IRB review signals intent to get tough on gouging

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THE International Rugby Board will consider introducing more stringent punishments for any player found guilty of eye-gouging in a bid to eradicate the "heinous" offence from the sport.

The IRB have launched an investigation into their disciplinary procedures following a spate of high-profile cases, including Schalk Burger's attack on British and Irish Lions winger Luke Fitzgerald last weekend.

Burger was sin-binned for the offence in the first minute of the game and then received an eight-week ban, the same suspension dished out on Sunday to Italy captain Sergio Parisse after an incident against New Zealand.

Lions scrum coach Graham Rowntree believes stricter punishments would act as a greater deterrent.

And the IRB have vowed to address the issue as a matter of urgency in order to "send out the strongest possible message" that gouging will not be tolerated.

In a statement released last night, the game's world governing body said: "The IRB are firmly of the view there is no place in rugby for illegal or foul play and the act of eye-gouging is particularly heinous.

"In light of recent high-profile cases, the IRB is launching a review of the existing disciplinary sanction structure relating to contact with the eye/eye area in order to send out the strongest possible message that such acts will not be tolerated and have no place in a game that has at its core the pillars of fair play, respect and camaraderie."

Burger and Parisse's suspensions followed recent high-profile cases including Alan Quinlan, Neil Best, Olivier Azam, Marius Tincu, Mauro Bergamasco and Dylan Hartley. The suspensions in those cases ranged from eight weeks to the 26-week ban imposed on Hartley.

Following the Burger incident, Lions coach Rowntree hit out at Peter de Villiers, describing comments by the South Africa coach, who claimed during the immediate aftermath of last weekend's second Test in Pretoria that Burger should not even have been given a yellow card, as "crass" and "pathetic".

"The comment was completely out of order," he said. "It was a crass comment, pathetic really, and I am glad he has had to withdraw it. There is no place in the game for gouging."

Head coach Ian McGeechan, meanwhile, will name his third Test team today, when at least three changes are guaranteed, with Brian O'Driscoll, Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones absent through injury. Andrew Sheridan and Phil Vickery are favourites to fill the front-row vacancies, with Keith Earls, Riki Flutey and James Hook all in midfield contention. Centre Jamie Roberts (wrist), meanwhile, took no part in contact training yesterday.

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