James Lawton: Authorities must blow away stench of Burger

The posturing of Bakkies Botha was also a travesty of sportsmanship

There were reasons to believe the Lions tour would end in tears, but it was hard to imagine that they would be quite so filled by such a toxic combination of rage and disgust. This is only an overwrought sentiment if you believe that it is acceptable anywhere in international sport, even among its very dregs, its sleaziest corners, to allow a player to remain on the field after a psychopathic act that caused him to defile everything and everyone he subsequently touched.

Schalk Burger happens to be an outstanding flanker, the winner of 50 caps and, no, perhaps he isn't Hannibal Lecter, but if seeking out and gouging the eye of an opponent not much more than half your size who is lying on his back at the time is not evidence of psychopathic behaviour, not stripped of all conscience or awareness of consequences, it is hard to know what is.

The world saw Burger do this and so did a touch judge, who behaved admirably in all but the uttering of a sentence, which should haunt him and the rest of the game until another such outrage comes along, but of course won't. The offending words of advice to the referee were: "At least a yellow card."

What do you have to do to stitch on a red card? It is maybe just a little too easy to heap all the blame on the perceived moral cowardice of French referee Christophe Berdos, who settled for that least possible punishment for reasons he alone knows but at which we can only speculate, because surely there is nothing logical, or moral, to support his decision.

No doubt he was aware that to reduce the Springboks to 14 men so early in the Boer temple of Loftus Versfeld would have made him the least popular man on the highveld – and bring serious imbalance to a much anticipated Test match. Whatever the reason, Berdos failed both the game and himself, but then how seriously did he let down a rugby world which, like it or not, sees some degree of institutionalised violence as an integral part of the game's appeal?

Here we wade into rugby's moral vacuum. The cavern was dug even deeper by the South African coach, Peter de Villiers, whose appointment many saw as having limited virtue beyond an affirmation of a new South Africa – and a new South African rugby where skin colour, theoretically but not practically, as we saw in his landing the job, was no longer of significance. But then after Saturday what has De Villiers come to represent? Is it a bold new day for South African rugby or, in his sickening dismissal of the significance of Burger's behaviour, a tolerance of some of the worst sins of rugby's past and present?

Here was De Villiers on the Burger affair: "I don't think he should have been carded at all. If you dissect the whole game you will see yellow cards that were missed. This is sport. This is what it is all about. People have their opinions and we will honour whatever is decided, but we don't have a problem with it." Not least shocking is the idea that the South African rugby authorities will fail to indicate that they have a problem with a coach capable of such a statement.

No doubt the Lions did not behave entirely in the way of the angels and it is difficult to argue with the suggestion that Brian O'Driscoll might have received 10 minutes in the sin bin if he hadn't already consigned himself for a stint in La-La land with a hit on Danie Rossouw that did not seem to be distinguished by any obvious attempt at a legal tackle. O'Driscoll has had a magnificent tour and fully vindicated those who said how dull it was of the selectors to hand the captaincy to his Irish team-mate Paul O'Connell. But then in the Rossouw matter he crossed the line, albeit out in the open as a full-blown hit man, not some big snake lumbering in the grass. Lawrence Dallaglio described the collision as awesome, and so it was. But legal? Almost certainly not.

The Test was certainly thrilling if you could get the stench of Burger out of your nostrils and it confirmed the belief sown in Durban the week before that, as a force of imagination and style, the Lions had had no reason to be sheepish in Pretoria.

And nor were they, with inspiring performances from Rob Kearney at the back and Simon Shaw almost everywhere. We know all about the virtues of the world champions and their victory, while cruel on the Lions, was another example of a superior competitive streak. However, if ever a triumph demanded a huge asterisk it was this one. Whatever anyone did, it was contaminated by the action of Burger.

The posturing of Bakkies Botha was in a different category but it was also a travesty of sportsmanship, a leering, bully-boy performance that fully justified his disciplinary citing alongside Burger.

So what happens to the Lions now? They go to Johannesburg no doubt in search of a little revenge, but what they will not be able to dislodge is the idea that perhaps the very concept of their existence is all played out. They went to South Africa insufficiently rested, prepared and respected. They were obliged to knock over second-rate, if sometimes vicious, opposition, while the cream of the world champions rested up for their visits to the big stages.

The impression that the current Lions are the remnants of a once great tradition can only be underlined by the fact that for a second successive tour they go into the final game with nothing to play for but their pride.

Players like O'Driscoll and Stephen Jones deserve something more than such long-odds experience. If the Lions are to live, and perhaps roar again, they have to be once more regarded as an adornment of rugby rather than an inconvenience, albeit a money-spinning one.

As it was, in Pretoria they were the victims of an appalling mugging. A great Test? Maybe in some respects but, still, pass one of those aerosols that sweeten the air.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
Life and Style
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions