Sanzar have missed the opportunity to drive home the message that foul play will not be tolerated by slapping JP Nel with a one match ban for a horrific spear tackle.
The Bulls centre lifted Frans Steyn into the air, turned him vertically and released him, causing the young Springbok star to crash to the ground. It was the type of incident that could easily have caused paralysis had Steyn landed on his head, neck or spine – yet the Sanzar disciplinary felt that the tackle warranted no more than a single week in the stand.
Compounding matters is that Nel is a serial offender. He was suspended for three matches in last season’s Super 14 for using a swinging arm in trying to effect a tackle. His latest trip to the citing commission came just last week, where he was cleared of charges relating to the same offence.
This time all eyes were on Sanzar to take strong action against the centre, but by going soft at Nel they have inadvertently made a telling statement about how serious they are about ridding the game of foul play. The Bulls have a responsibility to discipline the player, but have turned a blind eye to Nel’s behaviour. They insist that defence coach John McFarland is working to correct his tackle technique. But for a player who has earned 135 first-class caps, the problem is probably less technical and more psychological.
Meanwhile, Jaco Engels has received a three match ban for punching Johann Muller. The Bulls prop cut open the Sharks captain’s cheek with a short jab that referee Mark Lawrence failed to see. But television replays clearly show Engels throwing the punch without any prior provocation.
Nel will miss the Gauteng derby against the Lions, while Engels skip that match and crucial tour fixtures against the Reds and Chiefs.
By Ryan Vrede