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Thursday Jul 20, 2023

WATCH: “A ban tailor made to get Sexton to the World Cup”

Rugby World Cup Pool B opponents Ireland and South Africa have enjoyed a rather fierce battle since the turn of the century.

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Facing each other on fourteen occasions since the year 2000, the two sides are split at seven wins a piece.

Remarkably the two sides have yet to clash at a Rugby World Cup. Given the placing of the two sides on the world rankings, their September 23rd match-up is one of the most highly anticipated at this year’s World Cup.

Adding that extra layer of spice is how intertwined the two nations have become over the past decade, both on and off the pitch.

Starting at the top with Springbok head coach Jacques Nienaber and Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus’s time spent with Irish provincial side Munster.

Despite staying for just one of the three seasons, they had been contracted to, the duo left their mark on the Irish powerhouse, guiding them to a Heineken Champions Cup semi-final and a Pro12 final.

During this period, they would bring giant secondrow Jean Kleyn to the province, having previously coached the now 29-year-old at Western province.

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Of course, Kleyn would go on to become an Irish international and feature for the side at the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Whilst his place in the squad was met with some backlash due to it coming at the expense of Leinster’s Devin Toner. Few could argue that Kleyn put his all in for Ireland at what was a dour World Cup campaign.

Kleyn has since defected from Ireland, having not been selected for the national side and has returned his allegiances to the Springboks.

Having performed exceptionally in his Springbok debut, Kleyn now looks to be in with a real chance of breaking into the Boks World Cup squad.

In addition to the above, former Munster star Felix Jones has become a fixture within the Springbok coaching staff since joining as a consultant in 2019.

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His role within the Bok set-up would see him win a World Cup medal as South Africa lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in 2019.

The Irish connection within the Bok set-up is to continue post-World Cup, with Nienaber already confirmed to be joining Leinster as a replacement for senior coach Stuart Lancaster.

His return to Ireland is greatly anticipated and is seen as a masterstroke by the Dublin-based side who enter the season having lost consecutive Heineken Champions Cup finals and URC semi-finals.

One key component in the Leinster machine of the past two decades has been Ireland captain Jonathan Sexton who at 38 years of age is set to retire post the World Cup.

Whilst Sexton will be looking to go out on top by leading Ireland to a first-ever World Cup title. The skipper came all too close to seeing his swansong go up in flames as a potentially long ban loomed large.

Once again tying in the South African component, Sexton was accused of verbally abusing referee Jaco Peyper in the wake of Leinster’s second consecutive final loss to French side La Rochelle.

Sexton, who was injured at the time, is alleged to have approached Peyper and his team of officials in an aggressive manner before verbally abusing them.

In the end, Sexton would receive a three-game ban meaning he will miss all of Ireland’s Rugby World Cup warm-up matches. Yet crucially for Ireland, he will be available for all of the tournament fixtures, provided he stays healthy.

This would indicate he is likely to lead Ireland against the Springboks in a match that many believe will decide the outcome of Pool B.

Whilst this news was met with jubilation, the response to the ban in several of Ireland’s rival nations was less ecstatic. Most notable among them has been South Africa, where Afrikaans Newspaper Rapport was the first to have the ‘exclusive’ of Sexton’s interaction with Peyper.

Rapport published their article on May 28th, which was eight days after the alleged incident with journalist Hendrik Cronje credited for the piece.

It would take until July 17th for a ban to be handed down to Sexton, the results of which continue to be discussed.

With the matter now ‘closed’ many have moved on from the incident, yet in South Africa, it is still very much a topic of conversation.

Most recently, a podcast called ‘To The Last Drop’ discussed the incident.

Speaking about the incident, co-host Brendan Nel said, “The first thing I want to say about that is, it seems like it is a ban tailor-made to get Johnny Sexton to the World Cup. That’s the first thing.

“Second of all, you can’t be serious at all about combating abuse of refereeing and refs in rugby, and then you go and give decisions like that.”

To give context to the Hartley ban, the Hooker would accumulate 60 weeks’ worth of bans throughout his career. With the incident in question coming after three bans which would accumulate, including eye gouging in 2007 (26-week ban), biting in 2012 (8-week ban), and punching in  (2-week ban).

Nel’s next point of reference would be England prop Kyle Sinckler who was banned for two weeks for verbally abusing a referee saying, “Are you fucking serious?”. This ban followed a seven-week ban in 2017 for eye-gouging Northampton player Michael Paterson.

Thus, as many have pointed out, the issue with this argument is the comparison between Sexton’s clear record and that of two players who had served lengthy bans.

Nel then goes on to say, “What makes it even worse is that Sexton wasn’t even part of the match day squad. But they have let him get away it, and you have to ask, what does that say about Rugby’s values?”

Referring to the issue of abuse of referees, Erasmus, in his role as Director of Rugby, was banned by World Rugby for two months in November 2021. The ban would be in relation to a lengthy video released on social media where Erasmus criticised the match officials during the Springboks’ loss to the British and Irish Lions during the 2021 tour.

Erasmus would again be banned for a further two games in November 2022 for releasing further videos following the Boks’ losses to Ireland and France.

Following the video releases, referee Wayne Barnes who refereed during South Africa’s loss to France admitted that both he and his family had received vile abuse online.

“Criticism on social media quickly becomes abuse,” Barnes said. “That is the world we live in. That is social media. But I make the decision to be a referee, make the decision to be on social media. Polly, my wife, doesn’t make the decision to be a referee.

“On the Saturday night, there started to be some direct abuse at Polly. Then, the following two or three days, there was direct abuse to Polly, threats of sexual violence and threats against the kids. That takes it to a different level. When you’ve done 100 games, you think you can prepare for most things. You can’t prepare for that.

“I don’t mind people criticising my performance and, if they want to abuse me directly, that’s their choice. But that wasn’t just a line that was crossed. You couldn’t even see the line, it had gone that far. It affects you and it affects your family.”

The duo of Nel and co-host Liam Del Carme go on to call the ruling a ‘disgrace’.

To listen to the full conversation, click below.

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