Peter Bills: Rugby must rid itself of vile cheats

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The Independent Online

You've got to hand it to them. Some rugby coaches and officials are just masterminds at re-writing history.

Not one but TWO Stade Francais players are cited, found guilty and heavily punished for the vile act of eye gouging in the Heineken Cup match this season between Ulster and the Paris-based club. The same player, Ulster flanker Stephen Ferris, was twice targetted, firstly by scrum half Julien Dupuy and then his tight head prop colleague David Attoub.

Dupuy received a 24 week suspension which he immediately appealed. That appeal received the derisory verdict it deserved – the suspension was cut to 23 weeks. Dupuy misses the rest of the season.

David Attoub, the cauliflower-eared player who won a single cap for France in 2006 whilst with the Castres club, followed Dupuy into the dock. His case was carefully prepared and for good reason, it turned out. For Attoub had previous as an eye-gouger; it was being alleged that he had adopted his old, vile tricks once again.

Found guilty as charged, Attoub was banned for a stinging 70 weeks. The message was clear – eye gougers will simply not be permitted to remain in this game.

It is, of course, a great shame that on other continents such foul acts are treated very differently. Springbok flanker Schalk Burger picked up a pathetic 8-week ban for gouging Irish wing Luke Fitzgerald during the Lions 2nd Test in Pretoria last June.

And can anyone tell me when a player was last cited for such an act in the French Top 14? Or are we invited to believe such behaviour never occurs across the channel? Why, Beziers lock Michel Palmie once blinded an opponent in an eye with his fingers. In fairness, he never played for France again.

But notwithstanding all that, how sad it was to hear a great man of rugby like Stade Francais President Max Guazzini, a guy who has done so much for the game, try to mask the evil acts of his two players. Lamely, Guazzini blamed "an Anglo Saxon conspiracy" for the sentences, completely disregarding the seriousness of the charges.

How could you be so one-eyed, Max, if that isn't to use an unpalatable analogy? Anglo Saxon conpiracy? Come on. Are you saying, like that idiot Peter de Villiers, the Springbok coach, that you support eye gougers and believe such acts are "part of the game" in de Villiers' words? Do you honestly believe youngsters will be encouraged to this sport by their parents when they witness such dangerous deeds on the field of play?

Get a life and get real.

Then there was Bath coach Steve Meehan, talking last month after his former England lock Danny Grewcock had been sent off for stamping on the arm of Ulster's Stephen Ferris, in another Heineken match. Grewcock's wild act, after just 32 minutes, changed the game decisively. Yet Meehan wasn't accepting that at all.

"I don't think his dismissal cost us the game" said Bath's Aussie coach. Well, you could argue that, one way or the other. But what you certainly couldn't swallow from Meehan was his blatant propaganda on Grewcock. Frankly, it was in the Josef Goebbels class.

Meehan did admit: "I don't think he (Danny) will be very happy with himself for putting himself at risk of getting a card. But his disciplinary record has been very good in recent seasons."

Very good, eh? Well Steve, try this for "very good" and see if you can find anyone to agree with you. Honestly, do these rugby people take the lot of us for complete bloody imbeciles?

This is Danny Grewcock's "very good" disciplinary record. Read it and see who you think is trying to kid whom.

*1998 - 5 weeks suspension for kicking an opponent

*2002 – 5 weeks suspension for stamping

*2003 – 2 weeks suspension for punching

*2004 – 6 weeks suspension for 'reckless use of the boot'

*2005 – 2 months suspension for biting an opponent on the Lions tour of New Zealand

*2007 – I week suspension for stamping

*2007 – A suspension of several months for foul play which ruled him out of the Rugby World Cup that year.

You have to ask, has not rugby earned a rest from this guy's activities? Perhaps even more to the point, isn't it about time that coaches like Steve Meehan took off their blinkers and started to see thugs like Grewcock for what they are.

The man's record is simply appalling, a litany of foul, often dangerous acts, which have frequently led to suspensions at crucial moments, the latest of which was the 7 week ban he received from a disciplinary committee for this offence. Does any rugby team in the modern, professional era need a player like this around?

What you'd like to see is a club like Bath making an example of the Grewcocks of this world. They could do that by announcing his contract won't be renewed because acts of foul play are the worst possible advertisement for their club.

Does anyone seriously think that the game today isn't hard enough without players like Grewcock committing their vile acts? His deliberate, cold, calculating stamp on Ferris's arm rightly earned him another lengthy suspension.

Such a ban was needed, not just to underline to the player that his type of nefarious activities are not wanted in the game, but to make it clear to his coach, the man who supports him, that such behaviour will not be tolerated.

The foul, cowardly acts of players like David Attoub, Julien Dupuy and Danny Grewcock are enough to make decent players and supporters feel sick. Such wanton violence should never be a part of the game. It's time coaches and officials started to help clean it up by throwing out of their clubs players with their type of record.