Rugby: Burger cleared of eye-gouging accusation

JOHANNESBURG - Hard-tackling Schalk Burger has been trying to defend his reputation after being cleared of eye-gouging Lions winger Luke Fitzgerald, but found guilty of a lesser offence.

The flanker was banned for eight weeks for making contact with his opponent's eye area after 32 seconds of South Africa's 28-25 victory over the British and Irish Lions at Pretoria.

When the full transcript of the disciplinary ruling emerged last night (NZT), it was revealed that Canadian judicial officer Alan Hudson had found him guilty of the lesser charge and cleared him of eye-gouging.

Burger defended his approach to the sport on Thursday in a statement issued through the South African Rugby Union.

"As a proud South African and Springbok rugby player, I only have the utmost respect for the traditions of the wonderful game of rugby," he said.

"Through my life and career I have always approached the game with the intention only of playing it hard and fair.

"I am not a rugby thug and will never intentionally engage in eye-gouging or similar illegal actions.

"This was also the case in the second test against the Lions. I am therefore grateful that the judicial officer confirmed my stance with his conclusion that there was no deliberate eye-gouging as charged by the citing official."

Burger has been ruled out of Saturday's final test at Ellis Park along with Springboks lock forward Bakkies Botha, who was found guilty of dangerously charging into a ruck.

Botha was banned for two weeks after his action left Lions prop Adam Jones with a dislocated shoulder and put him out of the final test.

"I will always play the game as hard as possible within the rules," Burger said.

"I apologise to my supporters and fellow teammates for the fact that I have been absent for the first 10 minutes of the second test. I look forward to returning with zest in due course."

SARU issued a statement on Thursday which gave full details of Hudson's ruling.

"I do not find this to be an intentional act on the part of Burger," Hudson said.

"I accept Burger's evidence that he did not intend to make contact with the eye area of Lions No 11.

"In my view his actions were clearly reckless. That is he knew or should have known that there was a risk that his actions could result in an act of foul play, that is contact with the eye area of Lions No 11.

"While there was no significant injury to the eye ... the contact could not be described as simply trivial," Hudson said.

"It is clear on the report of the Lions doctor that there was initially redness and swelling about the left eyelid and there was some short lived tearing and blurred vision.

"I am unable to conclude that there was eye gouging in the sense of a ripping or aggressive intrusion of the eye area, but I do conclude that there was contact in the left eye area which while not serious in the result, cannot be described as insignificant.

"Contact with an opponent's eye area is a serious matter because of the vulnerability of the human eye and the potential of a permanent injury to one of the key sensory organs of the body."

Burger's foul play led to a conflict between the Lions and Springboks coach Peter de Villiers, who said immediately after the game that it was an accepted part of rugby.

He later apologised for the comment and said eye-gouging had no place in the game.

- AP

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