Smit faces grilling over Thion elbow incident

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The Independent Online

Smit will attend a disciplinary hearing in Paris this afternoon over an incident when his elbow caught the French captain, Jerome Thion, in the throat.

Thion spent the weekend in a French hospital after being taken there from the Stade de France complaining of breathing difficulties. He spent Saturday night attached to a ventilator after X-rays diagnosed a fractured larynx and will be unable to play rugby for at least six weeks.

The incident has come at a bad time for the South Africans. They have been branded "brutal as usual" by the French media, who have put huge pressure on disciplinary officials of the International Rugby Board to punish Smit, and other alleged transgressors during the game.

The match was watched by most of the senior IRB officials, who were in Paris for Sunday night's annual Player of the Year Awards dinner. There is a growing appetite within the disciplinary ranks of the IRB to crack down on acts of violent play.

The England flanker Lewis Moody was sent off for punching during Saturday's Test against Samoaand the maximum punishment for striking a player is now 12 months.

It seems inconceivable that Smit would escape a ban if found guilty. The Australian referee Scott Young saw nothing serious in the incident, awarding only a penalty to the French. But the Irish touch judge Alan Lewis flagged the incident and on studying the match video later that evening, another Australian official, Dennis Wheelahan, cited Smit.

The Springbok hooker has no reputation for being a dirty player. But that did not stop the French media lambasting the team, also demanding action against Bakkies Botha for allegedly kneeing the French lock Lionel Nallet.

Midi Olympique, the French weekly rugby paper, quoted former South African Pieter de Villiers, France's tight-head prop on Saturday, as saying: "South Africans and Tongans have always practised a, how shall we say, aggressive, manly game. They favour man-to-man combat."

The Midi Olympique writer Jean Roger Delsaud complained: "If the Irish touch judge signalled in clear terms to the Australian referee ... the reprehensible action of John Smit on Jerome Thion, how could it end in just a penalty?

"Because to 'forget' these offences only assists the escalation of violence, the multiplication of gestures which have nothing to do with rugby.

"Surely the principle of safety precaution so in vogue at the moment should be applied to rugby."

L'Equipe, the French daily sports paper, ran a large story about the Springboks' two alleged violent acts involving Smit and Botha, using stills from the TV coverage to highlight the alleged incidents.

In it, Thion was quoted as saying: "When they [the South Africans] arrive at a maul, they never come empty-handed, it's always to do wrong."

The French prop Sylvain Marconnet, who came on as a replacement on Saturday, added: "The Boks are mischievous and aggressive." Marconnet, however, is alleged to have punched the South African flanker Schalk Burger in the face late in the match.