'Punch-drunk' fear for axed Pienaar

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The row over the dropping of Francois Pienaar took a new turn yesterday when a former team-mate of South Africa's World Cup-winning captain suggested he was in danger of brain damage.

Uli Schmidt, the former Springbok hooker, supported Pienaar's demotion, saying a series of injuries had caused concern about his health and fitness.

Schmidt, a doctor, said Pienaar's reaction times had been jeopardised by several concussion injuries and he was in danger of becoming punch drunk.

Pienaar was left out of the Test series against the All Blacks in August because of injury. Schmidt said Pienaar needed a long rest to recover from his injuries properly. Pienaar himself expressed bitterness about the way the coach, Andre Markgraaff, had dropped him from the squad to tour Argentina, Wales and France next month.

"I am fed up with all the lies since I was left out of the team," the deposed Springbok captain said in the Afrikaans-language Beeld newspaper.

Markgraaff shocked South African rugby on Saturday when he said there was no place for Pienaar in his vision of the game's future in South Africa.

"First, the coach said I have no role in the future of South African rugby," Pienaar was quoted as saying. "Then it was said this meant only the immediate future. Then this was followed by statements that I had no role in the touring squad, that I was not available for the tour, that I had withdrawn myself. Where is it all going to end?"

He said Markgraaff, appointed earlier this year to replace Kitch Christie, had yet to tell him about the decision to drop him. One of Markgraaff's two fellow selectors, Ray Mordt, quit the selection panel on Monday. "I did not support Markgraaff in his decision," Mordt said.

The Springboks play their first Test against Argentina in Buenos Aires on 9 November.

n England, the holders, will meet Romania in their pool of the 1997 Sevens World Cup in Hong Kong, while one of the qualifiers from next month's tournament in Dubai - from which Wales and Scotland are aiming to come through - will complete Pool A for the opening-day matches on 21 March.

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