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Rugby | Vodacom Super Rugby

A cite for sore eyes

SuperWrap, week 7, 2019

When life throws you lemons, make lemonade. If you get thrown a punch, make holiday plans. That seems to be the lesson Sanzaar chose to give their players after this last round of Vodacom Super Rugby action.

We’re talking, of course, about the fallout from Saturday’s should-have-been-in-a-cage fight between Akker van der Merwe and Schalk Brits in Durban. And also about how the Southern Hemisphere’s governing body chose to handle the matter.

Now, there are two distinct versions of what happened.

If you’re a Sharks fan then poor old Akker merely meant to clean out a clearly cheating Schalk from a ruck when he unexpectedly started receiving blows to the head.

If you’re a Bulls supporter then that same Akker ran into a breakdown situation at full steam to deliver the mother of all head-butts before pushing his Springbok teammate onto the ground in order to land a couple of lusty blows of his own.

Here at the Wrap-desk we don’t choose sides. We are both Sharks and Bulls fans and also fans of neither (as with every other SA team). All we know is that the whole situation could have been handled a whole lot better right from the start.

Here is what we could find on youtube:

It was clear on Saturday that both hookers landed at least one punch in the dust-up and therefore both received red cards along with the automatic citing that follows it. That is just and fair.

Akker van der Merwe immediately pleaded guilty on Monday and was given a three-week suspension.

The first signs of trouble came when Schalk Brits acted differently. The Bulls hooker turned down what was in effect a plea bargain from Sanzaar, opting instead for a full disciplinary hearing with legal representation.

At the hearing on Tuesday Brits ended up with the same four-match ban (discounted from six) he was offered the previous day, but the team did manage to get some concessions from the judicial committee. Their post-hearing statement contained the following telling phrases: 1. “…the player’s actions were in self-defence” and 2. "The Judicial Committee was conscious of the fact that the player was not the instigator of the incident..."

That was not a Bulls or a Sharks fan talking, it was Sanzaar’s official ruling. And it begs the question, why did the player acting in self-defence get a harsher sentence than the instigator?

To answer to that question we must go to the heart of the problem with Sanzaar’s disciplinary processes.

A Sanzaar Foul Play Review Committee can only deal with cases brought in front of it by the various, mostly anonymous citing commissioners. No matter how many times a committee reviews footage, they are never allowed to add or change a charge.

On Saturday both Brits and Van der Merwe were charged with breaching Law 9.12: “A player must not physically abuse anyone. Physical abuse includes, but is not limited to punching or striking with the hand or arm.” And that was the only charge they faced.

That was not enough, as became clear in Brits’ disciplinary hearing. In the clip above it is obvious that when it comes to actual punches, it was Brits who threw the first one. Yet, the Judicial Committee found that he didn’t instigate the fight and acted out of self-defence. They clearly felt that Van der Merwe’s attempted ruck clean-out wasn’t merely clumsy, it was the start of the fight.

In this case we’re not only dealing with Law mentioned above but also with Law 9.20:
“Dangerous play in a ruck or maul.
A. A player must not charge into a ruck or maul. Charging includes any contact made without binding onto another player in the ruck or maul.
B. A player must not make contact with an opponent above the line of the shoulders.”

It doesn’t matter what the intention was, the head-on-head action passed the red-card threshold and as such should have been cited separately.

There is also another more contentious act that can be seen at 00:30 in the clip above. Law 9.12 also states that “contact with the eye or eye area” is forbidden.

Now no-one is suggesting that Van der Merwe deliberately tried to eye-gouge his opponent, but if that incident happened in isolation it would have drawn a lot more attention from the powers that be.

Had Van der Merwe been cited for three separate offences the suspension-time for the two hookers may easily have been 10-4 in Akker’s favour. Almost exactly as a boxing judge would have scored the bout.

One citing is not enough. It's the same as telling a player that he can kick someone in the head on the ground right after a spear-tackle because he won't be cited again.

But as citing commissioners go, our man in Durban at least did something. The same cannot be said for whoever the anonymous fault-finder in Auckland was earlier in the day.

He found absolutely nothing wrong with this blatant elbow to the face:

Not a word was said by anyone. A Dillyn Leyds reaction may have forced their hand, but if he did we'd have had the Schalk Brits situation all over again. You can't win.

It is the sort of blind eye we have become all too used to over the years, especially if offenders hail from the same country as Sanzaar’s Game Manager.

At a time where professional rugby in the Southern Hemisphere is fighting to win back the trust of players and spectators alike, they can ill afford disciplinary injustices like these to be happening so flagrantly frequent.


Let's have a look at what happened elsewhere in the world of rugby this week.

Tries of the week:


Best of social media:

Since when do front-rowers drink light beer?


We have a feeling they won't be the only team thinking that...


Also EFC talent scouts...


Just a regular Joe...


Naas Idea

South African rugby fans thought April Fool’s had come early this year after reading over the weekend that legendary Springbok flyhalf Naas Botha has taken over a new role as head coach of the Indian National Team.

Botha will help the Indian team to prepare for the Asia Rugby Champions Third Division tournament held in Indonesia in June.

Botha has taken a couple of familiar faces along for the ride, with both Jannie Brooks and Chris Buitendach joining him as assistant coaches.

India is currently ranked 82nd in the world, but with a population of over 1.3 billion, they will look to drastically improve on that.

We wish the team all the luck in the world.

League Of Their Own

Sport organisers in Auckland took an interesting step this week in trying to up match attendances for two of the city’s biggest teams. They gave spectators a two-for-one deal where a ticket for one match can also get you into another match across town.

The interesting thing is that the deal is for matches by rugby’s two rival codes. This weekend a Blues match ticket will also allow you to watch the National Rugby League’s NZ Warriors.

Traditionally there is much animosity between fans of the two rival codes, each set believing their preferred form of the game to be far superior.

But not in New Zealand, at least not this weekend. Code-hopping without ill feelings is something only Kiwis are capable of doing, and that is why we can’t help but love the country.


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