The British and Irish Lions will definitely be without their first-choice prop forwards, Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones, when they attempt to salvage something from the remnants of an engrossing Test series at Ellis Park this weekend. Last night, the fall-out from Saturday's epic match in Pretoria continued when the Springboks lost two of their own elite forwards, the flanker Schalk Burger and the lock Bakkies Botha, who were suspended for their part in the worst of the violent excesses perpetrated at Loftus Versfeld.
Burger was banned for two months after being found guilty of gouging the Irish wing Luke Fitzgerald in the opening seconds of the game, won by South Africa with the final kick. Television footage clearly showed the Western Province player scratching at Fitzgerald's eyes, yet it took the Canadian judicial officer Alan Hudson more than 12 hours to deliver his verdict. Many in European rugby will consider Burger's punishment to be lenient in light of the stiffer sentences handed down in similar cases involving the Northampton forward Neil Best and the Munster player Alan Quinlan, who would have played on this tour but for the 12-week suspension he received in May.
Botha was banned for a fortnight for the dangerous charge that left the unfortunate Jones nursing a dislocated shoulder, but it was Burger's entanglement with Fitzgerald that most infuriated the Lions, not least because the flanker was shown a yellow card rather than a straight red. The tourists were very nearly as incensed by the after-match reaction of the Springboks' head coach Peter de Villiers, who blithely pronounced that the incident was not even worthy of 10 minutes in the sin bin, let alone outright dismissal.
"If that's what he said, I'm very disappointed," said De Villiers' opposite number, Ian McGeechan. "I can't see gouging as part of the game. Certainly, it's not a part of any game with which I'd want to be associated. There are always one or two things in a Test match: in respect of this contest, it was partly our own approach – our determination to play the rugby we wanted to play, and our understanding that if we were to do that we could not afford to be afraid of the physical confrontation – that made it was it was. But I can't condone an action like the one we're talking about and I'd hate to see it happen again. It should have been an automatic red card."
While Fitzgerald was able to stay the course, despite suffering from blurred vision, Jones, the tight-head prop from Wales, was nowhere near so fortunate. After being clattered by Botha early in the second half, he was led from the field by Lions medical staff who, finding they were unable to put the shoulder back in place at the stadium, sent him to hospital for emergency surgery. "He said he enjoyed the anaesthetic and spent Saturday night asking for more," reported James Robson, the Lions' senior medic. "Such is the black humour of rugby."
McGeechan is now in difficult territory. With only one game remaining of the 10-match programme, he has decided against sending for reinforcements, primarily because he already has two extra props at his disposal in Tim Payne and John Hayes. Their presence means there is adequate cover for both Jones and Jenkins, who fractured a cheekbone and underwent surgery to have a protective plastic plate inserted in the right side of his face. However, the casualty list elsewhere is alarmingly long, with Brian O'Driscoll suffering from a serious concussion, Ronan O'Gara badly cut over the left eye and two of the tour's most impressive backs, wing Tommy Bowe and centre Jamie Roberts, struggling with elbow and wrist problems respectively.
"It was a fairly brutal game," acknowledged Robson. "In fact, it was one of the most distressing games I can remember, especially with regards to Gethin and Adam. The more you get into a tour like this, the more you learn to love these guys. To lose two of the most colourful people in the party, if not the most talkative, is very sad."
Much of the Lions side for the final Test, to be played at a venue where the Springboks have not lost since 2001 appears to pick itself. Andrew Sheridan, who made a striking impact off the bench at the weekend, should join Matthew Rees and a recalled Phil Vickery in the front row; elsewhere, McGeechan is likely to limit himself to minor adjustments here and there. If, on the face of it, this final fixture has a strong whiff of the thankless task about it, the Lions are at least determined to give it their best shot.
"We could so easily have been 2-0 up in this series rather than 2-0 down," said Gerald Davies, the manager. "I don't believe this team deserve to fly home having lost all three Tests. If we are in need of a motivating factor ahead of such a game, that is it." For his part, McGeechan added: "We're a hugely proud group and we'll take that pride onto the field with us at Ellis Park."
Yesterday, those Lions still blessed with the use of all four limbs and in complete charge of their faculties left Pretoria for a 30-hour safari at the Entabeni game park. If their luck in the Test series is anything to go by, their convoy of jeeps will be attacked by rogue elephants and they will see the outsized Sheridan eaten whole by an angry rhinoceros.
Mauled Lions and battered Boks: The weekend's wounded
*Gethin Jenkins (Lions prop). Underwent surgery on fractured cheekbone. Now has plastic plate in his face.
*Adam Jones (Lions prop). Could be out for nine months after suffering shoulder dislocation.
*Brian O'Driscoll (Lions centre). Concussed in collision with Danie Rossouw. Will need clearance from neurosurgeon to play in final Test.
*Ronan O'Gara (Lions outside-half). Deep cut and heavy swelling over left eye. Bleeding into eye means vision is restricted.
*Jamie Roberts (Lions centre). Required hospital treatment on wrist injury. No fracture, but may miss the final Test.
*Tommy Bowe (Lions wing). Taken to hospital with elbow injury, which should ease in time for this week's match.
*Danie Rossouw (Springbok flanker). Had to be helped from the field after he was heavily concussed following O'Driscoll's tackle.
*Jean de Villiers (Springbok centre). Wrenched wrist. Off after an hour.Reuse content