While this is a lengthy ban and the player will suffer for his foul play, one has to think that it really is too little too late. The incident happened in the 61st minute of the arm wrestle between the Pumas and the Springboks which ended 17-22 (to the Boks). Etzebeth made referee Steve Walsh aware of the incident by showing him clear bite marks on his arm.
Walsh then tried to play down the incident by saying it would be “taken care of after the match”. Only after a rational plea from Bok captain Jean de Villiers, who rightly felt that the issue needed to be dealt with then and there as it could affected the outcome of the match, did Walsh begrudgingly refer it to the TMO.
Walsh’s stubbornness and woeful grasp of refereeing then led to one of the most bazaar referrals this commentator has seen in many years of watching the beautiful game. He passed on the message to the TMO via his radio communication that the incident needed to be looked at, however because of a malfunction with his ear piece (claiming he could not hear any response from the TMO) he decided to take the law into his own hands and just play on.
How utterly ridiculous, with an allegation as serious as that AND after an incident of potential eye-gouging by the same team it is impossible to believe that there was not a way of conveying the information down to Walsh quickly without the use of Radio. Could Walsh also not just look at the big screen and make a decision along with his Assistant referee’s? Could a message not be passed down to Walsh by a member of the Referees officials?
Either way, the unfortunate truth is that despite this happening in a match against the Boks, the only teams that will benefit from this ban are Australia and New Zealand, who are yet to face the Pumas. The ruling is actually detrimental to the Springboks in the competition as the Pumas will be without a key player when they play the Australasian sides, taking away from the Pumas winning chances and adding to the point earning potential of the Antipodeans.
SANZAR need to review this incident closely, they have started a new chapter in Rugby with a new referral system and they will need to learn from (these types of) mistakes if it is to succeed. Playing all over the world in different conditions and in different stadiums with different resources, there needs to be a solid back up plan for these types of eventualities.