Rugby Union: Geldenhuys unpunished, France incensed

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THE French are relishing the precious chance to be holier-than-thou and by last night l'affaire Geldenhuys - the first-Test left-hander by the South African forward Adri Geldenhuys which laid out Abdel Benazzi - had turned into a diplomatic incident.

Publicly, French rugby officialdom has kept its criticism low key and inoffensive but privately, they have made plain that, now that the immemorial problem of violence in French rugby is being addressed, others must follow suit. 'We have changed our behaviour and I hope that South African rugby will be able to do the same,' Bernard Lapasset, the French federation president, said.

Of those queuing up yesterday to give an opinion, Jo Maso, the brilliant centre of the Seventies, wanted Geldenhuys banned for two years. But in fact the South African management has no intention of doing anything about the 6ft 5in lock, whose haymaker was Benazzi's punishment for daring to win a line-out. The Australian referee, Brian Kinsey, eventually penalised Geldenhuys after an intervention by the English touch-judge, Tony Spreadbury.

Benazzi could still remember nothing about it yesterday: 'It was a terrible thing to do - whoever it was.' Geldenhuys said the punch had been unintentional, in which case his co-ordination must be terrible. The endlessly repeated TV slow-motion replay shows his claim to be complete nonsense.

'It's life,' Geldenhuys added philosophically, and his in rugby has been notably turbulent. His reputation for being free with his fists, solidly built back home, already extended to France, where last season with Tarbes was marked by incidents against Beziers, Brive and Pau, for whom Hari Dumitras, the captain of Romania, had been on as a replacement about 45 seconds when he was poleaxed.

Yesterday's irony was that, Benazzi's cheek having been shown to be intact, Geldenhuys then had to have an X-ray himself on his now-famous left hand. But he, too, was clear, meaning that he will play in the second Test in Paris on Saturday. And that would further exasperate the French, whose disciplinary campaign included dropping the self-same Benazzi from last summer's tour to Argentina.

'There was one brutality in the game - and it was not French. For us that is a victory. Now let everyone else take his responsibility,' Lapasset said. And Marcel Martin, the federation's secretary, added: 'We are not pushing them to take sanctions but we are making them understand that we know what happened. If Benazzi were more seriously hurt, our action would be more pressing.'

The Springboks could have done with other distractions than this on a wretched, rain-sodden day in Beziers, though their ignorance of the language shields them from the worst that the French media are throwing at them. There will no such protection once they arrive in England on Sunday week.

The second-string team who will face Languedoc at the magnificent Stade de la Mediterranee tonight contain only the prop Johan Styger of those who beat France 20-15 in Lyons. However probable an unchanged selection for the second Test may be, it is not yet a certainty, and van Rensburg, Hendriks and Andrews all have a slim chance of advancement. The French would not always have been so pleased to have a noted disciplinarian like Fred Howard as their referee.

LANGUEDOC: P Bonhoure (Beziers); P Fabre (Montpellier), S Rouche, P Bondouy, J-P Bullich (Narbonne); D Camberabero (Beziers), P Cances (Montpellier); J-J Pineda (Narbonne), D Bes, C Musset (Montpellier), F Dejean (Narbonne, capt), J-F Gourragne, P Chamayou (Beziers), G Bourguignon, S Dispagne (Narbonne).

SOUTH AFRICA: T van Rensburg (Transvaal); D Ooosthuysen (Northern Transvaal), H Fuls (Transvaal), F Knoetze (Western Province), P Hendriks; H le Roux (Transvaal), R du Preez (Natal, capt); J Styger (Orange Free State), H Roberts (Transvaal), K Andrews (Western Province), S Atherton (Natal), D Hattingh, P Pretorius (Northern Transvaal), I MacDonald (Transvaal), B Rossouw (Western Transvaal).

Referee: F Howard (England).