No disciplinary action for ‘gouging’ Pumas

ARGENTINEAN players alleged to have gouged six different Irish opponents in Saturday’s Lansdowne Road cliffhanger will not face any disciplinary action.

The Italian match commissioner deemed the evidence on the match video to be inconclusive after the Irish management requested he examine the tape.

Irish coach Eddie O’Sullivan accepts this is the end of the matter while also expressing his deep upset at the tactics adopted by the Pumas.

The victims of the alleged foul play were Shane Byrne, Anthony Foley, Malcolm O’Kelly, Ronan O’Gara and Brian O’Driscoll, all gouged in the eye, and Simon Easterby who was gouged in the mouth.

One of the sextet had to have a stitch just to the side of the eye but none was seriously injured and all will be fit for Heineken European Cup action next weekend.

“Gouging is not in the spirit of the game,” said O’Sullivan.

Skipper O’Driscoll, one of the victims, said: “There is no place in rugby for gouging no matter what prize is at stake. I think it is adisgrace.”

Both men were at pains to express their admiration for Argentina as a rugby playing nation with O’Sullivan more than a little relieved his side came back from 19-9 down at half time to steal a 21-19 victory thanks to a magnificent 79th minute drop goal by man of the match Ronan O’Gara. “I’m very proud of our team, they showed a lot of bottle out there,” said the coach.

“Argentina are masters at playing their game and they played it very well. They were very aggressive, very physical, they played to their strengths, they kept the ball close to their pack and it was very hard to get it back.

“A huge number of tackles had to be made and the clock was running down all the time. So it was a case of not losing our patience, at being smart when we got possession and using it wisely, putting it in the corners and getting field position.

“With three minutes to go, I got the word to Ronan that it was drop goal time. I would have preferred if he had tried it from closer range but he felt it was on and he sat back in the pocket. It took a lot of bottle and by golly he struck it.

“It was a great way to win the game because we did dig a hole for ourselves in the first half. It took a lot of nerve to get back to where we were and close it out.

“Had we lost, we couldn’t have complained because Argentina had put themselves in a winning position.

“But the gouging did happen, we can’t pretend it didn’t happen and we’re very upset about it.” There is considerable bad blood between the Irish and Argentine camps. Having lost 16-15 in last year’s World Cup to Ireland in Adelaide and by two points at Lansdowne Road, it is understandable the Pumas should become increasingly frustrated and none more so than their captain and scrum-half, Augustin Pichot. He accused Brian O’Driscoll of “begging” English referee Tony Spreadbury to dish out yellow cards to Argentine players.

The sides are also due to meet in the 2007 World Cup in France.

“We came to play rugby and all we ask for is a fair challenge,” said Pichot.

“We did not get that.”

Furthermore, the Pumas said they are being given a very raw deal by the International Rugby Board who have refused to accede to their wish to grant full status to their clash with South Africa in Buenos Aires next Saturday.

As a consequence, Pichot said they will be deprived of 10 front line players (including Leinster’s Felipe Contepomi) required by their European clubs for Heineken Cup action.

It also, of course, means Mario Ledesma will line out as the Castres hooker against Munster in Castres on Friday night.

Pichot’s claim that Argentina are being “isolated” seems to be based on solid foundation with the IRB once again proving themselves elitist in spite of all their promises to financially promote the game in the weaker nations.

Although the Argentine club game is amateur and some of Saturday’s team have paid their own way to compete in the autumn Tests, Pumas coach Marcelo Loffreda insisted they haven’t received a penny from anybody. For now, the Irish team takes a back seat to the provinces until the commencement of the Six Nations in early February with a visit to Rome.

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