Rugby Union: 'I clamped my teeth into his forearm'

Jonathan Davies confesses to biting in his playing days - but only in self-defence
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The Independent Online
CONFESSING to the sin of biting an opponent doesn't seem to be a popular pastime at the moment but, if it will help, I will own up to once sinking my teeth into the forearm of a large and extremely tough forward.

The fact that it happened 12 years ago should save me from being cited. In any case, there aren't any witnesses and the man I bit was so hard I don't think he even noticed.

I was playing for Neath and our opponents were another Welsh club who had better not be named. The forward, who will definitely remain anonymous, was on a rampaging run for our try-line when I tackled him - although tackle might not be the exact word. Let's just say I stood in his way and he, being several inches taller and about five stones heavier, over- balanced and fell on top of me.

We lay over the goal-line with the ball between our bodies. I had managed to get two hands on the ball while he had only one. While he was trying to prise the ball out of my grasp and touch it down with his one hand, the other arm was grinding into my face.

His forearm was lying across my nose, mouth and jaw and trying to crush all three into powder. Not only was the pain excruciating, I could hardly breathe. There was only one thing I could do. I clamped my teeth into his forearm and clenched my jaws so hard that my gumshield dug into my upper gums, flooding my mouth with my own blood.

My other option, I suppose, would have been to let him have the ball. But that didn't occur to me until much later. As it was, he didn't manage to score and he calmly got up and walked away, leaving me with a mouth that throbbed for days. He never said a word after the game and, as far as I know, is still unaware that he was a biting victim.

Mind you, his arm was protected by a thick sleeve. Had it been his ear, the bite might not have gone unnoticed. This is not an attempt to make light of what happened to the London Scottish flanker Simon Fenn last weekend but to illustrate that most of what happens on a rugby field should not be taken out of its context.

What caused me to bite someone was not malicious intent but my instinct for survival. And biting is one of our earliest instincts - which you can prove for yourself if you make the mistake of putting a finger into a baby's mouth to see if its teeth are coming through.

For a player to go on to the pitch with the intention of biting an opponent if he gets the chance is disgraceful. There is no excuse for pre-meditated malevolence and the punishment should be severe. But an experience like mine does offer some mitigation and in scrums, rucks and mauls the teeth are often the only form of defence a player possesses.

Imagine if someone has your testicles in a vice-like grip and his ear is temptingly close. The pain will force you to take the obvious action. All you can hope for is that the ear belongs to the same person who is putting the squeeze on you.

The first lesson you learn in rugby is to look after yourself. It is a wonderful game but physical force and intimidation play a large part in deciding who wins. It has always been like that. You can't blame professionalism for it. All professionalism has done is make everyone more aware of the violence that can arise and to alert everyone to the compensation to be earned through the courts.

At the time of writing, nobody had admitted chewing a hole needing 25 stitches in Fenn's ear. It is difficult to volunteer yourself for a lengthy ban and all the discredit that will accompany it. It is possible that it wasn't a bite at all but something like an accidental tread of a boot. It is amazing that those who were there - players, officials and supporters - seem so vague about it.

Perhaps the furore might cause players to be less inclined to do any nasty stuff. Biting is only one of the sins. Stamping can be just as unpleasant and dangerous. I believe that eye-gouging is the worst of all. You can't compare the loss of an eye to an ear.

I got badly gouged once in rugby league. I only stopped it by swinging a punch. I ended up in the sin-bin but my eye was intact. It is no good saying that you should never retaliate. It is sometimes necessary for self-defence.

There's an old joke about a union star going north to league and getting a right bashing in his first match. He appealed to the referee to protect him and the ref replied: "At the money you're getting, you can look after yourself." Having been through it, I can tell you that attitude was not far from the truth.

Now it applies to union as well and, unless the authorities can shine a spotlight into the dark areas of the game, it will continue to apply.