Sometimes you have to do it

Don't quote me, but the punch has always been an integral part of rugby. Ask Bakkies Botha, he knows. He was schooled at the knee of the likes of Johan Ackermann who knew the intricacies of "sorting out" an opponent. Indeed, it may be said that Botha followed Ackermann as the chief "enforcer" in South African rugby.

It apparently took a three-hour hearing to clear Botha from a charge that he punched - some termed it a "slap" - Ryan Kankowski in the weekend's big showdown.

Why it should take that long to reach a finding is beyond me. It surely didn't take that long to suspend Rory Kockott for one match for his punch - or was it a slap? - on the New Zealander Adam Thomson.

But if Botha had got a similar one-match ban, we all know what that would have meant.

The trick of course is not to get caught in the first place. This is not easy these days because of the all-prying eye of television. So when we see a punch - or even a slap - out in the open we are quite surprised.

In Botha's case - or, as it turns out, non-case - the initial thought was that he had lost his touch. One thing you don't do in the modern game is raise your hand in full view of everyone.

In the old days some referees had their own way of adjudicating on such demonstrations of petulance - they would not penalise the player who threw the last punch, but the recipient of it.

Their argument was that most players only punch when they are severely provoked - and that the fellow who took the blow had probably started the argument.

Danie Craven once confided that he had attacked an opponent only once while wearing the Springbok jersey. This came in a Test match in Australia in such heavy rain as to transform the playing field into a small lake.

Craven went to the rescue of a team mate who he reckoned was being drowned by a nasty Wallaby who was holding the poor fellow in a headlock below the surface of a great puddle.

Had Craven been sent off - which thankfully he wasn't - he could have claimed that his action was a matter of life or death.

I once covered a Springbok trial match in Bloemfontein where Morne du Plessis was pitted against an enforcer named Kleintjie Grobler. Both were playing for the No.8 berth in the national team.

At some point, Du Plessis openly pole-axed the pesky Grobler with an almighty blow in a line-out.

The Springbok selectors were so impressed they picked Du Plessis.

So, you see, the punch in rugby does have its uses.