Rassie Erasmus attacks Lions refereeing again and offers to step aside
World Rugby is under pressure to intervene after Rassie Erasmus, South Africa’s director of rugby, launched another stinging attack on the refereeing of the opening Test of the British & Irish Lions series. Erasmus has also offered to step aside from the remaining two Tests if it delivers “fairer” treatment for the Springboks in Saturday’s second Test.
During an hour-long video containing 26 clips highlighting a range of decisions, Erasmus suggested the Australian referee, Nic Berry, and his assistants made several crucial mistakes which significantly influenced his side’s 22-17 defeat. He also raised eyebrows by alleging his World Cup-winning captain, Siya Kolisi, was shown less respect at key moments than his Lions counterpart, Alun Wyn Jones.
For the moment World Rugby has simply issued a holding statement saying it “notes the comments made by Rassie Erasmus” and will be raising them with SA Rugby. It added that no further comment would be made “at this stage” as the sport’s administrators consider the wider implications of a World Cup-winning head coach savaging the officials controlling the year’s highest-profile fixture.
Erasmus has already been vocal in his belief the Boks were harshly treated in comparison to the Lions and insists pre-match assurances from World Rugby about how aspects of the contest would be handled did not materialise. “Not saying the referee was a cheat at all, saying we just wanted clarity … which I personally am not very convinced we had from Nic Berry,” he said during the course of a monologue in which he intimated he would be prepared, having made his point about the officials, to step away from helping to prepare the Boks in this series.
“If this causes that I’m not allowed to be water carrier that’s fine, I’ll step away,” he said. “If we’re going to get a fine, I’ll step away from the management team. If this means the Springboks will get in trouble I’ll say I did this personally, because I believe in fairness, the system and two teams having an equal chance of competing in a match.
“I’ve had previous encounters saying things in public about referees and it normally comes back to bite you. The Lions only comes around every 12 years and I think it should be fair that I will step away from these last two Test matches but let the two teams have an equal chance on the field when it comes to laws, respect, the way players are treated, what is said in the pre-match coaches’ meetings with referees, how they give feedback and are seen in the media.”
Erasmus also remains unhappy with the Lions head coach, Warren Gatland publicly questioning whether Faf de Klerk should have been red carded in the SA ‘A’ game earlier this month and querying the appointment of the South African TMO Marius Jonker, a good friend of Erasmus. His latest address, however, strayed on to fresh territory by suggesting Berry had treated the two captains differently. “When Siya spoke to the referee and when Alun Wyn spoke to the referee … there was a vast difference between who was taken seriously and who wasn’t,” said Erasmus.
“It shows the difference in attitude towards the Springboks and the Lions. I am not saying [it was] cheating but the narrative [was] imprinted that we are more into foul play and dangerous and reckless play than the Lions.”
Despite appearing in the video in a Springbok cap and training shirt, Erasmus claimed his film was made in a personal capacity. World Rugby may yet feel differently and Alun Wyn Jones has already spoken up for the under-fire match officials.
“I think sometimes the refs have the hardest job in the game,” said Jones. “They obviously have assistance and a TMO but I think decisions are being focused on more than ever. They’ve always been scrutinised but I just think it’s probably in vogue and obviously it’s been highlighted by some this past week.”