Springboks coach Peter de Villiers and his bosses at South Africa Rugby have apologized for his apparent acceptance that Schalk Burger’s eye gouging of Lions winger Luke Fitzgerald was just part of the game.
Burger was banned for eight weeks after being shown a yellow card and sinbinned during South Africa’s 28-25 victory over the British and Irish Lions in Pretoria on Saturday. Although many observers believed the back row star should have been sent off for the rest of the game, the often outspoken De Villiers said he didn’t think even a yellow card was warranted.
“I don’t think it was a card at all,” De Villiers said. “There was a lot of needle and, if you dissect the whole game, you will see yellow cards that were missed.”
Burger was seen to put his hand onto Fitzgerald’s face during a ruck only 32 seconds into the game. The linesman spotted the incident and reported it to referee Christophe Berdos who showed Burger a yellow card, which meant a 10-minute spot in the sinbin rather than being sent off for the rest of the game.
On Monday De Villiers said that efforts to take the physical elements out of the game might turn rugby into some kind of ballet.
“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,” De Villiers told reporters.
The South African Rugby Union (SARU) issued a statement on Monday in which both De Villiers and SARU president Oregan Hoskins apologized that the coach’s comments suggested they condoned serious foul play.
“We would like to apologize to the rugby community for the erroneous impression that acts of foul play are in any way condoned by South African rugby,” Hoskins said.”
“Rugby is a physical game and a hard game but it is a game that rightly prides itself on good sportsmanship and we as SARU categorically condemn any such action. SARU fully supports any action that the IRB [International Rugby Board] feels appropriate to stamp out eye gouging in the game,” he said.
De Villiers said in the same statement that he stood against play that was not in the spirit of the game.
“Eye-gouging is something that we, as a team, will never be part of,” he said.
“My comments on Saturday were based on what I know of Schalk Burger as a player and not on what occurred. It was never my intention to suggest that I condone foul play. That is the last thing I would ever do and I apologize for creating any other impression,” De Villiers said.
Meanwhile, the ’Boks are to appeal the two-week ban Bakkies Botha received for a dangerous charge on Adam Jones in Pretoria.
Botha left Jones with a dislocated shoulder that needed surgery ruling him out of Saturday’s third and final Test in Johannesburg.
Springbok assistant coach Dick Muir said yesterday that the South African coaching staff had seen nothing untoward in Botha’s charge.
South Africa will not, however, be appealing Burger’s ban.
In other news the Lions suffered a setback ahead of the third Test when Brian O’Driscoll was ruled out with concussion. The Irishman suffered a clash of heads with Danie Rossouw on Saturday and will travel home today.