Rugby Union: Rodber sent off but spared Test ban: Northampton forward becomes only second England player in history to be given marching orders

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The Independent Online
Eastern Province. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13

England . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .31

ENGLAND nearly paid a fearful price for their useful and well-deserved win at Boet Erasmus last night when Tim Rodber, their outstanding forward in the first Test against South Africa, was sent off for punching.

But Rodber then had the extreme good fortune that the disciplinary committee, convened after the match, let him off with no further punishment than the sending-off itself. Remarkably, he will be free to take his place in Saturday's second Test in Cape Town.

Rodber, normally the epitome of discipline as an officer in the Green Howards, was not even supposed to be playing, but a succession of English injuries included one to Dean Ryan, who Rodber replaced as No 8 and captain.

He is only the second England player ever to have suffered the ultimate sanction, following the Gloucester prop Mike Burton, who was sent off against Australia in Brisbane in 1975. The explosion occurred after 29 minutes with England close to the Eastern Province line.

As Steve Ojomoh was stopped short, so Rodber was grabbed by one opponent on the ground and hit by Simon Tremain. The red mist descended and Rodber repaid Tremain tenfold, was dismissed for his pains and, after a touch judge had intervened, Tremain - son of the late, great All Black Kelvin - accompanied him after an inordinate delay while disbelief and protest were registered.

Tremain also escaped with sending-off sufficient. The leniency of the sentences outraged Johan Westerveld, the EP official chairing the disciplinary committee, who said: 'I must say it was not unanimous. I condemn the action of the players concerned in the strongest terms possible.' The committee also comprised the respective team managers.

The incident had been followed by the obligatory mass brawl, persuading Paul van Blommestein, a histrionic and miserably inadequate referee, that someone had to walk. Rodber could scarcely complain, though England could and did that they had encountered yet another grossly unsympathetic South African referee.

'The match was littered with unsavoury incidents, all of which could have been prevented with strong refereeing,' Dick Best, the chastened England coach, said. 'Every now and then there were flare-ups which should have been sorted out early on. It can become very dangerous if the man in charge does not take charge of the game.' The casualty list included Ryan and John Mallett, both with broken hands; Graham Rowntree, who had staggered off having been knocked out cold; and Jonathan Callard, who required 25 stitches to close two head wounds opened up by a stamping. Martin Mostert, the Eastern Province captain, had a broken nose.

The tourists cannot say they had not been warned, both about a referee widely touted as the worst they would have here, and Eastern Province, who are the wild things of South African rugby with a reputation - fully justified on this evidence - for ill-discipline and niggly lack of control.

To a degree, England fell for it. Greg Halford, another EP New Zealander, and Jaco Kirsten were constantly either offside or putting it about, not to mention whingeing at a referee who gave England far more cause for complaint. Steve Bates, carrying gallantry beyond the call of duty, was the only player of either side prepared to shake his hand at the end.

When the England team trudged off, they were greeted in the dressing-room by a standing ovation from their non-playing colleagues. Photographers were invited in to record the gruesome catalogue of injuries including Callard's disfigured forehead.

In a sense England were fortunate that none of their casualties was a Test player. But their probable bench against the Springboks has lost Callard and Rowntree, and Graham Dawe should not have played on. In addition, England could have done without having to put Victor Ubogu and Rory Underwood, let alone Rodber, into a match four days before a Test.

The Callard incident was actually much worse than the fight and the tour management are seriously considering whether to cite Elandre van den Berg, the EP lock responsible. The touch judge who drew the referee's attention to the attack, Neville Heilbron, identified that it was a deliberate kick, but Van Blommestein confined himself to a penalty.

Occasional rugby did take place, though there were so many comings-and-goings by injured players, quite apart by those sent off, that the game had a staccato tenor throughout. In the circumstances, the three English tries were splendidly created and taken.

Rodber had not long departed when a precious attacking scrum was exploited by Ojomoh for Bates to score on the blind side. Twice in the second half England pieced together sufficient continuity and accuracy of pass for Paul Hull to squeeze in at the corner.

Eastern Province: Try Fourie; Conversion Kruger; Penalties Kruger 2. England: Tries Hull 2, Bates; Conversions Catt 2; Penalties Callard 2, Catt 2.

EASTERN PROVINCE: A Fourie (Despatch); A Markow (Crusaders), R Potgieter (Despatc), F Crouse, M van Vuuren (Police); B Kruger (Port Elizabeth University), A Coetzee; G Halford (Harlequins), J Kirsten (Crusaders), W Meyer (Despatch), A Geldenhuys, E van den Berg (Despatch), M Mostert (Crusaders, capt), H Karele (Despatch), S Tremain (PE University). Replacements: D Marshall (Police) for Markow, 57; N Meyer (Despatch) for Mostert, 72; M Knoetze (Crusaders) for Coetzee, 79.

ENGLAND: J Callard (Bath); P Hull (Bristol), D Hopley (Wasps), S Potter (Leicester), A Adebayo; M Catt (Bath), S Bates (Wasps); G Rowntree (Leicester), G Dawe, J Mallett (Bath), S Shaw (Bristol), M Poole (Leicester), L Dallaglio, D Ryan (Wasps, capt), S Ojomoh (Bath). Replacements: T Rodber (Northampton) for Ryan, 7; V Ubogu (Bath) for Rowntree, 22; R Underwood (Leicester) for Callard, 27.

Referee: P van Blommestein (Cape Town).

(Photograph omitted)