South African Rugby
Burger breaks silence over ban
July 2, 2009
Burger was sin-binned for the incident at Loftus Versfeld © Getty Images
South Africa flanker Schalk Burger has broken his silence over his eight-week ban for gouging British & Irish Lions wing Luke Fitzgerald, insisting that he is not a "rugby thug".
Burger's actions in the opening minute of the second Test against the Lions at Loftus Versfeld earned him a trip to the sin-bin, with myriad voices criticising the leniency of this decision from referee Christophe Berdos and his assistant Bryce Lawrence. The incident has cast a shadow over the final week of the Lions tour, a shadow made all the more imposing by the media storm whipped up by Springboks coach Peter de Villiers.
Burger was let off a longer ban by judicial officer Alan Hudson who said that he was "unable to conclude" any eye-gouging on Burger's part, although he said contact with Fitzgerald's left eye could not be described as "insignificant". He will be out of action until late August - ruling him out of the Springboks' opening three Tri-Nations Tests.
"As a proud South African and Springbok rugby player, I only have the utmost respect for the traditions of the wonderful game of rugby," said Burger, who is yet to apologise to Fitzgerald directly. "Through my life and career I have always approached the game with the intention only of playing it hard and fair.
"I am not a rugby thug and will never intentionally engage in eye-gouging or similar illegal actions. This was also the case in the second Test against the Lions. I am therefore grateful that the judicial officer confirmed my stance with his conclusion that there was no deliberate eye-gouging as charged by the citing official.
"I will always play the game as hard as possible within the rules. I apologise to my supporters and fellow team-mates for the fact that I have been absent for the first 10 minutes of the second Test. I look forward to returning with zest in due course."