This past Saturday’s match between the Springboks and British & Irish Lions will go down as a Test littered with foul-play incidents. Yet, it is by no means the first tour match characterised by ill-discipline.
Duncan McRae’s assault on Ronan O’Gara (2001)
In the lead-up to the Test series against the then world champion Wallabies, the Lions took on New South Wales in an ill-tempered affair. In the opening moments of the second half, fullback Duncan McRae completely lost control and repeatedly punched flyhalf Ronan O’Gara while the latter was down.
It will go down as one of the most vicious assaults witnessed on a rugby pitch.
Tana Umaga’s spear tackle on Brian O’Driscoll (2005)
The 2005 tour to New Zealand is remembered as one of the worst in Lions history as they were drubbed 3-0. However, the tour was not without controversy as All Blacks centre Tana Umaga (in concert with hooker Keven Mealamu) lifted and drove Lions centre Brian O’Driscoll into the ground in the first Test.
O’Driscoll was injured and missed the rest of the series and Lions fans felt rightly aggrieved that Umaga and Mealamu both escaped any sanction for their actions.
Sonny-Bill Williams’ shoulder charge (2017)
In the second Test of the famous drawn series in 2017, Sonny-Bill Williams was shown a red card for a shoulder charge to the head of Lions wing Anthony Watson. The moment swayed the game and the Lions levelled the series.
Schalk Burger’s eye-gouge (2009)
In the opening minutes of the infamous ‘Battle of Pretoria’ (the second Test of 2009), Schalk Burger put his fingers into the eyes of Lions player Luke Fitzgerald. It was one of many acts of foul play that went unpunished that day.
The ’99’ call (1974)
Legendary Lions captain Willie John McBride devised a ‘one-in-all-in’ policy for the 1974 tour to South Africa. If the ’99 call’ – as it was known – was evoked, then Lions players from anywhere on the pitch would allegedly seek out confrontation with nearest Springbok.
The call was so designed that the referee couldn’t find the instigator and would be left with the choice to either send off the entire team, or none of them.
The call worked as no Lions players received a red card that tour, but some reports since then have suggested such a policy was more myth than reality.