Rassie Erasmus continues war of words with Warren Gatland after criticising Lions coach for targeting TMO

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Rassie Erasmus continues war of words with Warren Gatland after criticising Lions coach for targeting TMO - SPORTSFILE VIA GETTY IMAGES
Rassie Erasmus continues war of words with Warren Gatland after criticising Lions coach for targeting TMO - SPORTSFILE VIA GETTY IMAGES

Springboks director of rugby Rassie Erasmus denied that he was behind the “Jaco Johan” Twitter account as he accused Lions head coach Warren Gatland of undermining the integrity of the game.

Erasmus’ extraordinary press conference largely overshadowed the team announcements for the second Test with both the Lions and South Africa making three changes to their starting XVs.

Gatland, who has handed starts to scrum-half Conor Murray, centre Chris Harris and loosehead prop Mako Vunipola, claims to be paying no attention to the “sideshow” of Erasmus’s Twitter activity which has involved a possible burner account to highlight perceived refereeing mistakes.

Erasmus was happy to remain the centre of attention in the wake of South Africa’s 22-17 defeat in the first Test, which Gatland said would leave them “desperate” to stay in the series.

In speaking to the press on Tuesday, Erasmus variously hit out at the speed of World Rugby’s communications, mocked Sir Clive Woodward’s criticism of him and none-too-subtly pointed out that Ben O’Keeffe, the referee for Saturday’s match, is a New Zealander like Gatland.

Erasmus also revealed that he was “close, close friends” with Marius Jonker, the South African television match official whose appointment for the first Test the Lions had criticised.

On Monday, Erasmus retweeted a Twitter account called “Jaco Johan” that had compiled a video of decisions by referee Nic Berry that went against South Africa. Suspicions were quickly raised that “Jaco Johan”, which had zero followers but had access to high-quality un-watermarked analysis, was a burner account used by the Springboks management to circulate footage of possible Lions foul play.

Erasmus attempted to laugh off that accusation. “No I’m actually not Jaco Johan, I’m Johan Erasmus,” Erasmus, whose first name is Johan, said. “I actually follow Jaco Johan, he’s a big supporter of us. He’s been feeding me some really good clips for a while now, things that I’ve actually used in the past.”

Erasmus said he was “baffled” by the appointment of Jonker as a non-neutral TMO for the Test match series but implied that Gatland crossed a line by publicising his objections.

“Warren talked last week about Marius Jonker, Warren is a great guy, I’ll tell you straight up, I always enjoy his company, he’s a good man,” Erasmus said. “But it was weird for me that people would question Marius’s integrity. Say this weekend, Ben O’Keeffe is a New Zealander and Warren is also a New Zealander, we would never say that. It wouldn’t sit well.

“The whole integrity of the game would be questioned, and we would never do that. What we are trying to do is find out from World Rugby exactly some decisions which we got wrong and some things we could have done better in the game.”

Asked how he could square his plea to protect the integrity of the game with his tweets that micro-analysed the perceived mistakes of Berry, Erasmus said: “I think you are 100 per cent right. I think if someone goes and micro-analyses every non-decision which has not been taken then that’s awful. You can’t do that.

“The referee only had two pairs of eyes [sic]. But I think if you do analyse the things he is supposed to see, I think then you are actually spot on the integrity of the game.”

The controversy surrounding Erasmus overshadowed the Springboks’ team announcement. They have made three changes with a pair of new props in Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe replacing the injured Ox Nche and Trevor Nyakane.

Meanwhile, Leicester No 8 Jasper Wiese comes in for Kwagga Smith in a move that should further beef up a meety Springbok pack. Head coach Jacques Nienaber has also reverted to a six-forward, two-back split in a further emphasis of the Springboks’ power game that they used to win the World Cup.

Erasmus was head coach in 2019 before becoming director of rugby, although Woodward criticised the effectiveness of the new dynamic with Nienaber. “I don’t know if Sir is so important in South Africa as it is in England, that is just his opinion and myself and Jacques are great mates,” Erasmus said.

“I am the water carrier, he is higher than me in the rank, we have always worked together, since 1990. You go and look at that match on Saturday, in minute 71 we score a try that is pulled back and if it is not the relationship might have been perfect and people would be saying it is working really well. Clive Woodward doesn’t really matter to me.”

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