O'Driscoll rounds on De Villiers
Ireland captain departs tour with attack on Bok coach's 'mind-boggling' views
Wednesday 01 July 2009
Another day on the highveld, another few tons of toxic fall-out from the second and decisive South Africa-British Isles Test in Pretoria last weekend. Brian O'Driscoll, who has cemented his reputation as the world's best outside centre during this tour but will not complete it because of the serious concussion he suffered at Loftus Versfeld, marked his premature departure from the squad by aiming some sharp comments at Peter de Villiers, the increasingly eccentric Springbok head coach whose reaction to some of the more violent excesses perpetrated by his players has caused ructions over the past 96 hours.
De Villiers' claim that Schalk Burger's blatant gouging of the Lions wing Luke Fitzgerald did not merit a 10-minute spell in the sin bin, followed by his pronouncement that those concerned about some of the extreme acts witnessed in Pretoria should "go to the nearest ballet shop and buy a tutu" drew a stinging response from O'Driscoll who, like the injured tight-head prop Adam Jones, was scheduled to fly home today.
"When I heard those comments, I wondered how someone could get away with something like that," said the 30-year-old Dubliner, who was invalided out of the last Lions tour in 2005 after being dropped on his shoulder from a considerable height by two All Blacks. "Someone made a really good point to me that for parents wondering whether their kids should play rugby or football, an interview like that meant the decision was made right there. To hear a national coach saying in any shape or form that gouging was acceptable... it was despicable.
"I found it mind-boggling. Essentially, it brought the game into disrepute. The International Rugby Board are involved now and rightly so. If he was trying to ease the sentence on one of his players, I can't believe he thought for a second that Burger would get away with it."
O'Driscoll has enjoyed a spectacularly successful season, leading Ireland to a first Grand Slam in more than 60 years and winning a Heineken Cup title with Leinster. But the pain of losing a Lions Test series for the third time in less than a decade will not ease quickly. "What I hate is that it is the last chapter that will prey on my holidays a little bit," he admitted. "It's the taste that's left in the mouth. In another year, I'd have been on a complete high throughout the whole summer. Now, I'm left with the feeling that I've been involved in three Lions tours and lost all of them, although this has been an incredibly enjoyable trip – way more enjoyable than the other two."
Across town in the Springbok camp, the victors confirmed that while they accepted the eight-week ban slapped on the errant Burger, they would appeal against the two-week suspension imposed on the lock Bakkies Botha for the dangerous challenge that dislocated Jones' right shoulder and put the Welshman out of this weekend's final Test at Ellis Park. The world champions are furious at what they consider the unfair persecution of their man, believing that his reputation as an aggressive player, combined with the seriousness of the injury suffered by Jones, outweighed the fact that Botha had done nothing more than "clean out" a ruck in time-honoured fashion.
"We are very concerned that people are jumping on the bandwagon here," said Dick Muir, one of the assistant coaches. "We didn't see any wrongdoing in Bakkies' case, and we feel that but for the injury, nothing would have been said about it. If you're not allowed to clear out a ruck, what is the game coming to? There was no reason for him to be cited."
Naturally there was another memorable little speech from De Villiers to lighten the mood of the day, even though he had been ordered to mind his "p's and q's", both by the Springboks' own legal team and by IRB officials. Asked whether the treatment of Botha had tempted him to press for the citing of one or more Lions players for their role in the Pretoria violence, he replied: "As little boys, we played a game called tit-for-tat: you take my marbles, I take your top. We've outgrown that." Quite whether the coach ever retrieved his marbles is, according to most South African rugby pundits, a moot point.
Meanwhile, Rugby World Cup board members have voted to recommend England as hosts of the tournament in 2015, with Japan their preferred venue for the 2019 competition. South Africa and Italy were also among the bidders, but Bernard Lapasset, the RWC chairman, said this solution would "achieve a balance between funding the global game and developing new rugby markets". A final decision will be taken by the IRB council later this month.
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