Burger gets 8-week ban on his 50th Test

2009-06-30 00:00

IT was to have been a day of celebration, but Schalk Burger’s moment of madness in the second Test at Loftus on Saturday quickly became the Springbok flank’s darkest moment on a rugby field.

Burger, playing his 50th Test and watched by friends and family who had flown to Pretoria for his happy hour, was the first Springbok to take the field. A minute later he was the first to leave, yellow-carded for eye-gouging, and in the early hours of yesterday it was announced that he had been banned for eight weeks by the IRB disciplinary committee. His team-mate Bakkies Botha was suspended for two weeks after charging into a ruck. Players “cleaning out” opponents at the tackle, a basic requirement by teams wishing to protect their possession at the breakdown, will now have to be wary.

Burger, a former IRB Player of the Year, has always been the most physical and bravest of players, one who overcame a serious neck injury to return to rugby, but he has never had a reputation for foul play. But on Saturday that all changed in the opening minute of the game when, lying on the ground, he reached back with his hand and found the eye of Lions wing Luke Fitzgerald.

Assistant referee Bryce Lawrence saw the incident and advised referee Christophe Berdos that it should be “at least a yellow card.”

Burger was fortunate not to receive a red card and 10 minutes later he was able to return to complete his 50th Test. But quite what provoked this uncharacteristic action only Burger knows. Had he been sent off, leaving the Boks with 14 men for 79 minutes, the flank might well have also cost South Africa the Test and the series.

His unprovoked action has certainly knocked some of the gloss from a superb Springbok fightback and an excellent Test match. It has also deflected the British media away from the Springbok series victory and allowed them to concentrate on the “brutality” of the South Africans.

Apart from the attack by Burger — and Bok coach Peter de Villiers should accept the evidence and not defend the indefensible — the Boks were as guilty of foul play as the Lions, who swung their share of punches and made their share of high tackles.

Burger will miss the first three of South Africa’s six Tri-Nations matches in this year’s competition. The Springboks play their first Tri-Nations Test against New Zealand on July 23 and he will be back for the three overseas internationals.

Bok coach De Villiers, bristling in front of the fired-up British media, refused to budge from his stance on the incident.

”I am against anything that is not in the spirit of the game and I would never encourage things like eye-gouging. Schalk is an honourable man and if you know his nature and character like I do, then you know he won’t ever do something like that. He’s more physical than any other player in world rugby and he doesn’t need to do that sort of thing.

“I have watched the TV footage of the incident and I am still convinced that he did not do anything on purpose, he never meant to go for the eye. Even he was shocked when he saw the replays,” said De Villiers.

“Rugby is a contact sport, but so is dancing. There were so many incidents in the Test, but if we’re going to win rugby matches in front of the cameras then we might as well go to the nearest ballet shop and buy some nice tutus,” De Villiers said.

De Villiers said he was angry that his team’s achievement in winning the series had been ignored by the tourists, noting that “nothing can take away the magnitude of what we have achieved”.

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