Biting and gouging sit in the top layer of rugby crimes. Swinging arms and high tackles deliver instant outrage with their profile but sneaky thuggery is more insidious.

As the game has taken a stricter line on foul play, players have devised other ways to deal out their punishment or retaliation. Angles and timing in the tackle or body height in the scrums and rucks are the enforcement weapons.

At times, players get that wrong and are sin-binned or banned with arguments about the merits of being dealt with by a referee or a judicial committee.

But there should be no debate about the red-mist men who chomp their rivals or attack their eyes.


Who knows what causes the culprits to snap but they need to be rubbed out of the sport for lengthy periods.

Sanzaar sidestepped that stage on a number of levels when they handed out a six-week ban to Bulls prop Pierre Schoeman for biting a Rebels player in their last round game in Pretoria.

The recommended minimum penalty level starts at 12 weeks but the judiciary decided to halve that sentence.

Reports on the case are based on a brief Sanzaar release where the downgrade in suspension was attributed to Schoeman's early guilty plea, his good character and disciplinary record and his remorse.

Who knows what causes the culprits to snap but they need to be out for lengthy periods.


So what's the point in having a minimum ban when Sanzaar's own judiciary ignores it? That limit is there because it shows the abhorrence there is for biting and the consequences for those who indulge but with their latest ruling, Sanzaar has contradicted their own intentions.

Schoeman admitted he bit rival prop Richard Hardwick and that formed part of his counsel's plea for a reduction in his sentence.

Further arguments they offered were that the 23-year-old had a good disciplinary record, was remorseful and a solid character should have had no effect on the decision. They are irrelevant. Of course Schoeman was remorseful because he faced a lengthy ban and slash in his salary.

A couple of cases in New Zealand put Schoeman's feather-light sentence into perspective.

In 1992, Richard Loe was banned for 26 weeks for eye-gouging Greg Cooper in the final of the National Provincial Championship and two years later another prop, Johan le Roux, was sent home from the 1994 Springbok tour and banned for 19 months for biting Sean Fitzpatrick's ear. Four years earlier, English prop Kevin Yates was banned for six months for ear-biting.

Those cases held the headlines because they were high-profile players who received long bans after their violence was caught on television.

Schoeman does not have the same reputation as those other front-rowers and perhaps that is why his suspension and coverage of the case was downgraded.

If Sanzaar wants to reinforce their intolerance of foul play and convince us they are serious, they should appeal this decision of their judiciary.