‘Oh what a Fight’. Armand van der Merwe v Shalk Brits

Armand van der Merwe
DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - MARCH 30: Akker van der Merwe of the Cell C Sharks is tackled during the Super Rugby match between Cell C Sharks and Vodacom Bulls at Jonsson Kings Park on March 30, 2019 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

In a flashback to the ‘bad old days’ of rugby players fighting on-field, Armand van der Merwe and Shalk Brits have received suspensions after an ugly altercation last Saturday. It saw the aggressor and recipient each punished with equal vigor, by the Super Rugby judiciary.

The two South African conference players may have acted on instinct – and were summarily both sent from the field, in the Sharks v Bulls game last weekend. Formally cited, and have now since been sanctioned (see below). Yet, that natural instinct is worlds apart from the norm of rugby union today.

These acts of aggression and, any acts that contravene Law 9.12 [a player must not physically abuse anyone] must be put a stop to. Especially when it is broadcast widely, those involved seem to hark back to the bad old days of past. Mirroring times when rugby was a game tarnished too often, by acts that bordered on confrontation and thuggery.

Armand van der Merwe and Shalk Brits both suspended

On Monday, Sharks player Armand van der Merwe was the first to receive punishment from the Super Rugby judiciary.

In a statement, the SANZAAR foul play committee announced they had “accepted an early guilty plea. And Sharks player Armand Van der Merwe has been suspended from all forms of the game for 3 weeks, up to and including 19 April 2019.

“Taking into account mitigating factors including the Player’s good judicial record and the fact the Player has pleaded guilty at the first available opportunity, the Foul Play Review Committee reduced the suspension to 3 weeks.”

That was followed two days later, when Schalk Brits followed suit – although, he was given a harsher penalty.

In that judgment, the judicial committee chairperson stated, “With respect to sanction, the committee deemed the act of foul play merited a mid-range entry point of 6 weeks due to the World Rugby instructions that dictate any incident of foul play involving contact with the head must start at a mid-range level. The evidence demonstrated the Player contacted the opposing Player’s head with more than one punch.

“However, taking into account mitigating factors including the Player’s demonstrated remorse, extensive experience, the fact the Player’s actions were in self-defence and the Player has pleaded guilty at the first available opportunity, the Judicial Committee reduced the suspension by 2 weeks.”

Brits has been suspended for 4 weeks, up to an including 4 May 2019. This suspension covers the period of the Player’s next 4 Super Rugby matches.

Foul Play has no place [in the Modern Game]

The consequences of the sanctions were focused on the two combatants. Far from the image that Super Rugby – and rugby in general – wishes to promote. In fact, those actions are examples that stakeholders wish to remove from the sport.

Administrators may wish to ‘stamp out’ violence in the game, but in reality – in such a confrontational sport – it might be just an idealized hope.

Not in the same way as Rugby League, or even NFL Ice Hockey, it is less common to see fighting today in rugby. In the professional level and in Test rugby, fewer fights are seen. A positive for the game, which is wishing to grow its status as a clean sport.

Ice Hockey has often been seen as violent sport. One-on-one fights between opponents is shown on highlights reels, and while that is less common today, it is one aspect of the game which is hard to erase.

Rugby for one, are hopeful that penalties and sanctions – like the three and four-game suspensions handed out – will discourage that action. So while Armand van der Merwe v Shalk Brits might not have upset the traditionalists, new rugby fans will be encouraged that the administrators are coming down hard on physical abuse on the field.

There is no place for that to be ignored; even if the sanctions seem harsh in comparison to past indiscretions.

Who remembers Paul O’Connell v Rob Sidoli

The clash on Saturday reminded Last Word on Rugby on another rugby-scuffle. In an International fixture, too big locks ‘went at it’ for a sustained period.

The MMA-style stoush was similar to the Armand van der Merwe v Schalk Brits fight. As in few other players became involved. The two men were eventually, pulled apart, and the referee gave them a harsh warning. A handshake between the pair showed no remorse. Later on Saturday, that example was emulated by van der Merwe and Brits.

In a gesture of goodwill, soon after the game, the below photo was posted on Instagram.


View this post on Instagram


Tough game out there tonight! What amazing game that we play and we can laugh and have a beer afterwards. #enjoyyourweekend

A post shared by schalkbrits (@schalkbrits) on

If each player is guilty of anything, it is of demonstrating that ‘everything can be settled, over a beer post-game’. That example, and not the physical violence, is what fans and young men and women should admire in both men’s actions.


Considering the sanctions, Armand van der Merwe should return for the Sharks, in Round 11 of Super Rugby. Schalk Brits will return in Round 12.

Follow all the action of Super Rugby, with regular contributor Ryan Jordan, and his weekly look at the South African conference.


“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images


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