IRB must ban the gougers for good

By Tom Harverson
Photo: Paul Walsh

Photo: Paul Walsh

Brian O’Driscoll has launched a scathing attack on Peter De Villiers following the Springbok coach’s comments that defended eye gouging in the game.

The Lions centre labelled De Villiers a “disgrace” after the Bokkes boss admitted he saw nothing wrong with the actions of his player Schalk Burger who was sin binned and then banned from rugby for eight weeks after gouging Luke Fitzgerald in last Saturday’s second test.

O’Driscoll, who is today flying home after sustaining concussion in the same match, also slammed De Villiers by insisting that the coach has brought rugby into disrepute, “When I heard those comments I wondered how someone could get away with something like that”, said O’Driscoll.

“Irrespective of any apology, I found it an absolute disgrace that a coach of a national team can make comments as he did about gouging being part of the game.

“Essentially, it brought the game into disrepute.”

His early exit from a Lions tour is all-too-familiar for the Irish centre whose captaincy four years ago was cut short following the spear tackle in the first test against New Zealand which dislocated his shoulder.

But despite the premature departure, hopefully O’Driscoll’s comments will linger long after his plane climbs into the South African sky.

De Villiers has now provided the IRB, the sport’s governing body, with the excuse and the opportunity to leap upon gouging and kick it into touch permanently. The coach of the newly crowned world champions cannot get away with condoning gouging.

Aside from the physical effects – it is only a matter of time before someone is blinded – the act itself completely undermines the ethos of rugby. Although by nature it is a brutally tough game that seeks out and exploits weakness, rugby overflows with morality and professionalism. It is a game that rewards physical heroics like few others, whilst weeding-out the cowardly and weak.

Gouging is cowardly and terrifying, designed to cripple an opponent in the worst possible way. OK, stamping is technically permitted in rugby, but only in order to move a player blocking the ball in a ruck, and the use of the boot is closely monitored by the officials.

Gouging isn’t even in the same book, let alone on the same page as stamping and the IRB must act now to rid the game of such acts by banning any player for life who is caught carrying it out.

During ten years of playing rugby I have thankfully never been gouged or witnessed it happen. Stamping is a regular occurrence, I’ve been there and got the shredded t-shirt and whilst often it bends the rules, it is what you could call accepted violence.

But fingers routing around in eyes sends a shiver down the spine and oversteps what should be allowed. Yes, I’ve seen one devastatingly harsh nose-cracking head-butt and experienced an off-the-ball injury that needed surgery but although that again oversteps the mark, it is all the product an inherently physical sport in which one can easily get lost in the moment

The gouging isn’t. It has to be cut out now. Big punishments need to be introduced for gouging – with no exceptions, no buts, ifs or maybes. If you gouge, you’re gone. If the authorities do no take action the problem will continue to escalate and will become harder to eradicate.

To get the ball rolling Burger’s ban should be extended and, for his comments, De Villiers must follow his blond Bokke into the rugby wilderness.

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