Paris - A midnight phone call to a member of the Springbok management team may indicate that there is something a little more sinister behind the citing of Bok utility back Frans Steyn, who has had charges that he bit another player dismissed.
A little before 4pm on Tuesday, the Springboks had broad smiles on their faces when the biting charges against Steyn were dismissed due to a lack of evidence. Inwardly, though, they were seething at what some are beginning to believe is a concerted effort to unsettle them in their attempt to win the Rugby World Cup in France.
There was no concrete evidence that showed Steyn had bitten Tonga winger Joseph Vaka, with the Tongan eventually admitting that the mark on his hand - which Tonga claimed was caused by teeth - could have happened at any time during a melee on the field.
In essence, the hearing was conducted with no evidence, and a witness who contradicted himself. As one observer noted: "Looks like a stitch-up job if I've ever seen one."
Late on Monday night, a member of the Springbok management received a phone call from a Tongan team official to "apologise" for the citing of Steyn. The official implied that they had not wanted to cite Steyn, but that they had had their hand forced. He did not elaborate as to who had applied the pressure, but the manner in which the judicial hearings have been conducted at the tournament thus far suggests that some of the teams are more equal than others here.
All Black prop Carl Hayman has escaped being cited for punching, and Wallaby Drew Mitchell never heard another word after his spear tackle against Wales - despite a player from the US receiving a five-match ban for the same thing. There were similar let-offs for Wallaby Stephen Moore and Wales's Gareth Thomas.
The citing is all the more sinister, considering the words of Tonga coach Quddus Fielea and his captain, Nili Latu, who said after their match against the Springboks in Lens that they would not be asking the citing commissioner, Jean-Claude Legendre, to look at any incidents in the game.
As Steyn attempted to play peacemaker in a wrestling match between Bakkies Botha and Inoke Afeaki, Vaka ran in and threw Steyn to the ground. Steyn then threw Vaka to the ground. When the referee arrived, Vaka was heard saying: "Are you going to look at the bite?" This brought an angry reaction from Steyn: "F*** off! Ek het nie jou gebyt nie! (I didn't bite you) F*** off!"
"It's always a physical game, and when a game is over, it is only a game of rugby and no one is hurt. I hope my fellow South Africans agree with me, so, no more citing (from us)," said Fielea.
"I just want to add to that," said Latu, "It's a physical game out there, there's a lot of niggling stuff out there. We've always had respect for South Africa. I think there are too many citings out there."
However, the citing was initiated by the Tongan management. Jake White, bound by the strict rules regarding criticism of the International Rugby Board and its officials, would not comment on whether he felt the citing was justified, but said his squad would put this behind them.
"It's a massive relief that it has been found (Steyn) has no charges to answer to, and the result was what we believed would happen all along," said White. "This won't distract us from preparing for (the) match against the US (in Montpellier on Sunday).
"Frans is handling it well, but it's a heck of a thing for a 20-year-old to go through, especially one who has never been yellow-carded in his career before. He's a little bit shaken."
Steyn arrived with a lawyer and Springbok manager Zola Yeye 15 minutes before the start of the hearing. White arrived a few minutes later. Steyn looked nervous at first, but relieved when judicial officer Terry Willis - who had banned Schalk Burger for four matches earlier in the tournament - found he had no charge to answer to.
"I'm just so glad that all of South Africa knows that I am not a dirty player," said Steyn. "There is no way I would bite someone, that's not the sort of person I am. It's a huge relief."