British and Irish Lions full-back Stuart Hogg has issued a firm rebuttal of accusations that he bit opposite number Willie le Roux during the first half of his side’s 27-9 loss to South Africa on Saturday.
Hogg and Le Roux were embroiled in a mass scuffle following an aerial collision between Cheslin Kolbe and Conor Murray that saw the former yellow-carded by referee Ben O’Keeffe.
Later, screenshots and footage was shared on Twitter with suggestions that Hogg had bitten the upper arm of Le Roux. However, Scotland’s captain issued a statement addressing the matter on Sunday morning.
“Following speculation that has surfaced online, I would like to categorically deny any foul play in last night’s game,” it read.
“I would never bite an opponent and I am annoyed and upset by this unsubstantiated accusation. I’ve always been proud of playing rugby in the spirit of the game.
“Respect to the Springboks for their deserved win yesterday,” Hogg added. “The squad is hurting after last night’s defeat, but it’s all to play for next week. It’s going to be a cup final and everyone’s going to be up for it.”
Maro Itjoe could also be cited on Sunday after appearing to rest his knee on Damian de Allende.
On Saturday night, British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland urged World Rugby to take action against Rassie Erasmus as the Springboks' second Test win was overshadowed by a number of controversial incidents.
Gatland says that the Lions now face a “cup final” in the third Test with the Springboks dominating a second half, which they won 21-0, with tries from Makazole Mapimpi and Lukhanyo Am. South Africa, however, got the rub of the green with Cheslin Kolbe getting only a yellow card for taking Conor Murray out in the air.
The build-up to the match was dominated by Springbok director of rugby Erasmus releasing an hour-long scathing critique of Australian referee Nic Berry’s performance in the first Test, which the Lions won 22-17. Despite Rugby Australia describing the unprecedented attack as “unacceptable”, World Rugby have thus far only said they noted the comments and will raise it with the South Africa Rugby Union.
But it set the tone for intense scrutiny on the decision-making of referee Ben O’Keeffe and his team of officials. None of them appeared to see the incident between Hogg and Le Roux, which arose after Kolbe’s tackle on Murray. The Springboks wing was confronted by Maro Itoje and Tom Curry and appeared to lash out at the latter after being provoked, which triggered a mass skirmish between both sets of players.
Other incidents that may find themselves subject of review include a tackle from scrum-half Faf de Klerk on opposite number Murray, which was briefly looked at by the officials before being deemed legal despite suggestions of a high tackle that left the Irish half-back injured on the turf.
Another incident saw Damian de Allende, the South African centre, lash out at Itoje after the lock was seen with his knee towards the throat of the Springbok as he lay on the ground.
Lions head coach Gatland said afterwards that World Rugby must intervene more forcefully to protect the integrity of the game rather than allow their referees to be subject to trial by social media. “Look, I hope it doesn’t happen,” Gatland said. “We’ve got systems and processes in place and hopefully World Rugby does look at that in terms of making sure that everyone follows the protocols and I think that’s important. We do press conferences and try and give feedback and information and we deal with the referees through World Rugby. That’s the process.
“I hope it doesn't get to a situation where we end up with things on Twitter, and people airing their views in that way and not through the proper channels. I found it quite strange that that approach was taken, but it is definitely not something that I will get involved in. It is important that we keep the integrity in the game as much as we possibly can.”