Opinion: Put the phone down Rassie Erasmus and focus on what you do best

Springboks director of rugby Rassie Erasmus before a Test match. Credit: Alamy
Springboks director of rugby Rassie Erasmus before a Test match. Credit: Alamy

Springboks director of rugby Rassie Erasmus has once again found himself in hot water with World Rugby after posting tweets that subtly criticised match officials’ decisions in the recent Autumn Nations Series Tests.

As a result, Erasmus has copped a two-game ban from the governing body that rules him out of the remainder of the Springboks’ year-end tour of the northern hemisphere.

This is not the World Cup-winning coach’s first indiscretion, as an hour-long video scrutinising referee Nic Berry in the first Test of the 2021 British and Irish Lions series earned Erasmus a lengthy ban that he only completed at the end of September this year.

Coming out of that significant ban and straight back into criticism of match officials does not seem the most calculated of routes for a rugby mind so astute and innovative, begging the question, why?

The basis for all of his tweets and the Berry video is purely on accountability and fairness, which are aspects of the game worth fighting for, but at what cost?

Hidden behind the caption

The lengthy criticism of Berry was undoubtedly over the top and was quite rightly deemed an attack on the referee, irrespective of how accurate the clip may have been.

The latest social media posts are far more subtle, although ultimately obvious in their endgame, with Erasmus dressing the videos up with ‘messages’ to South African fans.

Take this tweet, for example, where Erasmus’s caption is simply based on the atmosphere, but the contents of the video show a ball being kicked out of the ruck by Ireland in the build-up to their try and later on when the Springboks are penalised for the same thing. Thus highlighting referee inconsistencies.

Or even this tweet when the director of rugby’s caption is based around improving tackle technique, and the video shows a clear leading arm from the French player. Another missed call.

Sure, there is merit in what Erasmus is trying to point out, as there was in the infamous Berry video, but this time it’s hidden behind the thin veil of sarcasm. Still, the delivery and medium used to convey the message is the real issue.

The negative spin-offs

There are various problems with such a high-profile individual in the game taking to public forums so frequently and in such a manner.

Firstly, how Erasmus delivers his criticism undermines the integrity of the game. Rugby union has prided itself in how well players and coaches treat the match officials. There is often a quick comparison to how players react so negatively towards refereeing decisions in football compared to the respect shown in rugby, regardless of the validity of the call.

Having a director of rugby publicly scrutinise the official puts this aspect of rugby’s ethos at further risk. Especially considering players in 2022 have pushed the boundaries on their own, if one considers Bundee Aki’s response to his red card against the Stormers for Connacht or how Johnny Sexton manages referees at times.

No doubt accountability of the referee are absolutely essential to the sport and should be maintained and scrutinised, but doing so in a public forum degrades the situation for all parties.

A second key point is the fan culture. Erasmus’s exploits in turning around the Springboks from seventh in the world to World Cup winners in just over a year was an outstanding achievement, and has built a cult-like fanbase in portions of South Africa where whatever the director of rugby says will be backed.

As a result, there is now a situation where Springbok fans around the world are waiting to jump on any fault of the match official whilst paying less attention to how or where the team are failing on the field.

The outcome from all of this is the Boks are arguably getting fewer decisions fall their way. Human nature will showcase that there is less likely to be a positive response when the person making the decision is being attacked from one side.

Still one of rugby’s great minds

Despite our criticism, Erasmus is still one of the greatest minds in the game and pulled off the best coaching turnaround in history from a Springbok perspective.

However, the former loose forward achieved that with the attitude of, ‘we are going to get this done despite the odds stacked against us. Whatever the hurdle, we will innovate and find a way’. Whereas currently, it feels more like, ‘we have the referees as a hurdle, let us tear that down and then we have found a way’.

The 50-year-old has always been an innovator, but since the World Cup triumph, South Africa has stagnated. There have been many external limitations with the Covid-19 pandemic as the chief disruptor and Erasmus’s ban.

So instead of criticising the referee on public forums, why not spend that energy innovating and finding different ways to reduce the influence of the match officials on the game’s final result?

Erasmus has said many times in various clips since 2019 that South Africans are all about finding a way through adversity. However, one cannot do that by simply attacking the issues impeding the path to success.

The message is simple; Erasmus must put down his phone and focus on what he does best, which is innovation and inspiration. There is a World Cup on the horizon, and the Springboks need to get to work and grow because posting a video about the referee after losing a World Cup final will not help retain the Webb Ellis trophy.

READ MORE: Autumn Nations Series preview: Springboks to prove too strong for Italy in Genoa and claim first win of their tour

The article Opinion: Put the phone down Rassie Erasmus and focus on what you do best appeared first on Planetrugby.com.