The IRB will consider more stringent punishments for any player found guilty of eye-gouging in a bid to eradicate the “heinous” offence.
The International Rugby Board will consider introducing more stringent punishments for any player found guilty of eye-gouging in a bid to eradicate the “heinous” offence from the sport.
The IRB have launched an investigation into their disciplinary procedures following a spate of high-profile cases, including Schalk Burger's attack on British and Irish Lions winger Luke Fitzgerald last weekend.
Burger was sin-binned for the offence in the first minute of the game and then received an eight-week ban, the same suspension dished out on Sunday to Italy captain Sergio Parisse after an incident against New Zealand.
Lions scrum coach Graham Rowntree believes stricter punishments would act as a greater deterrent.
And the IRB have vowed to address the issue as a matter of urgency in order to “send out the strongest possible message” that gouging will not be tolerated.
In a statement released on Wednesday, the game's world governing body said: “The IRB are firmly of the view that there is no place in rugby for illegal or foul play and the act of eye-gouging is particularly heinous.
“In light of recent high-profile cases, the IRB is launching a review of the existing disciplinary sanction structure relating to contact with the eye/eye area in order to send out the strongest possible message that such acts will not be tolerated and have no place in a game that has at its core the pillars of fair play, respect and camaraderie.
“The IRB has also written to the chairman of the IRB judicial panel to underscore its concerns regarding all incidents of eye-gouging and a memorandum will be issued to all independent judicial officers reinforcing the IRB's disciplinary policy.”
Burger and Parisse's suspensions followed recent high-profile cases including Alan Quinlan, Neil Best, Olivier Azam, Marius Tincu, Mauro Bergamasco and Dylan Hartley.
The suspensions in those cases ranged from eight weeks to the 26-week ban which cost Hartley a place in England's 2007 World Cup plans.
O'Connell's Munster team-mate Quinlan was ruled out of the Lions tour after being suspended for 12 weeks for a gouging incident in the Heineken Cup semi-final against Leinster.
Asked whether he was surprised that Burger received a lighter suspension than Quinlan, O'Connell said: “It is a bit strange and why it would differ I don't know. The Burger incident probably looked a lot worse.”
The IRB have also decided to review whether to extend the appeals process to include the opposing team and the IRB itself.
At present, only the suspended player can appeal the independent judicial decisions.
Rowntree, who won 54 England caps and made almost 400 appearances for Leicester, questioned why any player thought it necessary to gouge an opponent.
“How a player can think he can get away with it with so many cameras watching the game is beyond me,” said Rowntree, who admitted he was gouged during his playing days.
“My opinion is there is no room for it in the game. I've never gouged anyone, hand on heart, never. What would make a guy want to do that?”