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.

A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn