Lions' crushing failure at the hands of Clive Woodward. The Lions were thrashed 21-3 in the first Test and made the wrong sort of headlines themselves when lock Danny Grewcock was banned for two months after biting All Blacks hooker Mealamu during the game.

Ackford mauled by a Puma

Now a respected rugby journalist, Paul Ackford previously was a lock for England and the Lions. During a Test against Argentina at Twickenham in 1990 Ackford found himself on the wrong end of a punch from Pumas prop Federico Mendez. Mendez, 18 at the time, was winning only his second cap.

Following a scrap between the respective front rows Mendez took it upon himself to get involved, flattening an unsuspecting Ackford with a haymaker as he waited for the referee to tidy up. The England lock's uncomfortable exit was completed with a spot-on impression of Bambi taking to the ice as he stumbled from the field.

Mendez was duly given his marching orders as the Pumas lost 51-0, but would redeem himself by going on to play at three World Cups and winning 75 caps for his country.

Are you going to finish that?

Springbok prop Johan Le Roux entered into the annals of Springbok history as "the guy who took a chunk out of Sean Fitzpatrick". During the second Test between South Africa and the All Blacks at Eden Park, Wellington on July 23, 1994 Le Roux bit Fitzpatrick's ear during a scrum, unsurprisingly incensing the spiky All Blacks hooker who re-emerged from the front row nursing a bloody gash.

Le Roux escaped punishment from the referee but never played for the Springboks again after being handed an 18-month ban for his cannibalistic outburst. He wasn't all that repentant afterwards either. "For an 18-month suspension, I feel I probably should have torn it off," Le Roux told The New Zealand Herald. "Then at least I could say, 'look, I've returned to South Africa with the guy's ear'."

Getting away scot-free

During a tempestuous Rugby World Cup quarter-final at the Parc des Princes in 1991, the great Serge Blanco was ruthlessly targeted by England.

During England's win Blanco took offence to being bumped into by England winger Nigel Heslop after calling a mark. The great man barely had time to react however as Heslop was summarily knocked unconscious by a punch from France flanker Eric Champ. Chaos ensued, but in the midst of it all Blanco and Champ escaped with little more than a slap on the wrist from the authorities.


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