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Lions accept Gibbs' historic suspension

It was the sort of punch that occurs a dozen times in any game of rugby league, but Scott Gibbs is not playing league any more. Yesterday, the Welsh centre became the first Lion ever to be suspended after being found guilty of thumping Grant Esterhuizen, the Northern Transvaal back, during Saturday's contest at Pretoria's Loftus Versfeld Stadium.

Gibbs, banned for one game, will miss Wednesday night's match with Gauteng in Johannesburg and may now struggle to make the side for the first Test with the Springboks in Cape Town a week on Saturday. A hot favourite for a Test place at the start of the tour, Gibbs has played only 60 minutes of rugby in just over a fortnight and is beginning to run out of opportunities to make the required impression.

The incident happened at a ruck in the final quarter of the Lions 35- 30 defeat at the hands of the Blue Bulls - their first reverse after four victories on the bounce. Esterhuizen spilled the beans to the Northern Transvaal management, who immediately decided to cite Gibbs under the terms of the tour agreement. A citing committee quickly determined that the Welshman had a case to answer and, as a result, yesterday's disciplinary panel was convened under the chairmanship of Hekkie Daniels, a Pretoria- based High Court judge.

Gibbs was instructed not to comment on the matter and Fran Cotton, the Lions' manager, was hardly more forthcoming. "We've had a fair hearing and there will be no appeal," he said. "From the Lions' point of view, no further action will be taken against Scott. There is nothing more to be said."

Judge Daniels' panel, which also included Oloff de Meyer, a Pretoria attorney, and Mack van Vuuren, a former general manager of the Northern Transvaal Rugby Football Union, accepted that Gibbs had no particular history of violent conduct, but politely suggested he might curb his league instincts now that he has returned to union.

The quiet Swansea midfielder's unenviable contribution to Lions history may seem bitterly ironic given the violent excesses of past South African tours, not to mention the past battles in both New Zealand and Australia.

David Dobson, an Oxford University forward, was sent off for bad-mouthing a referee during the 1904 trip to Australia and John O'Shea, the Cardiff prop, was dismissed for punching in a 1968 match against Eastern Transvaal in Springs, but no off-field action was taken in either case.

Cotton will now be interested in the outcome of tonight's meeting of the Mpumalanga union, which must decide what sanctions to take against Marius Bosman and Elandre van der Bergh, the two locks responsible for naked assaults on Doddie Weir and Rob Wainright during last week's ugly encounter in Witbano. The Lions' management has already signalled its intention to pursue the matter further if local officials fail to crack the whip.

Weir, whose left knee was effectively shattered by Bosman's cold-bloded stamp at a ruck, flew back to Britain on Saturday night and will undergo surgery as soon as a date can be fixed. The popular Scotsman still has an outside chance of recovering in time for his country's programme of autumn internationals, but it is more likely that he will be ruled out until Christmas.