South Africa forward Schalk Burger, who was suspended for eight weeks following an eye-gouging incident during the second Test against the British and Irish Lions last weekend, has insisted he is "not a rugby thug".
The flanker will miss Saturday's third and final Test against the Lions at Ellis Park after being banned for the incident, which came in the opening minute of the Springboks' 28-25 win in Pretoria last weekend.
Having only received a yellow card in the match, he was subsequently cited for eye-gouging but in the event found guilty of making contact with the face in the eye area of Lions wing Luke Fitzgerald.
Despite the widespread condemnation Burger has since received, he has not publicly apologised to either Fitzgerald or the Lions for his actions.
However, he has now issued a statement to stress that it has always been his intention to play within the rules.
Burger said: "As a proud South African and Springbok rugby player, I only have the utmost respect for the traditions of the wonderful game of rugby.
"Through my life and career I have always approached the game with the intention only of playing it hard and fair.
"I am not a rugby thug and will never intentionally engage in eye-gouging or similar illegal actions. This was also the case in the second Test against the Lions.
"I am therefore grateful that the judicial officer confirmed my stance with his conclusion that there was no deliberate eye-gouging as charged by the citing official.
"I will always play the game as hard as possible within the rules.
"I apologise to my supporters and fellow team-mates for the fact that I have been absent for the first 10 minutes of the second Test. I look forward to returning with zest in due course."
Canadian judicial officer Alan Hudson, who heard the Burger case, said he did not find the player's actions intentional, but he did believe them to be "clearly reckless".
Hudson added he was "unable to conclude" any eye-gouging on Burger's part, although he said contact with Fitzgerald's left eye could not be described as "insignificant".
In deciding on the length of ban - which was lower than many people expected - Hudson took into account Burger's previous disciplinary record, his character and the player's remorse.
Burger's suspension means that he will also be sidelined for South Africa's opening three Tri-Nations Tests this summer.