England’s George Burgess has received the shock backing of a rival player after being slammed for an alleged eye gouge against New Zealand.
Burgess is under fire after an ugly incident overshadowed England’s Test series triumph over the Kiwis.
England scored a late try to shock New Zealand 20-14 on Monday morning, but it was Burgess’ alleged foul play that took the shine off the win.
With 20 minutes to play, the South Sydney forward appeared to grab at the face of Kiwi winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak as he was tackling him.
Watene-Zelezniak reacted angrily to the incident after contact appeared to be made to his eyes.
However, the Kiwi at the centre of the controversy has leapt to the defence of the England enforcer, who faces a nervous wait to see if he is cited by the match review committee.
Panthers fullback Watene-Zelezniak said while he felt a finger in his eye, he had no concern over whether the incident was intentional.
“I’m sure he didn’t do it on purpose,” Kiwis captain Watene-Zelezniak said.
“Him and his brothers are good guys and they’ve done really good things for the game. I don’t think that’s in their kit bag but it is what it is, you just have to deal with it.
“He’s a big boy and he’s got some big fingers too. I think his whole hand would probably cover my whole face.
“I’m pretty sweet now. The doctor gave me some kind of eye drops. I’m sure it was accidental.”
New Zealand Herald writer Michael Burgess saw the incident very differently – describing it as a “sickening foul act.”
“It was the kind of incident that makes you turn away from the television screen — and has absolutely no place in the game,” he wrote.
“Sometimes there are accidental moments in league, given the brutal physicality of the sport, the heavy contact, the size of the players and the speed of the modern game. This wasn’t one of them.
“Only he will truly know, but Burgess appeared to know exactly what he was doing, as he wrestled with Watene-Zelezniak in the process of completing a tackle just after the hour mark.
“This wasn’t a case of some fingers accidentally scraping across the eye, or an errant slap across the face.
“It looked like a deliberate, callous, cowardly attack on the Kiwis captain by the Rabbitohs prop, when he was already pinned by another tackler.”