SA Rugby back down over De Villiers' comments
June 30, 2009
Springboks coach Peter de Villiers has courted controversy with his comments regarding Schalk Burger's eye-gouging of Lions winger Luke Fizgerald © Getty Images
South African Rugby officials have been forced into an embarrassing climbdown over comments made by Springboks coach Peter de Villiers in the aftermath of the eye-gouging incident that marred their second Test victory over the British & Irish Lions.
Springboks flanker Schalk Burger was yellow-carded in the opening minute of his side's decisive victory in Pretoria after he was seen to place his hands on the face of Lions winger Luke Fitzgerald. He was later cited for alleged eye-gouging and subsequently found guilty and banned for eight weeks.
De Villiers questioned the decision to sin-bin his player in the post-match press conference insisting that the incident was "all part of sport" and that he did not believe it was a yellow card offence.
However, in a statement released last night South African Rugby Union President Oregan Hoskins and De Villiers apologised for the comments that appeared to give the impression that the organisation condoned eye gouging. Hoskins and De Villiers jointly condemned all acts of foul play and sent out a clear message that such acts would not be tolerated in South African rugby and that they fell outside the spirit as well as the letter of the Laws of the Game of Rugby.
"We would like to apologise to the rugby community for the erroneous impression that acts of foul play are in any way condoned by South African rugby," said Hoskins. "That has never been the case and is not now, and we support strong action by rugby authorities when such acts occur.
"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 feels appropriate to stamp out eye gouging in the game."
De Villiers added that as Springbok coach 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. "The same applies to biting, head-butting, spear tackling or any other foul play that doesn't belong in the game. 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 apologise for creating any other impression."
The statement followed a bizarre Springboks press conference earlier in the day where De Villiers once again defended the actions of Burger.
"Rugby is a contact sport, so is dancing," he said. "So if some guys can't take it, make the decision. There are so many incidents that we can say we want to cite this guy for maliciously jumping into this guy's face with his shoulder but we didn't do it because we know that it's just a game.
"If you know Schalk's nature and character - if you know the man as I know him - he would never do this. He is more physical than any other rugby player in the world. To go to those kinds of measures, he would never ever do it. And I don't think he did it."