Springboks show hunger for All Black blood
July 23, 1994
Sean Fitzpatrick was no stranger to sustaining damage against the Boks
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New Zealand took a 2-0 lead over South Africa, securing victory in the three match series back in 1994. The game is remembered for Johan le Roux biting Sean Fitzpatrick's ear during the second half, an act of brutality missed by the match officials but captured clearly by the cameras.
Every tour since South Africa's return to international rugby in 1992 had been marred by serious incidents of foul play. The years of isolation had left the Springboks out of touch with the new boundaries of acceptable on-field behaviour brought on by television and changing attitudes. While other nations had cleaned up their acts, thuggery was still commonplace in South African rugby.
Adri Geldenhuys had punched Abdelatif Benazzi out of the 1992 French match in Lyon, Garry Pagel's stamping on Jean-Francois Tordo when Western Province played France in 1993 earned him a six month ban, and Tordo 50 stitches in his face. James Small had become the first South African to be sent off in an international, against Australia, Keith Andrews was dismissed in a tour match in Argentina, and England's recent visit to South Africa was littered with injuries of a dubious nature.
In the week preceding this match, Small had been cited by the Waikato authorities and Geldenhuys sent off against Manawatu.
The first Test, won 22-14 by New Zealand, had been a stern examination for referee Brian Stirling, as two bellicose front rows snarled and battled their way through 80 minutes. All Black lock, Ian Jones, was put out of the series with a fractured cheekbone but his team-mates, having recently lost twice to France, had to show their worth to the New Zealand public.
Stirling took charge again in the second Test, which saw Francois Pienaar return to captain the Springboks. In cold, wet conditions, South Africa could rarely match the pace or commitment of the All Blacks. Their tactical nous was found wanting in the face of what Fitzpatrick described afterwards as "a tremendous All Black performance".
Wing John Timu scored New Zealand's first try. Their second came from Zinzan Brooke when he was allowed to drag the ball back into a five metre scrum and go on for a pushover try. Such fortune was a high price for South Africa to pay for Theo van Rensburg initially conceding the scrum by carrying the ball back over his own try line.
There were other debatable calls by Mr Stirling, notably Tiaan Strauss being unlucky not to be awarded a try when chasing up a van Rensburg chip-kick. New Zealand led 10-6 at the break, with each side adding a further penalty in the second half.
Whatever rugby the match offered is massively over-shadowed by the actions of le Roux, nicknamed 'le Beast' in Springbok circles. Fitzpatrick was no angel, his willingness to wind up opponents often being complemented by physical intimidation beyond the laws of rugby. On this occasion, however, he was more sinned against than sinner.
Le Roux's version of events in The Times quotes him, "Fitzpatrick grabbed me and dragged me for three metres before forcing my head to the ground. I couldn't get my hands free, they were trapped under him. If I could, I would rather have hit him."
Television footage clearly showed Le Roux lying on the ground beside Fitzpatrick, lowering his head and biting Fitzpatrick's left ear. The resulting wound to the ear was self evident but with none of the officials having seen the incident, and in pre-TMO days, Le Roux remained on the field for the remainder of the game. Fitzpatrick exacted some revenge with his knee when the opportunity arose, but was more intent on winning the match.
Le Roux was cited immediately afterwards, but the Springbok management pre-empted the NZRFU disciplinary process by sending him home on the first available plane and banning him for 18 months.
Unrepentant after receiving his ban, Le Roux announced, "For an 18 month suspension, I feel I probably should have torn it (the ear) off. Then at least I could have said: 'Look, I have returned to South Africa with a guy's ear.'"
In his biography, 'Fronting Up: the Sean Fitzpatrick Story' the All Black captain claimed that Le Roux had bitten his right arm earlier in the match and stamped on him during the first Test in Dunedin.
South Africa scored two tries to nil in the final Test, which was drawn 18-18 thanks to Shane Howarth's immaculate place kicking.
Kitch Christie, Le Roux's coach in Transvaal, announced that he would not play for the province again and, since Christie took over as Springbok coach when those who had led this tour were sacked, Le Roux's rugby career was finished.
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