Blame jackals, not Warthog

Dan Retief

It was inevitable that the incident that has turned Akker van der Merwe (AKA the Angry Warthog) into social media’s most reviled scoundrel would occur – it just did not happen in the way I had imagined.

In my mind’s eye there was an image of a player hunched over a ruck being hit by a flying human missile weighing some 120 kilograms and suffering a horrendous injury to the head. Instead came the temper eruption that caused the Angry Warthog to behave more like an enraged lion as he attacked his hapless and prone assailant.

Van der Merwe has been lambasted as viciously as his two-fisted pummelling of Schalk Brits was. While not condoning Van der Merwe’s actions it is my contention that the blame for his volcanic eruption lies squarely with rugby’s law makers.

The “clean-out” which has slowly infested the game until it is now a scourge has long been an accident looking for a place to happen. The Van der Merwe/Brits contretemps was a direct result of the way players are allowed to “attack” opponents who are nowhere near the ball.

It is legalised thuggery in which playing the man rather than the ball has, in fact, been made legal. Just like the disappearance of the ruck, the driving maul and the advent of chronic off-sides, World Rugby is administering a game which in many ways hardly resembles what is envisaged by the laws.

Week in and week out one sees it. An attacking player is tackled and goes to ground; a defender immediately gets his hands over the ball, often not to win it but just to prevent it being played back, the tackler jumps up and joins and perhaps one more defender.

The side “with” the ball is then forced to send in a number of men to “clean out” the pilferers, jackals or “jacklers” according to net-speak, to clear a passage for the ball… so they are legally allowed to pile into opponents, sometimes with great force, to knock them away.

Van der Merwe’s meltdown came as the Sharks set a lineout drive for the line. Brits ended up on top of the melee grappling for the ball and Van der Merwe went in hard, leading with his head (perhaps because his arms might have been construed as an attack on Brits’ head), to move him.

He first made contact with Brits’ shoulder and then his head (the commentators described it as a head butt). Brits took umbrage, pulled Van der Merwe down by his jersey and then threw the first punch.

And that’s when the red mist descended and Van der Merwe’s frustration at being unable to crack the Springbok squad boiled over. He vented his anger directly at the 37-year-old Rassie Erasmus brought out of retirement to stand in his way. Doubtless there was a fair bit of chirping going on and, given the tough physical combat inherent in rugby, it is surprising that these incidents don’t occur more often.

The incident also showed how rugby has changed. There was a time that careers and reputations were built by a swing of the dukes – Gys Pitzer on John Pullin, Frik du Preez on Alain Plantefol, Morne du Plessis on Kleintjie Grobler and Gert Smal on Gary Knight – and fans rejoiced in the dark deeds of their teams’ enforcers. It’s powder-puff stuff compared to how it used to be.

Of course it would do the image of the game no good if players were permitted do go round throwing haymakers. But if only the keepers of the law would be as cognisant and righteous about those other areas (as mentioned above) that are making the game ugly and unwatchable as they are when the fists start to fly.

- Dan Retief

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  • SweetAz

    Perhaps the angry warthog is so angry because he’s been sharing Chilibooi’s supplements, in some circles it’s known as “roid rage”. He does seem to have “bulked up” considerably this year.

    • John Comyn

      Now that you mention it ??? He has bulked up quite significantly. The assault was more like someone on Tik.

    • Barry

      No facts left to offer and no relief from the citing commission, so you resort to undermining the player’s integrity based on nothing other than fictitious garbage. Shame on you!

      • SweetAz

        Questions need to be asked, just how deep does the rot spread at the Sharks? Really no different than your ageist aspersions upon Schalk Brits,—-shame on you! Sorry, I don’t believe any player who uses his head to clear out another player has much to offer in the integrity stakes.
        Especially when that player is ahead of you in the Bok pecking order and injuring him would improve your chances

        • Greg Shark

          used his head…absolute rubbish….he actually came in and in the typical fashion used these days grappled with his arms and used his shoulder to bash brits off the ruck. It is the only way he pulled brits over the ruck! Really, it just needs you to view a slo-mo replay for the facts to emerge instead of parroting the other fashionable social media retweets so evident these days to become nothing but a purveyor of fake news.
          Brits retaliated the clean-out and threw two punches to the right hand side of akkers face before he climbed in and missed most of his attempted punches. Brits was no angel in this matter despite what the likes of comyn would like to believe! And talking about rougues on the field maybe comyn should spend some time observing the characteristics of a few of his teams ‘hit’ men.
          Possibly, and in agreement with Retief, the application of the laws of the game are to blame – that rests squarely on the shoulders of world rugby and referees. Of course, the fact that players abuse the refs laziness by pushing the laws to the point of destruction actually points to the character of the player, team and franchise – to cheat and rejoice in the ability to get away with it is nothing to crow about….. this is precisely what criminals do. Fans of teams who support this type of cheating, in my view, would not hesitate to cheat in their own lives….. rant over…fokoff

        • Barry

          Brits retired remember, he made the ageist aspersions himself!! My post based on some fact.

