Rugby Union: England look back in anger at Boet battle

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND'S battered tour party arrived at their final destination yesterday with their minds still wandering back to the battle of Boet Erasmus rather than fixing on the task imminently ahead in Saturday's second Test against South Africa at Newlands.

If Tim Rodber can scarcely believe his luck that he is not out of the Test match after being sent off, Jonathan Callard can scarcely believe that Elandre van den Berg, the Eastern Province lock whose boot left his face a bloody mess needing 25 stitches, is also free to play as soon as he cares to.

Yesterday, the recriminations began in earnest as England pulled out of Port Elizabeth and, having reached Cape Town, deferred choosing their Test team until today. If the actual XV are a foregone conclusion after last Saturday's heroics in Pretoria, the bench has become a selectorial quandary post-Boet.

Callard and Graham Rowntree would have been on it but for being injured on Tuesday and John Mallett, who would ideally take Rowntree's place, is nursing a hand injury. He is not the only one: Dean Ryan broke his thumb throwing a punch almost as soon as the EP game had begun. England's vulnerability to counter- charges of foul play of their own may have made them understandably wary of laying a formal complaint against Van den Berg.

As he was dealt with by the referee, if only to the extent of a penalty and a rebuke, Van den Berg is ineligible for the citing procedure. But there is nothing to stop the tour management formally protesting to the EP Rugby Union or the South African parent body.

That this is not the management's intention has been cynically interpreted here as evidence of some sort of trade-off between the two managers, who were the ones who decided Rodber's dismissal and that of Simon Tremain of EP were sufficient punishment - to the undisguised chagrin of the EP official who chaired the committee.

Rodber threw 10 punches and was properly dismissed but Van den Berg's assault had occurred only two minutes earlier and Rodber suggested yesterday that his astonishment at the referee's inaction after his touch judge had clearly idenitifed the severity of the offence may well have affected his subsequent actions.

'It's something I will regret for the rest of my life,' he said. 'There were incidents in the game but that doesn't detract from the fact that I had two options and I took the wrong one. The referee had every right to send me off. It's a tremendous embarrassment to me and my country.'

Rodber has been spoken to by the management and, as a bonus, by the RFU president, Ian Beer, about conduct unbecoming of an officer in the Green Howards. Beer then issued his own written statement yesterday expressing his disquiet at Callard's injury.

'I was appalled by certain incidents and by the injuries sustained by England players, particularly that to Jonathan Callard where I believe stronger action should have been taken,' it read. 'The RFU has never condoned violence and it greatly regrets the circumstances which led to the dismissal of Tim Rodber and an Eastern Province player.'

Beer also accepted disciplinary panel's decision - a curious consent given that he was the one who kicked up a fuss when another England player, Phil de Glanville, had his face opened by All Blacks boots at Redruth eight months ago and no action was taken.

Callard, half his face a hideous black-and-blue of sutures, scratching and bruising, is thankful that the kick did not strike half an inch to his left. 'I'm not after any personal revenge but something should be done,' he said yesterday. 'I don't believe it was an accident; you don't get that sort of injury through accidents. The same thing is going to happen until something really serious happens.' The new, unimproved face of Callard will be presented to his pupils at Downside School on Tuesday.