In one of the most shameful incidents to be seen on a rugby field in the history of South African sport, August 10, 2002, will always be remembered as the day that a drunken Bok fan attacked Irish referee Dave McHugh in Tri Nations meeting between the All Blacks and South Africa in Durban.
Referee McHugh was not having his best game to say the least, with more than one controversial decision that had the local crowd fuming in the heated tension of a clash with arch-rivals New Zealand.
I myself was there, in the crowd, when early in the second half the atmosphere got the better of lunatic Springbok fan Piet Van Zyl. I watched him run, or should I say waddle, onto the field from underneath the stand I was sitting at.
Middle-aged van Zyl, clad in jeans and a faded Springboks jersey straining to hold in its contents, attacked referee McHugh, wrestling him to the ground. He was quickly pulled off by the rescuing party of Richie McCaw and AJ Venter, who rushed to McHugh’s aid, but not before the referee suffered a dislocated shoulder.
He was carried off on a medical buggy, and an unrepentant van Zyl, nose bleeding after taking a few slaps from Venter and McCaw, was led away with a broken nose by police, to later face a lifetime ban from South African rugby grounds, as well as assault charges.
An unrepentant Van Zyl later emphasised that he did not regret his actions.
“Don’t forget that the incident happened when the referee closed his one eye and ceased to see the Springboks. I am therefore not sorry that I did what I did. If he, the referee, didn’t do what he did that incident would not have happened.”
His grudge against McHugh has existed since the notorious 1995 ‘Battle of Boet Erasmus’, the match between Canada and South Africa which McHugh refereed. During that game, McHugh gave James Dalton a red card for trying to stop a fight.
Piet Van Zyl’s actions were moronic, and the incident was and still is ridiculously embarrassing for the South African players, people, and rugby fans all over the world.
Final Score: All Blacks 31-28 Springboks