‘Home town’ de­ci­sion an in­dict­ment of SA rugby

CityPress - - Sport - Dan Retief dan.retief@city­press.co.za Fol­low me on Twit­ter @retief­dan

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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