Rugby Union: South African out on his ear for biting arm

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SIMON FENN will not be remotely amused at the thought, but rugby's disciplinarians have reached the bizarre conclusion that the value of a player's arm is precisely three times that of his ear. Wickus van Heerden, a South African flanker, was yesterday given an 18-month suspension for biting Richard Harry, the Australian Test prop; a sentence that bore little comparison to the six-month ban recently imposed on Kevin Yates, the lobe-chewing loose-head from Bath.

Van Heerden admitted applying his teeth to some prime Wallaby brachial flesh during a spiteful Super 12 match between the New South Wales Waratahs and the appropriately named Coastal Sharks in Sydney on Sunday. "I didn't think it was in his repertoire, but if you do the crime, you do the time," Harry remarked on hearing of his assailant's sentence.

Under Super 12 rules, Van Heerden was liable to a maximum suspension of two years, but an unblemished disciplinary record stretching back to 1987 was taken into consideration by the citing panel. The cases of two other Sharks were also considered: Chris Roussow, the Springbok World Cup-winning hooker, received a three-week ban for stamping, while Mark Andrews, the outstanding Test second row who was sent off for s similar offence, escaped further punishment.

Van Heerden, who plans to appeal against the severity of his ban, is not the first South African to pay a heavy penalty for baring his teeth in anger. Johan le Roux, a Springbok prop of notorious reputation, was suspended for 19 months in 1994 after biting Sean Fitzpatrick, the New Zealand captain, on the ear. Le Roux's record-breaking sentence was reduced on appeal.

The weekend events in Sydney served to highlight the apparent leniency of the Rugby Football Union's dealings with Yates, who was found guilty of biting Fenn, another Australian, during a cup match between Bath and London Scottish in January. Yates continues to protest his innocence and is still considering taking his case to the High Court, but he is back in full training with his club and will be available for selection in August.

A number of New South Wales players complained of eye-gouging during their most recent trip to South Africa and Harry expressed concern yesterday about falling standards in discipline among the Springbok Super 12 provinces.

"I thought they'd been pretty good for some time, but it looks like they're reverting to the behaviour with which they were synonymous when they first came back into international rugby in 1992," he said. "It's a shame, because they're up there in the top three in the world. They'll have to deal with it internally."

Meanwhile, the RFU yesterday revealed the names of the four negotiators who will get their teeth into new talks with the professional clubs over the next three weeks. Graham Smith, the former manager of the England A team, and Malcolm Phillip, an ex-international centre and long-serving RFU council member for Lancashire, will be joined by Trevor Richmond, chairman of the National Clubs Association, and Terry Burwell, once a successful director of rugby at Newbury and now director of Twickenham services.

The quartet is charged with hammering out an agreement with the clubs on a wide range of divisive issues, notably player contracts and fixture scheduling. Peter Brook, the RFU president, took personal control of the four appointments following last week's decision to remove Cliff Brittle, the management board chairman, from the talks - a development that led directly to Fran Cotton's resignation as vice-chairman on Saturday.