          Accusing a player of doping because the thought popped into your mind, wow that’s pretty cheep!

          • SweetAz

            LOL, Connor McGregor has retired and “unretired” a few times as has many other athletes, for crying out loud people call for Federer to retire weekly even though he is close to the top of his game. Yet you lot whine and carry on about Brits’ age on a weekly basis and how he is keeping Akker out of the team simply because of your provincialism? Bobby Skinstad, Percy Montgomery, Os Du Randt ring any bells? You need to face the fact that BOTH Stormer’s hookers are probably ahead of Akker in the pecking order, he has got quite a lot of headbutting to do before he makes the Bok team.

            Now you come and pretend its all Brits’ own fault and pull the victim-blaming card,-akin to justifying the rape of young girls because of what they wear. Sheesh, Barry, I suspect being around the ANC has finally distorted your judgement of what’s right and wrong, you sound like Jakob Zuma explaining Nkandla.

            You guys have also gone very quiet on the whole Chiliboi saga, why is that? Worried some other “angry” players might have to start peeing into cups at inopportune times?

          • Greg Shark

            “pretty cheap’ – sums it up!

  • Safmarine

    Akker blatantly led with the head – to the head. Any self respecting player would have reacted like Schalk did. I can’t believe everyone is up in arms. Ideally it has no place in the professional era with cameras everywhere, but it’s part of the game’s tapestry. I remember playing a club match in Port Elizabeth in the old EP grand challenge in the amateur days and being knocked out cold while jogging to a lineout by a lock from Parks rugby club – no reason. A full brawl broke out – crowd came into it too. That’s rugby, fights and skulduggery will always be part of the game. Anybody who has played the game will tell you a similar story. Laws change but the combat aspect will never go away.

    • Dean Bright

      I’m a Sharks supporter and I’ll be the first to say Akker was in the wrong. There’s no place in any sport for that kind of behavior. Safmarine put it plainly, he led with the head. HEAD FIRST. That is OBVIOUS from the replay, play it slow mo all you like. The head, not the shoulder made contact with Brits’ head/jaw/face whatever. The point is you can’t lead into a ruck with the head AND no arms. Akker got off pretty lightly IMO. Brits retaliated and he deserved the red too. What puzzles me is that after a player has been shown red, how is he allowed to sit among the opposition fans? LOL only in South Africa will this happen. No follow through or repercussions. Laws and rules are barely enforced in SA anymore. How sad, it’s just an extension of what’s happening in society there.

    • Greg Shark

      “…Akker blatantly led with the head – to the head…”… utter rubbish…. shoulder to shoulder then contact with head but his arms were also in use to drag him over the ruck…. geez… all you have to do is play the slo-mo…real slo!
      “self respecting player’ – well that self respect is certainly not in view but earned him 4 weeks anyway!

      • SweetAz

        Sorry mate, your one eye is preventing you from seeing straight, millions of other people (NOT Sharks) who have seen the incident disagree with you,—Its news even in NZ.

    • John Comyn

      Yep I played for Blues. A trip to Despatch was a guaranteed brawl. My guess is the lock was one of 3: Schalk Burger sen, George Rautenbach or Adri Geldinhys?

      • SweetAz

        Yep, I remember a certain Uli Schmidt being a dirty little bugger even in high school.

  • Wesley

    Wow this comment thread went down to the bottom of the barrel pretty quickly….

    I think its a bit disingenious of Dan to assume players have been given the all clear from the refs to pilfer and slow ball even if they are not entitled to it. Thats literally a gameplan, and pretty much a feature of rugby to make the breakdown a contest. And when a player sees an opportunity, he should take it, in attempt not illegally so, and do so until the ref to call hands out ruck. What are we to do, play league rules? There will be contest, there will be collisions, there will be aggression as it is a feature of rugby to play with controlled aggression, and there will be transgressions happening at a tremendous pace making that line between legal and illegal paper thin, with some situations boiling over. Hell, McCaw is heralded as the greatest player ever, with pilfering, even sometimes illegally, being one of the aspects that made him great in the first place. Making as if Akker was “out for blood” is also a stupid argument, but this does not excuse his transgression of illegal cleaning. And blaming his cleaning action on those who compete for ball is also not helping anybody.

    • Barry

      Akker has an 80% hit rate in the red zone. Bulls were aware of that. Slow down the ball at any cost in the red zone would have been the instruction.
      A professional foul kicked this episode off, had Britz not slowed the Sharks ball, the punching encounter would simply not have happened!

    • Greg Shark

      could not agree more….

  • John Comyn

    Agree with Dan. I challenge anyone to provide evidence that the game is safer or is any faster as a result of outlawing rucking. In fact there are far more incidence of concussion now than there has ever been in the game. Those against the return of rucking should be made to produce their evidence of its nefarious effects before they are allowed to go any further with their refusal even to discuss the return of a measure which was universally popular and remains so with the majority of rugby people.

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