Mind Games: It’s time Saru officials grew a pair

2013-06-30 10:00

The pre-match rituals performed by the All Blacks, Samoa and Fiji are deeply symbolic of ancient Pacific Island cultures.

These challenges have become part of international rugby and, in fact, the Springboks would feel cheated if they were not performed.

The All Blacks have their “haka”, the Fijians their “cibi” (pronounced “thimbi”) and the Samoans have their “siva tau”; but make no mistake, they are war dances and in the case of the latter, as again demonstrated at Loftus recently, are intended to wind up the players into a state of “aggro”.

There have been many calls, particularly emanating from the northern hemisphere for these “gauntlets” to be banned.

But that is not the case with the Springboks, who respect the traditions of the Islanders and who have learnt themselves to draw determination from facing and accepting the challenges.

But there can be no doubt that the Samoans, in particular, have been allowed to take the truculence too far.

It is my contention that the SA Rugby Union (Saru) has consistently let down its players by not taking a stronger stance on the instances of blatant violence that have marred matches between the two countries.

This was again the case at Loftus when South African officials failed to insist on citing James So’oialo for, as the Australians would say, “bag-snatching” Andries Strauss.

There are two deadly sins in rugby – attacking the eyes and the testicles – but again, Saru chose the “good ‘ole boys” route rather than insisting that the severe punishments, which have often been meted out to South African transgressors in the past, should be applied.

Bok skipper Jean de Villiers also chose to play down the incident and inject some humour into it, which one has to concede was honourable and mature.

But the worry must be that the Springboks and Saru will live to regret that they again backed off over a disciplinary issue rather than standing up for what is right.

Given that two Samoan players were not even cited, one for kicking Coenie Oosthuizen and the other for trampling and opening a cut on Francois Louw’s head, the ruling of the Judicial Officer, His Honour Judge Jeff Blackett (RFU) (nogal) that So’oialo’s actions were accidental was laughable.

Blackett said: “If I am to uphold this citing I must conclude that the player has lied to me. My assessment of the player is that he is honest: he immediately accepted that he had grabbed an opponent’s testicles – he did not attempt to dispute that fact – and he said that there is no room in the game for insidious acts.”

What bull! As NZ TV commentator Tony Johnson wrote: “If judicial officers the world over are to start acquitting players because ‘he said he didn’t do it’, then the whole process is heading into the realms of ga-ga land.”

Samoa have been exonerated for far too long on the basis that they are small, that they are poor and that Island rugby needs to be encouraged.

One would have thought that this time Saru would have stood up and pointed to the foul incidents that marred matches in the 1995, 2007 and 2011 Rugby World Cups.

One would have thought that Saru would have taken exception at inequities such as former Lions coach John Mitchell and the Stormers being heavily fined for referee abuse, but former All Blacks coach Graham Henry being let off scot-free.

South African rugby players are not, well, backward in coming forward; but can you imagine the outcry had any of the Springboks transgressed as the Samoans did?

Could it be that the president of Saru is more intent on keeping on the “right” side of the International Rugby Board, thus protecting his position as vice-president, rather than taking up the cudgels on behalf of his own players?

Taking a line from what happened to Adriaan Strauss, it’s time Saru officials strapped on some.

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