Francois Steyn’s return to the Sharks captaincy and the flyhalf position for Saturday’s SuperRugby game against the Western Force is now in doubt after Sanzar decided to appeal the decision of their own judicial officer and put the 2007 World Cup winner back on trial for the tip-tackle for which he was red-carded last weekend against the Chiefs.
It is believed All Blacks lawyer Stephen Cottrell is behind Sanzar’s unprecedented decision to appeal against Advocate Jannie Lubbe’s ruling this week that exonerated Steyn, and a Sanzar Appeals Committee, chaired by Terry Willis and with advocates Nigel Hampton and Robert Stelzner as members, will hear the matter via a video conference on Friday morning South African time.
But this will seriously disrupt the Sharks’ preparations for the match against the Force, with their team due to be named on Thursday morning and the Vodacom Cup side off to Cape Town on Friday morning. The franchise has appealed against the timing of the hearing and are looking to get it moved to after the game, either on Sunday or Monday.
Although Lubbe’s decision to clear Steyn was considered to be a highly generous one, Sanzar’s appeal is nevertheless extraordinary as they have never turned on one of their own judicial officers before.
The move has once again reignited old feelings of bitterness that South African players are judged by different standards in the competition, particularly since Cottrell, a legal representative for Sanzar, was the lawyer who defended Brad Thorn when he notoriously up-ended Springbok captain and current CEO John Smit, dumping him on his back without the ball, during a Test against the All Blacks in Wellington in 2008.
Cottrell argued that because Smit did not have the ball, Thorn’s foul play could not be considered a dangerous tackle and he was only given a one-week ban.
It was a decision that outraged the Springboks, for whom current Sharks director of rugby Gary Gold was then an assistant coach.
The uncertainty over Steyn further complicates the issue of the Sharks captaincy in the absence of the rested Pat Lambie and the suspended Bismarck du Plessis.