Prop Jannie du Plessis earned his 63rd Springbok cap in yesterday’s test against the Wallabies – and it was one cap too many.
That’s not to say the medical doctor from KwaZulu-Natal should not have been included in the side – although his patchy form might have justified an axing – but he should have spent some time in the sin bin.
Du Plessis was the beneficiary of a clear miscarriage of justice during and after the Springboks’ World XV game in Newlands last Saturday.
His illegal shoulder charge on Bakkies Botha, which left an abrasion on the big lock’s face and resulted in a concussion test, was a clear yellow card offence.
However, Du Plessis’ transgression was not spotted by referee John Lacey, touch judges Marius van der Westhuizen and Jason Jaftha or television match official Deon van Blommestein – and he remained on the field.
The incident occurred in the 11th minute and the loss of a front row forward so early in the game might have been the reason for the 46-10 rout by the Boks.
Du Plessis was not cited afterwards and did not appear before a judicial officer who would almost certainly have suspended him for a period. This inaction flies in the face of the integrity of the game.
Television replays show that Du Plessis unlawfully charged in from the side of a maul ahead of at least two of his team-mates (both illegal), and smashed into an unprotected Botha with his forearm and shoulder (foul play).
As SuperSport’s Joel Stransky remarked: “Many players have been sanctioned for less.”
The fact that citing commissioner Freek Burger, with the benefit of replays, did not agree is an indictment of rugby’s penal process.
In boxing parlance it’s called a home town decision, which robs South African rugby of any claims to righteousness.
In April, SA Rugby Union (Saru) president Oregan Hoskins came out strongly against what he believed was the inequitable handling of cases involving South African players compared with their New Zealand and Australian counterparts.
But what does it say when we handle one of our own in such a lenient way?
When it comes to rugby, the good doctor is not exactly known for his gentle bedside manner and his previous disciplinary record might well have come into play.
The incident draws attention to two areas of concern in the game.
Yet again, there is a lack of consistency when it comes to the punitive process and officials have to address the “cleanout”.
Players are allowed to crash into opponents to try to clear them off the ball or loosen the ball on the ground, but it has become a licence for physical assault.
Too often, players who are not near the ball, in no position to defend themselves or have an influence on possession are ferociously “cleaned out”.
It has to be stopped before there is a really serious injury. There is also a message to Saru administrators that the moral high ground is a difficult place to inhabit.
If one of the World XV had smashed into a Springbok in the way that Du Plessis did to Botha, would there have been a similar laissez faire attitude? I think not.
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