David Flatman: I might well be a gouger but I can look myself in eye

View from the front row with Bath & England prop
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The Independent Online

Every player has been gouged at some stage. François Pienaar once told me: "If you never get gouged or goosed [I assumed this meant the testicle grab] then you're not in the way enough." Possibly not a view my grandmother would share, but certainly one that, a few years ago at least, proved pretty accurate.

And while it is well wide of the mark to proclaim that all players have, at some point, gouged a man themselves, it is probably fair to assume that we have all "made contact with the eye area" from time to time. You see, in my opinion, there is a huge difference between these two descriptions of what is supposed to be the same act. To me, gouging is the conscious effort to put your fingers into another player's eye in order to intimidate, punish or injure him. However, there are times, especially in this era of accuracy and small margins at the breakdown, when you fly in with intent but manage to miss the defender threatening to steal the ball.

It is at this point you find yourself grabbing and grappling at any part of him you can to get him off the thing. Heads are tugged at, along with hands, legs, shorts, scrum caps, anything. No malicious intent, just a desire to keep the game going.

The French always used to have a bad reputation for foul play but this seemed to die off somewhat when the cameras arrived en masse. "Can't get away with anything these days, CCTV gets you," is my 74-year-old neighbour's weekly lament of choice.

Julien Dupuy has done his best to send rugby back to the dark ages. I was watching Stade's match with Ulster when he had a go at Stephen Ferris's eyes and noticed it straight away. Gladly it quickly became apparent that all eyeballs were intact. A few things popped into my mind upon seeing all this; firstly, he chose to attack a man who was stuck on his back and rendered defenceless. Secondly, he targeted an area so delicate that even a man so monstrous as Ferris was instantly terrified. Then, once the television replay hysteria had died down a bit, I thought of the potential repercussions for the offender.

A ban was a certainty, but how long? Having witnessed Schalk Burger get just eight weeks for what looked a nasty bit of eye work, a small part of me (actually my right boot) rather hoped Dupuy might be free to play when we travel to Paris in January. In fact, he was given six months on the sidelines instead. This level of inconsistency is ultimately ridiculous but, in reality, just makes Burger's sentence seem like some sort of favour. Dupuy deserves every day of those six months because what he did was against the rules and could seriously have hurt another player. But apart from all that (the stats on serious injury through gouging make scrummaging look like nuclear warfare), he revealed himself to be an utter coward. Talented, yes, genial even, but in essence the sort of man who might wait for someone else to do the battle winning before putting the boot in and claiming victory.

Soon enough Dupuy will be back on the field and his reception will be an interesting one. Of course, there will be the odd bicep-curling cretin who will joke with him while winking, nudging and congratulating him on his machismo, but I truly hope that there are also men intent on making him feel less welcome. Because, no matter how visible we have become, rugby is still a rough game. The floor is still a danger zone for those who choose to offend, where retribution is sought and scores are settled. As long as the code is adhered to and the important, soft bits are left alone, we wouldn't have it any other way.

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