Du Plessis suspension mars victory

2008-07-13 00:00

Some of the gloss of the Springbok’s remarkable, history-making 30-28 weekend victory over the All Blacks at the House of Pain in Dunedin was removed yesterday when Sharks hooker Bismarck du Plessis was banned for three weeks by a Sanzar disciplinary hearing.

Du Plessis was cleared of the charge of eye-gouging but was found guilty of careless play. Du Plessis, a replacement for Bok captain John Smit, will now miss Saturday’s Tri-Nations Test against the Wallabies in Perth.

The Springbok management yesterday named Free State Cheetahs hooker Adriaan Strauss as Du Plessis’ replacement. He will arrive in Perth early tomorrow morning.

Strauss is the second hooker to join the Springbok camp in a week after Western Province hooker Schalk Brits flew to Wellington in New Zealand following the groin injury to Smit.

The Sharks hooker has since undergone surgery and is out of the Tri-Nations competition.

Brits is certain to start against the Wallabies with Strauss on the bench.

Du Plessis’ suspension will come as no surprise to Smit. Smit last week criticised the double standards of the Sanzar judicial system and said that New Zealanders were treated as royal game when appearing before disciplinary hearings.

Certainly there is no consistency in Sanzar’s sentencing.

All Black lock Reuben Thorn’s assault on Smit last weekend — in the first half of the first Test in Wellington and in front of referee Stuart Dickinson — was dangerous, reckless, illegal and took place after the whistle had blown.

It ended Smit’s Tri-Nations tour, yet Thorn, who was not even yellow-carded, was later found guilty only of unsportsmanlike behaviour and suspended for a week.

Du Plessis, in contrast, has been banned for three weeks in spite of being cleared of eye-gouging.

It was found that his hand did come into contact with New Zealand flank Adam Thomson’s face in the 11th minute of the Test, but the action was judged to be careless and not deliberate and the All Black was left unmarked.

The Sharks’ robust hooker, who has an impeccable disciplinary record, was named by citing commissioner Dick Byres under Law 10.4 (k) for “contact with the eyes or eye area” of Thomson. Du Plessis was cleared of the initial charge after Sanzar judicial officer Kim Garling viewed video footage of the incident, heard evidence from Du Plessis and received reports from the match referee and assistant referees.

Du Plessis admitted his hand had come into contact with Thomson’s lower cheek but did not come into contact with the eye itself.

Television footage confirmed that there was no visible mark to the face of Thomson as a result of the contact, said the New Zealand Rugby Union release.

Garling concluded that the contact was careless and not deliberate and therefore the punishment should be at the lower end of the scale.

He said Du Plessis had conceded the carelessness of his actions at the first available opportunity when the matter came before the Judiciary and had shown regret for his actions.

Garling said this was the first blemish in Du Plessis’ playing career. He was also highly regarded by his peers.

The good news for the Boks is that Du Plessis will miss only one Test match — against Australia in Perth on Saturday — since after that match the South Africans have a fortnight’s break from Tri-Nations action. The Springbok’s have decided not to appeal the sentence.

Meanwhile, the late, match-winning try by Bok scrumhalf Ricky Januarie on Saturday prevented another major controversy.

With the clock winding down, and metres from the All Black line, a neck-high tackle by New Zealand replacement Leon MacDonald on wing Bryan Habana prevented a Bok try.

Minutes later Bok captain Victor Matfield made a marginally high, but less dangerous tackle and was yellow-carded.

In the end, it mattered not and the victory — secured by 14 men — would have added to the sweetness of the first win on New Zealand soil in 10 years.

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