British Lions make a meal of it

2009-07-02 00:00

THE British Lions and their media, who know a tasty kill when they see one, continued to make a meal of Springbok coach Peter de Villiers and his disgraced flank Schalk Burger ahead of the third and final Test at Ellis Park on Saturday.

It was assistant Lions coach Graham Rowntree’s turn yesterday to feed the voracious touring media with some choice quotes as he tore into De Villiers.

Rowntree said that De Villiers’ comments in defence of his eye-gouging made after the second Test, and which resulted in Burger being banned for two months, had no place in the game of rugby.

De Villiers and SA Rugby president Regan Hoskins have both since apologised for the remarks, but that has done nothing to dampen the Lions’ fury.

“I can get quite emotional about this, so I better tread carefully,” said Rowntree.

“What De Villiers said was completely out of order, it was crass and pathetic. Gouging is indefensible and there is no place for it in the game. For a national coach to almost say it is okay is ridiculous.

“We’re upset by it and he can’t get away with it,” Rowntree said.

“I’m glad he’s had to withdraw the remarks. And indeed, he’s being investigated a bit further.

“I’ve been gouged,” he added. “For any young, aspiring player or parents watching that game, you have the national coach almost saying it’s okay, it’s ridiculous.

“We’re upset by it. You can’t get away with making those comments. The actual thing’s been dealt with now, the incident, Burger’s been banned.

“We’re quite happy to move on.”

“How a player can think he can get away with it, with so many cameras watching the game, is beyond me. What would make a guy want to do that, what advantage he thinks he can get away with by doing that, and how he thinks he can get away with it, is beyond thought for me.

“It is indefensible.”

Rowntree said the reputation of Burger, the IRB player of the year in 2004 had suffered.

“There’s been no official apology,” he said.

The former Test prop and Lions scrum coach called for stiffer penalties for eye-gouging.

“There’ve been a lot of high-profile cases in the last six months, so there probably needs to be a greater deterrent put in place.”

Tour captain Paul O’Connell also jumped in, saying that De Villiers’s recommendation that the Lions buy a tutu and take up ballet if they can’t handle the physicality of rugby, were a “big mistake” and were made without thinking.

“It was a clumsy comment to make,” he said. “He probably should have thought about it.”

Rowntree also said that the British Lions would be ready and willing to take on the Boks in the third Test.

“The Springboks are looking for a whitewash and they think we’re on the ropes and emotionally down.

“Normally at this stage of a Lions tour injuries have taken their toll and the squad is held together by elastoplast. But I can assure them, this team is in good nick and there is still plenty of gas in the tank,” Rowntree said.

Rowntree said the players were emotionally shattered by the Loftus defeat and their series loss.

“But we have nurtured a great work ethic in the squad and I have no doubt they will be up for the weekend.”

It seems likely that veteran England prop Phil Vickery, who was mauled by the Beast, Tendai Mtawarira, in the first Test, could return at Ellis Park.

Both first-choice props at Loftus, Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins, have been ruled out and the two Englishmen, Vickery and strongman Andrew Sheridan, are tipped to start.

“It will be tough for Phil because, by his own admission, he had a bad day in the office in Durban.

It will be a huge psychological challenge for him if he starts, but one he is able to overcome,” Rowntree said. “I’ve never come across anyone with his strength of character.

“Coaching is both technical and emotional and part of it is picking up players.

“I have no doubt Phil can get up and produce a good performance on Saturday, if selected,” the Lions scrum coach said.

Meanwhile, the Lions refuted De Villiers’ allegations that their head coach Ian McGeechan had not congratulated the Springboks after the second Test.

“I would like to clarify that Ian McGeechan met Peter de Villiers twice after the Loftus Test and shook his hand and congratulated him,” Lions head of media Greg Thomas said yesterday.

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