Rowntree backs O'Driscoll's de Villiers comments

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The Independent Online

British and Irish Lions assistant coach Graham Rowntree has backed Brian O'Driscoll's condemnation of comments made by South Africa boss Peter de Villiers that he appeared to condone eye gouging.

Springboks flanker Schalk Burger was cited and banned for eight weeks after making contact with the eye area of Lions wing Luke Fitzgerald during last Saturday's second Test in Pretoria.

De Villiers, though, speaking immediately after the match, said he felt the incident had not even warranted the yellow card Burger received from French referee Christophe Berdos.

De Villiers has subsequently apologised for his remarks, but they have left a sour taste in the Lions camp ahead of this weekend's third Test at Ellis Park.

O'Driscoll, who flew home injured from the tour today, labelled De Villiers' comments "an absolute disgrace" and "despicable".

And Rowntree has now voiced his disapproval of an episode that has threatened to overshadow the Test series.

Asked about De Villiers' statements, Rowntree said: "It was completely out of order - crass, pathetic.

"It is ridiculous what he said. You cannot get away with making those comments.

"There is no room for gouging in the game. Why players would even do it with all the cameras that are around is beyond me.

"We are upset by it, but we are quite happy to move on. It has been done and dealt with."

The Lions today continued their preparations for the series finale, when they will only have pride to play for after losing the first two Tests.

O'Driscoll, together with props Gethyn Jenkins and Adam Jones, has been ruled out of the game through injury.

Andrew Sheridan and Phil Vickery are favourites to start in the front row, with either Riki Flutey or Keith Earls replacing O'Driscoll in midfield.

Wales centre Jamie Roberts is expected to be fit for the weekend after suffering a wrist injury in Pretoria, while Vickery is suffering from a throat infection that should not prevent him from being available for selection.

And wing Tommy Bowe has recovered from an elbow problem and was able to take a full part in training this morning.

Lions head coach Ian McGeechan plans to announce his third Test line-up tomorrow, anxious to avoid another defeat that would mean South Africa recording a series whitewash for the first time in 118 years of fixtures between the sides.