The All Blacks won't see Boks hard man Bakkies Botha again this Tri-Nations after the South African lock copped a nine-week, competition-ending suspension for his head butt on Jimmy Cowan.
All Blacks coach Graham Henry yesterday said Botha was "lucky" not to get a longer stint on the sidelines after his brutal retaliation on Cowan early in the Tri-Nations test at Eden Park won 32-12 by the All Blacks.
In the opening minutes of the test Cowan held Botha back by the jersey as the two contested kicked-through ball and at a ruck soon after Botha dished out his retribution as he aimed a butt to the back of a prone Cowan's head following a tackle.
The incident was not spotted by any of the match officials but was picked up clearly by the TV cameras. Botha soon after spent 10 minutes in the sinbin following a cynical ruck offence as the All Blacks attacked the Boks' line.
"I'm not surprised," said Henry of the penalty dished out to the 68-test veteran. "He's got a history. He's probably lucky he didn't get more than nine weeks."
Henry was referring to Botha's comparative catalogue of indiscretions back over the years which range from illegal charges into rucks to eye-gouging and biting.
Henry said Cowan had not been aversely affected by the blow, though he did pick up an abdominal strain later in the match.
"It was just one of those things that happen in a game which is not part of the game and has been dealt with correctly," Henry added.
Henry said keeping discipline in the heat of the battle was an aspect the All Blacks emphasised.
"We work pretty hard on the discipline thing. I don’t thnk that's part of the game," he said. "The Springboks will be a bit disappointed in that reaction."
Botha did not speak to waiting media after his hearing at an inner-city Auckland hotel this morning, and was ushered away by team officials, no doubt booked on the next flight back to South Africa.
Later he said via a statement he was devastated to miss the rest of the Tri-Nations but accepted the decision. He also apologised to Cowan.
"I sincerely regret the incident," Botha said. "I have let my team, my country and family down and I have done an injustice to the Springbok jersey and what is stands for.
"I apologise to Jimmy Cowan and the New Zealand rugby public for what happened. Rugby is a physical sport but it has to be played within the boundaries and spirit of the law. I truly regret my actions and will make sure that I put the extended time away from the game to positive use and return to playing with the right attitude."
The player also received a slap on the wrist from his bosses at SARU.
"SARU views any incident of foul play in a very serious light. Bakkies remains an important player in Springbok rugby and I have discussed with him the extent of his actions and the implications it could have on the team, himself personally and his family," said SARU's national teams manager Andy Marinos.
Botha is to return to South Africa on Monday.
The Springboks do have more than adequate cover in their second-row resources with Stormers standout Andries Bekker and experienced Bulls utility Danie Rossouw both more than capable replacements.
However the South African camp appeared to be slightly mystified by yet another Botha brain explosion, even if some of their media contingent appeared to be more fixated after the match on the reason the big lock felt compelled to retaliate.
South African coach Peter de Villiers appeared to be resigned to losing his lock long-term, and captain John Smit struggled to come up with an answer to a question about what went on inside Botha's head at those moments.
"Only he himself can explain his actions," Smit said. "Only Bakkies could explain to you what goes on in there."
Sanzar Judicial Officer Dennis Wheelahan, who heard the case, said Botha admitted the charge, expressed remorse and had apologised to Cowan.
After considering video evidence, and hearing submissions from the player and his representatives, Wheelahan deemed the offence to be in the middle range of seriousness, but took into account Botha's record for previous offending.
Wheelahan took into account that the suspension would effectively rule Botha out of the remaining matches of the 2010 Tri-Nations. He has been suspended from all rugby up to and including September 4.
Botha missed time in this year's Super 14 for the champion Bulls after being suspended for a month for a reckless charge, and copped a two-week ban for the same offence against the British Lions last year.
He also sat out three weeks of last year's Super 14 for striking.
In 2003, he was suspended for eight weeks after allegedly spitting at, biting and eye-gouging Australian hooker Brendan Cannon.
The following year Botha also made the headlines for the wrong reasons as it was alleged that he committed a similar offense on All Black lock Chris Jack during a test in Christchurch.
- © Fairfax NZ News