Since when is eye gouging okay?

A sickening foul act on Kiwis captain Dallin Watene-Zelezniak soured what was otherwise a fabulous second test match at Anfield on Monday morning.

First, things first, England were the better team and thoroughly deserved their 20-14 victory over the Kiwis, after trailing 14-6 with less than 30 minutes to play.

But England prop George Burgess should have played no part in the final 20 minutes.


It was the kind of incident that makes you turn away from the television screen – and has absolutely no place in the game.

Sometimes there are accidental moments in league, given the brutal physicality of the sport, the heavy contact, the size of the players and the speed of the modern game.

This wasn't one of them.

Only he will truly know, but Burgess appeared to know exactly what he was doing, as he wrestled with Watene-Zelezniak in the process of completing a tackle just after the hour mark.

This wasn't a case of some fingers accidentally scraping across the eye, or an errant slap across the face.

It looked like a deliberate, callous, cowardly attack on the Kiwis captain by the Rabbitohs prop, when he was already pinned by another tackler.

And worst of all, it's incredibly dangerous.

Referee Gerard Sutton, and local video referee Ben Thaler now have some explaining to do.

Sutton appeared to warn Burgess moments later, and there will no doubt be retribution coming in the tribunal later this week.

But it should have been an instant sending off offence, or at the least a sin bin, if Thaler was doing his job.

The footage was crystal clear from the replays – millions of viewers across England would have been recoiling at what they had seen.

Dallin Watene-Zelezniak receives an eye gouge during Kiwis vs England test. Photo / Sky
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak receives an eye gouge during Kiwis vs England test. Photo / Sky

There wasn't any doubt or grey area, which makes it even worse.

And it was up to the man in the video box to inform Sutton of the severity of the incident.

No one wants too many interventions from upstairs, but this was an extreme act that required extreme action.

Especially as the sport tries to grow the international game, in front of a huge free to air audience on the BBC.

To his credit, Watene-Zelezniak didn't mention the incident in his post-match television interview, but he did confirm later that Burgess' fingers plunged into his eye.

"I felt a finger go in my eye," Watene-Zelezniak told the media after the game. "That's football. Lucky the doctor was there to give me something. It was a bit blurry after that. Whatever he gave me helped a lot.

"That's international football. I'm a tough boy, I'm an adult, I'm a man so I can take those kinds of things but what I can't take is a loss."

Watene-Zelezniak was unsure if Burgess' act was intentional.

"I have no idea I'd have to watch the video back. He's a big boy and he's got some big fingers too. I think his whole hand would probably cover my whole face.

"I'm sure he didn't do it on purpose. Him and his brothers are good guys and they've done really good things for the game. I don't think that's in their kit bag but it is what it is you just have to deal with it.

"I'm pretty sweet now. The doctor gave me some kind of eye drops. I'm sure it was accidental. It didn't really mess with the game much but that's football."

But whether it was a rush of blood to the head, or a premeditated attack on the Kiwis skipper, Burgess' act needs to be met with a lengthy ban.

It was just a shame there was no punishment meted out during the second half.

It left a bitter taste from what was a vastly entertaining game, where the home side again showed their ability to soak up Kiwis pressure before lifting in the last 20 minutes.

New Zealand, just like last week, faded badly in the final quarter, and a boisterous home crowd helped to get England home.

It may have been different with England down to 12 men, or maybe not.

But that is a debate we shouldn't be having now.