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De Villiers rages in eye of storm

By Hugh Farrelly

South Africa coach Peter De Villiers yesterday added to his blossoming reputation for bizarre rants when he defended suspended flanker Schalk Burger for eye-gouging Lions winger Luke Fitzgerald.

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Burger was banned for eight weeks for attacking Fitzgerald's eye and based on damning video evidence, is considered extremely fortunate not have a received a lengthier suspension.

Although the ban will not change the fact that the Lions have lost the series 2-0, there is still a lot of anger at the fact that Burger only received a yellow card during Saturday's second Test in Pretoria and De Villier's defence will only incense them further.

“I have watched the television footage, and I am still convinced that nothing he did was on purpose,” said De Villiers.

“He never meant to go to anyone's eye and we will now wait for the full report. He is an honourable man.”

The Springbok went on to launch a remarkable attack on British and Irish coverage of the incident.

“I am against anything that is against the spirit of the game. If we want to eye gouge lions, we'll go down to the bushveld and eye gouge them there, then see if they can haul us in,” he said.

“Rugby is a contact sport and so is dancing. If you guys (the media) were clued up you'd know that there were so many incidents that we could have complained about, like the incident where a Lions player maliciously jumped into one of ours with their shoulder, but we didn't do it because this is a contact sport. If you are going to complain about every incident we might as well go to a ballet shop and all get tutus.”

The common perception is that De Villiers is out of his depth as head coach and is being carried by a talented and experienced team, the majority of whom won a World Cup under De Villiers predecessor Jake White. However, the under-fire Bok coach defiantly defended his reputation yesterday.

“If I'm the weakest link then we are bloody strong. I'm a God-given talent. I am the best I can be. I know what I am and I don't give a damn,” he said.

It is increasingly apparent that De Villiers has become something of an embarrassment for South African rugby. In the post-match press conference at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night, De Villiers shocked the assembled media by declaring that he had seen the footage of the Burger-Fitzgerald incident and that there was no case to answer, going on to state that it was ‘all part of rugby.’

As the questions rained upon him in response, De Villiers had to be rescued by his captain John Smit who stepped and told the media to move on. In the lead up to the second Test it was instructive to see that it was assistant coaches Dick Muir and Gary Gold who were produced at press conferences.

While De Villiers' appointment as the first black head coach of the Springboks was a significant move for racial integration in rugby, his comments to the media — as emphasised by this latest defence of Burger — are damaging the team and may force South Africa's rugby bosses to cut their losses sooner rather than later.

Johann Muller has been called into the Springbok squad after South Africa second-row Bakkies Botha was banned for two weeks after his shoulder charge on Adam Jones that left the Welsh prop with a dislocated shoulder. Botha's likely replacement, Andres Bekker, was ruled out with a knee injury.

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