x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Burger and Botha land in hot water

The inquest into the battle of Loftus Versfeld has begun, with two of South Africa's most iconic players cited for foul play.

The inquest into the battle of Loftus Versfeld has begun, with two of South Africa's most iconic players being cited for foul play, but, whatever the fall-out, the Springboks supporters already have a firm grip on the bragging rights. It was telling that the first sentiments John Smit, South Africa's captain and usually a model of diplomacy, uttered after Morne Steyn's series-settling penalty went over against the British & Irish Lions were: "We have 12 years to enjoy this now."

The next time the Lions tour southern Africa, memories of Jeremy Guscott's drop-goal will be sepia-tinted. A few supporters might cling to the old fall back of "what might have been" - if Schalk Burger had been rightly red carded for gouging Luke Fitzgerald's eyes after just 22 seconds, or if five of their players had not been hospitalised in the savage second Test. There has been much rancour in the Home Nations over the methods the Springboks employed to achieve their goal in Pretoria.

One of the Sunday tabloids carried the headline "Cheats! Boks put five Lions in hospital". Among the wounded, the Welsh props Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones are both facing long stints on the sidelines. Jenkins has had a plastic plate inserted to repair the cheekbone he shattered in an accidental clash of heads with Bryan Habana. Jones, who brilliantly neutralised Tendai Mtawarira in the front row, dislocated his shoulder in a clash with the giant lock Bakkies Botha, who has since been cited for his involvement in the incident.

"To lose two of our most colourful characters in Gethin and Adam is distressing," said the Lions doctor James Robson. Burger created a furore for his unsavoury part, to which the Lions coach Ian McGeechan said: "You can't see that and say it's a part of the game that I would ever want to be associated with." According to Stefan Terblanche, the fullback who has won 35 caps for the Boks, there is no point asking the likes of Botha to play nice.

"It is a physical game," said Terblanche. "Before the game the Springboks did say they wanted to spice it up a bit and make it very physical, which is what they did. "In terms of losing those guys and them going to hospital, it is always a physical game when you play the Springboks. "I am sure if you take a long hard look at it, there will be some incidents which are questionable and that the press, rightly so, will have something to say about.

"But they have had 12 years to talk about [the Lions series win in South Africa] and now the shoe is on the other foot. They must just accept it." Distance lends perspective for Terblanche, who admitted he felt sympathy for the likes of Adam Jones, Shane Williams, Alun-Wyn Jones and James Hook, the Lions players whom he played alongside during a four-year stint in Wales with the Ospreys. Some pundits in South Africa believed the 33-year-old Terblanche remains a better choice at fullback for the Boks than the highly-promising but enigmatic Frans Steyn.

Yet the Natal Shark No 15 ended up watching the game in Dubai, as a late replacement as host for a screening of the big match at the Crowne Plaza, alongside the former Lion, Colin Charvis. He was still a student, just months away from making his Super 12 debut, when Guscott sealed the 1997 win for the Lions in South Africa. And he added: "For 12 years, everybody in South Africa has been hurting. Grown men now were only little boys 12 years ago, but they were still smarting after that loss.

"It was a cracking game of rugby, but also in terms of the physicality, it was one of the hardest. "Ask any of those players how they feel and they will tell you they are hurting, they are sore, but it was a proper game of rugby. "It was a wonderful game to watch, but having played in Wales I played against most of the Lions, and with a lot of them. I know they will be hurting after that. They played so well for 75 minutes, then to lose their whole front row, plus Jamie Roberts and Brian O'Driscoll definitely made a difference."

pradley@thenational.ae