White arn bands in support of Bakkies 'didn't distract players', insists Smit

2009-07-06 00:00

CAPTAIN John Smit dismissed suggestions that his players’ white armband protest in the third and final Test against the British Lions had proved a distraction as the Springboks were badly mauled 28-9 by the British Lions.

The players took the field with the armbands to express their solidarity with Springbok lock Bakkies Botha who was suspended for two weeks, and had his appeal turned down, and for dangerously charging into a ruck without binding on a player.

“No, just because we have lost you can’t say that we were distracted. I think as players we are beyond that.”

Smit had eloquently expressed the players’ support for Botha at Friday’s press conference, but the SA Rugby Players Association (Sarpa) decided to take further action by mounting the on-field protest.

Smit would not be drawn on the issue after the Test.

“We are just supporting Botha and now we’’ll have to see if the IRB take action,” was all Smit would add.

Piet Heymans, CEO of Sarpa, said that the Springboks all sympathised with Botha for having to miss “this memorable final Test”.

“The players want to send a clear message that they require the IRB to have an urgent and serious relook at Law 10.4 (j),” said Heymans.

“Despite comprehensive submissions by the attorney acting for Bakkies Botha and Sarpa, where a very important point of principle was developed as to the proper application of this law, and in particular when a player lawfully binds or attempts to bind for the purpose of this law, the appeal was not successful.

“Over an extended period of time numerous other players have charged into rucks without binding but were either not penalised at all or received only a penalty. Bakkies hit a ruck just before this one in question in a similar style and was not penalised. Coaches are coaching players to hit rucks in this manner and therefore this is a major cause of apprehension.

“This inconsistency has upset the players and they felt very strongly that they must take a firm stance and show their unhappiness with the application of the relevant law.

“Rugby as a spectacle will lose its excitement and appeal if the best players in the world are not sure how the laws will be applied and that their participation in world class rugby could be affected by the actions of judicial officers.

“We will be consulting with our legal team next week to consider all our legal options available to assist Bakkies Botha and provide him with a sense of justice as he has suffered significantly due to this suspension,” concludes Heymans.

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